Archive for July, 2020


Real knowledge is to know the extent of one’s ignorance. –Confucius

Last December I was waiting in line at my favorite coffee shop.  There was a woman who was standing in front of me, next to be served.  When she stepped forward she asked for tea.  The server asked if she wanted chai tea.  The woman laughed.  She said, In my country, India, the word for tea is ‘chai.’  So to her, the server was asking her is she wanted ‘tea tea.’  We all laughed and began to make up different combinations of ‘tea tea’ or ‘chai chai’ or ‘tea chai.’  Yesterday, as I recalled this experience the following story emerged into my consciousness. 

Many centuries ago, tea was not known outside of China.  Stories of a ‘celestial drink’ called ‘tea’ were carried about however.  Both the wise and unwise of other countries tried to find out what this drink was and did so in accordance with what each wanted or what each thought it should be.

The King of ‘Here’ sent a person to China and he was given tea by the Chinese Emperor.  On his way out of the city he noticed that everyone was drinking this same tea; he concluded that this was not the celestial drink spoken about but it was a ruse by the Emperor and so he did not take the tea back to his king. 

Later on a great philosopher from the Land of ‘There’ collected all of the information he could about tea and concluded that it was a rare substance and its true essence could not be known.  Why?  Because his information told him that this ‘tea’ was a ‘herb,’ was a water, was green, was black, was bitter, was sweet.  The wise philosopher decreed that tea was a ‘mystery’ not to be known by man.

In the Land of Sectarianism a small bag of tea had been found in a cave.  It was carried throughout the land and people stopped and said prayers as it was carried past them.  Many religious observances appeared throughout the land as a result.  All were convinced that the tea had magical powers and prayer would unleash them.  One day a stranger from the East came into the land; it was the day of the great tea procession.  When he saw the tea bag he said My friends, pour boiling water over the bag and you will be able to drink of the tea.  If you like the taste I can bring you enough tea bags for all. 

Now this was good news to some and was quite disturbing to the clergy and those who made money from the procession.  So they labeled the man as a heretic and killed him; he was an enemy of their religion and a threat to their surety.  Before the man was killed he told his secret to a few and told them where they could obtain tea bags.  A cult grew up; it became the Secret Society of Teaers.  When they were confronted by the religious police they simply stated that they were taking a certain medicine and were thus left alone. 

Then one year there came a Person from the Land of Knowledge.  He spent years traveling the caravan routes and he would tell the caravan merchants, who knew about tea already, to not speak about it but to simply prepare it and serve it at night when the caravans would stop and rest.  Soon teashops opened all along the many routes and tea leaves were brought to India where they were planted and where tea became, as in China, a national drink. 

Today, tea is common in many cultures and the roles have been reversed.  When the truth was known, and when tea was brought for all who would taste, a role reversal occurred.  The only people who spoke as the people from ‘Here’ and ‘There’ as well as the ‘Sectarianists’ were considered to be fools.  And so it is today.  What is the ‘tea,’ that is, the knowledge, that is available to us today that we refuse to seek, embrace and learn; the knowledge that can be common as tea; the knowledge that would enable each of us to be a Person of Knowledge? 

Information is not knowledge. –Albert Einstein

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It’s all in the mind. –Zen Saying

Fear!  I’m not thinking about a response to immediate threat or danger; that’s a survival instinctual response; that response is built into our hard wiring as human beings.  Many other animals also have this.  Psychologists call it the flight-fight response (I add the deer-like response of ‘freeze’).  I’m talking about the fear of what’s going to come, the fear of what’s going to happen (actually this is really anxiety but in our culture we have substituted the word ‘fear’ for anxiety).  The mystics tell us that this feeling doesn’t exist in their minds; they are not fear-full nor are they anxious-full.  I often think, ‘what a great state to be in’ how extra-ordinary.

I am reminded of a story.  Once there was a camel trader who was taking his camels across the Sahara Desert.  As they settle in the first night the party pitches its tents and some men begin to tend to the camels.  Each camel is tethered to a peg that is driven into the ground.  A man appears before the camel trader and informs him that they have twenty camels but only nineteen pegs; one peg was lost during the day’s travel. They were fearful that the camel would wander off during the night and then that the camel trader would be angry with them for he would have one less camel to trade. The camel trader paused and then said, ‘These camels are not smart, just go through the motions and the camel will think it is being tethered and it will remain where it is all night long.’   The men did so and so did the camel.

When they awoke in the morning the camel was where he had been ‘tethered.’  Their fear and anxiety was abated.  After having breakfast the caravan set off again.  A few minutes into the trip a rider approached the camel trader; he was again, agitated and anxious/fearful.  He said that he just noticed that only nineteen camels were in line.  The camel trader paused and said, ‘Go back to where we were this morning and you will find the camel.  Go through the motions of untying the camel and he will follow you.’  They did and so did the camel. 

This story reminds me of our human condition.  We are fear-full of things that do not exist and we are also controlled by things that we believe exist, just as the non-tethered camel was.  We are tied to things that don’t exist.  We are tied to illusions.  We are tied to falsehoods.  We are tied to our prejudices.  We are tied to our deep assumptions. We are tied to our stereotypes.  We are tied to certain beliefs.  All of these are illusions.  Because we are tied to these we are easily seduced into being fear-full and anxious-full.  We are both afraid of losing these (or letting go of them) and we are afraid because we know that they don’t bring us comfort or ‘happiness’ or contentment. 

The mystics have shown us a path (perhaps one of a number of paths); their path is a path of non-attachment and a path of letting go of. . . I am now recalling another story.  A man comes to the Master and says I am seeking ‘freedom..’  The Master remains quiet and smiles that certain smile (why are these folks always smiling) and says: ‘If you seek freedom then seek first who binds you.’  The man goes on a search.  Today, I am asking myself, Richard, what are you searching for?  Richard, why do you continue to hold onto all that binds you?  Richard, how are you like the untethered camel?     

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We convince by our presence. –Walt Whitman

Good morning Gentle Reader.  As a tap root that supports our exploration this morning I offer us four definitions.  These, of course, are not the only definitions available to us – and that, as they say, ‘is the rub.’  This morning, Gentle Reader, I invite you to hold the four I offer today. 

Freedom = the condition of being able to do, say or think whatever you want to

License = excessive freedom; freedom without responsibility

Responsibility = moral accountability

Empathy = the ability to share someone else’s feelings or experiences by imagining what it would be like to be in that person’s situation; caring about people and acting responsibly on that care, not just for yourself, but for others.

Consider this: We tend to judge the value of the information provided us by the quality of the source.  This guiding principle is negated today by social media and our ability to employ social media anonymously.  We have the license to slander, to dehumanize, to attack, to bully, to lie, to misrepresent (the list could go on and on).  We defend this by invoking the concepts of ‘freedom’ and ‘freedom of speech.’ 

Traditionally, the value of information was enhanced or debased not so much by its content, as by the authority we vested in the author/messenger.  We still vest authors and messengers with authority – that is, we ‘trust them.’  And at the same time there continues to be a dramatic increase in the number of folks who ‘trust’ the author or messenger that choose to remain anonymous. 

Anonymous communication is distorted communication.  On the other hand, consider that almost all communication in our society is distorted communication (freedom from distortion requires equality of participation – a participation rooted in the moral commitment to ‘seek first to understand’ and then second ‘to seek to be understood’ – as imperfect beings this ‘ideal’ is not attainable).

Consider, Gentle Reader, that what really matters today – in the age of social media anonymity – is not freedom of speech but personal moral responsibility rooted in empathy.  This is the alternative.  Currently we embrace what Bauman calls a license for irresponsibility.  This, it seems to me, is an enormously large and venomously deadly ant-social, anti-empathic, pro-destructive dis-ease that is allowed to run amok among us. 

Social-Media has become a weapon of mass destruction fed by a tap root of anonymity and license.  Generally, in cultured societies, the more potentially deadly the weapon, the more difficult it should be to obtain a permission to possess it. 

Social-Media (along with the bygone ‘Wild-Wild West’) is, today, a stark exemption to the ‘weapon rule’ that is widely assumed to be indispensable for the sustaining of a civilized life.  Slander, invective, calumny, slur, smear, casting aspersion, defaming, marginalizing, demeaning and bullying belong in the arsenal of social-media rooted in the ‘anonymous.’  This is not only deadly to the person; it is deadly to our society. 

It is a paradox (or is it ironic) that the aforementioned dis-eases are crimes in the ‘off-line’ life (think: ‘real life’) and yet they are not crimes in the ‘on-line’ life. 

Which ‘life’ – the on-line or the off-line – will assimilate the other?  The dominant one will assimilate the other and the rules of the one being assimilated will be adjusted, if not negated.  We already experience that the ‘on-line’ is increasing its dominance over the ‘off-line’ – license is trumping moral responsibility and freedom and our ability to be empathic (especially with the ‘other’ – the ‘stranger’).  With license, everyone can become a killer – and remain anonymous. 

As Hannah Arendt noted many years ago: license without moral responsibility means ‘responsibility of nobody.’  

“The logic is simple: Empathy is why we have the values of freedom, fairness, and equality — for everyone, not just for certain individuals. If we put ourselves in the shoes of others, we will want them to be free and treated fairly. Empathy with all leads to equality: no one should be treated worse than anyone else. Empathy leads us to democracy.” –George Lakoff

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I am fond of those who are full of longing. –Richard Wagner

Since 1964 I have been intrigued by what is known as the Iroquois Confederacy.  In the cosmology of the Iroquois, sickness is seen as the soul’s way of indicating that something is missing in one’s life.  A body in pain is a soul in longing.  I love this idea. 

To the degree that a body in pain is a soul in longing, consider the following example; I experienced this in 1996 during my third trip to The Netherlands. 

I was guiding a four day session for senior level managers and executives.  As we were settling in for day four my host, Tjeb, told me that after we finished that day he and I were going to meet with four men who owned third generation family businesses.  I asked Tjeb about the purpose of the meeting; he responded, as he was wont to do, with, ‘We’ll see what unfolds.’ 

The six of us met later that afternoon and we began talking; ‘getting to know you’ was the theme.  As each man told his story it became clear that each had accepted their role in the family business out of loyalty to the family; out of duty.  Each also manifested chronic physical issues.  One of them informed us that he had chronic lower-back pain and it started within a month of his taking over the family business. 

After the third person finished his story the first man interrupted and said ‘I hate where I am sitting.’  And he began to cry; this was no small thing for a male in Holland, especially a male of his stature.  After some time of crying (we were all crying with him for his pain unleashed pain that we each were carrying) he began to compose himself.  He said that he had always wanted to be a chef.  His father and his grandfather made it clear that he was to carry on in the family business however.  Tjeb informed me a few months later that this man had resigned and had gone to Cooking School and that within a week of entering the cooking school his lower-back pain vanished.  As it turned out, each of the other three men believed that they were called to something else in their lives and that they had sacrificed themselves for the family business.  Tjeb informed me that another of these men had also resigned and went off to do what he truly loved and that his health, too, had dramatically improved. 

Dr. Benie Siegel provides us with a number of examples, here are two of them:  An adoptee had been searching for his mother for years and was suddenly stricken with an inability to blink.  After some deep searching he reported to the doctor that ‘If I blink, I might miss my mother.’  Then there was the man who had a cancer in his backbone and he noted that he had always considered himself to be ‘spineless.’  Dr. Siegel insists that our bodies know what we are to become.  We can trust our bodies he says to bring us into alignment and we can trust the soul to speak through the body

The body is a channel to the soul – I like this idea too.  One of the ancients, Paracelsus, put it this way: The body’s sufferings are the midwife of very great things.  Decay is the beginning of all birth, the beginning of the Great Work, that of spiritual transformation.’ 

Recently my soul has been calling me through my body; specifically through my left hip.  I have yet to discern what my soul is longing for.  Perhaps this entry today will help me as I search for an insight if not an answer.

Who are you?  Who are you choosing to become?  Why are you choosing this becoming? –Essential Life Questions

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