This time I have another "opportunity of a lifetime" to do the same thing...except marking the beginning of the cycle again. After a year of studying the philosophy of the Tao, if not being so diligent in the practices, I am eager to hear the lectures again. There were concepts that were new, foreign, and mysterious that I feel I have a better grasp of now. "So explain that again, Teacher Hu, I didn't get it the first time." I hope to savor the area and focus on the practices this year without the distraction of novelty and group dynamics that played out last time.
And how have I already changed?
I have become very sensitive to time wasters. I can't sleep as late as I used to, and I don't want to. I am not dependent on the noise of TV, radio, music. (Although I've been watching a lot of Chinese movies, drama as well as kung fu.) I can't keep up the the fashion magazines that used to entertain me. Sometimes idle chatter in the office makes my eyes glaze over (but I am practicing compassion.) The olympics, the presidential campaign hold only passing interest. Maybe it all started with the recent disasters, since Katrina, the tsunami, the earthquake, death of loved ones. This gives perspective.
At the same time, I am a better breather. I am conscious, although not necessarily perfectly conscientious about, what I eat and drink. I am calm and slower to emotional outbursts. Still haven't conquered the monkey mind (otherwise I wouldn't be writing this) but I know that any effort is bound to pay off. I have taken some small steps toward some larger goals, blogging, getting some postponed dental work accomplished, clearing out clutter in my home. For the aspiring Taoist, that backsliding Episcopalian in me still keeps me moving forward. "Forgive me all the things I have done and left undone. " Over and over. My mentors include Thomas Merton, Alan Watts, Huston Smith. I don't believe it is possible to abandon and completely reject or turn our backs on the traditions that we grew up with. We can look at them objectively, but they will always be there trying to inform us, like any other emotional baggage we are burdened with, no matter what direction our spiritual path takes us. And that's a good thing, that's what makes us who we are. In every Western Buddhist or Taoist there is the ghost of a Greco-Judeo-Christian, and certainly for every born-again Chinese Christian, the Tao, Confucius and Buddha are in the blood somewhere. Probably Mao too.
So, back to the Tao, recognizing that change is in everything, how do we progress? What is progress? Just a western concept.
So in the next 96 hours as I gather my things and pack for for my next "Journey to the West" I know better than last year what I really need with me and what I have within me. As it turns out, I don't need so much really, and I have a lot.
I'm not there yet, but I'm getting there.