"Gratitude. What is your practice?" Explore the Dao with Alex Feng, at Zhi Dao Guan (7:00 PM)

WHISPERS . . .   from Dr. Alex Feng

I often say a bow is an expression of gratitude. The exact posture used - the depth of the bow, the position of your head, the tilt of your head are important to consider but not as critical as what is in your heart. When you ask what gratitude is, what it looks like, you make it into a thing. The Tao deals not in things but in flowing springs. Like love, gratitude is ungraspable. It is neither a feeling nor some other sort of thing. Gratitude in Taoism is a practice.
The Dao De Jing says, "“the sage has a gentle smile for all…[and] assists the self-becoming of all being.” As my dear friend Robert Rosenbaum wrote in a blog several years ago, gratitude (love) flows in a continual process of giving and receiving. Giving-and-receiving is a form of non-greed, of releasing and letting go, participating with full body and mind in the coursing stream of generosity. This transforms gratitude from a back-and-forth to a practice of circulation, of offering one’s self up and receiving all that comes. Giving-and-receiving makes love and gratitude round.
Giving and receiving is not a matter of bestowing something on another while scrutinizing the balance scales. Asking “Does what I give equal what I receive?” only leads to dissatisfaction. In truth, no gift can ever be repaid; it can only be passed along to another, becoming more wondrous with each person it touches.
Of course sometimes there is a stutter in the flow, a gap in the circle. This is natural: there are no streams without eddies and snags, whirlpools and waterfalls. Love expresses a willingness to immerse yourself in the current, swirling around while closing the gaps and restoring the touch of unbroken flow.
When we love this way we forget ourselves, but not as self-abnegation nor even self-sacrifice. Chuang Tzu says, “If you act worthily but rid yourself of the awareness that you are acting worthily, then where can you go that you will not be loved?”
"Acting “worthily” requires a willingness to make constant adjustments so we are in tune with the needs of the moment. How do we reconcile our feelings, needs, and actions with the people, plants, animals, and objects which constitute our being-with-the-world? Love is the practice of listening to each moment to discover how we can harmonize with all we face:
  • My friend is searching for a word to express herself; do I offer her my best empathetic guess at what she might be feeling,, or give her more space to find herself?
  • This tree’s branches are shading the rose bush; do I prune one, move the other, or let nature take her course?
  • I am thirsty, and the tea leaves have been rinsed but have not yet unfurled and relaxed: do I quench my thirst, or assist the self-becoming of the tea leaves by giving them more time to open up?
Love is homely and ordinary, expressed not in grand proclamations but in our everyday activities. It’s how we hold one another just so, in full awareness there’s no thing to hold on to. Love is unstoppable because it is ungraspable:
When looked at, no thing to see.
When listened to, no thing to hear.
When used, no thing to use up.
Hence, inexhaustible.
                       (Tao Te Ching, verse 35)

Come study the Dao with Dr. Alex Feng on the last Friday of every month, at Zhi Dao Guan, 7:00 PM, in the Laurel District: 2824 MacArthur Blvd, Oakland, CA 94619,  (510) 336-0129.

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