A Valuable Lesson from Marsh Grasses

The lotus is not the only plant that emerges from the depth of mud and murky waters. I recently went for a walk along a creek just before dusk and stopped for a while to observe the marsh grasses.

Compared to all the other exciting things to see at the creek, such as pelicans, seagulls, dolphins, shrimp boats, and fishermen, at first look marsh grasses seem to be quite ordinary and boring.  Maybe they make for a nice green contrast against other more interesting things in my photos, so I thought, but that’s all. Upon closer observation, however, I noticed just how remarkable marsh grasses are.

The marsh grasses I observed reminded me of the lotus, because they, too, have to work their way through a sticky mass of wet earth before they are able to catch their first rays of the sun. When they are still in the depth of the dark compact earth, how do they know in which direction to grow? Do they orient themselves by the warmth of the sun generated on the surface of the earth?

It takes a lot of strength and determination to penetrate the heavy mass of the mud. Marsh grasses come in the hundreds, thousands, or millions along a creek. Those grasses that are situated together with and perhaps shielded by other grasses are tall and strong. The ones that are solitary and exposed generally show signs of stunted growth and weakness. When the wind brushes the surface of the landscape, marsh grasses follow its direction. Thus, they constantly and randomly sway in the wind and change direction, whichever way the wind commands them. For this reason, marsh grasses are flexible. It helps them to endure.

Sometimes the water level is low and exposes most of the length of the grasses, except of their root systems in the mud. Other times, the water rises and immerses the grasses so that only their tips are visible. Then they are rocked back and forth by the waves of the heavy water mass surrounding them. For this reason, marsh grasses have to be strong.

When the water is low, marsh grasses hide little crabs and shore birds from predators in their midst.The behavior of marsh grasses metaphorically demonstrates what it takes to navigate life in this world: Strength, determination, endurance, flexibility, companionship, care, and a striving for warmth and light.



Featured Facebook Page: Deng Ming-Dao – Taoist Wisdom

If I had to pick the most favorite of my favorite Facebook pages, then it is the new page of Deng Ming-Dao.

Although, he is the author of eight popular books (with a ninth due out in January), a successful artist, and famous book designer, Deng Ming-Dao as a person has largely kept out of the public limelight.  Some of his readers have even wondered if he really exists.  The reason for Deng Ming-Dao’s hesitance of attracting limelight attention can be explained by the fact that he is a true, contemporary Taoist master who is trying hard to uphold the purity of the ancient Taoist sages’ original teachings.

Deng Ming-Dao is not another New-Age figure, self-help author, or pseudo spiritual leader.  Unlike many other authors and practitioners of Taoism, his Taoist lineage goes back directly to Huashan, one of China’s sacred mountains.  Aside from his numerous other skills and areas of expertise, this highly cultivated scholarly as well as practical Taoist master is fluent not only in ancient Taoist philosophy, but also in various styles of martial arts.

It comes as no surprise that Deng Ming-Dao’s international readership, including myself, rejoiced when he recently came on Facebook.  This new Facebook site, which has already developed into a genuine spiritual community, has made it possible for people of all spiritual traditions to see Deng Ming-Dao’s photo for the first time and find almost daily his profound wisdom and meditations, and information on Taoist history and philosophy.  Here readers are encouraged to enter into a dialogue with the master himself and with the other community members.

With Taoism being more of a philosophy, rather than a religion, it is universal.  Many of us already benefit from its wisdom and practical applications for everyday problems. Think acupuncture, acupressure, feng shui/geomancy, traditional Chinese medicine, internal and external martial arts, the I Ching, and the Daodejing!

I hope that I have sparked your interest enough and invite you to share this wonderfully inspirational site with me:  https://www.facebook.com/dengmingdao

All rights to this photo belong to https://www.facebook.com/dengmingdao

Featured Facebook Page: Rumi – Sufi Wisdom

This marks the start of a new series of blog entries in which I’d like to share with you my favorite public Facebook pages.  I will tell you why I find them interesting and worth following.  They will be hyperlinked so that you can check them out yourself if they spark your interest.

Today’s featured Facebook page is https://www.facebook.com/mevlana, based on the wisdom of Jalāl ad-Dīn Muhammad Balkhī, better known to us in the West as RumiRumi was a 13th century Persian poet, jurist, theologian, and sage of the Sufi tradition.  This Facebook page, currently liked by 538K people from around the world, successfully breaks down the poetry and teachings of Rumi into little daily bits of meditations so that we can better reflect upon them.  Each new timeline entry is accompanied by a beautiful, unusual photograph supporting the text.

Rumi’s message is universal and, thus, attracts people from all spiritual paths.   If you find yourself drawn to poetry and meditations to learn about life and its mysteries, then this Facebook page may hold some treasures for you.

Credit for this photo goes to https://www.facebook.com/mevlana

Meditation: Before I Die ….

This photo has been taken at the Redux Art Studios in Charleston, SC.  It was part of the “Before I Die” travelling installation which has made its way around the world.

What are your dreams?  What is it that you want to do before you die?

The Darkest Time of the Year

The sunny days are over. It is cold and rainy. The weather is not conducive for photography today. But this afternoon holds a special treat for us: the annual, international creche exhibit at the local monastery. There will be dozens of nativity scenes from all around the world on display in a festive candlelight setting.

This reminds me of the approaching holidays and, particularly of the darkest time of the year. Christmas has lost its meaning for me over the past few years. It’s the time where our annual consumption of goods and food reaches its climax. Like so many others, I am disenchanted by Christmas, and I don’t like the whole concept of Santa Claus. When I grew up, it was the Christ Child that came down from heaven at Christmas, not Santa Claus from the North Pole. It is well known that Jesus was not born on the 25th of December, but we follow the churches calendar anyhow. However, Christmas does not have to be a time of material over-indulgence. We have other choices.

To get us back on track, we can always learn from nature. In the natural rhythm of nature, winter is a time to turn inward. This is a simple truth, independent of any religion, and can be easily observed. Trees are stripped of their leaves and store their energy for new growth in spring. Animals withdraw from their active lives and hibernate. Seeds of fruit and vegetables lay dormant in the ground waiting for long, sunny days and the right conditions to sprout. The year’s darkest time has arrived.

At this time of the year, it is also natural for human beings to turn inward. We intuitively feel this, but let ourselves be distracted by the noise and hustle and bustle of holiday shopping. In fact, the more we consume, the more we become estranged from the spiritual. However, when we turn inward, we can search the depth of our souls for the Mystery behind the physical world.

The darkest time of the year, which surrounds Christmas, is an especially suitable time to remember the old sages and pray to or meditate with them. We can let ourselves be guided by Jesus, Lao Tzu, Guanyin, Buddha, or any other sages we feel drawn to that are not mentioned here. If we surrender ourselves to them, they will help us turn our focus around from the outer world to the inner one.

This time of the year is a holy time. It is a time of increasing yin energy. The outer darkness wants to lead us to our inner light. It is almost as if nature wants to take away from us anything that may distract us. All external activities we typically take pleasure in, such as sunbathing, boat rides, picnics in the park, playing ball, walks, etc. seem to be less or not at all pleasurable on winter’s cold and short days. Nature forces us to shift our focus. It commands of us to turn inward and take a walk through our inner landscape.

With or without our being fully conscious of it, we all do natural inner work at various degrees during the darkest time of the year. Each year, this inner work expresses itself outwardly soon after the 21st of December, the pivotal point where the darkest time of the year has reached its zenith. It is the time when we find ourselves making New Year’s resolutions. We have celebrated, contemplated, prayed, and meditated. We have taken stock of our inner and outer accomplishments of the past year. Usually, we come to the conclusion that we are not entirely on the right track.

There are always problem areas in our lives that need improvement. Something always seems to be missing. What could be the causes of our dissatisfaction and how can we remedy them? What is it that would make us happier? What do we need to do to further develop ourselves? Thus, we decide to use the occasion of the start of a new year as an opportunity to make a new start in our lives. We specify goals whose achievement shall make us happier. We determine the steps necessary to reach these goals.

This is what we do every year. Sometimes we yield moderate results. Often we find ourselves as unhappy as ever before. The results of our efforts will be only as good as the resolutions themselves. The resolutions will depend on our inner work and the depth of our knowing gained by it. If our inner work was superficial, the resolutions will be superficial, and so will be the results.

During the darkest and inward-turning time of the year, we search for the Truth and our role in it. We find it a little easier to slightly let go of the sensual and material world, which takes our focus away from the Truth. If we penetrate sufficiently deep into our interior, our knowing increases, our resolutions will be informed by it, and our goals will be solid. Whatever our new goals are, they will ensure that our internal flame keeps growing and our hunger for the Truth will not go unnourished.

When Yang-energy increases again and spring arrives, we meet it with more clarity. Despite all of its temptations to lose ourselves in the sensual and material world again, we stay balanced. In all that we do and enjoy in the physical world, we never lose sight of the spiritual. The knowing gained through our inner work during the darkest time of the year still lingers and informs us. All we have to do is stay focused and follow our new goals.

Though, the best thing is that we can pray, meditate, turn inward, be guided by the sages, and seek the Mystery at any time of the year. We do not have to wait for cold, short days and wintry, dark nights, or the season of Christmas. The Mystery is always present. We can always tap into it and let ourselves be informed and guided by it. All we have to do is look inside of ourselves.

Tree Project: Considerations in Selecting the Trees

The first task in my new tree project is finding the two trees that ‘speak’ to me. Then I want to unlock their mysteries. Why do they appeal to me more than the other trees? What are their specific qualities and stories? What does folklore or even medicine tell us about them?

My most favorite trees have always been the paper and Himalayan birch trees. Interestingly, according to Wikipedia, the name “birch” is derived from an old Germanic root, birka, with the Proto-Indo-European root *bherəg, “white, bright; to shine.” Perhaps birch trees remind me of my own roots. They certainly were part of my childhood’s landscape. To me, the bright white bark and ocean of golden leaves in fall of paper and Himalayan birch trees are symbolic for light. Always in search of the Light, I find myself easily attracted to their ‘light’.Image

Paper birch trees bring back memories of my father telling me about his time in Norway and Finland during WWII. Times were hard, food and supplies scarce. That included stationary. Difficult circumstances often produce brilliant ideas. My father and some of his friends harvested bark from the paper birch trees in the region, trimmed and flattened it, and converted it into post cards. Thus, the birch trees helped lessen the worries of the men’s families at home when they got news that they were alive and well.

My research on the Arbor Day Foundation website was somewhat disappointing, but not a surprise. Paper and Himalayan birch trees thrive only in zones 2 to 7, not zone 8 where I live. Therefore, I may set out to find a more heat resistant cousin of theirs, the river birch and, in addition, a live oak tree. But for now, I want to leave my options open.

Next week, I will meet with the horticulturist of breathtakingly beautiful Middleton Place Plantation and Gardens, one of my favorite hang-outs for photography.  I am hoping that he will be able to help me in my search for the right trees, and that he will become my ally for the next year.

Meanwhile, I’d like to share this little tree poem with you. It is funny how things work sometimes, but my tree research brought my attention back to an old and long-forgotten book of family poems on my bookshelf, The Book Of A Thousand Poems – A Family Treasure.


The Oak is called the King of Trees,
The Aspen quivers in the breeze,
The Poplar grows up straight and tall,
The Pear tree spreads along the walls,
The Sycamore gives pleasant shade,
The Willow droops in watery glade,
The Fir tree useful timber gives,
The Beech amid the forest lives.

By S. Coleridge


Follow-Up Discussion of My Previous Blog Entry: The True Self

This is a follow up discussion of my previous blog entry, “Sunday Meditation: The True Self” with Deng Ming-Dao. https://andelieya.wordpress.com/2012/11/11/sunday-meditation-the-true-self/

Deng Ming-Dao is an artist, writer and the author of eight books, with a ninth one, The Lunar Tao slated to be published in January 2013. In the discussion that follows, Deng Ming-Dao offers additional insight into the topic of my original blog post.

You can find Deng Ming-Dao on the web http://www.dengmingdao.com/, on Facebook https://www.facebook.com/dengmingdao, and on Twitter https://twitter.com/dengmingdao

Sometimes someone else has packed our bags.

Sometimes, we’re afraid to open our bags, or are horrified when we do.

Sometimes we continue to lug the bag, even though we know it’s wrong, because we’re fearful of the alternative.

Sometimes we’re afraid that if we were to upend our bag and clean everything out that we would disappear.

It’s not easy for people to clean out their baggage.

andelieya: We can learn to periodically set the bag down. Once we experience the relief of the weight falling away, we may see the benefit in doing this more regularly and more often.

We may find to have a lot more endurance and be able to go much farther with regular breaks, than if we continually toted the bag without ever putting it down.

After a while, it occurs to us that we can also make the bag lighter and our walk easier if we just emptied some of its content out permanently. We come to the realization that it’s wise to carry along just enough, and everything extra is unneeded and unwanted.

By regularly and often putting our bags down, we can experience refreshing breaks of weightless moments. But while we must still carry our bags, by gradually emptying out all unneeded and unwanted content, they will be a lot lighter. Our endurance increases, and we can walk a lot further and higher without tiring.

DMD: So many of us were told never to put or bags down. Travel in airports with the amplified admonishments not to leave our bags unattended represents an underlying anxiety in our culture. Lock your house. Lock your car. Hold onto your wallet. Hold onto your kids. We aren’t used to putting down our bags.

Hold onto our reputation. Hold onto your job. Hold onto your marriage. Hold onto your sanity.

“She’s letting herself go!” “He’s losing it!” “Don’t let go!” The resistance to putting down our bag is high.

Yes, the classical teaching is to put down or bags. But let’s acknowledge that the task is hard and that all of us who are traveling with our burdens must have compassion extended to us for our burdens.

andelieya: It is so true! The examples you brought up really demonstrate the societal conditioning of our mind in thinking that we must never let go of anything, otherwise something catastrophic will happen.

Although, it seems as easy as just putting them down, letting go of our bags is the most daunting task we are faced with in life. The tendency to cling and not wanting to render full control is in the nature of an unchecked ego. Actually, it is paradoxical, because the ego only thinks it is in full control, but never really is to begin with.

Meditation is one way through which we can dampen the loud calls and many voices of the ego and, instead, listen to the silent, peaceful depth and breadth of our souls. (I intentionally use depth and breadth in singular form here, because this depth and breadth is the Oneness that all souls share.)

Through meditation we can learn to empty our bags of nonessential weight and to periodically put our bags down completely for brief, refreshing moments where we can see clearly the nature of ourselves and of all that is around us. We may even progress far enough to be able to put down our bags at anytime, anywhere.

Those of us who are lucky enough may come across a qualified teacher who will show us the method and guide us in finding our true selves.

Deng Ming-Dao, thank you for sharing your wisdom with me and my readers!