Feeling Yucky

The highest virtue is like water.
Since water helps the myriad creatures,
And settles, without contention,
Where no one wishes to live,
It is near to the Way.
In a house position matters.
In mental quality depth matters.
In friends kindness matters.
In speaking honesty matters.
In government order matters.
In transactions ability matters.
In actions promptness matters.
By not contending it never errs.

Tao Te-Ching, Lao Tzu VIII

When I walked away from teaching I resolved not to contend with anyone over anything. It wasn’t worth it. Anything anyone was going to learn they would learn without me. The resolution not to contend was a wise one. Contention makes me feel dirty, polluted, as if I’ve sacrificed something precious. It makes me think of a theme in the novels of Yukio Mishima in which a protagonist “falls from grace,” and is no longer able to experience bliss.

When I read Mishima’s novels in my late 20’s that idea resonated with me. Mishima seemed to say that by holding fast to an imperceptible thread we could walk through the labyrinth safely. Dropping the thread? Mishima’s characters lost everything.

Contending with that child yesterday left me feeling icky. I guess a few walks with Bear and maybe a little skiing will clear all that away.


Nature is often called “serene” but it’s only serene because somebody said so. Nature has (also) often been called “harsh” and that’s a lot LESS in the eye of the beholder than is the serenity. The battle between humans and nature is as old as humanity, but it’s a silly battle. Nature WILL WIN, at the very least against every individual human.

My life in the destination we call nature has involved lots of small negotiations. I live in a house. 😉 I carry a stick to warn snakes. I wear warm clothes in winter. Because there are legitimate foes out here, I leash my dogs. Now I will wear bug repellant at the slough. I accepted that if I did see a mountain lion someday (I did) it might not go so well — did I still want to? (I did) Lucky for the lion and me it was a happy meeting. If the lion had attacked me, it would’ve been killed by a ranger or something. Most important, staying alert. I know if I take Bear out in a thunderstorm it might hail. Can I get to shelter along the way if that happens? And what about lightning? There’s a long list of accommodations like these that I can’t even think of now; they are second nature. I think the most important thing is knowing my limits (also nature) and, if I want to expand them, knowing I can’t do it in a day (nature seldom does anything ‘in a day’).

I think that the one lesson we can get from nature that might lead to serenity is the lesson of humility. A horsefly is small, but it brought me down.

“When men lack a sense of awe, there will be disaster.” Lao Tsu