turning, returning, rebelling … and feeling joy again

Fan from the Tao of Painting

Turning, revolving,  rebelling, and finding joy by letting go, are the themes today.

After almost 27 years working for an institution that I’ve come to admire less and less, and whose students I’ve come increasingly to see as victims of corporate brainwashing,  my days are now numbered. The house is for sale, my job will soon be up for grabs, and I’m moving on. So I can speak without fear.

Yet I have no harsh words to spread. I’d merely like to pass along some thoughts on what I’ve learned: on how sweet life can be, if you cultivate a certain kind of thinking.

For the past year, I’ve been deeply engaged in learning the “internal arts” of T’ai chi, calm self-awareness, and meditation. The main thing I’ve learned is that perception can very easily become reality. So it is important to pay attention to your state of mind and the things you allow into your mind.

Instead of considering life as a zero-sum-game or competition in which you must constantly fight off intruders, destroy rivals, and drown out discordant voices, try considering your life more as an ecosystem. Once you realize how you feel in times of calm, you will be more able to return there in times of stress. When you become physically and psychically stronger, as I have in the past ten months thanks to a consistent morning routine, you will discover more resources at your fingertips. Then you will be able to revolve without fear around the hate-spewers and ignore those who speak foolishly, while awaiting the right times to speak and act. With patience and perhaps some smart career moves, you can change yourself and the ecosystem around you.

Strange as it may seem, patience and generosity may be the best tools for truly  revolutionary practice. Note how revolution is linked to the symbol of the fan in Chinese iconography. The passage below, from The Tao of Painting by Mai-Mai Sze, explains the psychological benefit of considering the universe as a circle, and “turning in a circle about oneself”:

Fan (to turn over), shown here in its modern and old forms, describes the Taoist idea of “returning.” The pictograph represents the right hand turning something over. It indicates that the “other side” or the “returning” is the reverse of one and the same thing. The hand is specifically the right one; it appears to emphasize the manifest yang nature of the process.

The course of the Tao is not only circular motion but also, on the one hand, the marking off of a sacred precinct and on the other, fixation and concentration. The enclosing circle prevents “emanations” that, in terms of modern psychology, “protect the unity of consciousness from being split apart by the unconscious.”

“Turning in a circle about oneself” involves all sides of the personality, and has the moral significance of “activating the light and dark forces of human nature and, with them, all the psychological opposites of whatever kind they may be.”*


My new ecosystem, like the DNA within the “Honey Girl Books and Gifts business plan” (my fledgling company) is founded on generosity. I have learned to give–my time and energy in walks with thoughtful students, my writing skills and love of teaching in “Write YOUR Story” to kids and adults in town, and my encouragement and support to fretful colleagues and friends. If that sounds exhausting, consider the flipside. At the same time as I’ve become more generous, I’ve also become more discerning. I’ve learned to abstain from other interactions–from certain people who do not seek or incite such a truthful response. I’ve even created a special grading policy for my last semester of elite university teaching, so that the students grapple with their own behavior and choose their own grade (but not without looking me in the eyes and “owning” it.)

It feels good. The principle of generosity goes against the consumerist, acquisitive culture of American life. Some argue that the practice of generosity is “a revolutionary, even anarchist, practice,”** because no one can stop you from giving, no one can stop a freely-given gift, and no one can hate you out of existing.


Special note to my friends in Black Lives Matter and other political action groups: if the hate-mongers’ hate is so big as to create harm, that is not about you, it is about them. Why focus on fearing that? Legislation and activism are the right tools for large-scale change. But your life’s goal should be to keep yourself feeling vital and to grow a safe, loving ecosystem around you.


Try this: simply give what you want or what you can today, and let go. And tomorrow do something again. Eventually joy will come along like a long-lost friend, and life will start to feel better.

That inspires me. How about you?


*Mai-Mai Sze, The Tao of Painting, 2nd ed. With a translation of the seventeenth-century Chieh Tzŭ Yüan Hua Chuan or Mustard Seed Garden Manual of Painting (New York: Bollingen Foundation, 1963), 17-18.

** Subhadramati, Not About Being Good: A Practical Guide to Buddhist Ethics (Cambridge, UK: Windhorse Publications, 2013), 62.

See also https://dailyjoywithhoneygirltaichiandwisdomforbeginners.wordpress.com/


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