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/

2 thoughts on “turning, returning, rebelling … and feeling joy again

  1. dearest julia:
    that is so stunningly beautiful and important. in this midst of such you are feeling or coming to a realization in perception, you have then done amazing work in such a climate. I have such fond memories of you and being in a few classes with you right before you left ASU and went to Notre Dame. Perhaps, you may enjoy this book “A Time of Gifts”, if I haven’t already told you, by Patrick Leigh Fermor. After taking care of a friend for 4 months with rheumatoid arthritis surgery and rehab, I decided to walk from the Rocky Mountains to Key West, FL. I was tired of people visiting spaces with anger, aggression and violence with little consideration of a “different culture, a different way of being and honoring that” while falling back on “fear” to justify their negative actions on repeat. Thus, considering the story line of A Time of Gifts, I walked to see if people from the origins of “those visitors or strangers” would open beyond “fear”….it was Kansas, Oklahoma, Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and Florida.

    Alas, there wasn’t much opening beyond such. Over these years, I have visited many “faith based” venues to include voices. Yet, people were NOT always willing to open and share. Nonetheless, there were some spaces BUT I have also been in MANY amazingly beautiful locales in 35 states and over 500 communities with tickets back to Asia and Europe as “tokens” to then walk around those places.

    Perhaps, from time to time, you may enjoy a dharma talk at SFZC.ORG or not. Visiting there during my times passing through San Francisco whether hiking up from Big Sur OR down from Sonoma as I was hiking last year…..anyhow, I wish you well AND I am sorry that you have been faced with such BUT it is there. It’s a powerful time to be alive even though life alone is powerful, there are many crucial details to a larger narrative coming clearer to homo sapiens.

    Peace be with you and much love
    Richard Rennie

    1. Dearest Richard!
      Thank you for this profoundly moving message. Clearly, you read my blog and understood that I really meant what I wrote. Or perhaps you were writing to test it?
      Yes I am following a different path. You heard me! Rejoice!! no more ND or academe, or status-seeking, patriarchy-worshipping misery among the Catholics.

      It’s all gone, like a puff of cottonwood.
      I just finished today’s “morning routine” and I’m warm, sweaty, and incredibly happy as a result. Learning T’ai chi with Master Peng was a game-changer, as was the discovery of meditation, the learnings of Byron Katie, Alan Watts, and Mai-Mai Sze. That trifecta of influences has inalterably changed my perspective on life, as long as I remain constant and mindful of it. And life’s perspective on me seems to have changed as well. I have so much energy. Things like yesterday’s moving sale, which as you can imagine required hours of carrying furniture, moving boxes, cleaning, .etc, left me feeling peppier than ever at 10pm.
      So yes all is well and I do really follow the readings I’m reading. I say to myself, “T’ai chi has been around for 3,000 years and it makes me feel terrific. Readings in Buddhist ethics make me feel peaceful and incite me to generous actions. I’d be foolish to quit!” and so I keep on going.
      I hope you find peace in your searches. If you ever come to Seattle, look me up!
      Soon to be living on the prow of the peninsula that is West Seattle

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