?If you want to become whole,
let yourself be partial.
If you want to become straight,
let yourself be crooked.
If you want to become full,
let yourself be empty.
If you want to be reborn,
let yourself die.
If you want to be given everything,
give everything up.?Laozi, Dao de Qing, Ch. 22
My hot water tank blew last week. I went to bed on Friday after a hot shower, and woke up Saturday morning with only cold water.
A new hot water tank was installed on Tuesday, and order was restored. Four days of dishes and pans got washed, as did I. No big deal.
There is no shower or bath tub at my temple in China. We catch rainwater in our basins for tea and cooking. We boil the water and store it in large insulated jars, taking what we need to make tea, and to dip our face cloth in for our ?bath? each day.
We use water from rain pools to wash the trench that is our ?toilet,? and it flows into the composting basin. Our fertilizer for the gardens comes from there. We also use this water to wash our bowls we eat from and the woks we cook in. We are frugal in our use of water on the mountain top as it is a valuable and limited resource.
We wash our clothes by hand, and hang them in the sun to dry. In fact, clothes dryers are not customary in the average Chinese home. Air and sun do the job just fine, as they have done forever.
Eventually, we become accustomed to these conditions, ultimately finding them of no inconvenience to our lives at all. In fact, we come to appreciate this simplicity.
When everything that is familiar and comfortable in your life is gone, you can begin to learn how little you truly need to live a meaningful life. This is one of the greatest lessons temple life taught me.
Laozi says ?When you want to be given everything, give everything up.?
In the giving up of everything, you find you still have your life. It is sustained by food and sheltered by a roof over your head, and your body is warmed by the clothing you wear. What else do you need but these?
Creature comforts are not evil, and need not be avoided to live a meaningful life.? Humanity as a species has survived for hundreds of thousands of years without them, and yet such wondrous works of art and books of knowledge have been created, and sacred lives have been lived during that time.
But creature comforts do not make your life, and they do not define who you are. When Joseph Campbell was asked once by a student what he had determined the meaning of life to be, he answered:
?Life has no meaning. We give our life meaning by the way in which we choose to live it.?
I chose to live my life, for a time, as a monk at a mountain top temple in central China. I gave up everything that was familiar and comfortable, trading everything in for nothing. It?s easy to be a holy man on a mountain top, to be sure. There?s really not much else to do.
But here, back in society, I?ve been fairly faithful to the lesson, fairly faithful to living what I learned. A simple, disciplined life of daily qigong, taiji and meditation, a vegetarian diet, periodic fasting, and corporal acts of charity volunteering for Hospice.
I went five days with facecloth baths only, and I didn?t die. In fact, I barely thought about it. I thought, instead, of Laozi?s words, and my life on the mountain. And I remembered the depth of the lesson I learned, and how little I needed in my life.
This is not to say I did not relish that first hot shower when the tank was installed. I did. I luxuriated in it for a while, in fact.
The point is I would have been fine without it, just as we were fine with our face cloth baths every day at the temple.
In this time of the virus, and so many changes to our daily life, it?s easy to complain and suffer without all things familiar and comfortable. We ask when we?ll be back to ?normal? life.
In fact, there is no ?normal? life. There is only life. I tell my students that taiji teaches us to be nimble – – physically, emotionally, and spiritually. Nimbleness serves us well today, adjusting and adapting to what is, and realizing that life is life, and it must be lived meaningfully even now.
The holiday season is here. So are we. Life is life, and it still must be lived.
I will have hot water for a shower today. But if I didn?t, I?d still be fine, and my life would continue. No big deal.
If you want to be given everything, first give everything up. Even in these difficult times of the virus, find meaning in your life. Give your life meaning by the way in which you choose to live it.