Mark My Footsteps, My Good Page

For many years--the mid-1970s, to be specific--one of my favorite writers has been Ursula K. Le Guin, whose various works of fiction, non-fiction, science fiction, fantasy, and indescribable creativity (e.g. Always Coming Home) combine thought-provoking narratives with a philosophy that has always seemed powerfully comforting to me.

Her focus on such ideas as the balance of natural forces,and the calm acceptance of change had a significant effect on my thinking, so it wasn't entirely a surprise to me when I discovered such ideas in another place: the Tao Te Ching. The work of the legendary Lao Tzu, the book was filled with brief, pithy observations about life, consciousness, and eternity, and it spoke to me in a way that no other work of holy writ ever did. I never ran out and joined a Taoist congregation--indeed, it seemed to me that Lao Tzu would have frowned on such an action--but during times of stress or uncertainty, I often found myself thinking about the book's teachings and appreciating its wisdom, just as (I eventually learned) Le Guin had.

The way that can be spoken of
is not the constant way.

Well, the last little while has definitely qualified as a time of stress and uncertainty. No fewer than four of my extended family members have been injured or taken ill in the last month, which has left me and the rest of the family feeling more than a little out of sorts (though recovery is either accomplished or on the way in all four cases). Kelly is entering the final weeks of her most demanding semester of library school yet, one in which she has not one but two courses to finish before she starts on her thesis in the spring. And of course we're dealing with the first stirrings of Empty Nest Syndrome now that both boys are away at college. Add to that the usual stuff--work, mostly--and you can see how I've found myself out of balance going into the holiday season.

But last night, having completed a reading of Kazuo Ishiguro's masterful The Remains of the Day, I found myself in need of another bedtime book, and I felt the urge to pull off the shelf a book that I realized I really needed to re-read: Le Guin's own version of the Tao Te Ching, written with the assistance of UNC professor J.P. Seaton and published in 1997. And yeah, it still spoke to me:

[T}he unwanting soul
sees what's hidden,
and the ever-hidden soul
sees only what it wants.

When I'm exercising and my heart rate rises too high, or when I'm feeling especially anxious and short of breath, I cope by taking deliberate breaths--a sort of primitive yoga. In through the nose, out through the mouth, in long and continuous movements of air--that's what helps my body get back on track. And that's what reading the Tao Te Ching does for my mind.

To bear and not to own;
to act and not lay claim;
to do the work and let it go:
for just letting it go
is what makes it stay.

I'm listening to the Roches' version of "Good King Wenceslas" just now, and the image of the page treading in the king's footsteps to get where he must go is looming large in my mind right now. As yuletide approaches, I'm very glad that some footsteps have already been pressed into the cold winter landscape for me.

Thanks and Merry Christmas to you, Ms. Le Guin. And to you, too, Old Man.

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This page contains a single entry by Peter Cashwell published on December 7, 2011 11:12 AM.

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