Tag Archives: Chuang Tzu

goals and striving

I’ve been thinking hard on all this. Today I think of ‘goals’ as associated with ‘striving’. I put them in quotes because they seem to have somewhat pejorative meanings.

I’ve long felt that the writings of the Chinese philosophers, in particular Chuang Tzu, represent how I like to look at the world and my life. Chaung Tzu speaks often of ‘striving’ in this pejorative sense, so when I think of ‘striving’ as a means to a ‘goal’, I have negative feelings.

Surely some goals are worthy, and therefore striving, or working, towards them is not a bad thing.

What are my goals?, Linda asked yesterday. I had some wordy answers, some of which I posted here. Today I’m thinking I want to live, as long as my health is reasonably good. That can be the basis for many things.

To be continued . . .

my week

I’m going to try to just describe my week.

Last Sunday morning I was still in Georgia. In the afternoon, we had Rosalie’s party. All of the Hall’s except for Lauren were there along with three of Rosalie’s chums from school. 2year old Parker Hall was another little one. The party started conventionally enough with people arriving and setting gifts on the hearth. Ashley and Rosalie had spent a lot of time preparing fairy houses which were set outside so soon we were all out in the back yard. The little plastic ball – perfect for kicking around the yard – and the swing set, however, proved to be more of a draw than fairy houses. It was cool and windy so sitting quietly outside was not optimal.

After a while we were back inside and Ashley brought out the strawberry and carrot cake cupcakes for everyone. Rosalie chose a strawberry one for her candles. The room became very quiet as the eating of the cupcakes proceeded.

Then it was out to the living room and the opening of presents. Rosalie went into full Christmas morning mode, ripping presents open and turning immediately to another one. I’m sure she’ll appreciate them eventually! Soon the balloons for all beckoned and before long the children were chasing each other in a circle through the dining room, the kitchen and the living room shrieking. This went on for at least 20 minutes (I wasn’t watching a clock). One balloon popped and another was lost (it later turned up behind the toilet in the bathroom) but no one was hurt or even had hurt feelings.

After everyone left, we cleaned up and went out to Ted’s for dinner.

Back at home, I explained to Rosalie at bedtime that I had to leave early in the morning to go home. We sang one more song with the guitar and she went to sleep. In the morning I went into her room and said goodbye again but she wasn’t really awake. Jeremy took me to the airport and we had some good talk on the way. His dream of moving back out west is very close. I told him I would be available to help him do the move if it happens.

Air travel. It’s like democracy: it’s terrible but the alternatives are worse. I’d love to be able to relax on a bus or a train across country but that would be time better spent with Rosalie so I fly.

At home Monday afternoon I tried to rest and then went to jazz band in the evening. Before leaving, I had told JJ that I was available for the Berlin Philharmonic Tuesday and Wednesday nights. He sent me an email confirming that along with the request that I come in for maintenance projects on both days. Oh well, I just had a week off and I have 5 days off following that. But those were long days: 9 am to 10:30 the first day and 9 am to midnight the second.

Thursday was Thanksgiving and the Woods were to gather in Santa Clara as is our tradition. It was also my birthday so Rose came over early with a birthday gift. We got down to Santa Clara a little before noon and set out food and started to eat. The day was fine and low key. Happy birthday was sung after dinner but otherwise there were no references to aging. I really pooped out about 8 and was back on my way home by 9.

Friday was laundry day and then a return to Santa Clara. Several people were there from out of town and were leaving Saturday so I made the effort to spend more time with them. Sarah had stayed there and wanted to go to The Starving Musician to look at violins. She asked me if I wanted to go with her.

Now, I had been to this music store many times. It’s a guitar shop in my mind. They have guitars, basses, amplifiers, keyboards, and drums in the main showroom pretty much like any other music store. I had noticed the little room for band instruments in the back before but Sarah told me she had been in there a couple of years earlier and seen some violins. She remembered one of them was pretty good and she wanted to see if it was still there. She needed an inexpensive instrument to teach with as her main fiddle had gotten damaged recently by a careless student.

It turned out there was a whole violin showroom – small, but nicely finished – upstairs in the back! Sarah spent a happy couple of hours going through the 50 or so instruments and chatting with the owner/luthier about arcane details of each one. We left with two on evaluation. She will take them back in a week or so. Depending on the opinions of various friends who know things, she may buy one.

That evening at dinner, Jane led the conversation by asking our Aunt Kathleen lots of questions about her journey into the sisterhood. I like to call her Kathleen but she really prefers Pieta. Technically she is Sister Pieta but she’s still our Aunt Kathleen. Pieta is 89 and my mother’s older sister. She’s been out in California since the 15th. We younger ones learned a lot about her life from 1945, when she graduated high school and went into an Army nursing program, until 1950 when she went into the nunnery. There was much more, of course, all very interesting. Pieta’s choice of name is very apt: she is deeply religious and serene but also down to earth so talking with her is always easy.

At the end of the evening, Sarah asked me if she could come stay at my house that night. Of course I said yes. We got the futon set up and then ended up talking Chinese philosophy for an hour or so. She had a copy of the Tao te Ching that she had gotten for Zach originally. I had brought up Chuang Tzu at the dinner table when Dad had spoken of his visit to the Abbey of Gethsemane while he was in college. Thomas Merton was famously in residence there at the time. I commented that Merton wrote a book of Chuang Tzu stories set as poetry which I had in my library. I read a couple of them to Sarah. We talked about the pros and cons of setting goals and striving for them and whether I was happy with my life choices.

In the morning, we were slow to get up but eventually we got out for breakfast at the Chit Chat where we ate and drank our tea watching rain squalls over the mighty Pacific Ocean out the window. I still didn’t have the energy for anything outdoors so we settled on going to a movie for the afternoon. We saw Arrival, which I thought was very interesting. As with any science fiction, one needs a willing suspension of disbelief but the story hung together reasonably well. It is based, so the credits say, on The Story of Your Life by Ted Chiang. I had actually noted that when I saw the trailer a month or so ago so I’ve really got to do it now.

Sarah headed home after the movie and I did the same. There were a lot of cut up vegetables left over from Thursday so I did a stir fry and Rose joined me for dinner and glass of wine. Her ribs are still bothering her so we parted with a gentle hug and I went straight to bed.

Today I have another trip to Santa Clara for lunch with Charlie Centofante after which I will again go to see Mom and Dad and say goodbye to Aunt Kathleen.

Ursula K. LeGuin and history

I went to the Salvation Army store the other day hoping to find a replacement for the jacket I left on the plane in Denver. No luck, but I did find a book that has proved to be worthwhile. (There was a jacket that might have served but it had Frontier Airlines stitched on the front. I don’t think so!)

I read Ursula K. LeGuin’s Earthsea trilogy years ago and liked it enough to keep it in my library. I’ve read it once or twice more since then. She wrote a fourth book in the same story line that I read but did not care for as much.

Regardless, when I saw her name on a book titled Tales from Earthsea, I picked it up immediately. For a dollar how can you go wrong?

The book has a foreword that explains LeGuin’s take on the ‘nonexistent history’ of the fictional Earthsea. There’s a paragraph that hit me between the eyes this morning when I read it. She writes:

Even if we are present at some historic event, do we comprehend it – can we even remember it – until we can tell it as a story? And for events in times or places outside our own experience, we have nothing to go on but the stories other people tell us. Past events exist , after all, only in memory, which is a form of imagination. The event is real now, but once it’s then, its continuing reality is entirely up to us, dependent on our energy and honesty. If we let it drop from memory, only imagination can restore the least glimmer of it. If we lie about the past, forcing it to tell a story we want it to tell, to mean what we want it to mean, it loses its reality, becomes a fake. To bring our past along with us through time in the hold-alls of myth and history is a heavy undertaking; but as Lao Tzu says, wise people march along with the baggage wagons.

The philosophy of Lao Tzu is similar to that of Chuang Tzu, who I referenced in an earlier post involving LeGuin’s work: http://thezachproject.us/index.php/2016/09/01/loss/

LeGuin has a larger, world history in mind but her words resonate with me for the events of last November. Humankind is just a tiny blip in the context of the universe, but for us it is all we have. We must hold our memories true and pass them on. There is nothing more.


My sister wrote me an email today with a quote in it from a book she’s been reading. She said it made her think of me ‘and others close to me that have lost loved ones’.

She stood quite still. Late people do not altogether leave us, she thought; they are still with us in memories such as that, wherever we are, no matter what time of day it was or how we were feeling, they were there, still shining the light of their love upon us.

     — Alexander McCall Smith  in The Woman Who Walked in Sunshine


I believe my sister is without guile. She loves me and I love her unconditionally. So it troubled me that this quote does not move me. It has troubled me that most of my family does not seem to be affected by the death of Zach. This of course is grossly unfair. They did not see me weeping, as I did a few minutes ago, alone in my apartment. How do I know they do not grieve similarly? And what right do I have to determine how they, or anyone else, grieves Zach?

Well I wanted to write a response that is respectful of her feelings yet also representative of mine so I thought of the Ursula LeGuin book The Lathe of Heaven. It has quotes at the beginning of each chapter that have to do with time and permanence. Actually it was this book that began my interest in Chinese philosophy, in particular the writing of Chuang Tzu.

Sadly, no quotes seemed appropriate for my goal. Thumbing through the book, however, I remembered the story of the man who dreamed changes in the world. He has a wife he loves but loses her in the dream changes. At the end he finds her again and when I read that I started crying.

It’s a book I’ve kept in my library for years through many winnowings, partly through sentiment because of the introduction it provided to what is now my core philosophy. It’s a good book, not a great one. Arguably it’s a sentimental ending.

So why cry over the ending? It made me think of the last time I cried like that. A couple of weeks ago, the promo track for the Broadway show ‘Jersey Boys’ came up on my MP3 player in the car. It has snippets of the hits from the ’60s by the Four Seasons. Good, not great, I suppose, would apply as well. But there I was, driving on the freeway, crying my eyes out.

Zach had no connection that I know about to either the book or the tunes. I wasn’t thinking of Zach before I started crying. Thus the mystery of grief.

To go back to Teresa’s quote, I do not have any feelings of Zach watching over me. Indeed, one of the confusing things about the last couple of months has been a lack of feeling of Zach as presence. I’ve set aside his phone and ipad and given up on converting his texts. With one exception I haven’t read in his journals for quite a while now. I suppose you could call my arrangement on my dresser a kind of a shrine. (See the post ‘reaction’ at http://thezachproject.us/index.php/2016/07/20/reaction/ for a picture.) I do look at that every day and sometimes I just can’t connect to the idea of Zach as a living person. It puzzles me and perhaps that is contributing to my depressed state.

Here is a bit of Chuang Tzu via Thomas Merton’s ‘The Way of Chuang Tzu’:

“The Master came at the right time
Into the world. When his time was up,
He left it again.
He who awaits his time, who submits
When his work is done,
In his life there is no room
For sorrow and rejoicing.
Here is how the ancients said all this
In four words:
‘God cuts the thread.’

“We have seen a fire of sticks
Burn out. The fire now
Burns in some other place. Where?
Who knows? These brands are burnt out.”