Category Archives: Lao Tzu

The Strength of Gentle-men

The need for a men’s movement for our collective humanity.

Looking at pictures from around the world for International Women’s Day, I am reminded of the hope I felt on January 21st as over 3 million people around the world marched in solidarity to peacefully demonstrate the love of freedom, the love of this planet, and the drive to not be satisfied with less than equality for all women.

I was grateful to be marching in New York and to support what felt like the beginning of humanity waking up to its beautifully diverse potential.  As one sign said, “Women’s rights are Human rights!”

My friend Angie is a mental health and relationship counselor. We talked recently and she told me she has been talking to her male clients about the need for a men’s movement. The women’s movement has risen out of necessity. For women, bonding together to strengthen what has been suppressed goes beyond the right to education and equality. The patriarchy we have clung to as our collective ‘bottom-line’ has created an imbalance that has oppressed the human spirit. Men are conditioned to be bread winners, the top dog, the invading conqueror. Men have been compelled to play a role that equates strength with brute force.

“A mentor can guide a young man through various disciplines, helping to bring him out of boyhood into manhood; and that in turn is associated not with body building, but with building an emotional body capable of containing more than one sort of ecstasy.”

Robert Bly, Iron John

Angie pointed out our former president George W. Bush’s comment, “We need an independent media to hold people like me to account…Power can be very addictive, and it can be corrosive.” Angie was impressed that Mr. Bush was able to include himself in that equation.

I do feel we are on the cusp of collectively being able to relinquish our death grip on the privileged-based hierarchy that undermines our true nature.

Lao Tzu, a contemporary of Confucius, and the author of the Tao Te Ching, talked about four virtues that “are not an external standard or dogma, but attributes of one’s true nature.”

“The first is unconditional natural piety. Natural piety means love and respect for one’s being, both the internal aspects and the external manifestations.; a state of profound reverence toward natural life.

The second virtue is natural sincerity. To be genuine, earnest, honest and whole-hearted. It also means being free of all self-deception.

The third virtue is gentleness. When one is rough, one tends to be aggressive, inconsiderate and unkind to others. This behavior inevitably rebounds on oneself.

The fourth virtue is being naturally supportive. To serve without expecting anything big in return. Through serving others, one can find dignity and the true meaning of life.”

Lao Tzu

This fourth virtue is referred to by Jewish Mystics as “the will to bestow.”

Tony Robbins, a motivational and financial giant, who exceeds anyone’s definition of what it means to be a man’s man has this to say: “I became obsessed with ways to do more for others than anyone else was doing, in less time. I (decided) I would never stop growing, never stop giving, never stop trying to expand my influence or my capacity to give and do good. And as a result, over the years, I’ve become more valuable in the market place.”

Tony is what Joss Whedon, (awesome TV/Screen writer/director) would say was “among the rare men who understood that recognizing someone else’s power doesn’t diminish your own.”

I have a close friend named Eric Reisman who has started a men’s movement called:

The Gentle-man.  He is a mentor who quests to strengthen men’s ability to see that being gentle is not a sign of weakness but that our empathy leads us to our full potential.

Another hub of men’s groups is the mankind project.

My friend Angie’s desire for there to be a unifying Men’s movement is not to emphasize and increase the distinction between men and women. When men are not fueled by insecurity and the need to dominate, there is a freedom that is offered to everyone.

It may be that the men’s movement we need will arise from those men supporting the women’s movement. Being able to be comfortable with who we are, we can begin to identify ourselves beyond form. Then, we will appreciate the need for everyone’s right to be free of labels and social constraint.

“May all be happy in the knowing that we are one family of being with one common heart, a Heart of imageless perfection.”- Mooji


Paradox Parade

Making peace with that which seems to be contrary

“When I am in tatters and about to cave, in elementary matters: be the particle and the wave.”- The Levins 

This weekend, my wife Julia and I gathered within a wonderful community to see Joe Crookston, a master musician, songwriter and beloved cheerleader of humanity. Before the concert, I had a conversation with a friend who has a different political point of view. We agreed on many points but in the end, there was no swaying her from her stance. I had to say that I was grateful that we were willing to converse at all. Our beliefs can become a citadel from which we are unwilling to emerge. Recognizing that I care for someone who does not see or feel as I do, awakens the love from which all things become whole.

Of course, there is a process that takes place before love comes into the picture. There is a gambit of emotions that come into play that must be honored before I can authentically facilitate a greater understanding. Sometimes, however, I can find myself going down the rabbit hole with bad feelings and I have to remind myself that love is an option. That way I can manually shift gears.

We are the awareness that animates everything and yet we seem to be in a separate form from everything around us. What can bring us peace is quietly observing the drama of life as it unfolds without needing to over-identify with it.  Swirling around duality, our consciousness can silently become unified.

For a long time, there was a scientific argument about what light consisted of. There were proponents of the Particle theory who said that light was made of particles. There were proponents of the Wave theory who said light was made of waves. They were like two political parties attacking one another. Each side said they were right and that the other was wrong. Now we know that light is both a particle and a wave. It has both properties and depending on how you look at it, it may change from a particle to a wave. It may do the opposite.  All that time arguing may have been wasted, or it may have provided the breakthrough in understanding. It is a paradox.

Paradox comes from the Greek words para and dokein which mean “to seem contrary.”

We live in a world where there seems to be endless conflict without the hope of us reconciling our differences. Perhaps, if we can use the idea of the particle and the wave, we can learn to embrace the paradox and find a way to live in peace.

Here are some examples of paradox found throughout the world’s wisdom traditions:

In Judaism, a cherished practice started by Rabbi Bunim of P’shiskha, urged people to put these two statements in their front pockets. One on the left and one on the right:

“The world was created for me.” ( from the Talmud Bavli, Sanhedrin 37B) and

“I am but dust and ashes.” ( from Genesis 18:27)

Saul, a man who killed Christians then became Paul, Christianity’s chief proponent. He said:

“For God has bound everyone over to disobedience so that he may have mercy on them all.”- Romans 11:32

A mystic Sufi was executed for proclaiming, “I am the Truth.”  Paradoxically, some saw this as a man claiming divinity, while others saw it as a humble denial of the ego which allowed divinity to shine through him.

The Taoist Lao Tzu said: “Heaven and Earth are long-lasting. The reason why Heaven and Earth can last long is that they live not for themselves, and thus they are able to endure.”

The psychologist Carl Jung had this to say: “The paradox… reflects a higher level of intellect and, by not forcibly representing the unknowable as known, gives a more faithful picture of the real state of affairs.”

The poet, TS Elliot said: “Except for the point, the still point, There would be no dance, and there is only the dance.”

Mooji, a teacher of the Hindu Advaita Vedanta (which means “not-two”) says: “Paradoxically, the most powerful force in the universe is doing nothing at all.” And “Without the physical, the spiritual cannot be known or experienced. Go deep. Find and Be the Real!”

As a fitting last float in this Paradox Parade, here are the lyrics to one of Joe Crookston’s songs, which both did and did not revive the Buddhist poet and leader, Thich Nhat Hahn from a coma:

Fall down as Rain

When my life is over

And I have gone away

I’m gonna leave this big ole’ world

And the trouble and the pain

And if I get to heaven

I will not stay

I’ll turn myself around again

And fall down as the rain

Fall Down as the rain

Fall Down as the rain

And when I finally reach the ground

I’ll soak into the sod

I’ll turn myself around again

Come up as goldenrod

Come up as goldenrod

Come up as goldenrod

And then when I turn dry and brown

I’ll lay me down to rest

I’ll turn myself around again

As part of an eagles nest

Part of an eagles nest

Part of an eagles nest

And when that eagle learns to fly

I’ll flutter from that tree

I’ll turn myself around again

As part of the mystery

Part of the mystery

– Joe Crookston

We may never understand one another or ourselves and that in itself is a reason for rejoicing.


The spontaneity of true friendship

“A friend is someone who gives you total freedom to be yourself.”
-Jim Morrison

“No book ever ends
When it’s full of your friends.”

– Roald Dahl

“We’ll be friends forever won’t we Pooh?” asked Piglet “Even longer,” Pooh answered.”

– A.A. Milne

Pooh and Christopher

Driving home from a late-night gig, I got a text from a friend in another time zone. I had been meaning to talk to this particular friend for over a month.   Julia and I were almost home and we had to get up early. It would have been ‘virtually’ no trouble at all to wish him well and postpone an actual conversation.  Instead, at ten minutes to 1am, I called him.  We jumped right in as if no time had elapsed between our last conversing. This kind of friendship is not dependent on rehashing our history but delights in splashing around in the moment.  He said that many of his friends get married and he is never able to talk to them without their spouses. However, with Julia and I, not only didn’t he mind, he said it was honestly refreshing to talk to both of us.  I understood what he meant about sometimes wanting to have a connection with a friend without their partner because what friendship offers us is a chance to be fully ourselves without pretense or hesitation.

There are so many restrictions on our being that we navigate through on a daily basis, we are not even aware why we feel so worn out most of the time.  With social media, we can see our friends, we can read texts, we can check our emails on our phones but there is nothing like direct contact.  I get a certain thrill when I see people reading actual books on the subway.  The other day, I saw a man reading a book about meditation and I decided to pull out a book as well in solidarity.  I started to read and the man next to me woke up and we had a wordless friendly exchange.  I am not sure he even spoke English but we smiled with one another and were augmented by our actually taking one another in.

The book I was reading was Lao Tzu’s Hua Hu Ching and he was talking about cultivating a, “natural love and respect for one’s being …one’s own being and everything in one’s environment are seen as divine in and of themselves… one may transcend all transient trivialities… it (this love and respect for one’s being) also reconnects one with the deep and constant nature of the universe.”*

Lao Tzu

That is why I have always reveled in the spontaneity of true friendship, it breaks the restrictive bonds of everything that must be accomplished to survive and instantly “reconnects one with the deep and constant nature of the universe.”

I used to say that a true exchange between friends was a battery charge. My uncle Jeff used to say that no matter how big your battery was, if you were relying only on yourself, your battery would run down but if you plugged into the wall socket…  So, perhaps true friendship isn’t about how much time we spend with one another or any tally of who gave what when but in one another’s presence, we find we are plugged in, the current is flowing, and our cup is overflowing.


Here’s to true friendship, may it break the bonds of conformity and bring us back fully to all that we are, which cannot be contained!

Love you, Ira

*- From The Complete Works of Lao Tzu, Translation and Elucidation by Hua-Ching Ni

Taking the BIG view

 “In the future, humanity will overemphasize the intellectual element of the mind. Instead of recognizing the wholeness of life, people will perceive life as having a worldly aspect and a spiritual aspect that are separate and unrelated to each other. People will also loose themselves  in isolated fragments of conceptual information and become victims rather than masters of their knowledge…Intuition knows the whole, intellect knows only fragments.”
– Lao Tzu
Sabine Bode
Yesterday on The New Yorker Radio Hour, Sabine Bode, a journalist, talked about interviewing elderly Germans, who were born at the end or after WWII. She wanted to see, if like her, they were traumatized by wondering to what extent their parents had gone to as Nazis. Many of the people she talked to had lived either in denial or were as wood. Sabine remarked that many people had little or no sympathy for the children of Nazis.  As she talked, her humanity flowed out through the radio and it endeared me to her.
This made me consider the reality behind all the groups that act reprehensively. For every terrorist, there are wives, children, parents, brothers, sisters, relatives and friends associated or attached to them. Many may not share their ideologies or beliefs but are hijacked into silence or coerced into action out of fear.  Surely some stand up or are die in resistance but many are swept up.
Last night, Julia and I continued to listen to Brene Brown’s book, Rising Strong. Brene interviewed hundreds of individuals to see if they thought that on the whole, people were doing the best they could with what they had to work with. She found that if people were compassionate they agreed that people were doing the best they could with what they had to work with. This included murderers and terrorists. Of course having compassion doesn’t mean that we condone their behavior. We can understand someone’s actions and know that the best thing is to make sure they don’t continue to cause harm.
Brene suggests “Living Big”, using Boundaries, Integrity and Generosity. Setting boundaries helps us define clearly and honestly which behaviors are ok and which aren’t. Integrity allows us to not just talk about our values but to go beyond what is easy to consider the whole picture and generosity allows us to see humanity not in black and white according to our current blanket judgments but with kindness and discernment.
There is a musical group called My Favorite Enemy comprised of Israeili, Palestinian, Jordanian, American and Norwegian famous recording artists and songwriters.  They sing, “Too many stones have been thrown.”
What is flowing through us is so much grander than the defined concept we have of ourselves and one another. Surely things are always more complicated than we can understand but as we expand our hearts we can intuit what it is to be whole and help to untie these knots.
May our humanity allow us to flow beyond borders and definitions to heal those who have been swept up, including ourselves.

Reviving the heart of humanity

“I can see you are me in disguise.”- The Levins

“The shell of a book can be burned…but no one can damage the subtle truth that is beyond any form. – Hua-Ching Ni


Suffragette pic

Last week we watched the movie Suffragette .  It is astounding how much we have suffered and still struggle to go beyond form.  That women should have been pushed to the point of violent social protest to gain the right to vote, especially at a time when they were slaving away in factories, could have been enough to wake us up.

While we were visiting Julia’s sister in Iowa, we all watched the president host a televised Town Hall meeting to address racial tension. More than a hundred and fifty years after the Civil War, that we even need to have a movement called “Black Lives Matter” is beyond disgraceful. It is another call for us to look beyond our current form and become aware of the stream running through everything that is.

Lao Tzu, author of the Tao Teh Ching and Hua Hu Ching said, “The confrontational nature of duality is merely an illusory product of the mind. In order to perceive the integral reality of the universe, it is necessary to transcend the mental process of separation and fragmentation.”

He also said, “There is no separation.  (One) is not the isolated individual (they) thought (themselves) to be. All divine, subtle beings, all enlightened beings are one with (them.)  What happiness one experiences in that state of consciousness!”*

On our way back east, Julia and I played a house concert in Kent Ohio.  Not only were there friends present that strengthen our Judaic-Celtic connection but there was a beautiful Iranian Islamic couple who were huge fans of Hafiz.  They saw our CD: My Friend Hafiz before we played and asked if that was their Hafiz.  Once again, the fourteenth century mystic poet raised the roof of our molecular structure so that we were able to bond beyond seeming separation.

Women, men, Black, White, Hispanic, Gay, Transgender, Disabled… Despite the current political climate, which is acting as a lightning rod to our basest reactions, I still believe we are right on the cusp of recognizing that being attached to form only causes our suffering to increase. The actress Elaine Stritch said she wasn’t old, she was getting older… and that we are all going that way. We are all heading towards releasing this current form, still we cling to it as if that is all there is.


We battle to gain equality.  We collectively oppress ourselves because some of our disguises seem to  give us a decided advantage.  But I agree with President Obama when he says, “Reject cynicism, reject fear, to summon what’s best in us.”

Last night Dr. Rev. William Barber said, “When we love the Jewish child, and the Palestinian child…when we love the Muslim and the Christian and the Hindu and the Buddhist and those who have no faith, but they love this nation…we are reviving the heart of our democracy.”

This doesn’t just go for this nation but for the world, not just for democracy but the heart of our humanity.

Through our journey towards accepting that we are all just playing hide and seek, may your bond with those around you be motivated by love so that you can celebrate your current form without attachment.


*- Lao Tzu/ Hua Hu Ching – translated and elucidated by Hua-Ching Ni




Simplicity, patience and compassion

We are constantly seeking an identity in all that we do, so knowing  that we are love incarnate,  we can relax our effort towards self aggrandizement and silently bestow what we are to everyone and each task that we undertake.  Bringing the light hearted into what would be considered hardship or a serious endeavor allows us all to take sneak peeks behind the veil.


My sister, Dr. aimee, is an incredible human being, a powerhouse of energy, creativity and concern.  She is an amazing audiologist and has her practice at a holistic, therapeutic, pediatric collective called Therapeeds*, which provides positive results without zombifiying their patients with medications.

One day aimee was reading a Roald Dahl book with a boy who was autistic.  They were discussing the book and witches and the boy looked at aimee and said, “You look like a witch.”  Aimee asked him why he thought she looked like a witch.  “Because you have a nose like a witch.”

Now, not only is aimee beautiful and much more like Mary Poppins on the magic side of the spectrum than a witch in one of Mr. Dahl’s books but she is also patient.  The next day they were reading the Ugly Duckling and discussed the brother and sister ducks teasing the young swan in their midst.  The boy said it was mean the way they were talking to the swan. “Like telling someone they looked like a witch?” my sister asked him, not unkindly.  His eyes grew wide, “Oh, that was mean of me to say that to you,” he said.  She told him he could think whatever he liked, his thoughts were his own but that he didn’t always have to share if it might hurt someone’s feelings.  He got it without shame.

Rabbi Hillel was once rudely asked by a man if he could teach the whole of the Torah while standing on one foot and he replied, ” “What is hateful to you, do not do to your fellow: this is the whole Torah; the rest is the explanation; go and learn.”

There were also two men who had a bet that they could make Hillel angry.  They insulted his Babylonian origin, but they both lost the bet. Hillel had simplicity, patience and compassion.

“Simplicity, patience, compassion. These three are your greatest treasures. Simple in actions and thoughts, you return to the source of being. Patient with both friends and enemies, you accord with the way things are. Compassionate toward yourself, you reconcile all beings in the world.” ― Lao Tzu, Tao Te Ching

May the victory of simplicity, patience and compassion be ours, even periodically through the week.