This image caught my eye as I was browsing today. It was taken at our hotel in New Orleans one morning last Thanksgiving, and I have somewhat mixed feelings about it. I'm not all that partial to orange and yellow, to squares, or even to symmetry, but somehow this image works for me. Maybe it's that white coffee cup that makes it come alive -- I do like the human, imperfect element. I also appreciate the warmth of the space that's depicted here, the sense of invitation. And I particularly enjoy the way the architect brought a sense of art into this odd little hallway.
This morning, in Merton's Way of Chuang Tzu, I read this:
"We have lost the original simplicity of man. How did we lose it? Here are the five ways:
Love of colors bewilders the eye And it fails to see right. Love of harmonies bewitches the ear and it loses its true hearing. Love of perfumes Fills the head with dizziness. Love of flavors Ruins the taste. Desires unsettle the heart Until the original nature runs amok. These five are enemies of true life."
Perhaps this is the clue, the truth about why I will never attain enlightenment? Because I LOVE color, even if sometimes it's just yellow and orange: color is essential to the way I understand and experience the world around me. I LOVE harmony, even if it does bewitch my ears. I can't imagine a life without the scent of jasmine, or honeysuckle; of fresh peaches, or a wood-burning fire in the fall; can't imagine a life without the taste of grapes or a good french fry; love even the thrill of battling with desire.
Why on earth were we put into bodies if not to rejoice in the physical pleasures of life? I get that it's possible to get carried away, but if the core principle of the Tao is balance, why would we not balance an appreciation of color with a love of gray; an appreciation of sound with a love of silence; an appreciation of scents and tastes with a drink of water to clarify the palate?
PS: My older daughter, who has a degree in Chinese religion and culture, has clarified this passage for me by pointing to a different translation of the original text, which reads as follows:
Now there are five things which produce (in men) the loss of their (proper) nature. The first is (their fondness for) the five colours which disorder the eye, and take from it its (proper) clearness of vision; the second is (their fondness for) the five notes (of music), which disorder the ear and take from it its (proper) power of hearing; the third is (their fondness for) the five odours which penetrate the nostrils, and produce a feeling of distress all over the forehead; the fourth is (their fondness for) the five flavours, which deaden the mouth, and pervert its sense of taste; the fifth is their preferences and dislikes, which unsettle the mind, and cause the nature to go flying about. These five things are all injurious to the life; and now Yang and Mo begin to stretch forward from their different standpoints, each thinking that he has hit on (the proper course for men). But the courses they have hit on are not what I call the proper course. What they have hit on (only) leads to distress - can they have hit on what is the right thing? If they have, we may say that the dove in a cage has found the right thing for it. Moreover, those preferences and dislikes, that (fondness for) music and colours, serve but to pile up fuel (in their breasts).
So perhaps it's not the preferences that are the problem, but the decision that follows, that the thing we like is good, and the thing we don't like is bad. And with that I can easily agree. Just because I tend to vote democratic doesn't necessarily mean that's the right thing to do, or that those who do NOT vote democratic are wrong. It only means that that's what seems to work for me.
But then... well, this is sort of a democratic way of thinking, too; that each has the right to choose...