Chuang Tsu — a book that just keeps on going —

After Gia-fu Feng and I created our edition of Tao Te Ching in 1972, we began work on a second book — another Chinese classic, Chuang Tsu: Inner Chapters.

It has had several editions with four different publishers:
• Random House in 1974 – the original edition
• Earth Heart 1997 – with many new photos
• Amber Lotus 2002 – a reprint of the Earth Heart edition
• Amber Lotus 2008 – more new photos – printed by mistake on uncoated paper
• Hay House 2014 – more new photos, updated gender-neutral text, and a smaller format.

Soon a fifth publisher, DaoDog Press, publisher of the Tao magazine, The Empty Vessel, will do yet another new edition — stay in touch for updates on this.

“Doing” and “Being”

This morning I realize that one of the ways I have limited myself was to buy into the belief that I needed to “earn money.” I realize that the most successful things financially in my life have been things I did “for fun” and ended up by serendipity being financially successful.

I can even start with my doing a PhD in physics — that started with my liking to tinker with things, like taking apart a flashlight over and over as a child, fascinated with how it worked. Then choosing to major in physics in college because I had so much fun doing the lab experiments and being invited to help teach the lab sessions while I was still an undergraduate. And we physics majors had to take a shop class — learning to use hand and power tools — how many girls got to do that back in the early 1960’s!!! — more fun.

sign on the door of the machine shop at Mount Holyoke college
lamp whose base (wood and brass) I turned on a lathe in the physics shop in 1963

Then I went to grad school and worked on bubble chamber experiments at big particle accelerators because of how much fun I had back in college when a professor took some of us physics majors to visit an accelerator and help with an experiment he was working on. The money for grad school came from stipends I got as a teaching assistant and then a research assistant. I enjoyed teaching the lab sessions for the undergraduate physics course, as I had done while my undergraduate years.

particle tracks in a bubble chamber – charged particles travel in a curve because of the strong magnetic field around the chamber

Then there is photography — I was given a simple brownie box camera when I was about 13.

the first photo I made in 1955 with my brownie box camera — no controls other than shutter buttton

Then I was given a good 35mm film camera when I was in college. A boyfriend in grad school got me started making black-and-white prints in a darkroom. I enjoyed wandering around making photos of whatever caught my eye — no particular “reason” for making those images. Photographing kept me out in nature during grad school, and student art sales gave me an outlet for my creations.

old cars in a Colorado mining town, while on a ski trip with my photographer boyfriend – 1966

Then my time with Gia-fu Feng led me to illustrate with my photos our edition of the Chinese classic, Tao Te Ching.

cover of the original 1972 edition of Tao Te Ching — the 2011 edition is still in print

And how is it that I found my Native American friends? By being drawn to their spiritual ceremonies that happened out in nature rather than in churches — sweat lodges, sunrise ceremonies and long silent walks. These took me to a more expanded state of being than what I had found while photographing nature.

cover of my “work-in-progress” book

There is more history I will write — but at this moment I want to look at “now”

I have a hard time with “work,” with “labor” — is that due in part from my “native” culture? with how I was born with no labor? I hesitate to speak of this, not wanting to be seen as lazy, not wanting to feel guilty for not being purposeful. But this difference comes to mind over and over. I am tired of trying to fit into a culture that is not my own, that of assuming work is virtuous. I much prefer the smile that comes to me when I let myself just “be,” when I sit back and take in this world I find myself in — for instance, how did there get to be chickadees in my world — ones I see close-up on the shelf feeder outside the window behind my living room couch?

And then there’s that deep blue in the sky — so luscious!

And I have noticed that often when I am in this state of just “being,” paradoxically, I find myself moved to “do” something — action that just emerges naturally, that is not forced.

Enough words for now — enjoy feeling whatever it is that these musings of mine “tickle” within your own being.

Walking with Ancestors —

February 14, 2021

It has been a cloudy, gray, calm, not too cold (25F), Valentine’s Sunday here in Central Vermont. The past few days and this morning I’ve spent a lot of time at my computer — working on my blog, facebook, and website, and creating an article and an ad for The Empty Vessel – a Tao magazine.

Then about 2pm I felt stuck and really BORED with this covid-limited world we live in now. Time for either a nap or a walk. Walking won out.

I plodded along the road by #10 Pond — glad to have a good walking place but still bored. Thinking of  what my friend Esther Thompson Turner said this morning on Facebook about wanting companionship and finding a bit of it with Miles, her small polar bear made of wire and LED lights — better than nothing.

As I walked along I met a neighbor and her dog. We visited a bit which was good.

Then  as I walked on, suddenly I felt the urge to invite ancestors to walk with me, and immediately there seemed to be with me two women I know who are now in the spirit world. On my right was Hansine Lyberth from Greenland, and on my left was my Mother. As they tucked their arms into mine I felt a smile and a little laugh emerge. 

with Hansine at her home in Maniitsoq, Greenland in 2011
with my Mother, Ruth James English, out in the woods in Tamworth, New Hampshire, about 1977

Both of these women are ones who’d enjoyed walking during their time in physical bodies. I sensed their delight at once again feeling what it is like to walk in nature — this time through me as I walked briskly along. And I delighted in their companionship.

We walked about a mile that way — from where I’d met my neighbor up to the end of the pond and back to about where the women had come to me, where I quite suddenly I found myself thanking them and letting them fly away back to wherever they’d come from.

I finished my walk home as myself, but no longer bored.

Was this “real?” Did I “imagine” all this?

Somehow the answer to those questions is irrelevant. What was real was a the shift in my mood — for whatever “reason.”

So try this yourself — invite ancestors to walk with you — maybe you find yourself smiling as I did.

Here is what I wrote about Ancestors in the book that accompanies
The Ceremony Cards:

ANCESTORS / ANCIENT ONES – SIULIGUT

In addition to our blood ancestors we also have many spiritual ancestors. We all need our ancestors, our roots, even if we have never met them. Even though the Ancestors do not live in the modern world, there is basic wisdom they have that does not change, wisdom that helps in any world. There is vast wisdom that had accumulated by those who have gone before us and who care about us.

In the Eskimo tradition our ancestors are the helpers of The Great One.  After the ancestors’ souls travel to the Creator they can return to help us when we call them. They dance in the Northern Lights. I think of how Angaangaq says that the Ancestors are no farther away than the reach of our hand, but we have not learned to touch them.

northern lights before moonrise — looking south in Kangerlussuaq, Greenland in 2010

Yin-Yang and The Ten Thousand Things

The traditional yin-yang (feminine/dark-masculine/light) symbol below shows a bit of yin in yang and of yang in yin.


A phrase that appears often in Tao Te Ching is “the ten-thousand things,” as in this excerpt from that book:

Tao begot one
One begot two
Two begot three
And three begot the ten-thousand things.
The ten-thousand things carry yin and embrace yang
They achieve harmony by combining these forces
— Tao Te Ching, Chapter 42

This image below, Yin, Yang and the Ten-Thousand Things, came to me in meditation around 1988. It shows yin-yang opening up and bringing forth their rainbow children, all of creation, the “ten-thousand things.” 

available as an art-quality print

Expanding on that traditional symbol and rather than seeing yin and yang as opposites, we can realize a co-creative balance of masculine yang and feminine yin in our lives, so that their children, the rainbow of our creativity, the ten-thousand things, can be born.

Tao may be found not only in the undivided ground of being, nor solely in the polarity of yin and yang, dark and light, dynamic and receptive, but also everywhere in the full rainbow spectrum of the ten-thousand things: all the myriad ways the un-nameable whole is divided into discrete beings.
—from page 16 in the book A Rainbow of Tao

On the facing page in that book I placed this photo that seemed like the traditional yin/yang symbol made manifest in the world of nature.

50 Years with Tao

First, a bit of history —

When, in 1971, Gia-fu Feng and I were negotiating our Tao Te Ching contract with Random House, he wanted the book to be his, with me getting just a small one-time fee for the use of my photos to illustrate his translation. Somehow, I had the courage to stand up for myself, to value my own creativity and insist that we be compensated equally, dividing the royalties 50-50. I overcame any tendency to defer to a man, to a person who was 23 years my senior, and to an elder who was learned in an ancient tradition I did not think I understood.

cover of 25th anniversary edition of our Tao Te Ching – 1997

Some of the deference did creep back in over the years as this younger, white woman was often subtly questioned about my qualifications to speak with any authority about Tao Te Ching.

A next step — 

Starting with 1991 I have created Tao Calendars that feature excerpts from Tao Te Ching with my photos and Gia-fu’s calligraphy.

One evening in 2003, when the Tao Calendar publishers at Amber Lotus and I were riding in their car in Portland, Oregon (after dinner? or from the airport?), we had a conversation about what I might do next with Tao. They suggested I might have something to say about Tao having at that point been working with Tao Te Ching and Chuang Tsu for over 30 years.

So I got a small notebook, covered with Chinese-looking cloth, that I kept in my purse so I could make notes whenever I thought of something interesting about Tao. Looking again at those notes tonight for the first time in many years, I notice there was over and over a questioning of the use of words — this is built-in when dealing with Tao Te Ching that begins with what can be paraphrased as, “The Tao that can be told is not the real Tao; the name that can be named is not the true name.” That questioning also emerged from remnants of my old self-doubt — did I really have anything to say?

Many of the notes I made in this notebook over the next few months are now part of the text in my 2018 book, A Rainbow of Tao (initially the title was simply Rainbow Tao).

About 2006 – layout work for A Rainbow of Tao

After working for a couple of years on the words and photos in that book I set it aside about 2007, picking it up again about 2017, and finishing it in 2018.

Near the end of the book I wrote,  “I recently became aware that through all these years of work on the Tao books and calendars I have carried a nagging uncertainty as to the appropriateness of my doing this work, being a woman, having European ancestors, and knowing no Chinese at all — yet I did do the work.“ 


And now, 2021 — 

With sales of the annual Tao Calendar decreasing after a run of 31 years, a couple of days ago my publisher let me know they planned to discontinue the Tao Calendar after the 2022 edition that is currently in the works. My initial reaction was deep disappointment, then just letting it go, letting my work/play with Tao be a part of the past. I recalled this 2019 dream:

The next day, yesterday, I was again wanting the calendar to continue. I sent the publisher an email about marketing efforts I recently began to do, and suggested various ways we could keep the calendar alive.

This morning they called and we had a really good conversation — they are long-time friends. As we talked, my telling the dream about being a spiritual bum evoked great laughter.

This afternoon I got an email saying they will publish the 2023 edition. Decisions about later calendars will depend on the success of the 2022 edition. This now “old” woman who is about to enter her 80th year will take their marketing suggestion and learn how to share images in Instagram — using a desktop computer since I still resist getting a so-called “smart” phone. Doing this might even be fun!

a preview of the 2023 front cover – the 2022 edition will come before this!

I end this writing with gratitude to my friends at Amber Lotus for their support, past and present, as I learn yet again to let go of that which is to be let go and to treasure what is to remain. Thank you! 

See amberlotus.com for more Illuminating Spirit in the World

Gramp’s woodworking shop

When I was 7 in 1949, my maternal grandparents moved from Waltham, MA to a little house just two doors west of the home where I grew up in Topsfield, MA. My grandfather, Walter H. James, had retired in 1938 from being a mechanical engineering professor at MIT. His father and grandfather had been skilled cabinet-makers in Hampton and Portsmouth, NH. Gramp followed in their footsteps, making lots of furniture for family and friends — more on that in another post.

Much to my delight, Gramp often invited me into the woodworking shop he built off the back of the garage at their new home. I remember sitting on a sawdust-covered floor happily nailing together bits of wood he gave me.

Amazingly, about 70 years later, I still have this wooden truck I made there. I designed and made it myself about 1951 when I was 9. If I recall correctly, Gramp cut the round wheels on his band saw and also gave me occasional advice. It is a hybrid of a motorized truck and a horse-drawn wagon — I imagined the driver sitting on the block, though I did not make the shafts for hitching in a horse.

After Gramp died in 1963, my mother went through his journals and saved interesting pages like this one from 1951 where he wrote about my brother and me being in his shop.

That early familiarity with tools was a big part of my choosing to major in physics in college and then going on to a Ph.D. in physics. I think that in his last year or so Gramp did know I was majoring in physics.

And now at age 78 in 2021 I have in my cellar a modest little “shop” with my hand-tools neatly arrayed on the wall and other items in a wooden counter and cabinet actually made by Gramp about 1953 — they were in our family ski cabin in New Hampshire, and I got them when that kitchen was remodeled about 2001.

Gramp was also, like me, a photographer and a writer. See his photos and books on my website.

Walter H. James, age 76, with Jane English, age 7, in 1949

I smile with gratitude for this wonderful ancestor I have.

Who is Tao?

Here in the West, language structures our world into objects and actions. We have nouns and we have verbs. Among the nouns we make a distinction between the “whats” and the “whos,” between inanimate things and living beings.

Translations from Chinese usually treat Tao as a noun; however, Tao cannot be so neatly categorized. It is both noun and verb; it is neither noun nor verb. Nor is it easily classified either as a “who” or as a “what.”

A defining statement of our Western culture is found in the Gospel of John,
“In the beginning was the Word . . .” 

Yet Tao Te Ching begins with a starkly contrasting line that roughly translates as,
“The Tao that can be put into words is not the real Tao.”

Mindful of the paradox of using words and images to approach Tao, I invite you to enter this book with a spirit of adventure. Explore with me this Tao that has over the past few decades come from the Far East into our Western world.

This is from the first page of my 2018 book, A Rainbow of Tao

Lets have some fun!

Now that I have spent a lot of time the past few days learning the technical nuts-and-bolts of running a blog, it is time for a somewhat whimsical post to get thing moving along.

It was minus 15F here in North Calais, Vermont this morning – brrrrr, now up to plus 14F and a cozy 67F here in my office.

So to warm things up a bit, here is a photo from last summer — my very first time on a paddleboard — at age 78!!!

Future posts will have more substance than this one!

About the Earth Heart logo

— a 2019 post revisited as I revive my blog —

Back in 1984 when I was starting my own publishing business, I knew I needed a logo. It was immediately obvious to me that I would use the image of a grove of redwood trees growing out of a big red heart that I had painted on July 8, 1982, the image having come to me in a dream around that time.

I sat in my room for quite a while that morning, staring at the painting, asking it what its name was, a name I knew I would use for my business. When I thought “Earth Heart” I immediately knew that was the name.

The painting was a watercolor, but I needed a simple graphic image. It being back before I had a computer or a scanner, I traced the painting then inked the tracing for a simple line art version of the logo. Later, after I had a computer, I applied color to it — red, green, light and dark brown, and black. The images here are of the original painting, the line art, and the colored line art.

About 1989 when I was creating my first Earth Heart website (using HTML Editor 1.0) I had to choose a domain name. I first thought of earthheart.com but thought it was confusing — would there be one or two h’s in the middle of the name? So I settled on eheart.com, though now people still get confused on how to spell that — “eheart” or “ehart.” I tell them it is like “planet valentine” or “eheart“ like “email.”

Over the years I have had several people want to buy that domain name from me, one being a cardiologist who had invented some kind of electronic heart device. With my web URL by then printed in my many books and calendars, I of course said no. And just yesterday a tech support guy at the place that hosts this blog commented on what a good domain name it is.

That is the practical part of the story of Earth Heart. Now for more subtle aspects of it — to me the trees growing out of the heart are all my creative work that comes from my heart. The dark spaces in the middle of the grove are the mysterious unknown sources of inspiration.

This is my first blog post. Yesterday was quite a scramble for me learning how to make a blog. At 77, I feel like I am the proverbial “old dog learning new tricks” as I embark on this blog adventure. 

I thank you for traveling along with me.