Tag Archives: Taoism

Marketing a Book – #8 Public Speaking

Marketing a Book – #8   Public Speaking

probusIn my last post, I blogged about a book signing experience then ended by announcing an invitation to speak to a chapter of Probus, an association of retired former Rotarians. That event occurred on June 15, but it took some time to reflect on the experience. This was the first opportunity to present elements of my writing to the public as a presenter and merited considerable reflection. rotary

The invitation came as the result of an interview published in our local newspaper, which was the subject of an earlier post. The request was fairly specific, asking for a presentation on how I wrote an autobiography. The presentation had to be focused and address some specific points in one hour.

· What motivated my writing?

· How was the work of writing structured?

· How was the content generated and developed?

The venue was small and the audience numbered about twenty-five individuals. A PowerPoint presentation was saved on my hard drive and backed up in Dropbox. The hall was equipped with a newly installed 42 inch flat screen television with HDMI input ports, on screen instructions and a person in charge of the AV equipment with a minimum of knowledge about the system was there to help me set up. In fact, today was the first time it had been used in a presentation like mine.

I knew that AV equipment always needed setup and every system was different, so I arrived at the hall about thirty minutes prior to the time my presentation was to start. By the time, zero hour arrived everything was connected to my laptop and few PowerPoint slides prepared to illustrate the presentation were set at the introductory slide. I was ready to launch.

The presentation was titled, A LEGACY OF EXPERIENCE: Memoirs Speak Across the Generations: What do You Want to Say and to Whom? It touched on all the points as per the request, but also included some basic ideas about memory in general and autobiographical memory in particular. It was equally important to explain the nature and origin of self-image and self-esteem, two factors which influence how we remember the events of our lifetime.

Since my audience was essentially Caucasian and Christian and much of my writing is informed by basic ideas in Buddhism, Taoism, and Zen Buddhism, it was important to explain the elements of those philosophies which shaped my thinking and writing. This audience, and perhaps most audiences I might face, need to see a shift toward Eastern philosophies as a move toward fundamental human values, not a repudiation of their fundamental belief system. The last thing one wants is to offend his audience, an issue that occupied my thoughts as I prepared for this event.

Once the basic concepts and philosophies supporting my writing were stated, the remainder of the talk focused on a structured approach to memoir writing. The concept of building an autobiography on the symbolism and structure of a Zen style garden was carefully unfolded for the audience. Each of the six elements found in such a garden was explained in terms of how it relates to the different aspects that form the narrative of a lifetime. In Through a Lens of Emptiness: Reflections on Life, Longevity and Contentment, I use this specific structural organization and symbolism to document my own life narrative in order to illustrate how that structure is applied in practice.20150523_162505 (2)

Years of experience in the classroom hones one’s observational skills. It is possible to gauge the interest and focus of an audience during a presentation (lesson) by body language, and following it by the number and quality of questions and interactions from the audience. One also learns how to pace the rate of speaking, modulate the voice, and move smoothly from the front of the hall into the audience and back again as needed to maintain contact with the audience. The power and efficacy of a presentation is also enhanced by appropriate eye contact and through the body language of the presenter.

An experienced presenter, like an experienced teacher, carry an evaluation rubric based on the above points in their head. Also, they become adept evaluators of their own behavior as a presenter (teacher) while they are speaking. While it may appear immodest to the reader, I felt pretty good about the whole event based on an evaluation of my behaviors, presenting style, and audience reaction before and after the presentation. I am comfortable making this judgement since, as a teacher, I always told my students that “I would fail my own mother is her performance warranted it”, and have always rated my own performance by a rigid and high standard.

After eight years in retirement, one always wonders if they still have the skills that made them successful as a presenter of information. This first event in my new life as an author and public speaker was an important one. I learned “I’ve still got it,” whatever “IT” is and am confident there is a future for me as a public speaker. At the age of sixty-nine (this August) an enthusiasm to make new beginnings and take on new challenges not only exists but thrives. My next challenge is to generate some more opportunities to speak publicly. I’ll let you know how that works out in a few months.

As always, your faithful blogger,

L Alan Weiss (Larry) – Author


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The Kicking Horse River and the Way of Water

The Kicking Horse River and the Way of Water

Last evening (May 27), I attended another performance of the Kitchener Waterloo Teachers Choir. My son and daughter-in-law are members of this amateur choir. Each Christmas and Spring they give a concert. This year’s Spring Concert included the song, “Kicking Horse River”. The lyric of this song is based on a poem of the same name by the Canadian poet Pauline Johnson. The music is composed by Jeff Smallman. This song is strongly evocative of the power and personality of the Kicking Horse River as it cuts its way through the Canadian Rockies.kickinghorsemapKickinghorseRiver

The music and words “grabbed me” and tugged at the heart of a man who loves the mountains of British Columbia and the wild rivers that emanate from their glaciers and a myriad of springs on high. The words of the immortal Pauline Johnson, mated with Smallman’s composition, and the sounds of the human voice, conjured up the Taoist ideas related to the power and qualities of water, sometimes known as the Water Way.

If you go into the natural world and observe water or you experiment with it, water reveals its qualities: [Quoted from Tao and Water – The Real Spiritual Lesson]

– Water is relentless.  It never stops exerting its force.

– Its force is a manifestation of its nature.  It does not try to be something it is not, applying neither morality nor immorality.

– When it is restricted, Water seeks the weakest spot of any obstruction and applies constant force until it is free.

– When it is pressed or attacked, it changes form and repositions itself.  It exerts constant counter force to search for weakness.

– Water is opportunistic.  Given the slightest opening it will pass through.  It will do so while the opening is present.  It will widen the opening if possible.

– Water always seeks to do the easiest thing as long as it can.

-Water does not complain about the path it follows.  It simply follows the path.

– Water has a wide range of energetic expressions but continues to be Water.  It can be still.  It can be sluggish.  It can be swift.  It can be pounding.  It can be vapor.

When you compare the words and feelings expressed in Johnson’s poem to the qualities of water, the similarities are striking. Pauline Johnson was no Taoist, but she was a First Nation’s person who lived in the late 19th Century and on into the beginning of the 20th..PaulineJohnsonThe First Nation traditional view of the natural world is very close to the Taoist concept of the unity of man and nature. The Way of Water and the Unity of Man and Nature, are two significant themes found in Through a Lens of Emptiness: Reflections on Life, Longevity and Contentment.

Water plays an important role in all lives as an essential basic need. Beyond that, when the Way of Water in all its manifestations and qualities, becomes part of one’s way of living, he cannot help but seek the Tao. I look for evidence of the Tao in all peoples, in all cultures, and in all things. Of course, I do not always find it, but that’s not surprising. Sometimes you just cannot see the Tao (which cannot be seen), but one can always feel the Tao when he is on the right path.

There are times when one is so moved by an experience, sharing it with others is the only thing he can do. The rendition of “Kicking Horse River”, and the words of Pauline Johnson created just such an experience for me. Have you had a similar experience. Please share it through the comment section.

As always, your faithful blogger,

L Alan Weiss – Author – “Through a Lens of Emptiness: Reflections on Life, Longevity and Contentment.”



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Trade Routes, Religion and The Way

The Way continued…

I ended my last post with the thought that the basic precepts of Eastern and Western religions and philosophies are the products of social evolution and trade between diverse peoples. As this line of reasoning continues, the term ‘The Way’ is used in a generic sense to represent positive social and personal behavioural attributes, not in reference to any specific religion or philosophy.

Ancient trade routes are present by the 3rd Millennium BCE. Trade routes between the civilizations in Asia, Asia Minor, Africa, India, the Mediterranean civilizations and major trading centers in each, are all very well established by the 1st Millennium BCE, thus providing ample opportunity for proponents of different Eastern belief systems to share ideas. This time frame neatly encompasses the period when the world’s great Eastern religions and philosophies took form; namely Hinduism, Judaism, Buddhism and Taoism.

The Vedas of Hinduism are pegged at about 1200 BCE. The origin of Judaism is reputed to begin with the migration of Abraham and his family from the city of Ur to Canaan in about the beginning of the 2nd Millennium BCE, but the Pentateuch (Five books of Moses) only took shape between the 9th and 5th Centuries BCE. The origins of Buddhism and Taoism are traced to somewhere in the 6th Century BCE. All of these peoples were involved in the exchange of goods and materials through trade. At the same time traders must also have exchanged ideas including codes of behaviour. Social organization beginning with primitive hunter-gatherer groups, continuing with the formation of permanent settlements, transitioning to city-states, the great empires of antiquity and extending to modern society, all depend on workable codes of behaviour.

All animal life must satisfy basic needs for food, protection from the elements, the opportunity to procreate and protection from harm. Stone Age man provided for those needs by forming small groups of cooperative hunter gatherers. Positive social evolution is driven by forces; basic human needs, the natural world, human emotion and interaction between and among people. With the discovery of edible plants and grain types that could be purposely cultivated, human communities began the transition from nomadic hunter gatherers to settlement dwellers about ten millennia ago. The socio-behavioural characteristics of altruism, respect for the property and person of other, nurturing and protecting the young and cooperating in all manner of ways, were prerequisite for the success of even the most primitive of human social organization.

Thus, The Way, becomes a path to survival and success for humanity. Difficulties and conflicts arise between peoples become an issue when one form of The Way is held to be superior to any another, or one or more precepts are subverted or ignored. Corruption, bribery, aggression, greed and whichever other of mankind’s negative behaviours are all the consequence of deviation from acceptable codes of behaviour. Unfortunately, such behaviours have not been extinguished from human society despite the best efforts of well-meaning people.

Until next time, as always, your faithful blogger,

L Alan Weiss –Author of Through a Lens of Emptiness – Release date TBA

Please visit me at my author website at   www.lalanweiss.com

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This past Saturday, my wife and I turned to Netflix for some movie entertainment and came up with a movie called The Way starring Martin Sheen, based on a screenplay written by his son Emilio Estevez. I’ll leave it to the reader to investigate the details of the story line. At its heart, It is a ‘journey’ or ‘quest’’ story about a man that follows the pilgrimage route to Santiago de Compostela, which is called The Way. Coincidentally, the previous morning, I was discussing the possibility that ‘The Way’ adopted by the Nazarene sect, the early followers of Jesus, might have arisen from much earlier influences.

Many centuries Before the Christian Era (BCE), there are two significant groups that are dedicated to following The Way; namely the Buddha Way and the Tao. Research related to the content of my soon to be released book, Through a Lens of Emptiness, delved deeply into Eastern religions and philosophies, including Buddhism and Taoism. Even the Hindu caste system specifies a way of behavior that defines each caste.

Buddhism is grounded in the Four Noble Truths and the Eightfold Path to enlightenment, and Taoism is defined by precepts, the most important of them are ten in number. The Nazarenes, initially a sect of Judaism was based on the Ten Commandments and the practices of Judaism. It was the ideas of Saul of Tarsus (Paul) that influenced the evolution of the Nazarenes into a group whose beliefs resemble Christianity today. When the foundational precepts of Buddhism and Taoism are examined and compared to the Ten Commandments and the purported teachings of Jesus, one is struck by the similarity in theme and prescription. Judaism is also essentially an Eastern belief system since it originated in the Near East.

In addition to the similarity in theme, I believe there is a similarity in purpose. Each of these systems of basic precepts represents the end product of millennia of social and behavioural evolution. They are all fundamentally moral codes of and prescribed behaviours that foster stability in human society. Even the description of the characteristics of a true pilgrim following The Way to Santiago de Compostela resemble aspects of the basic moral and behavioural characteristics of Eastern belief systems.

That’s enough deep thinking for tonight. In my next post, I plan to examine the role of trade routes in the interchange of religious and philosophical ideas.

What would Jesus think about this post? Please comment…..

As always, your faithful blogger . . .L Alan Weiss (Larry) – Author of Through a Lens of Emptiness

Visit my author website at www.lalanweiss.com


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In production – AT LAST

Today was indeed a special day. When I logged into my file on the publisher web site, and looked at the tag ‘book status’, I saw the words ‘in production.’ Those words mark the beginning of the end of a pathway I entered on the 29th day of May in 2012, when I purchased my publishing package. Writing a book is truly a long and winding road.

This is a short post to inform whom ever follows these posts, that Through a Lens of Emptiness will soon be a reality. The next step toward completion and publishing my project will be cover design approval. I’m leaving that up to the designers at the publisher, but I am certainly excited to see how it looks.

I have not revealed who I am working with yet, but will make that information public after the book goes live and is available in print. There is more to write about at that time regarding costs and the services provided.

Until next time . . .as always,  you faithful blogger,

L Alan Weiss (Larry) – Author of Through a Lens of Emptiness

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I have become emptiness

I Have Become Emptiness

I have become emptiness

I have become emptiness and it is not stressful.

I am not alone, not isolated, have no fear, see no foreshadowing of the bleak and barren.

I have become emptiness in order to find fullness in life.

I am not fooled by its apparent permanence, or its promises, or its apparitions.

I have become emptiness in order to experience fullness of mind.

I am all memories, and feelings, and sensations of the past seeking the future as it may be.

I have become emptiness in order to achieve expansiveness of thought.

I am enlightenment, and vision, and illumination of being and spirit.

I have become emptiness in order to achieve purposeful action,

I am productive, and positive, and undeterred by impediment.

I have become emptiness and it is a joyful state.

I have become emptiness.

From The Lens of Emptiness

L. Alan Weiss (www.lensofemptiness.com)

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Emptiness and the Dome of Heaven

Each dome of heaven arises from emptiness and embodies emptiness in it beginnings. In a very early post I discussed the work of Anselm Kiefer and specifically referred to his work titled “Everyone Stands Under his own Dome of Heaven”. If you are not familiar with this particular painting by Kiefer then just Google the title and you can appreciate it for yourself. In the painting, the dome of heaven is depicted as a transparent hemisphere, so you will have to visualize your own dome of heaven (DOH) with you standing just beneath its highest point. Now consider that everyone around you sits at the center point of his or her own DOH. This may be difficult at first, but becomes easier with practice.

Before a child is born, that is while they are in utero, it resides beneath the expectant mother’s DOH. Recollections of pregnancy and birthing, no matter how uncomfortable and painful aspects of the whole experience was, will remain beneath her DOH. Her child will remain there as well, no matter how old they are. There is your first hint re: the raison d’etre of one’s DOH. It exists to contain everything that is important to you and everything you have created in life. Thus at birth, a newborn’s DOH is essentially empty and therefore in the Taoist sense, useful in its emptiness. The first contents under the infant’s DOH are warmth, security, food, suckling,  being kept comfortable and a sense of mother. Although these things take on different forms as we age, the want of them remain beneath our DOH. An infant’s DOH is initially very small.

Even though the infant’s DOH is small, as it does not have much to contain, it is very important. It is foundational. Maslow (hierarchy of need) considers these first elements that an infant includes beneath a newly formed DOH as basic needs. If those needs go unsatisfied then there is little hope for social development. Indeed, if some of those basic needs are not satisfied, the infant’s existence is in jeopardy. As an infant matures, it gathers more and more beneath its DOH. The sound of voices belonging to those close to the infant are added first, followed by facial expressions when eyes begin to focus. Other sensation, sounds, odors and sights gather under the evolving dome, as long the sensations are pleasant. Unpleasant sensations and experiences try to intrude on the infant’s DOH but never achieve permanent resident status. And so, the infant’s DOH increases in the diversity of contents as their experience with the world around them grows.

The Taoist’s concepts of emptiness of action, thought and mind all apply to the newborn, save and accept the movements of the fetus in utero. These are movements in the context of the emptiness of thought and mind, better thought of as the emptiness of intention. Most movements of a newborn fall into the same category for a while. Some movements, like the startle reflex can never be intentional by their very nature. Even though an infant moves about, for the first while, those movements can be considered examples of emptiness of action because they are empty of intent. Emptiness of thought and mind are also characteristic of the infant. The emptiness of mind is not an absolute because the brain is continually recording information re: the sensations that are experienced. The emptiness of thought diminishes very slowly. Even though these sorts of mental functions are in play, the storage of information is essentially sensory in nature. Associations between events and sensations build slowly. Most relational aspects of sensation develop slowly, except for a sense of comfort and warmth which is rapidly associated with its mother. The initial emptiness of action, thought and mind at birth moves toward increasing fullness as the infant experiences the world, and so with that experience the infant’s DOH grows.

The idea of each of us having our own DOH is an incredibly useful concept. The most interesting aspect of this idea is the role we play in constructing our personal DOH. I intent to explore that idea in my next post. Until then . . .


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The Beginning of a Look at Emptiness

I’ve been thinking about the idea of Yin/Yang relationships in the context of my writing, and reading some Taoist literature to guide my thinking. As I read, I was struck by the idea that emptiness and fullness are an important and useful Yin/Yang inter-relationships and began to think how  this idea might be applied.  The phrase “looking at something as half empty or half full” suggests that the concept is part the psyche already, so I considered the relationship of emptiness and fullness in the context of this blog. How did the emptiness/fullness concept relate to idea expressed in the title of Anselm Kiefer’s work “Everyone Stands Under his own Dome of Heaven”.

A brief discussion of the Taoist idea of emptiness is in order. The basic idea is that something that is empty like a cup, becomes useful in its ability to contain something, or the emptiness of a blank piece of paper becomes useful to the writer who has something to write. This notion is contrary to ordinary experience,  since we usually look at something that is full, being full of a material that can be utilized. The motor oil inside a bottle is useful for lubricating an engine, or the olive oil inside a bottle is useful in the preparation of food; but the use of each content is inherently different. The common factor for each of these materials is that they required an empty vessel to contain them.

The skeptic might look at this argument and insist that it is the product that is useful, not the container, but they miss the point. Consider what happens when an engine runs low on lubricating oil, in other words as the emptiness/fullness balance shifts toward emptiness. The workings of the engine are at risk in that case. By pouring some of the oil from the full container into the engine, lubrication is restored and the engine becomes useful again as it is no longer at risk. The balance between emptiness and fullness is critical, since low oil can result in friction that will destroy the engine, and too much will cause the  substance to overflow contaminating the environment. The balance between emptiness and fullness of the lubricating system is critical in the same way that any Yin/Yang balance is critical.

Consider the case of the container of olive oil; the contents are seen as useful, not the initial emptiness of the container. In fact, the contents of the bottle of olive oil is useful, unless  a salad dressing preparation requires it. The balance between two much olive oil and too little is critical in the preparation of the salad dressing since the balance between the oil and the other components of the salad dressing makes all the difference to the taste. A small bottle of olive oil even becomes more useful as it empties, since it can be refilled with more oil from a larger bottle.

Taoism is all about the essence of the Tao the right  path to follow. The Tao (way) of the container is determined by the choice of the artisan or manufacturer. There are many ways to alter the container’s shape or the materials used to make its designated use, but the Tao of a container is to hold something. One can pour hot tea into a glass, a cup, a mug, or a thermos. Each of these different containers can hold the tea, and each of these containers can be used to drink the tea, but each will have a characteristic that makes it more or less useful for the purpose. The common nature of these containers is that they are capable of holding hot tea. The common nature of their emptiness is that they can hold many different things. They can hold sand, sugar, flour, salt or cold liquids equally well. They can hold safe substances or dangerous substances equally. The Tao of these containers is the ability to contain a substance, not the substance they contain.

I hope the emptiness of this blog post when I clicked “new post” has been filled with useful word and ideas. Until then . .


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Conference Day – October 4, 2013

Today was conference day. When you work with an e-publishing house, a number of individuals contact you from time to time. I finally had a contact from the editorial office rather than anyone in a sales capacity. I enjoyed this conference more than any in the past months, because I received affirmation that I was on track re: following up on the suggestions and critique of the developmental edit. Since beginning the rewrite process, every attempt has been made to take the editors comments to heart and follow the guidance they offered.

Since I am a novice writer (author wannabe), my first draft suffered from a number of rooky errors, all of which emerged in the DE (developmental edit). My writing style was dry, dry, dry.  My first draft was full of redundancies, superfluities, and content sequence problems. The thread of my theme disappeared from time to time, only to reappear later out of context. Although sections of the text were well and intelligently written, the impact of my words was lost in convolutions, contortions and cognitive machinations. I even ranted from time to time offering opinions on material that did not contribute to the essence of the book in any way. From my title to my terminal section, the silk purse containing gems of ideas I had hoped to create was still a sows ear attached to a pigs breakfast of a manuscript. Instead of getting angry, I decided to get even with myself by working smarter, not harder. It turns out that smarter was also harder.

Since I was rewarded with encouragement from someone who is actually in the editorial office at the publisher, I think it appropriate to share how I handled the DE comments and what I did to get myself back on track. Here are a few basic preliminaries re: the mindset required to take full advantage of the DE.

1. Chuck your ego out the door, shut the door, and keep away from it with deliberation. A good healthy dose of old fashion Buddhist selflessness is in order here. An ego just gets in the way of the reality of the task ahead.

2. Keep this thought firmly in mind; the developmental editor is just doing their job and the DE is not a kick in the pants, it is an honest and thoughtful critique. Think of the DE as a push from behind to help you write better than ever and reach new heights of written expression.

Now that you have the correct mindset, you can begin the task of preparing to rewrite. Yes, I said preparing. Like setting up to do any task, be it writing or painting a wall, good preparation is half the job.

3. The next step is to read your DE carefully and critically, not as a critic, but as an empty vessel awaiting to be filled with precious elixir. That’s a bit of Taoist philosophy for you in case you missed it. Taoists believe, and I have come to believe,  that the usefulness of anything is marked by its emptiness, so that it can be filled appropriately when needed.

4. As you read the DE, keep a record of the number and types of comments made. Such a record will give a clear picture of weaknesses in writing style and inconsistencies in logic within the content.

5. Make a careful list of all the major flaws in your writing and make a sacred vow to yourself never to write another sentence, paragraph, section or chapter that contains any of them.

6. Never write too much prose without checking to make sure that what you wrote: (a) is consistent with your main purpose, (b) follows from what you wrote just before those words, (c) leads from where your have been to where you are going, (d) contributes to, and does not detract from your writing, (e) holds your reader and not turn them off, (f) makes your point without being offensive (of course you cannot please everyone), (g) is not a rant, (h) expresses an opinion without being opinionated, (I) uses plan words written in as grammatically correct prose as possible, (j) is an exercise in clarity not confusion  , (k) supresses negative aspects of ego, (l) and finally avoids all the issues identified in your DE.

I do not profess to have the magic formula for rewriting a first draft, only that this is what works for me. I hope it will be helpful to my readers and followers.

PS – An open note to my editorial contact re: today’s conference.

Thank you for being so generous with your time today. It was our first contact and it was important for me to let you know what I was doing re: my rewrite. I have been working in less of a vacuum since the DE, but I still had a sense of uncertainty about the direction I had taken with my writing. You listened patiently, reassured me that I had taken the developmental editors comments to heart and revised my work accordingly, and most importantly gave me a sense of being listened to. You also gave me some supportive responses directly and indirectly, for which I am very thankful. It was a great conference.

My intent is to share the process of working with an e-publishing house as well as sharing my reactions and feeling about the process in general. I will reveal which organization I am working with only after my book is officially released. Until then, I can only wish that others have an equally good experience working with an e- publisher.

Until my next post . . .


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