Te is a major concept in Taoism. It means about 20 different things (see the wikipedia article), but most often is translated as “virtue.” Not so much virtue like exceptional moral fiber, but more like “the virtues of a cold glass of water on a hot day.” Still, it’s a maddeningly difficult concept to grasp, never mind practice.


Having te means using the power and nature of what’s in front of you, to the best of your ability. Every so often I have a really goofy, stupid experience that helps me remember what it is, and how to use it. Take this mustard packet.

 I got it when I bought my lunch today, at a little deli near my office. (Baked fish and a side of steamed broccoli.) I picked up several packets of this and mayo, with the intention of pouring them out and mixing them up into a sauce to dip my kinda boring lunch into.

The first couple of packets opened up super easy. I got ‘em all emptied out and stirred together, it was a party. But THIS bugger, I just couldn’t get it to tear. So I put it aside.

Eventually, I ate up all my yummy sauce, and wanted more. So I picked up the troublemaker and tried again. It just kept slipping from my fingers, and wouldn’t tear.

Then I realized I’d been trying to tear it at the wrong end, the one without the little arrow.


Or, more appropriately, te!

I turned that sucker around, laughed at myself, and tore it open.

It’s amazing how much easier things get when you’re paying attention to how you do them.

AuthorMako Allen

I'm pretty beat.  I've got some heavy stuff on my mind, which I'm not going to get into here on the blog in detail, because Internet.

But the good news is, I've got tools to deal with my heavy stuff.


I've been engaged in my mindful practice of Taoism  for over 15 years now.  It's not a magic solution that solves all problems, and leaves me floating in midair.  Rather, it's a discipline, a practice.  And it doesn't mean that I live in a state of perpetual bliss, either.  Really, it's just the opposite.  I don't particularly feel any one thing all the time.  Rather I'm committed to stay and feel everything.

Over the years I've been doing it, my understanding of that practice has grown and changed.

But my fidelity to it has not.  

Today I'm focused on a key tool that's part of that practice, wu wei, the action of non-action.  It's not laziness, or indolence.  It's a kind of relaxing surrender.  

Think of how water is.  When you pour it into a glass, it takes the shape of that glass.  It surrenders to gravity and form.  And yet water is among the most powerful things on the planet.  

Storms and floods can erase mankind from places.  And nothing grows without water to help it along.  But water's power comes from its quiet nature.  True, raindrops can hollow out a canyon - but not all at once.  Just over time.

This is where wu wei comes to bear.  I can make myself spun up and anxious and out of sorts over things - and it will not change them.  What will change them is me, being present and moving through time, one second per second, into the future.

I can obsess over how things were, or may yet be.  But that's not real.  Instead, I can make the conscious choice to be present, and do nothing.

AuthorMako Allen

So, recently there's this particular someone I've found myself saying no to a lot.  

"No, you can't borrow my shark shaped hyper spanner."  

"No, we're not cleaning the EPS conduits."

"No, you cannot take an away team down to the planet's surface."

(I've also, consequently, been watching a lot of Star Trek: Enterprise, which I really enjoy, but that's a whole separate topic.)

Often when this particular ensign (go with me here, Star Trek metaphor) kept coming to me, I got the distinct impression that they saw me as the Captain of the ship, or maybe ship's counselor.  Some sort of senior officer, anyhow.

But I'm just a crewman, like anyone else.  Sure, I put together the shark dive on the holodeck, sure I'm willing to take a few minutes out of my duty shift to tell people an awesome zen story in between servicing warp coils, sure I led that infamous game of fizbin in the mess hall that went on for 72 hours straight.  Yes, yes, yes.

(Are you getting that I really like Star Trek here?  Because I really do.)

But I'm still just one guy on the ship.  Not THE guy.  And sometimes I need my sleep.  Or to catchup on my personal log.  (How the heck do star dates even work?)  I'm just a person.  

Still, saying no to Ensign Needhelp over and over was starting to feel really bad to me.  

Here's an infamous 15 minute long compilation of Security Chief Worf on Star Trek: The Next Generation getting told no, getting shut down, over and over in various ways.

When I first saw this thing, years ago, it made me howl with laughter.  Lately I find I can watch about 5 minutes of it before I have to tap out.  Go on, give it a try.  Or feel free to tell me no.

I've been realizing something important, working on it for a bit, about that No I keep giving the ensign.

The no for them isn't about them.  It's the complement to a yes for me.

A who-what now?

A complement.  A thing which of necessity is required for balance and wholeness.  Like the way a coin has a heads side and a tails side.  You can't have one without the other.  "Oh but head and tails are opposites, mako?", you might say.

Sort of.  But also complements.  When I say no to something, I'm saying yes to something else.

So, everybody knows the yin-yang symbol, the taijitu, or "supreme ultimate."  Big swirly circle, two sides, two dots, Yin and Yang.  The reason the dots are there, the reason the sides are swirls is that they contain one another, extend one another, and define one another.

Kinda like this:

A gorgeous taijitu, showing a sunny day, with a green flowering tree by an ocean, with a hot sun in the sky, next to a barren tree, by a windswept snow covered hill top, with a wan little winter sun in a cold sky.

A gorgeous taijitu, showing a sunny day, with a green flowering tree by an ocean, with a hot sun in the sky, next to a barren tree, by a windswept snow covered hill top, with a wan little winter sun in a cold sky.

This is much more what I'm going for.  During the whole year there's not one instant where you're not heading toward midsummer and away from midwinter, or just the opposite.  Every minute, of every day, you come closer and closer to that pivot point.  

Just in the same way, when you say no to things you don't have the energy, time, interest, or whatever-is-required-to-do-it for, you're also saying yes to other things.  Everyone is.  All the time.

It's beautiful.

Today I explained some part of this to that particular ensign, and made sure I was clear because I wanted to be understood.

It felt good.

I've touched on this before in my blog, but my feeling around my dad are rather complicated, because he was a great and terrible presence in my life.

My dad was a narcissistic, antisocial monster, who emotionally abused and abandoned me, and who did some astoundingly terrible things to my family, including emotional blackmail, embezzlement, fraud, and manipulation.  He destroyed my grandparent's family business, stole money through fraud from my ailing grandmother, cheated on my mom multiply over the course of more than 20 years, and faked having leukemia to coerce the family into giving him pity, money, and resources.

He was also a genius.  And, he did many great things for me in my life.  I had a stellar education, travelled the world, and materially, wanted for very little for most of my childhood.  

When I was in my early 20's, much of his machinations began to come to light.  I went from yearning for his approval and attention up through high school, being confused about what was even real about him during my college years, to an outright seething hatred and resentment for him as an adult.

I flew overseas to deal with his ill health when I was in my late 20's, and discovered through a series of misadventures that he had faked having leukemia.  He was deported back to the states not long after, and spent the next 15 years in a state of decline.  He was on the edge of homelessness, saved from it only by the good graces of my aunt. and some effort on my part too.  

Despite his change in circumstance, he still continued to play games, manipulate and toy with everyone around him.  He remarried multiple times, conned many people, and got to me in all sorts of ugly little ways for a while yet.  

That's him.

That's him.

I used to be fairly saturated in anger for him.  Eventually I did make my peace with who and what he was.  The last time I saw him alive was back in February 2006.  

He died three years later.  I went to the funeral, spoke at it.  

Since then, I actually have to struggle to remember when his birthday was, what year he died.  

As I'm sure you can imagine, all this makes father's day problematic for me.  But that's not the end of the story.  

During my first marriage, I was a father myself.  I was the step-father to my ex's son from her previous marriage.  He was a good kid, and we connected easily and well.  I taught him a lot of things, and we were a huge part of one another's lives.  When his mom and I split, we kept in contact, and nurtured our relationship.  I took him out for his first beer.  We went on a trip to New York together to see The Blue Man Group.  We were in each other's lives.

He married into a very religious, very conservative family, and things began to get a little weird.  He would post these very cringe-inducing things on Facebook about Caitlyn Jenner, and about homosexuality.  

It became a problem between us.  We negotiated a careful detente, and then broke the heck out of it.  Two years ago we had a throw down over Facebook over something, and that became it.  We were done.  I texted him a message on his birthday, months later, and got a very terse reply, "Thank you."

I have a general sort of weirdness around holidays to begin with, that I work hard to overcome.

So, here's the funny thing.  

This past weekend, over father's day weekend, Missy and I went to visit my girlfriend, Alissa in Chicago.  Her kids got to spend part of it with us, and then the rest of it with their dad.   I had good connecting time with the kids, who love me, and whom I love very much.  And mostly, the fact that it was father's day came and went without it meaning much of anything to me.

Later still, as we were traveling home, and I read Facebook, I saw this great outpouring of sentiment, good and bad for the day, including people looking to express all sorts of painful feelings about the day there.

And I made the conscious choice not to add to that.

Why?  Because it doesn't serve me.  A huge part of my practice is recognizing that I am not my thoughts.  Also, that pain and suffering are a part of life, and that they're transient, like all experiences.

There's this thing I'm always going back to, time and again, a quote of the Dalai Lama's.

"When you think everything is someone else's fault, you will suffer a lot.  When you realize that everything springs only from yourself, you will learn both peace and joy."

"When you think everything is someone else's fault, you will suffer a lot.  When you realize that everything springs only from yourself, you will learn both peace and joy."

The thing about that quote is, it's not perfect.  I think there are other words than "fault" that fit there better.  One in particular, that I learned from The Subtle Art of Not Giving A Fuck really jumps out at me: responsibility.  It may not be my fault my dad was so awful, or that my stepson and I don't have a relationship anymore.  But it is up to me, it is my responsibility to decide what I'm going to do about it.

And what I've picked to do, what I consciously do about it each day is this: nothing.

My dad was who he was.  My stepson is who he is.  And I am who I am.  That's not to say that who I am doesn't change.  I'm in a near constant state of change.  I have no idea whatsoever if my stepson and I will ever be on good terms again, and that's okay.

It's not that it's not sad, nor painful.  It absolutely is.  I'm very glad that I got to raise him for as long as I did, and that he mostly came out the other side of that okay.  Who he is now as an adult, that's not my responsibility.  That's up to him.  

In the meantime, I have other things going on in my life, other connections which are vibrant, valuable, and which tap that call to nurture and be nurtured that's inside me.

I want to say, too that I don't begrudge anyone for wanting the validation of others, and posting how they feel about the day, their dad, or being a dad.  I'm not better than them, nor worse than them.  I just embrace my responsibility for my feelings in a way that works for me, and that's very different.

I hold no universal truth about this stuff.  But I do know myself a whole lot better than I have before.  I'm grateful for that.