Straw Dogs: Not the Movie

The fifth verse of the Tao Te Ching focuses on the temporal but equitable nature of existence in which we are but straw dogs.

“Heaven and earth are impartial; they see the 10,000 things as straw dogs. The sage is not sentimental; he treats all his people as straw dogs.”

It is a rather provocative statement of our role in the physical universe of the 21st century. It is not a comfortable image as straw dogs are too temporal, too much a reminder of  our brevity. Within the Tao Te Ching of the 6th century B.C., straw dogs have a role to play for a brief, shining moment, and then, they are gone, only to be followed by more straw dogs.

Impartial existence does not seem all that special.

Stephen Mitchell, a translator of the Tao, has written that “’straw dogs were ritual objects, venerated before the ceremony but afterward abandoned and trampled underfoot’” (as quoted in Wayne Dyer’s Change Your Thoughts, Change Your Life).

In the Urban Dictionary, a delightful resource, I found seven different meanings of straw dog including one who is “faithful” to snorting cocaine. To me, the Urban Dictionary definition most resembling Mitchell’s translation is “something that is made only to be destroyed”; the sample sentence uses a doll as an example of a straw dog.

My favorite Urban Dictionary straw dog definition is “a word that you interject anytime that you don’t know what word to use but want to make it sound like you’re smart.”  The sample sentence illustrates the definition completely in that a nuclear physics speech “seemed like a straw dog compared to other theorys (sic),” definition and example perfect for my pearl book.

Regardless of how many definitions I may find online and elsewhere, any and all of them underscore the temporal nature of the physical universe from a cocaine high to a venerated sacrifice to easing out of an uncomfortable situation by saying something silly. They all pass from existence, as the Tao, the Source of all things, knows:

“To him none are especially dear, nor is there anyone he disfavors.”

In appreciating the straw dogs of the  6th century B.C. within the experience of the 21st century A.D., it is possible to feel the forever of existence, the comfort in knowing that straw dogs follow straw dogs. “With impartial awareness, the sage genuinely sees the sacredness within all the straw dogs in this ceremony we call life” (Dyer). 

We are not special unless we all are special.

Imagine a world where all know and accept that existence is a gift for all to be opened, to be lived, and to be left for others.  What is special in each of us is our life force. Imagine if we stopped celebrating our separateness and revered our one moment of existence, straw dogs all.

ROW80 Sunday Summary

A brief, mid-week lupus flare limited my reading and writing but it was a brief flare, and I am grateful. I credit its brevity to my better diet (now a weight loss of 66 pounds), to my work with the Tao, to meditating, and to participating in ROW80. Anyone with chronic illness  or who is confined for any length of time, can appreciate how important it is to connect with life whenever possible. As a bit of a distraction, I concentrated on re-learning Twitter; fellow ROW80er Morgan Dragonwillow helped me with TweetDeck and when my brain fog cleared a bit, I re-read the Twitter segment of Kristen Lamb’s book We Are Not AloneWho knew a lupus flare could be so productive?

Am halfway into The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern. For the first time since seeing the movie Toby Tyler (late 1950’s), I want to run away with a circus, especially one as magical as the Circus of Dreams. I enjoy Morgenstern’s wit and although the time structure is a bit wobbly–I had the same concern in The Time Traveler’s Wife–Morgenstern’s writing keeps me turning the pages.

If you want to read more about my ROW80 progress, please click here.

27 thoughts on “Straw Dogs: Not the Movie

  1. While the sage was noting that all will pass, be they king or villein, the essence of what they brought to others lingered, long aftter the “flesh” was gone.

    We are all just bundles of memories, being storied up, sometimes freely, sometimes tightly, gathered in backage made of burned stars in a preemptory gift to the future. Posts like these remind me how much I love writing about my one character Atyr and her people… because this thought… the belief that all we truly have to is memory, it is all we are, all we own, and all we can give.

    I’m sorry to know you were in pain, Karen. I know it brings good with it as well as bad…. even statistics show that those who have experienced suffering tend to be happier than those who have not…still, it seems wrong to wish harm to another, even for the chance of providing a gift of real joy. So I can only rejoice to know it is done for now.


  2. Hi Karen
    I always learn something from your posts. I love the illustrations you have had lately too – they give a distinctive flavour to your posts!
    Take care,


    1. Hey, Diana!

      Always good to read your words; thanks for the gracious compliments. I do so enjoy your blog,, and truly admire your artwork, which I just realize I have never said on your blog! Aaaargh! As for the illustrations, I am trying a different approach. Glad you noticed and that you like it.

      Best to you,


    1. Thanks, Callene, for the kind words about the post. It has been on my mind for awhile but then for me, studying the Tao is like that.

      Hope you stop by often,


  3. Karen,

    Good God, lupus sounds painful! I’m so impressed with that weight loss and (as my pal, Gene, mentioned) turning your down time into such a win. I really think the baby steps we take when we’re down seem to pay off big in the end. Good for you, and keep on pushing toward those goals! 🙂


    1. Hi, Jenny!

      I am with you on those baby steps paying off big for they are, as you say, a long term strategy, ironically. Honestly, lupus has taught me flexibility, and when I finally started to “get it,” I began to see how much was possible in the moment, which is all we ever have. Thanks for supportive words about the weight loss–the weight gain had much to do with inflammation–people like you and Gene inspire so many so please know how much your encouragement means.

      Hope you stop by often, Jenny.



  4. Sounds like you had a productive week in spite of your flare up! You know, my parents always told me I had a morbid sense of curiosity because I have always loved reading biographies and autobiographies of either handicapped people (I hate that term) or those with chronic illness. My family never understood that I like and admire the strength of character of thoose who battle daily to have some semblence of a life. My hat is off to you. Seize the day, the hour, the moment, or the second, whatever you get!


    1. What wonderfully kind words of encouragement. Thanks! I am not much on labels, either, but as I mentioned to Deb, lupus provides me a perspective I would never have known, as it forces me to focus on the moment–which is all we ever have–and in that, so very like Blake, I “see the world in a grain of sand.” It has made all the difference.

      I am so glad you stopped by and hope you do, often! The ROW80 community is a fine group; there is also a FB page under ROW80.



  5. Loved the line “We are not special unless we all are special.” Great! Especially feeling a bit “straw” with the loss of Abbe Wells — one of the first of our old gang to take off for parts unknown Thursday night. Cancer is a bitch.


    1. You have been on my mind, babe; I am so sorry. Those years of long, lasting friendship are forever but I suspect we prefer the physical over the ethereal nature that is us all, eventually. That we do not all share the physical world for the same amount of time always requires adjustment, no doubt more of our heart than our head.
      Sending much love,


  6. Karen,
    What a beautiful view into your thoughts and process during the week. With illness as a challenge, it’s inspiring to see that you can channel and transform in such a way to give permanence to something that is fleeting. I would add to Gene’s comment – here on the prairies, straw bundles can generate a lot of heat within, too!


    1. Hi, Dorryce!

      Thanks for your kind words, truly. If I am really honest, lupus has given me more than it has ever taken; if anything, it has provided an opportunity to learn about myself that I might have missed. Not to say there are not difficult moments for there are but I have learned to explore those moments for all that they are and not a bit more. As for those straw bundles, I come from a long line of farmers; you and Gene are so correct about the power of straw.

      Hope you come by often,


  7. Way to turn a limitation into a productive success – fantastic! Have a great coming week and stay strong – while straw may appear weak in some ways, it holds great strength within. Peace 🙂


  8. Ah yes, straw dogs. It points to the fact that we give much more concreteness to our physical world and ego than is justified. On the other hand, what isn’t straw, is the true nature that is covered over in “klesha,” as Pema Chodron would call it. It’s hard to imagine a reality that exists apart from what we experience and know when we look at the grand size of the universe and our place in it. When this reality we take pictures of cease to be, we will still be the stars….


    1. Oh, Rob, so beautifully written”…we will still be the stars.” I do not know Pema Chodron’s work well, just a smattering really, and would really appreciation of suggestion where to start reading. Of course, I have visited the website and FB page. As for “klesha,” I may know it by other terms but oh I do know it. Thanks for yet another thoughtful comment, Rob.



    1. Hi, Janet!
      Today is not last week, probably always a good thing, right? To me, the weight issue is more about inflammation and actually why I am proud of the loss, meaning as I learn to control my lupus inflammation, my whole being is healthier. May sound obvious what I am saying but there is research connecting sugar and inflammation to autoimmune disease that needs more attention but one book at a time for me.

      Thanks for stopping by, Janet,


  9. So much good stuff to think about here, especially “We are not special unless we are all special.”

    Yes, yes, yes! I loved seeing that in print. Understanding that concept opens the door to unconditional love, self-acceptance, and forgiveness. And makes the bumps in the road so much easier to navigate.

    Thanks, Karen!


  10. Being confined to a wheelchair for eleven weeks is like a brief and hopefully one-time chance to experience my own lupus flair up, a period when I have little say over what I can do that requires the cooperation of my body. The fact I am a straw dog is being graphically demonstrated. Still, I love each moment (right now, birdsong as the sun rises, yesterday, cool bright light). Being alive, no matter how constrained, is what matters.


    1. “Being alive, no matter how constrained, is what matters.” Great thought! All the health, wealth, beauty, talent, or “good fortune” in the world can’t produce the happiness a quiet heart can.


    2. Clearly, you were in my thoughts, Adrian, as I wrote this. Viewing life from a changed physical perspective does have its advantages, perception alone grows. Perhaps the greatest of all is renewed appreciation for the life force itself, as you say, the experience of being, which is so extraordinary.



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