The Path To Be Truly Yourself

If you want to become whole,
let yourself be partial.
If you want to become straight,
let yourself be crooked.
If you want to become full,
let yourself be empty.
If you want to be reborn,
let yourself die.
If you want to be given everything,
give everything up.

The Master, by residing in the Tao,
sets an example for all beings.
Because he doesn’t display himself,
people can see his light.
Because he has nothing to prove,
people can trust his words.
Because he doesn’t know who he is,
people recognize themselves in him.
Because he has no goal in mind,
everything he does succeeds.

When the ancient Masters said,
‘If you want to be given everything,
give everything up,’
they weren’t using empty phrases.
Only in being lived by the Tao
can you be truly yourself.

-Lao Tzu-
(Tao Te Ching, chapter 22, translation by Stephen Mitchell)

We have been talking, the last couple of days, of time well spent in the darkness. Lao Tzu understood it, brooding alone and muttering himself. That is where he drank from the Great Mother’s breasts. That is where he found an inner radiance.

In today’s chapter Lao Tzu explains how that process works. This journey of self-discovery. The path to be truly yourself.

As you were reading along through the first half of this chapter, did it seem like Lao Tzu was promoting passivity? I know that when I first started reading through the Tao Te Ching, I made the mistake of thinking that was what philosophical Taoism was all about. I couldn’t begin to wrap my mind around effortless action. And now he has this list of things we need to let ourselves be. “Letting” certainly sounds passive.

If you want to be whole, it must be because you see yourself as partial. If you want to become straight, it must be you see yourself as crooked. If you want to become full, you must see yourself as empty. Ah, the way things seem to be. Do you see how we let the way things seem to be determine how we live our lives?

But Lao Tzu offers us a better way. We will need to spend time in the darkness. But not for the sake of the darkness. The point of spending time in the darkness is that we may come to see the light in ourselves.

Spending time in the darkness means letting ourselves be what we seem to be. Coming to terms with that. Let yourself be partial. Let yourself be crooked. Let yourself be empty.

I can already hear the objections. But I don’t want to be any of those things. Why should I just let myself be those things?

Who said anything about just letting yourself be any of those things? I certainly didn’t say that. And neither did Lao Tzu. What? Did you think this journey we are on is like the drive thru at McDonalds? I can drive up, place my order, and expect it to be waiting for me as soon as I pull up to the window? Life doesn’t work that way. Get used to it.

No, anything worth having is worth investing in. And that means spending some time in the darkness. Waiting. If you want to be reborn, you need to let yourself die. If you want to be given everything, you need to give everything up. That isn’t something that we are going to accomplish in just a few minutes in the drive thru.

But you must emerge from the darkness sometime. I am not putting any time constraints on the process. I am sure it varies. Don’t be in a hurry. But don’t get too comfortable, either. You are there to die. You are there to give everything up. Don’t be judging how long others are taking. Just let the Tao do its work in you.

The Master, Lao Tzu reminds us, resides in the Tao. And by doing so, he sets an example for all beings. You can see his light. You can trust his words. You can even recognize yourself in him. And everything he does, succeeds.

What Lao Tzu is offering us today isn’t just a whole lot of empty phrases. This is the path to truly being yourself.

After all the darkness, some radiance…

The Master keeps her mind
always at one with the Tao;
that is what gives her radiance.

The Tao is ungraspable.
How can her mind be at one with it?
Because she doesn’t cling to ideas.

The Tao is dark and unfathomable.
How can it make her radiant?
Because she lets it.

Since before time and space were, the Tao is.
It is beyond is and is not.
How do I know this is true?
I look inside myself and see.

-Lao Tzu-
(Tao Te Ching, chapter 21, translation by Stephen Mitchell)

Yesterday, we found Lao Tzu brooding alone in the darkness muttering to himself. Our moods do have their ebb and flow, don’t they? Sometimes, we feel like we are soaring with the eagles. Other times, we fell like we are in some pit of despair, with little light or hope.

Recognizing and accepting the ebb and flow of our moods is all just part of the art of living. Far too often, I think, melancholy is diagnosed as some sort of illness in need of chemical treatment. And it isn’t just being down that gets people worrying about you. You will be scorned for being too happy, as well. While society promotes, even demands, sameness and conformity, I like that Lao Tzu celebrates the individual.

Now there are legitimate medical needs that need to be addressed. So, I am not nay saying legitimate pharmacological solutions, when I say that just because an individual dares to not conform to a sick society it doesn’t mean they need a pill.

All I am saying, is that if it was okay for Lao Tzu to find his own radiance by going into, and staying awhile in, the darkness; then it is okay for you and me, too. Individuals need the freedom to explore the depths and the heights of who they are without fear of being outed by others. The sanest people I know are the ones that can not and will not conform. The rule breakers.

Individuals who have had the freedom to spend as long as they needed in their dark place, like Lao Tzu, have discovered there a creative energy and will to embrace their own individuality and differences from everybody else. They emerge from the darkness, radiant. And all I can say to them is, “Well done! Embrace the real you. Celebrate what makes you different and unique.”

That dark place is where we learn to let go of our own ideas. Yes, I said let go. You think we are holding on to them? If we were holding onto them we wouldn’t be in that dark place. No, that is where we learn to let go of them. And, it is because we have suffered in the darkness of solitude and silence, that we can emerge from there, free, and bathed in light. That is the work of the Tao.

I know the language that Lao Tzu uses to describe the Tao is often poetic and mystical. The reasons for this, I think, are obvious. Language is very limiting. He is trying to communicate the infinite here. How can you pin down the Tao using finite language? All he can really do is point at the mystery. We marvel at it in all its obscurity. And, when we dare to peer into the darkness for long enough, we do find clarity.

Physics, in the 20th century, started to uncover with science, things that Lao Tzu told us many centuries ago, can really only be fully grasped with the intuition. The Tao is before time and space. It is beyond is and is not. A lot can be learned by looking outwardly. So, philosophical Taoism has no quarrels with science. But at the end of the day, after all your efforts to understand how the Universe works, you may just make your greatest discovery of what is true, when you look for it inside yourself.

Dark Night Of The Soul?

Stop thinking, and end your problems.
What difference between yes and no?
What difference between success and failure?
Must you value what others value?
Avoid what others avoid?
How ridiculous!

Other people are excited,
as though they are at a parade.
I alone don’t care, I alone am expressionless.
Like an infant before it can smile.

Other people have what they need.
I alone possess nothing.
I alone drift about, like someone without a home.
I am like an idiot, my mind is so empty.

Other people are bright; I alone am dark.
Other people are sharp; I alone am dull.
Other people have a purpose; I alone don’t know.
I drift like a wave on the ocean.
I blow as aimlessly as the wind.

I am different from ordinary people.
I drink from the Great Mother’s breasts.

-Lao Tzu-
(Tao Te Ching, chapter 20, translation by Stephen Mitchell)

Wow! Doesn’t this chapter seem odd and out of place? Unlike so many chapters of the Tao Te Ching, Lao Tzu really gets personal with this one. I believe it the only time that he writes in the first person. I counted a dozen times he uses the personal pronoun, I. It is very personal, very human, very dark. Every time I read through this chapter I can’t help but ask myself, is he having a crisis of faith? A dark night of the soul? Is it a bout with depression?

And then I remind myself that the last two chapters have been particularly rough ones. Two chapters ago, Lao Tzu was talking of the aftermath of the great Tao being forgotten. Yesterday, we were talking about the need to throw away some hard things to throw away in order to get back on track.

Perhaps there is every reason for Lao Tzu to despair about whether his readers would get it. And so, it seems, we find Lao Tzu off in a corner somewhere muttering to himself: “Stop thinking, and end your problems.” Is the man suicidal?

Lao Tzu asks himself a series of questions. And, answers them. Yes, my friends, it is okay to talk to yourself. This chapter is about coming to terms with being different from everybody else. Other people are excited. Other people have what they need. Other people are bright. Other people are sharp. Other people have a purpose. I alone am different.

I alone don’t care. I alone am expressionless. I alone possess nothing. I alone drift about. What an idiot I am. I alone am dark. I alone am dull. I alone don’t know.

It is so very difficult when you feel like you are the only one who is experiencing what you are experiencing. You are alone. And you are different from everybody else. Nobody could possibly understand you. And you are stupid for feeling the way you are feeling. Why can’t you just be like everybody else?

But at the same time, you don’t want to be like everybody else. You want to be different. You don’t want to value what others value, just because they value it. You don’t want to avoid things just because others avoid them.

Going along with the crowd. Choosing what they choose. Doing just what they do. What a ridiculous way to live your life.

There is no difference between yes and no. And there is no difference between success and failure. Oh, why can’t I just stop thinking? That would bring an end to my problems.

Over the years, many times I have heard people counseling other people to be careful with the words they use to talk to themselves. I too, have heard people talk negatively about themselves and wanted to correct all that negativity with positive words. “Don’t call yourself an idiot. You have tremendous worth. You aren’t so different from everybody else. You aren’t really alone.”

But Lao Tzu isn’t looking for my sympathy. And he doesn’t need to change his stinking thinking. He simply is embracing who and what he is. And he comes to celebrate what makes him different.

Are you drifting like a wave on the ocean? Are you blowing as aimlessly as the wind? Are you different from ordinary people? Come to terms with that. Embrace it. And by all means, drink from the Great Mother’s breasts.

Desperate Times Call For Desperate Measures

Throw away holiness and wisdom,
and people will be a hundred times happier.
Throw away morality and justice,
and people will do the right thing.
Throw away industry and profit,
and there won’t be any thieves.

If these three aren’t enough,
just stay at the center of the circle
and let all things take their course.

-Lao Tzu-
(Tao Te Ching, chapter 19, translation by Stephen Mitchell)

I entitled today’s blog post, “Desperate Times Call For Desperate Measures” because yesterday’s chapter described a dark and desperate situation, indeed. The great Tao was forgotten. Lao Tzu describes the aftermath with how it affects each individual, whole families, and the entire country. I also think it describes our present day, all too well. We are not living in harmony with the way things are. Having forgotten the Tao, we are suffering great misfortune.

And, Lao Tzu offers us the antidote for what ails us in this chapter. These three things he wants us to throw away may seem too drastic a remedy. Maybe you need to reread through the last chapter, and get a real feel for just how bad things have gotten.

Or, you could just take a look at the news coming out from around the world. If that doesn’t sober you, then I don’t know what will.

Before I get to the three throwaways, I did want to begin with Lao Tzu’s final prescription. These three desperate measures may simply not be enough to turn things back around again and get us back on track. We need to be in perfect harmony with the way things are. And that is going to take more courage than our throwaways for this chapter.

If the three throwaways are not enough, just stay at the center of the circle. And let all things take their course. I said this will take courage. And it will. It is about trust. Trusting that the Tao will sort it all out. Performing the balancing act that it has always performed; and always will perform.

Okay, now, about that trust thing. Let’s look at the three throwaways. Remember, when we are not in perfect harmony with the Tao, when the great Tao has been forgotten, all kinds of substitutes arise to try and take the place of the Tao. Life is chaotic when it is lived out of harmony with the way things are. We crave order. The Tao does provide spontaneous order. But when that is forgotten, we seek to restore order.

All of these throwaways may seem to be good things in and of themselves. Why would Lao Tzu want us to throw them away? First, we have holiness and wisdom. Now there is absolutely nothing wrong with either one of these; if, we are talking about how individuals go about their daily lives. When we are living in perfect harmony with the Tao, I don’t doubt that both holiness and wisdom will be a mark of that harmony.

But Lao Tzu isn’t talking about throwing out holiness and wisdom as effects of a life lived in harmony with the Tao. What he is talking about is a system put into place to restore holiness and wisdom in the midst of the chaos that results from living out of harmony with the Tao. It is that system that needs throwing out. Yes, we are living in chaotic times. And, sadly, it is likely to only get more chaotic, the longer we go without remembering the great Tao. But Lao Tzu offers something that a system of holiness and wisdom will never offer. People will be a hundred times happier.

“But, but, Chuck, we can’t do that. Can’t you see how chaotic things are?” Remember, I said it was about trusting the Tao to work it out. As long as that system is in place, we are going against the flow of the way things are. We are suffering at the hands of the illusion. They simply must go. I promise you, people will be a hundred times happier.

The second throwaway is morality and justice. I know plenty of people who mistakenly think we have thrown those out long ago. They think immorality reigns and our justice system is barely able to keep up with the mess that throwing out morality has brought about. But I want you to think about that for just a moment. There is absolutely nothing wrong with morality and justice; when, it is the natural outgrowth of a life lived in harmony with the Tao. In fact, I would suggest that the reason that you might think immorality is such a problem today, is because we haven’t been living in harmony with the Tao.

And as for our system of justice, would someone please offer me some solid examples of actual justice. I live in the United States, and I apologize to those of my followers who are bored with my constant referrals to my own country, but it is my frame of reference. And the U.S. has only 5% of the world’s population, while having 25% of the world’s prison population. That is seriously (*put in your favorite expletive) up. What has it gotten us? Where is the justice in that? I am talking about people being incarcerated for victimless crimes. That covers roughly more than half. And even those that are incarcerated for crimes where there were victims, what restitution has been made to the victims?

The system of morality and justice is no substitute for a life lived in harmony with the Tao. Lao Tzu says to trust the people. Throw out morality and justice. People will do the right thing.

“Oh, but, Chuck, Chuck, how can we trust the people?” And all I can tell you is how can we not? Morality and justice aren’t doing it. They need to go in the rubbish heap.

And now to the final throwaway. This one might just be the most difficult one of them all, at least for me, to consider.

I can already hear some of you saying, “But industry and profit can’t be thrown away. Just where would we be without industry and profit?  Do you want us all dwelling in caves?” And, there are the rest of you saying, “Hell yeah! Let’s get rid of capitalism!”

Before anyone hit’s the “unfollow” button I want to try and explain what I think Lao Tzu is getting at. I think Lao Tzu has come across somewhat cavalier in his use of language in today’s chapter. We need to throwaway holiness and wisdom. Check. We need to throwaway morality and justice. Check. And we need to throwaway industry and profit? Damn it, Lao Tzu, you have me really stalling on this one.

Okay, deep breath… Once again, there is absolutely nothing wrong with industry and profit; when, they are the results of a life lived in harmony with the Tao. I am very much in favor of a freed market. And, I have often likened the Tao to the invisible hand of the free market. Okay, so far, so good.

However, (you just knew there was going to be one of those). What we currently are experiencing in our world is not a freed market. We are not living in harmony with the Tao. What we have in place is an illusory system put in place of a freed market. That system, you can call it whatever you want. I know some of you will gladly call it capitalism. And some of you will rush to try to defend capitalism. But I don’t want to talk about the term capitalism at all. I try to keep it out of my vocabulary as much as possible. It simply means too many different things to too many different people. And I don’t think it is a term worth trying to salvage.

So I am not going to defend it, and I am not going to berate it. What I will do is say that the present system has to go. Our present system is designed to enrich the few at the expense of the many. And that is indefensible. It cannot be sustained in the long run? Why? Because the many will only take it for so long. Desperate times make for desperate people. And desperate people do desperate things. Horrible things.

People locked into a system where they see little legal means to surviving on this planet, will resort to illegal ones. Lao Tzu wants the people set free. People who are free to enjoy one hundred percent of the fruit of their labor will be less inclined to steal. And that is the problem that Lao Tzu is addressing when he says to throw out industry and profit. Why are there thieves? Because people are desperate. Eradicate the systems that cause the despair and you eliminate the despair.

There is so much more that I want to say about this chapter today. But I can already see that it is at least twice as long as what I would like it to be. The bottom line is this: Do you want people to be a hundred times happier? Will you trust people to do the right thing? Trust the Tao and trust the people. Lao Tzu certainly did. And we need to as well.

 

But They Ain’t Nothing Like The Real Thing

When the great Tao is forgotten,
goodness and piety appear.

When the body’s intelligence declines,
cleverness and knowledge step forth.

When there is no peace in the family,
filial piety begins.

When the country falls into chaos,
patriotism is born.

-Lao Tzu-
(Tao Te Ching, chapter 18, translation by Stephen Mitchell)

For some of my newer followers, I want to remind you all what is meant when Lao Tzu refers to the Tao. Or in this case, the great Tao. First, Tao is just the name he gives it, for lack of a better word. But what is it? It is the eternal reality. The way things are. Every day, I remind myself that the way things are is the way things are. This isn’t said with resignation on my part. That would imply that there is something horribly wrong with the way things are. And that is not the case, at all.

Lao Tzu, throughout his Tao Te Ching, contrasts the way things are with the way things appear to be. The eternal reality vs. the illusion which masquerades as truth. And today’s chapter gives us the opportunity to spot the reasons behind those illusions masquerading as truth.

He says that the illusion is there because the great Tao is forgotten. That is what he means when he talks about goodness and piety appearing. The great Tao hasn’t gone anywhere. It is still exactly what and where it has always been. But when we forget that the way things are is the way things are, then we start substituting for the apparently “missing” reality.

It is like the act of forgetting causes a vacuum or void which must be filled with something, anything; just as long as we fill that hole. The allure of the illusion is only valid because the Tao has been forgotten.

Goodness and piety might not seem like such bad things on the surface. But they ain’t nothing like the real thing. And they simply won’t fill that hole, that void, that was created by forgetting the Tao.

It is like a chain reaction is caused by this great loss. Lao Tzu says that the body’s intelligence will decline. What does he mean by that? I believe what he means by body intelligence is our own intuitive connection with the Tao. Not just our bodies but our whole beings’ ability to go with the flow of the way things are. Things that once came so easily to us, now require something extra that we have never had to rely on before. And cleverness and knowledge step forth to “help” us along.

I put help in scare quotes because they are as helpful as any government bureaucrat. Oh, you mean to tell me, Chuck, that cleverness and knowledge are not good? Yes, that is exactly what I mean to tell you. They ain’t nothing like the real thing. You will just keep declining. Substituting more and more cleverness and knowledge, all along the way; and to no avail.

And when the great Tao is forgotten, it doesn’t just affect individuals. Soon, there is no peace in the family.

No peace in the family? Well, we can’t have that. Filial piety begins. Filial piety may not be a familiar term to the Western mind, so I will tell you exactly what Lao Tzu means by that.

Filial piety speaks of duty and devotion. In China, family ties were sacred. For Lao Tzu, family ties came naturally. That is the way it is when people are in harmony with the way things are. There are no duties to perform, or rules to follow. Families in harmony with the Tao just naturally do what families do. But when the Tao is lost, chaos ensues. Family ties are still there, yes. But now, they are a burden, a duty. Rules are established and enforced. All in the name of keeping peace within the family.

We are all familiar with these duties. The duty of a father to provide for his family. The duty of a mother to care for her children. The duty of children to respect their parents. And let’s not forget the duty of wives to honor and obey their husbands. Duty and devotion, forced and contrived. Odd and unnatural. Because of the chaos created by having forgotten the Tao, the illusion arises to fill the great hole. We must keep up the pretense of order and peace in our homes.

But of course, it doesn’t stop there. The loss of the Tao affects the entire country, as it falls into chaos. There is great turmoil in the country. The people are unsettled. In the absence of the Tao, self-rule is simply not going to be allowed. Rulers, who only wish to maintain their control, and who surround themselves with sycophants, will rally the confused masses of people to some cause. Patriotism is born and flourishes in the absence of the Tao.

The powers that be (remember this is all an illusion) must maintain order. There is a call of duty to one’s country. Some enemy must be contrived, for we all need to get behind some common purpose. And fighting some common enemy that doesn’t quite look like us or act like us, is as good a reason as will ever be found.

Those that question the motives or the purpose will be labeled heretics or terrorists; it all means the same thing. If order is to be restored we must unite as a nation and fight our common enemy. All misgivings and dissent must be silenced. We need to support our government. Our president. Our troops. And off to war we go.

And all because the great Tao was forgotten. We aren’t in harmony with the way things are. And the illusion rears its ugly head.

But it doesn’t have to be this way. That is why I take time each and every day to remind myself that the way things are is the way things are. I pause and reflect on the natural order of the Universe. I observe its ebb and flow. I remember the Tao.

And together we will create a much better world in which to live.

The First Rule of Good Governing

When the Master governs,
the people are hardly aware that he exists.
Next best is a leader who is loved.
Next, one who is feared.
The worst is one who is despised.

If you don’t trust the people,
you make them untrustworthy.

The Master doesn’t talk, he acts.
When his work is done, the people say,
‘Amazing; we did it all by ourselves!’

-Lao Tzu-
(Tao Te Ching, chapter 17, translation by Stephen Mitchell)

In the past, when I have gotten to this chapter of the Tao Te Ching, I have devoted a great deal of time to looking at the differences between a leader who is loved vs. a leader who is feared, or worse despised. Having taken up so much of the space I intended to use, I haven’t really been able to devote much of my blog post to what I think is much more important, and what I think Lao Tzu was much more interested in, and that is how the Master governs.

Today, I would like to rectify that failure on my part.

Let’s start by first remembering what Lao Tzu means when he refers to the Master. The Master is anyone who is in perfect harmony with the way things are. Or, put another way, in perfect harmony with the Tao. The Master isn’t swayed by the way things seem to be. The Master isn’t attracted to the illusion at all; but sees right past it, to the reality that is beyond the veil of how things seem to be.

So, how does someone who is in perfect harmony with the Tao govern? This is a very important question for Lao Tzu, because it gives us Lao Tzu’s first rule of good governing.

He says that when the Master governs, the people are hardly aware that he exists. Okay, Lao Tzu, you have my attention. Tell me more.

The Master doesn’t talk, he acts. When his work is done, the people say, “Amazing, we did it all by ourselves!”

Oh, to have such a one to lead. Some people think that anarchists, like myself, would not be in favor of there being any leaders. Shouldn’t anarchists be opposed to all governments?

Perhaps, some anarchists seem to want no government at all. That whole meme “No Masters, No Rulers.” does seem to suggest that anarchists are quite an unruly bunch.

But remember that we don’t want to be swayed by how things seem to be. What we are wanting is to be in perfect harmony with the way things really are.

That is why I wanted to be careful to define Lao Tzu’s term, Master, right from the start. He is not envisioning some master/slave relationship. The people are not slaves to the Master. No, he trusts them completely. And, because he trusts the people, the people become trustworthy.

The Master doesn’t entice the people with flowery speech intended to deceive them with the illusion of power and authority over them. No, he doesn’t talk at all. He merely acts. And the people are hardly aware that he even exists. He hasn’t made some show of himself. He doesn’t act with great pomp and circumstance. You wouldn’t spot him at photo ops. He wouldn’t be found making the rounds of late-night talk shows.

The people are hardly aware that he even exists. He merely acts. Trusting the people to do for themselves what it is in their nature to do. And so, when his work is done the people will say they did it all by themselves. And what else would they say? For that is exactly what has happened.

Are good leaders a necessary thing? Certainly! Anyone telling you differently is simply mistaken. Good leaders will always be a necessary thing. Some people are natural leaders. Some people are naturally followers. One is not better than the other. They just have different functions in the way things are.

So leaders, there will always be. Because they are necessary. But sadly, they are not always good.

If you aspire to govern, if you aspire to be a leader, here is Lao Tzu’s first rule of good governing. It doesn’t matter if you are loved, or feared, or despised; if you don’t trust the people, you make them untrustworthy.

You do it. You. I know I often talk about the illusion of power. And that is certainly an important topic of discussion. But today I am talking about real power. The power wielded by a leader. For good or ill. Every leader has the power to make the people untrustworthy; just as surely as they have the power to make them trustworthy.

And the first rule of good governing, of being a good leader, is to trust the people. We need leaders that are not swayed by the illusion of power. That give no ground to the way things seem to be. We need leaders in perfect harmony with the way things are. We need leaders who recognize their real power; and trust the people.

It Is Transformative

Empty your mind of all thoughts.
Let your heart be at peace.
Watch the turmoil of beings,
but contemplate their return.

Each separate being in the Universe
returns to the common Source.
Returning to the Source is serenity.

If you don’t realize the Source,
you stumble in confusion and sorrow.
When you realize where you come from,
you naturally become tolerant,
disinterested, amused,
kindhearted as a grandmother,
dignified as a king.
Immersed in the wonder of the Tao,
you can deal with whatever life brings you.
And when death comes, you are ready.

-Lao Tzu-
(Tao Te Ching, chapter 16, translation by Stephen Mitchell)

I recently had a Skype conversation with my daughter, Abigail, who is living in Melbourne, Australia. Without going into any of the details of our conversation, the basic gist of the conversation revolved around the need to learn how to be detached from all things. In that conversation I found myself being libertariantaoist, more so than Dad. I had my most recent blog posts on my mind and I was quoting from them. And today’s chapter, I would like to dedicate to my daughter. I hope she will read it.

As I begin reading this chapter, it seems like Lao Tzu is instructing us in the art of meditation. I can almost hear in the background, a solitary bell, chiming every couple of seconds; and my breathing in and out, slows with my heart beat to keep pace with the chime of the bell.

Empty your mind of all thoughts.
Let your heart be at peace.
Watch the turmoil of beings.
But contemplate their return.

Most of us don’t make the time to practice meditation because, perhaps, we have tried it before. But it didn’t work. It seemed rigid. Forced. The antithesis of what we were trying to achieve. At least that is my own excuse for not practicing any formal meditation techniques.

I am not nay saying it. If it works for you, by all means use it to your own benefit.

Trying to empty my mind of all thoughts, just never has worked for me. That required effort. And I was seeking effortless action. And that really is the point of meditation. I am certain any practioner would tell me so. It isn’t supposed to be rigid, or forced. It really is supposed to be effortless action in practice. I really shouldn’t get hung up on methods.

But today’s chapter is a meditation. When Lao Tzu says empty your mind of all thoughts, he isn’t asking you to force anything. You simply let the thoughts come and go, and don’t hold on to them. Why are our minds so full? Because we won’t let go of those pesky thoughts. And thinking that we don’t want to think isn’t going to help. I know, I have tried.

Let your heart be at peace. Lao Tzu seems to have the radical notion that the reason our hearts are in turmoil is because we won’t let them be at peace. I know, right? But, Lao Tzu is right. And this requires no effort either. What requires effort is holding onto the things that are troubling our hearts.

What am I getting at? Detachment from all things.

Lao Tzu tells us to watch the turmoil of beings, but contemplate their return. We get so caught up in the turmoil. But that isn’t what Lao Tzu wants us contemplating. Let that turmoil come and go. Don’t hold onto it. Contemplate this, instead: Each separate being in the Universe returns to the common Source. It is in returning to the Source that we find serenity.

A couple chapters ago, Lao Tzu told us that the essence of wisdom was realizing where you have come from. That is what I want to contemplate, today, and everyday. That is where serenity is to be found.

Beings stumble about in confusion and sorrow because they don’t realize where they come from. They are out of harmony with the Tao. They are out of touch with the common Source. But the Tao is right there where it always has been.

It is the classic struggle; not between good and evil, but between the way things seem to be vs. the way things really are. The way things really are hasn’t changed. The turmoil is caused by the attraction of the illusion, the way things seem to be.

But, when you realize where you come from, that is transformative. Your whole perspective is changed. It is as if you are teleported to an entirely different plane of existence. Welcome to what is real.
This is detachment. It is the detachment I was trying to explain to my daughter. Detachment from the way things seem to be. So what does detachment mean? It is what you naturally become when you are in harmony with the way things are. You naturally become: Tolerant. Disinterested. Amused. Kindhearted as a grandmother. Dignified as a king. It means, Abigail, you are really free to love.

You are immersed in the wonder of the Tao. And in this plane of existence, you can deal with whatever life brings you. Even when death comes. Even then, you will be ready.

Wait for it, wait for it

The ancient Masters were profound and subtle.
Their wisdom was unfathomable.
There is no way to describe it.
All we can describe is their appearance.

They were careful as someone
crossing an iced-over stream.
Alert as a warrior in enemy territory.
Courteous as a guest.
Fluid as melting ice.
Shapeable as a block of wood.
Receptive as a valley.
Clear as a glass of water.

Do you have the patience
to wait till your mud settles
and the water is clear?
Can you remain unmoving
till the right action arises by itself?

The Master doesn’t seek fulfillment.
Not seeking, not expecting.
She is present, and can welcome all things.

-Lao Tzu-
(Tao Te Ching, chapter 15, translation by Stephen Mitchell)

I don’t want to be guilty of over esteeming the great men and women that have gone before us. But I do think there is something to be gained from esteeming them. That is why you will see me reblogging great quotes from them on my tumblr blog. Lao Tzu certainly thought there were lessons that we could learn from observing them. And he waxes poetic in describing their appearance.

It is hardly necessary for me to repeat what you can very well read in the quote above. But I too want to be as clear as a glass of water today. This isn’t just an exercise in hailing the greatness of the ancient Masters. What we are trying to do is to observe and to emulate them.

And that is a tall order. In your life you will encounter iced-over streams that will need to be crossed. You will need to be careful, or you won’t make it across. As the power of the State continues to grow, we always find ourselves in enemy territory. After all, we who value liberty, above all else, are the enemy of the State. So, we need to be alert to the situation.

But let us always seek to practice the art of being courteous. Especially while online, when our supposed anonymity often loosens our inhibitions. And we need to know when and how to yield. That is being fluid like melting ice. Just think of that melting ice; and water, a favorite metaphor of Lao Tzu’s. Yielding isn’t a sign of weakness. It is the strongest among us who know when and how to yield.

Another favorite metaphor of Lao Tzu’s is that of the uncarved block of wood. This is the state he wants us all to be in. Able to be shaped by the Tao, into whatever is required of our place in the Universe. Are you receptive to that? If we really want to be perfectly in harmony with the way things are, like the Master, nothing less is required of us.

Where we fail to be in harmony with the Tao, it is always due to a lack of patience. We must have patience to wait until the mud settles and the water is clear. Wait for it. Wait for it. Remain unmoving. The right action will arise all by itself. If we just wait for it.

Does that seem too hard? I know. I too, can get frustrated while waiting at a drive thru for my order. We have been trained from birth to seek fulfillment. To expect that our efforts will be rewarded. How strange is the Way of the Master. She doesn’t seek fulfillment. She doesn’t seek anything. She expects nothing. She merely lives in the present moment, and welcomes whatever comes her way.

Her Way is strange. But I want to be just like her.

It is the Essence of Wisdom…

Look, and it can’t be seen.
Listen, and it can’t be heard.
Reach, and it can’t be grasped.

Above, it isn’t bright.
Below, it isn’t dark.
Seamless, unnameable.
It returns to the realm of nothing.
Form that includes all form.
Image without an image.
Subtle, beyond all conception.

Approach it and there is no beginning.
Follow it and there is no end.
You can’t know it, but you can be it.
At ease in your own life.
Just realize where you come from;
This is the essence of wisdom.

-Lao Tzu-
(Tao Te Ching, chapter 14, translation by Stephen Mitchell)

Today’s chapter sounds like something of a riddle as we read through it. It is a continuation of yesterday’s chapter in which Lao Tzu warns us to stay off the ladder. And, it hearkens back to the first chapter where we are first introduced to the mysterious Tao.

You will be happy, I hope, to know that I am not going to try and go through it line by line and unravel the mystery. I don’t think that is what Lao Tzu intends for us to do.

But I do welcome the opportunity to continue where we left off yesterday. The question before us is, if we are supposed to avoid climbing the ladder, how are we ever going to know ease in our own lives? That is, after all, the lure of the ladder. If you will just climb that ladder and keep on climbing, you may eventually get to that elusive top rung where you will find ease. That is the lure. That is the promise. But Lao Tzu tells us it is all an illusion.

So what then? In this chapter Lao Tzu offers us this riddle. And the conclusion of the riddle is that you can never know it. At least that is the case, if you are pursuing it on that ladder.

But Lao Tzu does offer us a better way. You knew he would, right?

What you can’t know, you can be. And here is how. And this is the essence of wisdom: Just realize where you come from.

Now, how to explain that one? How do I put it into words? There came a time in my life. I can’t quite pinpoint the exact time and date. I just know that there came a time when I quit looking for it. I quit listening for it. I quit grasping at it. I think that it was when I recognized that reality was where I spotted paradox. Anytime I found that things were not what they seemed to be, then I realized that I had stumbled across what was real, hiding there, behind the mask of the illusion.

Is it still elusive? Oh, definitely. I get distracted by the illusion all the time. But I have learned something along my journey. And though I get distracted and wander off on side paths from time to time, I always return to the Source of reality. The Source of all being and non-being. My Source. Your Source.

I am living in the present moment. The only real moment. Things come and things go. I work with them as they do. I know where I have come from. I know where I am going. And the life of ease that I could never know, is who I am become.

Keeping Your Balance Amid Dangers And Phantoms

Success is as dangerous as failure.
Hope is as hollow as fear.

What does it mean that success
is as dangerous as failure?
Whether you go up the ladder or down it,
your position is shaky.
When you stand with your two feet on the ground,
you will always keep your balance.

What does it mean that hope is as hollow as fear?
Hope and fear are both phantoms
that arise from thinking of the self.
When we don’t see the self as self,
what do we have to fear?
See the world as your self.
Have faith in the way things are.
Love the world as your self.
Then you can care for all things.

-Lao Tzu-
(Tao Te Ching, chapter 13, translation by Stephen Mitchell)

Such grand words fill today’s chapter: Success. Failure. Hope, Fear. Faith. Love. Only Lao Tzu could say so much in so few words. And I couldn’t possibly do one of them justice with my little post today…

And yet, here I am. There is something I think we can take away from the chapter today. Or I would just bid you all well, and leave it at that. But here goes…

When Lao Tzu warns us that success and failure are equally dangerous, he does tell us exactly why that is. It is that ladder. We all have spent time going up and down a ladder before. We understand how shaky our position is while going up or going down. The danger of a ladder in today’s chapter is contrasted with the ease with which we can maintain our balance when we stand with both feet on the ground.

What Lao Tzu seems to be telling us is that he wants us to stay grounded in reality, rather than pursuing the illusion that the ladder represents for us. Once I mount that ladder, and with each step I take, either up or down, I have left behind what is real, the ground beneath my feet. And am now seeking an illusion. I hope for success and I fear failure. Every step made on that ladder, I have those twin phantoms dogging me.

That is what he calls both hope and fear, phantoms. They both are hollow. Just wisps. They aren’t grounded in reality. They are nothing more than illusions. Which arise from thinking of the self. When I am merely focused on my self, that is when I entertain both hopes and fears. I want to succeed. I don’t want to fail.

Instead of being dogged on the ladder, Lao Tzu offers us a better way. He tells us that when we don’t see the self as self, we will have nothing to fear. But that sounds like a tall order, indeed. How do I shift my focus from me to the world, like he says?

To see the world as your self requires seeing beyond the illusion to what is real. And that means having faith in the way things are. We get distracted by that ladder. By the hope of success. By the fear of failure. But when we keep both feet firmly on the ground of reality we can see the ladder for what it is. Trust the ground you are standing on. Have faith that the way things are is the way things are.

As you look at the ground on which you are standing your focus has already changed from your self. Then you can look at the world with love and compassion. Because that is what is real. And that is where you are needed. Not that ladder. The illusory success or failure, hope or fear, melts away. It was ephemeral, after all.

The world is now your focus. Now you can care for all things. Grounded in reality. Instead of chasing dreams of what may or may not ever happen. You are living in the present moment. One moment at a time.

There is so much more that could be said. But I have said enough for today. That is the nice thing about taking this one chapter at a time. We will keep returning to these opportunities to explore things further, another day.