On How to Rejoice in the Way Things Are

Fame or integrity: which is more important?
Money or happiness: which is more valuable?
Success or failure: which is more destructive?

If you look to others for fulfillment,
you will never truly be fulfilled.
If your happiness depends on money,
you will never be happy with yourself.

Be content with what you have;
rejoice in the way things are.
When you realize there is nothing lacking,
the whole world belongs to you.

-Lao Tzu-
(Tao Te Ching, chapter 44, translation by Stephen Mitchell)

Lao Tzu opens today’s chapter with three rhetorical questions. But, is he really asking us to choose between these options? I don’t think so. I think it is equally important for us to consider why both fame, and integrity, are important to us. I think it is equally valuable for us to consider both, why our happiness depends on money, and how a happiness which doesn’t depend on money is so much better. And, I think, because Lao Tzu already said back in chapter thirteen, success and failure are equally dangerous, we need to realize they are also equally destructive. They are both destructive for the same reason they are both dangerous. They take our attention away from what truly matters, the infinite and eternal, and place our focus on the finite and temporal.

Why do we look to others for fulfillment? What possible fulfillment do we hope to gain from others? Fulfillment can only be gained by being content with who we are. It is an inward thing. Not an outward thing. If we really are to be content, in other words, happy with ourselves, then it can’t depend on anything outside of ourselves. And, that includes money.

Why aren’t we content? Why do we make it contingent on something outside of ourselves, things completely beyond our control? And then, of course, we try to control them. Only making ourselves more miserable in the process.

We have to be content with what we have. We need to know when enough is enough; and, the enough we have, has to be enough. We need to be content. But, there is something that goes along with true contentment. That is rejoicing. We need to rejoice in the way things are. The way things are, has nothing to do with our outward circumstances. It is, once again, an inward thing. It is a matter of realizing, again. It was something I said a couple of days ago. There is so much we need to realize. We perceive lack, when our focus is on what is outside of ourselves. So, we need to embrace who we are on the inside, and let that be all we need. I have everything I need. “But, I want, I want, I want.” Oh, those pesky desires, again. We need to let go of those. We have every thing we need. And, when we realize there is nothing lacking, the whole world is ours. The whole world is ours, but not for the taking. The whole world is ours for the giving, with generosity, and for the receiving, with gratitude.

I dare to imagine a world full of people who are content with who they are, and with what they have, a world that values generous giving, and thankful receiving, a world that doesn’t take what was never ours to take, nor withholds what was always meant to be bestowed. Will you dare to imagine, this kind of world, with me? Will you join me in being one of those people who rejoice in the way things are?

The Way of a Wise and Virtuous Person

The gentlest thing in the world
overcomes the hardest thing in the world.
That which has no substance
enters where there is no space.
This shows the value of non-action.

Teaching without words,
performing without actions;
that is the Master’s way.

-Lao Tzu-
(Tao Te Ching, chapter 43, translation by Stephen Mitchell)

Today’s chapter is about being, not doing. Don’t intervene. Don’t interfere. Don’t try to control. Don’t force things. Be soft. Be gentle. Be the gentlest thing in the world; and, you will overcome the hardest thing in the world. You won’t overcome it by doing something. Those who do something, always leave many more things left undone.

Don’t do. Be. Be formless. Be without substance. You will be able to enter where there is no space.

I have already written too many words in this commentary. Lao Tzu’s words are picture words. They evoke images. I want to let his teaching, and therefore, my own teaching, be without words. I want to be an example of Lao Tzu’s teaching.

I seem disinterested, detached from all things. Yet, I am one with the whole universe. People all around me are so worked up about so many things.

Why? What does it accomplish? Turmoil. So much turmoil. Like a whirlwind.

“But, you must do something.”

But everything is done. I haven’t left a thing undone.

“Well, we want you to do something about this thing.”

Shh. Be still. This too shall pass. Let it.

“But things may not go the way we want them to go.”

And, if you act, what then? You do not know. Oh, you think you know. But, you don’t. Better to do nothing, than to do the wrong thing.

“But we are convinced we are in the right.”

Of course, you are. But how can you know all the consequences of your actions? What chain of events will you set into motion? Even the wisest, and most virtuous, don’t know these things. Practice doing without doing. When you let events take their own course, you are doing without doing. All things which must be done will be done. And those which shouldn’t, won’t.

This is the way of a wise and virtuous person.

Embrace Your Aloneness

The Tao gives birth to One.
One gives birth to Two.
Two gives birth to Three.
Three gives birth to all things.

All things have their backs to the female
and stand facing the male.
When male and female combine,
all things achieve harmony.

Ordinary men hate solitude.
But the Master makes use of it,
embracing his aloneness, realizing
he is one with the whole universe.

-Lao Tzu-
(Tao Te Ching, chapter 42, translation by Stephen Mitchell)

The Tao gives birth to One. Thus, begins a very mysterious chapter, indeed. I have spent time, in the past, trying to unravel the mystery of this chapter; and, I will try to do so satisfactorily, again, today. But, first, I want to skip ahead to the last stanza. It is relevant to what we have been talking about for the last few days about being willing to incubate, by staying centered in the Tao.

Ordinary people hate solitude. Lao Tzu spent some time a few chapters ago comparing the ordinary person with the Master, a wise and virtuous person. There, he said ordinary people never can get enough power; so, they keep reaching for more and more. A wise and virtuous person doesn’t try to be powerful, thus they are truly powerful. Ordinary people are always doing things, yet leave many more not done. But a wise and virtuous person leaves nothing undone; while, seemingly, doing nothing. It is obvious there is a vast gulf which separates a wise and virtuous person from one who is merely ordinary. While the merely ordinary hate solitude, a wise and virtuous person makes use of it.

If you want to become a wise and virtuous person, it is vitally important that you learn to embrace your aloneness. It is the only way to realize you are one with the whole universe.

One with the whole universe. The Tao gives birth to that One. It happens while we embrace our aloneness, incubating in the Tao. We come to realize it, spontaneously and intuitively.

That unity, that oneness, is the theme of today’s chapter. Don’t hate solitude. Embrace your aloneness. There is so much we need to realize.

I suppose we can begin by realizing what the mysterious One, Two, and Three are in today’s chapter.

The One is referring to one aspect of the Tao, non-being. Non-being, as Lao Tzu has said before, gives birth to being. Now, we have non-being and being, yin and yang. That is the Two. But what is this Three? This third aspect of the Tao is Chi, the life force that flows through all things. The Three, then, are non-being, being, and chi, or yin and yang and the flow their merging produces, in order to create balance and harmony in our universe. All things are created by these three aspects of the Tao. Or, to put it like Lao Tzu has before, the Tao gives birth to all things.

The second stanza of today’s chapter begins at the end of the first, with all things. And, then it turns back, or returns, to the One. All things have their backs to the female, and stand facing the male. Picture this for just a moment. To me it illustrates a confrontational pose. With your back turned from the female, the nurturing aspect of the Tao, and facing the male. This won’t do at all. The only way for all things to achieve harmony, is to turn around; let male and female combine. The Two become One again. That is the unity we were talking about earlier.

I do hope that was satisfactory. Tomorrow, we will look, again, at the value of non-action.

When You Are Average

When a superior man hears of the Tao,
he immediately begins to embody it.
When an average man hears of the Tao,
he half believes it, half doubts it.
When a foolish man hears of the Tao,
he laughs out loud.
If he didn’t laugh,
it wouldn’t be the Tao.

Thus it is said:
The path into the light seems dark,
the path forward seems to go back,
the direct path seems long,
true power seems weak,
true purity seems tarnished,
true steadfastness seems changeable,
true clarity seems obscure,
the greatest art seems unsophisticated,
the greatest love seems indifferent,
the greatest wisdom seems childish.

The Tao is nowhere to be found.
Yet it nourishes and completes all things.

-Lao Tzu-
(Tao Te Ching, chapter 41, translation by Stephen Mitchell)

I want to get one thing out of the way, right upfront. While I generally find Stephen Mitchell’s translation “superior” to the other ones I have encountered, I don’t like that label, superior. When I first came across this chapter, I immediately found myself thinking of what Lao Tzu said, way back in chapter two. “When people see some things as beautiful, other things become ugly. And, when people see some things as good, other things become bad.” When we start identifying anything, or in the case of today’s chapter, anyone, as superior, we are by definition, identifying others as inferior. And, Lao Tzu has warned us about overvaluing things, or over-esteeming people. Things start to go horribly wrong, when we do. The so-called superior people are preferred over the so-called inferior ones. And, let’s be honest about human history. Humans have a dismal record when it comes to eugenics. Throughout our history, we have dabbled with eugenics programs. Those who think themselves superior, have few qualms when it comes to what to do with those who are deemed inferior. Horrifying experiments have been performed on them, sterilization has been forced on them, and all in the name of purifying the human race. Helping evolution along. So, I won’t be referring to superior versus inferior people, in my commentary, today. Thankfully, there is a better way to identify different responses from different people.

Some people can be said to be wise and virtuous, while others can be said to be foolish. Most of us fall somewhere in between these two extremes; like me, average. Now, what makes the wise and virtuous person, wise and virtuous, is they wouldn’t want to get rid of the fool. Wise and virtuous persons understand why the foolish person laughs out loud when they hear of the Tao. It isn’t because they are foolish, by the way. No, the foolish person laughs out loud, because it wouldn’t be the Tao, if they didn’t.

On the other hand, a wise and virtuous person is able to immediately begin to embody the Tao when they hear of it. And, let’s give props where they are due. Being wise and virtuous is to be preferred, if we can do anything to grow our wisdom and virtue. I happen to think we can. It happens during that incubation I was talking about, yesterday. I would certainly like to think I am a bit more wise and virtuous, today, than I was previously. And, the foolish person’s laughter is not the final word on the fool. They, too, can be shown the Way.

But, once again, these are still two extremes; between the wise who immediately begin to embody the Tao, and the fool who laughs out loud. Most of us are smack dab in the middle; average. That was certainly me. I heard of the Tao, and I half believed it, and half doubted it. Where was this Tao? Show it to me. I want to believe. But everything I perceive with my senses leads me to further doubt. The Tao is nowhere to be found. You say it nourishes and completes all things, but…

There is always that but.

Most of us, I think, can empathize with the average person who hears of the Tao. The path into the light seems dark. The path forward seems to go back. The direct path seems long. True power seems weak. True purity seems tarnished. True steadfastness seems changeable. True clarity seems obscure. I can tell myself, over and over again, that things are not as they appear, the way things seem to be are not the way things actually are. But we have grown rather accustomed to trusting our eyes and ears.

I, actually got rather excited, when I began reading some theoretical physicists’ arguments that the reality we are perceiving with our senses is actually a holographic image being projected by our minds. It is all just an illusion. The infinite and eternal reality is something beyond this finite and temporal reality we perceive with our senses.

But whether it is what we see and hear that is informing our minds, or our minds projecting a reality for our eyes and ears to see and hear, there is good reason for Lao Tzu to insist we empty our minds of all thoughts. Things are not what they seem to be. And we get a hint of that, when the greatest art seems unsophisticated, or the greatest love seems indifferent, or the greatest wisdom seems childish.

I, too, understand why the foolish person laughs out loud. And, as much as I hate to have to admit to it, I understand why I had my own doubts. So much preconditioning, so many preconceived ideas. All of that had to be discarded, thrown away.

Of course, we would like to think it would be so much simpler if the Tao would just make itself known. It nourishes and completes all things. Yet, it is nowhere to be found. How do we come to believe? How do we dispel the doubts?

How, indeed. For me, it was being willing to spend time incubating. Staying in the center of the circle, not intervening or interfering, not trying to control or force issues. Letting my doubts get washed away by the flow of the Tao. Finally perceiving, inside the core of my being, that all things truly are nourished and completed, without any assistance from me. “That is the Tao”, I keep finding myself saying. It comes from deep inside me. It comes spontaneously, and intuitively.

Time Well Spent, Incubating

Return is the movement of the Tao.
Yielding is the way of the Tao.

All things are born of being.
Being is born of non-being.

-Lao Tzu-
(Tao Te Ching, chapter 40, translation by Stephen Mitchell)

Because this is a shorter chapter, let’s take a look at it from a different translation, as well. Robert Brookes’ interpretive translation published in 2010.

“Turning back is the Tao’s motion,

yielding is the Tao’s method.

The world and the ten thousand things are born from the ‘what is’,

and the ‘what is’ is born from the ‘what is not’.”

Return, or turning back, is the motion, or movement, of the Tao. We have spent a great deal of time on our need to be in harmony with, or centered in, the Tao. And, that has led to talking about the favorite way the practice of the Tao is expressed. It is going with the flow. The way things are, flows. What sometimes throws us is what Lao Tzu describes, today. This movement, this motion, this flow always returns. It is a retrograde motion, a turning back. The Tao flows through all things, inside and out, and returns to the source.

Why does it turn back? Maybe we want to keep moving forward. What is this turning back? It has to do with the way of the Tao. It is always yielding. That is its method. Are we willing to yield? That is the question we have to ask ourselves. Because the Tao yields. Yielding is what it does. And, if we don’t yield, when the Tao yields, soon we find ourselves out of harmony with the Tao. It highlights why the constant practice of humility is so very important. Be like water. Water knows how to yield. And its flow, even when it can no longer go forward, and gently turns back, shows us the way.

Speaking of being like water, reminds me that we are all beings. Being is both a noun and a verb. It is who and what we are; but it is also, how we are. When Lao Tzu says, “All things are born of being” that word, being, is what I would have to call, for lack of a better word, a “super” word. It is super because being is so powerful. All things are born of being.

We might like to think that it is “doing” that gets things done. But, didn’t we cover that in the last few days? The Tao never does anything, yet through it all things are done. The wise and virtuous person does nothing, yet leaves nothing undone. Doing, the antithesis to not-doing, only leaves many more things to be done. But, being, the practice of doing without doing, or not-doing, gives birth to all things. Robert Brookes calls it the “what is”. It is what we are, not what we do, that matters, in the end.

So, being as I have turned things around on this word, being, making it not just a noun, but also a verb, how do we practice “being”?

Of course, you expect me to say, do nothing. And, you are already prepared to be unsatisfied with that answer. So, let me go just a bit further. Lao Tzu does. He says, “Being is born of non-being.” In Robert Brookes’ words, “the ‘what is’ is born from the ‘what is not’.” Being is born out of not being. What is is produced from what is not.

It is actually the most natural thing for us to practice being. It is only being who and what we are; and being how we are, consistent with our nature. The reason it seems so difficult is we have forgotten the Tao; we have lost our way back to the source. This is why Lao Tzu keeps on insisting that being in harmony with the Tao, staying in the center of the circle, being centered in the Tao, is so very important. And we are to “do nothing” while we are there. It is that “doing nothing” we don’t quite like. But that is only because we don’t understand that doing nothing doesn’t mean nothing is done. The “doing nothing” is an incubation process. What is going on in there? It is hard to say. Our eyes can’t see it. Our ears can’t hear it. But we are being incubated. The what is not will give birth to what is. Non-being will give birth to being. Let’s not abort the process.

First, Do No Harm

In harmony with the Tao,
the sky is clear and spacious,
the earth is solid and full,
all creatures flourish together,
content with the way they are,
endlessly repeating themselves,
endlessly renewed.

When man interferes with the Tao,
the sky becomes filthy,
the earth becomes depleted,
the equilibrium crumbles,
creatures become extinct.

The Master views the parts with compassion,
because he understands the whole.
His constant practice is humility.
He doesn’t glitter like a jewel
but lets himself be shaped by the Tao,
as rugged and common as a stone.

-Lao Tzu-
(Tao Te Ching, chapter 39, translation by Stephen Mitchell)

This chapter says it all. And, I hardly need to add anything to what Lao Tzu says. Nevertheless, here I am, typing away. I guess it is because I do have one thing I would like to add to Lao Tzu’s words. Could we, as citizens of planet Earth, require one thing of all our elected leaders? Something like the Hippocratic oath which physicians take, “First, Do No Harm”.

It isn’t like Lao Tzu hasn’t said this many times before. I was chuckling to myself, earlier, as I read through today’s chapter. I was thinking Lao Tzu has become a broken record. But then I thought, how many of my readers even know what a broken record is, today. It means he keeps repeating himself. But, I do know today’s equivalent. It is a meme.

When we are in harmony with the Tao, the world is a paradise. A clear and spacious sky. A solid and full earth. All creatures flourishing together, content with the way we are, endlessly repeating ourselves, endlessly renewed.

It is because we interfere with the Tao that the sky becomes filthy. The earth becomes depleted. The equilibrium crumbles. And, creatures become extinct.

Yes, a Hippocratic oath for would be leaders sounds pretty good to me. “First, Do No Harm.” Will your constant practice be humility? Do you understand the whole? Because, how else can you view the parts with compassion? Don’t insist on glittering like a jewel. Instead, let the Tao shape you into something as rugged and common as a stone.

That’s it. I am keeping it brief, today. Tomorrow, we will tackle the shortest chapter in the Tao Te Ching. It may be short, but it packs quite the punch. See you, then.

Don’t Try, Don’t Do

The Master doesn’t try to be powerful;
thus he is truly powerful.
The ordinary man keeps reaching for power;
thus he never has enough.

The Master does nothing,
yet he leaves nothing undone.
The ordinary man is always doing things,
yet many more are left to be done.

The kind man does something,
yet something remains undone.
The just man does something,
and leaves many things to be done.
The moral man does something,
and when no one responds
he rolls up his sleeves and uses force.

When the Tao is lost, there is goodness.
When goodness is lost, there is morality.
When morality is lost, there is ritual.
Ritual is the husk of true faith,
the beginning of chaos.

Therefore the Master concerns himself
with the depths and not the surface,
with the fruit and not the flower.
He has no will of his own.
He dwells in reality,
and lets all illusions go.

-Lao Tzu-
(Tao Te Ching, chapter 38, translation by Stephen Mitchell)

Today, we, once again, return to the importance of doing nothing. It is a central tenet of philosophical Taoism, and probably, the most misunderstood. The practice of doing nothing doesn’t mean nothing gets done. In fact, all things get done. Remember what Lao Tzu has said before about this. “The Tao never does anything, yet through it all things are done.” The key to understanding this is that “through it”. Lao Tzu has said before that the Tao gives birth to infinite worlds, yet it doesn’t create them. It acts without acting. It does without doing. This is effortless action. It simply goes with the flow.

Our problem with all our doing is we try too hard. But, we need to be soft, not hard.

I gave our powerful men and women a hard time yesterday. But, actually I went soft on them. Today, Lao Tzu contrasts them, with those who are wise and virtuous, masters at centering themselves in the Tao.

The truly powerful don’t try to be powerful. Those who keep reaching for power, never have enough. Stephen Mitchell’s translation calls that being ordinary. We don’t want to be merely ordinary, do we? Always reaching for more and more power, and never having enough? It takes an extraordinary person to realize the power inherent in the practice of doing without doing, or doing nothing.

If you are wise and virtuous you will do nothing; yet, you will leave nothing undone. I know just how impossible this seems to those who are merely ordinary. I, too, have been merely ordinary. Always doing things; yet, leaving many more not done. How are things going to get done, if I do nothing? The desire to do something compels us to do something. And, there is always more to be done. But, when you go with the flow of the Tao, rather than trying to rush ahead of it, or swim against that current, all things are done effortlessly. I do wish I could explain it better, I just think it is something you have to experience for yourself. Then, you will understand. It takes practice to let things happen. But, trying to practice it, doesn’t work, either. I know, I tried that, too. It takes humility. And humility isn’t something you can force on yourself, either. But, when you are humble, you won’t try to force issues, you won’t try to control things. When you don’t think more highly of yourself than you should, you won’t be so keen to intervene and interfere.

What worked for me was checking my motives at the door. What is it that compels you to intervene, to interfere, to try to control, to want to force issues? Once I started identifying my desires as the root of my problem, I found it a whole lot easier to let go of those desires.

Lao Tzu lists some motives, some desires, which cause us to want to do something.

Kindness is a motive, a desire. What, you thought these desires were going to be evil? No, these desires come dressed in the best of intentions. The kind person does something, because they are kind. Yet, something remains undone.

Was it because they weren’t kind enough? What if I told you that you can’t be kind enough to overcome this problem of desire? Desire clouds your inner vision. You can’t perceive the Tao, or its movement, its flow.

Justice is also a motive, a desire. And, who isn’t crying out for justice? Seems to me like everywhere I turn, someone is being wronged, and now demanding justice. So, the just person comes along, answering the call for justice, and because they are just they do something. Yet, many more things are left undone. There will always be plenty more to do, when you let desires, motives, move you to act.

Does it seem like Lao Tzu is telling us to not be kind and just? Good. I don’t think you are too far from the mark. Why? Because being kind, or being just, is a pretty poor substitute for going with the flow of the Tao. Just how poor is revealed by the last motive, or desire.

That would be morality. Morality, as we have talked about before, is a system set up because we have forgotten about the Tao. It is a crutch we need to throw away. Come to think of it, he actually said the same about kindness and justice. But, why? Why? Because when the moral person does something, and no one responds, they will roll up their sleeves and use force. That is how ugly it gets, and fast.

The Tao has been lost or forgotten. And a downward spiral into chaos is the result. First, there is goodness. We still have this innate idea, call it a memory of what we once had, and we know what goodness is. But, when goodness is lost, as it will be, being only the residual leftovers of the forgotten Tao, morality steps up. We may no longer know, innately, what it means to be good. But there is always some outside authority to force us. Morality, too, after a time is lost. And then all we have left is ritual. Why do we do the things we do? Nobody remembers. It is just the way we have always done them. But why do we still do them? It is nothing but a husk. Nothing close to true faith. The beginning of chaos.

Friends, it is time to throw away the husk. It was only fit for the dung pile, after all. It is time to remember the Tao. This is why wise and virtuous persons concern themselves with the depths, and not the surface, with the fruit, and not the flower. They let go of all illusions, and dwell in reality. They have no will of their own.

Why I’m Doing Nothing, and You Should Be, Too

The Tao never does anything,
yet through it all things are done.

If powerful men and women
could center themselves in it,
the whole world would be transformed
by itself, in its natural rhythms.
People would be content
with their simple, everyday lives,
in harmony, and free of desire.

When there is no desire,
all things are at peace.

-Lao Tzu-
(Tao Te Ching, chapter 37, translation by Stephen Mitchell)

We were talking, yesterday, about the way things are. The Tao is the way things are. We run counter to the Tao, when we don’t center ourselves in the Tao, and simply go with its flow. And, I said, yesterday, that means doing nothing. Not intervening. Not interfering. Not trying to control. Not trying to force issues. Let events take their own course. There are things we want to see shrink. Of course we do. But, if we really want to see them shrink, we must, must, control our own selves. Stay put in the center of the circle. Don’t let the will to power sway us from our resolve to keep from doing something. Let those things we want to shrink, expand. Let those things we want to get rid of, flourish. Is Lao Tzu serious? In the immortal words of Sarah Palin, “You betcha!”

Why are we so scared at the prospect of doing nothing? Why do we insist that we have to do something? Lao Tzu does answer that question in today’s chapter, so I will be getting to that. But for now, let’s chill for just a moment, and consider the Tao.

The Tao never does anything. Yet, through it all things are done. Let that sink in for just a moment. In spite of all our fears, all our worries, the Tao is chill, through it all. It does nothing. It doesn’t get all worked up. It doesn’t demand that action be taken. And, it doesn’t jump in there and do something. It never does anything. No matter how tempted we may think it must be to do something. Yet, all things do get done, through it.

This is the way things are. Nature, left to itself, always restores balance. I was talking to a friend, earlier today, about all of our efforts to restore balance in nature. Our departments of conservation are always trying to right the wrongs of the past, by intervening, and interfering, and trying to control, and force things. I am told, I just don’t understand. Humans have really done a number on things. It is up to us, humans, to right things. Incidentally, this is also the excuse I hear from otherwise intelligent people about why we must continue to intervene and interfere, try to control things, and use force in the Middle East, and elsewhere in the world. Yes, they will admit, we did make a mess of things. But, now, we are obligated to intervene and interfere more. I shake my head so much, I must look like a bobble head doll.

Powerful men and women. They are the bane of our existence. If they could only center themselves in the Tao, in other words, if they could just control themselves, and do nothing, rather than insisting on doing something, the whole world would be transformed by itself. By itself. That is the way things are. The Tao doesn’t need our assistance. If, by assistance, you mean jumping in and interfering. The whole world can transform itself, in its natural rhythms. This is how nature works. No matter how much we have interfered in the past. We don’t have to right any wrongs. We just need to stop trying to control. Stop trying to force issues. We just need to stop. If we knew when to stop we could avoid all kinds of danger.

And people would be content. Content. They would be content with their simple, everyday lives, because life would be simple. There would be harmony. There wouldn’t be any of those pesky desires that cause us so much trouble.

Yep! I said, earlier, that Lao Tzu answered the question of why we insist on doing something, rather than being willing to do nothing; and, there it was. It is our desires. Powerful men and women are the ones with the greatest desires of all. I guess that just means, the more powerful you are, the greater your desires become. You never can have enough. Power corrupts more and more, because power attracts the ones who are the most easily corrupted.

Have I mentioned how much I loathe these people? They really are the worst sorts of people. The most easy to corrupt. And, they are the ones we “put in charge”? It makes zero sense.

If we can just let go of all desire, it is the problem we have been dealing with since chapter one, for when there is no desire, all things are at peace.

I really should leave it at that. But, I know there are going to be some of you that just don’t get it. You will agree with me to a point, yes. But, then you will ask, what then shall we do? What about this coming presidential election, for those of us in the U.S.?

I am going to make this brief. Here is what I am going to do about this coming presidential election. And, I would encourage each and every one of you to do the very same thing. I am going to do nothing. That’s right. I am not going to try to choose the lesser of the two evils. How ridiculous! No way am I going to be swayed from staying smack dab in the center of the circle, on this one. I won’t be voting. And, neither should you. I am not going to be swayed to vote for a third party candidate, either. So, don’t try to convince me, that will make any difference.

“Oh, but won’t evil flourish? What happens if the worst evil wins?” Don’t you get it? The worst evil is going to win, no matter who wins. Let it flourish! It is no use trying to get rid of it. Trying to shrink it, won’t help. Let it expand. Don’t do anything, be like the Tao.

It’s Just the Way Things Are

If you want to shrink something,
you must first allow it to expand.
If you want to get rid of something,
you must first allow it to flourish.
If you want to take something,
you must first allow it to be given.
This is called the subtle perception
of the way things are.

The soft overcomes the hard.
The slow overcomes the fast.
Let your workings remain a mystery.
Just show people the results.

-Lao Tzu-
(Tao Te Ching, chapter 36, translation by Stephen Mitchell)

Today’s chapter may be the most infuriating chapter in all the Tao Te Ching. Why infuriating? Because it tells us exactly the way things are, and we don’t often like the way things are. We want things to be different from the way they are. This is why people who promise they are going to do something about the way things are, rise to power. The will to power is strong among them. The desire to intervene, to interfere, to try to control, to force issues, can be overwhelming. It isn’t so much that power tends to corrupt, as power attracts the corruptible. Props to Frank Herbert.

If you want to shrink something, who has the patience to stay in the center of the circle while it continues to expand? Nope! We want to shrink it! So, out of the circle we go, in order to try to shrink it.

If you want to get rid of something, who has the patience to stay in the center of the circle while it flourishes? Nope! We want to get rid of it! So, out of the circle we go, in order to try to get rid of it.

If you want to take something, who has the patience to stay in the center of the circle and wait for it to be given? Nope! We want to take it! No waiting in patience for us!

But, as we were talking about perceiving the universal harmony, in yesterday’s chapter, in today’s chapter, Lao Tzu points at the subtle perception of the way things are.

It is just the way things are. Let, allow, let, allow, let, allow. If you want something, don’t use force to get it. Wait for it. Wait for it. Don’t leave the center of the circle. There is no better way to show the practice of doing without doing. The practice of the Tao. But, damn it! We can’t really be expected to do nothing.

Oh yes, we can. That is exactly what must be done. The soft overcomes the hard. The slow overcomes the fast. We all know this is true. We have seen it demonstrated for us in a myriad of ways over the course of our lives. Yet, we still try to overcome the hard by being harder, and the fast by being faster. In other words, we try to swim against the current of the Tao.

How much better it is, my friends, when we let our own workings remain a mystery. Be soft, not hard. Be slow, not fast. Wait, until the mud settles, and the right course of action arises all by itself. Patience. Patience.

Infuriating! Yes, I get it. But, it is the way things are. Subtle as it may be. Be like the Tao. Just show people the results.

On Perceiving the Universal Harmony

She who is centered in the Tao
can go where she wishes, without danger.
She perceives the universal harmony,
even amid great pain,
because she has found peace in her heart.

Music or the smell of good cooking
may make people stop and enjoy.
But words that point to the Tao
seem monotonous and without flavor.
When you look for it, there is nothing to see.
When you listen for it, there is nothing to hear.
When you use it, it is inexhaustible.

-Lao Tzu-
(Tao Te Ching, chapter 35, translation by Stephen Mitchell)

We all have this tendency to want to put the cart before the horse. That is why, when I used to read through this chapter, I would immediately focus in on going wherever I wished without danger. That sounded to me like something I would very much like to do. After all, the world is a very dangerous place. There are places in the world I would consider unsafe, anytime, day or night. Other places maybe mostly safe during daylight hours; but, after dark, all bets are off. Is Lao Tzu really suggesting I can go anywhere? Anywhere? Like I said, before, that is putting the cart before the horse.

What Lao Tzu really is addressing, with this chapter, is the importance of perceiving the universal harmony, and finding peace in our own hearts. So, for the time being, let’s put out of our minds the thought of rushing into dangerous places.

The horse, before the cart, is being centered in the Tao. It has been a theme of Lao Tzu’s for some time now. And, the number one question I encounter in my journey, from those who are interested in the Way, is how do I do it? How do I center myself in the Tao?

Lao Tzu’s answers are not at all readily accepted, because he doesn’t offer us much in the way of positive things to do, to center ourselves in the Tao. Generally, we are told, time and time again, don’t intervene, don’t interfere, don’t try to control, don’t force issues. Let things take their own course. I, of course, picked up on how libertarian that approach to living is. But, it seems the majority of us want there to be something to do. Surely, we must do something! It is somewhat unsatisfying to be told to do nothing is better than to do something. We apparently would much rather rush into a dangerous situation, than step aside, away from danger, and stay safe.

I saw a post on my tumblr dashboard earlier this week. I resisted the urge to comment on it, then. It said something along the lines of “America intervenes in a situation and the whole world complains, ‘Why won’t America mind its own business?’ America chooses not to intervene in a situation and the whole world complains, ‘Where is America, when we need her?’” That was the extent of the post when I saw it. What was the point? I can only guess. But, I thought to myself, because I was determined not to get involved in an argument, “If the world is going complain, better that they complain because we didn’t intervene.” And, honestly, I don’t actually recall a time America wasn’t sticking its nose where it didn’t belong, rather than obsessively practicing non-intervention. So, I suspect the originator of the post was offering up a false dichotomy, in order to encourage America to interfere more. But, like I said, I am not wishing to get in an argument. Those are just my thoughts.

What is my point? My point is, there is a whole lot to be gained by staying in the center of the circle, being centered in the Tao, and letting all things take their own course. In not being compelled, especially by the will to power, to intervene, to interfere, to try to control, or force our way on others. And, believe it or not, I really am intending for this to be a lesson for individuals, not whole countries. I know I have zero influence over America’s foreign policy.

Now, where was I? Oh yes, still here, centered in the Tao. Here, I can perceive the universal harmony. Now, something about the universal harmony, we all need to understand, is it isn’t something we can perceive with our senses.

It isn’t like music, or the smell of good cooking. I happen to enjoy both of these very much; but, while I will stop and enjoy them, words that point to the Tao aren’t like that. On the contrary, they seem monotonous and without flavor. This universal harmony isn’t something to be looked for; not with our eyes, anyway. There isn’t anything to see. And, our ears won’t pick up on the sound of it. Listen all you want, there is nothing to hear.

And that leads me back to that one question I always am encountering on my journey. How do I do it, then? How do I center myself in the Tao? How do I perceive this universal harmony that Lao Tzu says can be perceived by those who are centered in the Tao? I, too, want to find peace in my heart, even in the midst of great pain.

It was just a few chapters back that Lao Tzu said the Tao is so small it can’t be perceived. And, what he has said, in today’s chapter, has only reinforced this truth. Yet, we can be centered in the Tao. We can perceive the universal harmony. We can find peace in our hearts, even in the midst of great pain. And, because I am on a roll I will include the cart on this one; we can even go where we wish, without danger.

But, you want to know how? That was the question, now, wasn’t it? I haven’t forgotten.

Lao Tzu has revealed the answer before, so I will remember back to when he did. You can’t know it, but you can be it. At ease in your own life. What can’t be perceived with our senses, is no less real than what we can perceive with our senses. Perhaps, it is even more real. But the truth isn’t out there, in the world we perceive with our senses. It is inside us. Deep within the core of our being. You know it, intuitively. And, you act on it, spontaneously. Look inside yourself, and you will see. No, not with your eyes. With your heart. There is a universal harmony which exists before and beyond anything we perceive with our senses. We sense it intuitively as we remain centered in the Tao, minding our own business, rather than others’. And, when we use it, it is inexhaustible.