On Letting Go

He who stands on tiptoe
doesn’t stand firm.
He who rushes ahead
doesn’t go far.
He who tries to shine
dims his own light.
He who defines himself
can’t know who he really is.
He who has power over others
can’t empower himself.
He who clings to his work
will create nothing that endures.

If you want to accord with the Tao,
just do your job, then let go.

-Lao Tzu-
(Tao Te Ching, chapte 24, translation by Stephen Mitchell)

On Letting Go

In yesterday’s chapter, Lao Tzu used the forces of nature to show us how to express ourselves completely, opening ourselves up completely to the Tao, to insight, and to loss. I think it is opening ourselves up to loss which we resist the most. But, it is only by opening ourselves up completely, that we can accept all that we are, and all that we will become, as we allow the Tao to do its work in us. When we do this, we can trust our natural responses, and everything will fall into place.

Today’s chapter is a contrast to yesterday’s. Lao Tzu pictures the many ways we resist. When we just can’t give everything up.

We know these things are true: You will never stand firm, if you insist on standing on tiptoe. You won’t go far, if you rush ahead. You will only dim your own light, if you try to shine. You will never know who you really are, if you insist on defining your own self. You will never empower yourself by exerting power over others. And, nothing which you do will endure, if you cling to your work. Yes, we know these things are true; yet we won’t let go.

We hold on to our illusion of power. Still clinging to some vestige of control over our own lives. And, because of this, we aren’t in accord with the Tao. For, there is one way to be in accord with the Tao, and one way, only. That is, do your job, and then let go.

It really is quite simple. But, we insist on making it hard. I, too, have clung to my work. I, too, have been unwilling to let go. And, happiness eluded me. But, my friends, there is a better way. Whatever your work is, do it, without complaint. Complaining about our work is one of the myriad ways we cling to it. Just, do your work. And, then, let it go. I can’t make it any plainer.

I have many friends who have expressed how difficult it is for them to give up things they believe it is in their nature to do, or be. How can we trust our natural responses, when our natural responses are not in accord with the Tao? This is why it is so important to first give yourself up completely. Go ahead, express yourself completely. All the partialness, all the crookedness, all the emptiness. Let yourself be who you are. Open yourself up. You have to give up everything, and die, to be reborn. Then, you will be able to trust your natural responses. It will be amazing what you will become. Everything, truly everything, will fall into place.

When Everything Falls Into Place

Express yourself completely.
Then keep quiet.
Be like the forces of nature:
When it blows, there is only wind.
When it rains, there is only rain.
When the clouds pass, the sun shines through.

If you open yourself to the Tao,
you are at one with the Tao,
and you can embody it completely.
If you open yourself to insight,
you are at one with insight
and you can use it completely.
If you open yourself to loss,
you are at one with loss
and you can accept it completely.

Open yourself to the Tao.
Then trust your natural responses;
and everything will fall into place.

-Lao Tzu-
(Tao Te Ching, chapter 23, translation by Stephen Mitchell)

When Everything Falls Into Place

Yesterday, Lao Tzu challenged us to let ourselves be lived by the Tao. It is the only way we can truly be ourselves. Today, he encourages us to not hold anything back. And, he uses the forces of nature as a metaphor to show us how.

Express yourself completely. Only, then, is it time to keep quiet. Like the wind, when it blows; there is only wind. Or, like the rain, when it falls; there is only rain. Don’t be afraid to give yourself up completely. Once the clouds pass, the sun will shine through.

This is how you open yourself up to the Tao. And, being at one with the Tao; you can embody it completely. This is how you open yourself up to insight. And, being at one with insight, you can use it completely. This is how you open yourself up to loss; and being at one with loss, you can accept it completely.

Open yourself up completely to the Tao; then, trust your natural responses. Everything will fall into place.

On Becoming Our True Selves

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)

On Becoming Our True Selves

The whole point of staying in the center of the circle, which is what we have been talking about for the last few days, is to let the Tao do its mysterious work in us; so that we can become our true selves. We said, yesterday, that staying in the center of the circle is keeping our mind at one with the Tao, and letting all things take their own course. That letting is essential; because we, more often than not, resist the Tao’s work in us. We want to focus on what will we become. Will I become whole? Will I become straight? Will I become full? Will I be reborn? And, if the will to power is in control in our lives, we will want to help the Tao along, not willing to give up control of our own lives. But, when Lao Tzu says the ancient Masters taught us that everything we want to be given to us has to first be given up by us, he insists, these weren’t empty phrases. Give everything up! Don’t try to become whole. Don’t try to become straight. Don’t try to be reborn. Give up trying to control. Let yourself be partial. Let yourself be crooked. Let yourself be empty. Let yourself die. We really don’t like this letting, now do we?

The wise and virtuous Master is always our example on how to reside in the Tao, in the center of the circle, and let all things take their own course. We can see their light; not because they try to shine, but because they don’t display themselves. We can trust their words; not because they have set out a series of proofs, but because they have nothing to prove. We can recognize our own selves in them, because they don’t waste time defining themselves. Everything they do succeeds, because they aren’t bound by any rigid goals in their own minds.

These ancient Masters understood that it was only in being lived by the Tao, we can truly be ourselves. So, they gave everything up, and were given everything in return.

Look Inside Yourself And See

The Master keeps her mind
always at one with the Tao.
That is what gives her 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)

Look Inside Yourself And See

We have been talking about staying in the center of the circle, and letting all things take their course; but, perhaps that needs further explanation. What exactly does Lao Tzu mean by that? And, how do we do it? Today, Lao Tzu is ready with an answer.

What does Lao Tzu mean by staying in the center of the circle and letting all things take their course; and, how do we accomplish this? Whenever he needs to show us an example of the practice of the Tao, he points to the wise and virtuous person he refers to as the Master. The Master keeps their mind always at one with the Tao. That is what Lao Tzu means by staying in the center of the circle. Keep your mind always at one with the Tao, and you will become radiant.

But, how can this be? The Tao is ungraspable, how can our mind be at one with it? If we won’t cling to our own ideas of the way things are, if we don’t try grasping at the Tao, we will find ourselves safe and secure, and at one, with it.

But, isn’t the Tao dark and unfathomable? How can something dark and unfathomable make us radiant? The only thing that can prevent it from happening is our resistance to it. We only need to let it make us radiant.

Okay, okay. Don’t cling to ideas. Check. Let the Tao make us radiant. Check. But, isn’t there something else you can tell us?

Since before time and space were, the Tao is. It is beyond is and is not. This mystery isn’t intended to confound us. I said a few chapters back, no more riddles. So, the point of the mystery isn’t to confound us. It is meant to assure us. The great Tao has things well under control. It is only because we aren’t willing to give up our need to be in control, and let the great Tao do its mysterious work in us, that we doubt. If you want to know this is true, look inside yourself and see. The answers are inside you, my friends. That is where they have always been. That is where they will always be.

Feeling Alone?

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 were 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 aimless 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)

Feeling Alone?

There was a time, a very long time, when I didn’t know what I didn’t know about today’s chapter. I have read through it countless times. And, for the longest of times, it seemed out of place, and totally uncharacteristic of what I presumed I knew of what Lao Tzu was all about. It seemed very depressing. Was Lao Tzu going through some dark night of the soul? I have read other commentaries on it, and found I was not alone in scratching my head. In my own previous commentaries, I have mentioned one translator, in particular, who said Lao Tzu was being pathetic and unappreciative, wallowing in self-pity. That had a profound affect on me. Was Lao Tzu being pathetic and unappreciative? That just couldn’t be the case. I finally came to the conclusion that Lao Tzu was empathizing with us, not wallowing in self-pity. You would have to isolate this chapter from all his others, taking it completely out of its context, to arrive at that particular translator’s interpretation. But today, as I read through the chapter, it really clicked for me, for the first time.

I am fresh off my commentaries from the last few days. I am understanding now, more than ever, what he is getting at. We have forgotten the great Tao. We no longer trust ourselves; and, our self-appointed rulers certainly don’t trust us. Lao Tzu has given us exactly the prescription for what ails us. We need to throw away every substitute for the Tao, and begin to trust ourselves, again. We need to stay in the center of the circle, and let all things take their own course.

In today’s chapter, we find Lao Tzu inside the center of the circle. The very circle he told us to stay inside. Here, we find him letting all things take their own course.

I can’t begin to describe how much empathy I feel for Lao Tzu right now. Not because he seems to be in distress. Because the way things may seem to be aren’t the way things are. No, I feel empathy, largely because I now understand, thanks to the present circumstances I find us all in. I talked a bit, probably too much, about those circumstances, yesterday. The horrible choices the two major parties are offering Americans (and the world) in this presidential election cycle.

After all I said in yesterday’s chapter, today’s chapter is actually a relief. “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!”

Ridiculous, indeed. That is exactly how I am feeling right now. And, I just bet I am not alone, in feeling this way. “Other people are excited, as though they were at a parade.” But, here it is: “I alone don’t care. I alone am expressionless. Like an infant before it can smile.” Lao Tzu goes on speaking of the view from the center of the circle, with several more, “I alones”.

It can be lonely in the center of the circle. Other people don’t seem to have these same problems. They seem to have it together.

But this isn’t self-pity. And, it isn’t depressing. What it is is an expression of detachment from, and disinterest in, everything which is going on outside of the circle. He wants us to know that he understands how difficult it is to be detached, to be disinterested. But, just like he realized how ridiculous those things outside of the circle are, we can too! We, too, can realize just how okay it is to be different from ordinary people. To stay in the center of the circle. To let all things take their own course. To drink from the Great Mother’s breasts.

My friends, now, more than ever, I can appreciate how great it is just staying in the center of the circle. I don’t care about what course the presidential election is going to take. Because, regardless of the course things take, mother’s milk nourishes me.

Throw Them All Out

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 in the center of the circle
and let all things take their course.

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

Throw Them All Out

The powers-that-be have set systems into place, because they don’t trust us. And, we have supported these systems, because we don’t trust ourselves. That is what we have gotten, as a result of forgetting the great Tao, our common Source, where we come from. Yesterday’s chapter presented the bleak downward spiral in which we find ourselves, currently. There is only one way out. We need to return to our Source. We need to start trusting ourselves, again. And, that means throwing away all the substitutes for the Tao.

Keep in mind, we aren’t saying there is anything wrong with holiness or wisdom, morality or justice, industry or profit. It is the systems we have set into place, the forced and contrived systems, which must be thrown away. Just like you set aside your crutches, once your broken leg has healed, they aren’t needed, if only we trust ourselves.

We need a serious reality check. These systems aren’t working for us. Holiness and wisdom aren’t making us happy. But, if we threw them way, we’d be a hundred times happier. Morality and justice aren’t making people do the right thing. But, if we threw them away, people would do the right thing. And, our current system of industry and profit, aka crony, or state, capitalism, begets thieves. The biggest ones get away with gaming the system, and they are richly rewarded for it. We have talked about the problem of excess and deficiency, before. That is what Lao Tzu is addressing, here.

We need to throw all of these away, and that will require that we trust ourselves. The powers that be will try to scare you into maintaining the status quo. That is already easy to see as we observe how Hillary is portrayed by the corporate establishment as the “obviously” sane alternative to Trump. Fear Trump, the self-proclaimed anti-establishment candidate. You don’t want his finger anywhere near access to our nuclear arsenal. What they dare not tell us is that, while Trump is a wild card, and we really don’t know what he would actually do, if elected, Hillary is a well-established evil. She won’t be offering to do anything that will change the status quo. She is bought and paid for by the Wall Street elite, and she has never opposed any foreign entanglement (i.e. war) we could get ourselves involved in.

I am not suggesting Trump should be supported. His ideas regarding trade policy, and the threats he has made to “punish” businesses who dare to use foreign labor, not even taking time to mention just about every other one of his positions, only mean more government intervention. And, that only takes us further away from our goal. But, that doesn’t make Hillary a sane alternative. She can’t be supported, if the status quo has got to go. And, it does. You have probably heard the old adage, “The devil you know is better than the devil you don’t know.” I have heard that used to try to get me to support Hillary. But, consider an equally valid argument: If the choice is between a person who may do great evil, and one who is guaranteed to do great evil, and she has years in public disservice to back that up, the devil you don’t know may not look quite so bad.

What this election has come down to is a choice between the greatest of two evils. Never before, that I can recall, has there been such horrible choices. It seems the Republicans could have offered anyone but Trump, and they would have easily beaten Hillary. And, the Democrats could have offered anyone but Hillary, and they would have easily beaten Trump. But the establishment, the powers-that-be, wanted this pairing. Pay no attention to their hyperventilating over Trump. That is an illusion. They know Trump is no threat to them. They are just gaming the system. The system has always been rigged in their favor. And, they never want to see that end. That is why these systems need to go.

And, besides, even throwing these things away won’t necessarily be enough. Lao Tzu offers us one more bit of sage advice: Just stay in the center of the circle, and let all things take their own course. Staying in the center of the circle means not intervening, not interfering, not trying to be in control. Letting things take their own course.

What will happen if we throw away our systems of holiness and wisdom, morality and justice, industry and profit? Won’t that result in chaos? Anarchy? I am not going to take the time, in this post, to try to show you all the ways things may take their own course. But, I believe we are ready for an end to the state-enforced chaos in which we find ourselves. I trust us. And you should, too. If we stay in the center of the circle, and let all things take their own course, it will be amazing what we can do all by ourselves.

Because We Aren’t Trusted

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)

Because We Aren’t Trusted

Yesterday’s chapter, where I wished for a wise and virtuous leader to govern us, when all the powers that be offer us is just more of the same thing which got us into the mess we are in, is best followed up with a portrayal of the downward spiral we have found ourselves in.

Remember, two chapters ago, when Lao Tzu told us how to take charge of our own lives. Empty your own mind of all thoughts, let your own heart be at peace. Watch the turmoil of beings, but contemplate their return to the Source, it is where we come from.

Today, we are going to observe the turmoil. But, let’s be careful not to waste any time contemplating the turmoil. We need to observe it, but trust our inner vision. Today’s chapter is bleak. But we can endure this. Today, we will dare to look at it, in all of its ugliness. We will look at it, and we won’t look away.

How did we get into this mess?

It is because the great Tao has been forgotten. We have forgotten where we come from. We have forgotten our common Source. The results have been devastating.

The signs are deceptively subtle. Goodness and piety appear. That doesn’t seem so bad. But, watch out! This isn’t a goodness and piety which arises naturally, because we realize where we come from. It is a forced goodness and piety, contrived to take the place of the Tao.

In individuals, it is evidenced in the body’s intelligence declining. What Lao Tzu means by body’s intelligence is our body’s natural, intuitive and spontaneous, effortless knowing of how to act in our world. Because the great Tao has been forgotten, our body’s natural ability to go with the flow of the Tao is affected. In its place, cleverness and knowledge fill the vacuum created. The problem, here, is two-fold. First, we aren’t nearly as clever and knowledgeable as we think we are. Second, we are too clever and knowledgeable for our own good. We are relying on the wrong things, here. We presume we know what we do not know. And, that just gets us into more and more trouble. The downward spiral, away from the Tao, greatly takes its toll on us. Presuming to know is a disease. There is only one cure. We need to heal ourselves of all knowing. We need to practice knowing without knowing. But, before we get ahead of ourselves, self-diagnosing a cure, let’s continue to look on, with horror, at how the downward spiral spreads from individuals to families.

In families, because the great Tao has been forgotten, the evidence is no peace in the family. We don’t have to look too hard to find the evidence of this all around us. Why all the talk about family values? What are these family values? Filial piety hearkens back to that goodness and piety Lao Tzu spoke of earlier. It refers to the duties required of family members to each other. But, remember, these aren’t arising naturally, going with the flow of the Tao. They are forced, contrived. Fathers and mothers have responsibilities to fulfill for their families. Children have responsibilities to their parents. Husbands and wives have responsibilities to each other. And, self-appointed advocates have been bemoaning the breakdown of families for what seems like forever now. And, they have just the cure. Or, at least they presume to have the cure. No one is trusted to do these things naturally. They must be forced and contrived. I said, yesterday, that it is amazing the things we can do all by ourselves, if only we trust ourselves. This lack of trust is destroying us. We have one last thing to observe before we move on to the cure, in tomorrow’s chapter. Don’t avert your eyes, just yet.

Families, the tired cliché insists, are the backbone of a country. So, is it any wonder that, when families are in crisis, it spreads until the whole country falls into chaos? This is why we have political conventions where a three-ring circus attempts to showcase all that is wrong with the country, and how they plan to make America great again. They talk about family values, good solid American values, like we had in days of yore. And, the other side is quick to pounce with their claims of plagiarism, when speeches are made talking about these values we have heard endlessly repeated for generations, now. I hate to break it to the various parties’ faithful. Neither of you has any claim to ownership of these family values you keep harping on and on about. And, anyway, you are still going to get your opportunity to have your own three-ring circus. But, the real evidence of a country fallen, or rather, mired, in disarray is the birth of patriotism. And, of course, patriotism wouldn’t be patriotism without one brand of patriotism trying to insist that they are the only true patriots. How is it Lao Tzu described the scene, again? Chaos.

I am constantly hearing about why I should be afraid of anarchy. It would be chaos! I am told I should fear it. But, quite frankly, as bad and chaotic as things are with these loonies in charge, I would think we would welcome a change. And, for those who say things could be a whole lot worse, I know. And, I think things are going to get a whole lot worse. But, only because the powers that be are orchestrating it. The change I am looking for isn’t going to be any top-down change. We need to learn how to trust ourselves, again. Then, we wouldn’t fear anarchy. I will still insist that we need to be the leaders we want to have. The powers that be are never going to be.

Well, that is enough observing the turmoil. Tomorrow, Lao Tzu will tell us exactly what needs to be done by us individuals.

What Would Happen If We Trusted Ourselves?

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)

What Would Happen If We Trusted Ourselves?

Here in the United States, the Republicans have made use of their opportunity to tell us what they plan to do for, or to, us. They want us to love them? That isn’t happening! I am inclined to not only fear them, but despise them, too. This coming week, the Democrats will get the same opportunity. The same choices are being offered. Love, fear, or despise them. And, once again, I already know the answer. We aren’t being offered a wise and virtuous choice.

Give me a wise and virtuous leader, who doesn’t just talk, like these two blowhards, but acts. One who trusts us, and thus makes us worthy of their trust. If that was on offer, we would hardly be aware that they exist. Then, when their work was done, we would be able to truly say, “Amazing! We did it, all by ourselves!”

Instead, we have these two evil choices. All talk! But, woe to us, if either one of them get to act. For their actions demonstrate how little they trust us, and how little we should trust them. It is because they don’t trust us, we don’t dare trust them. But, does their lack of trust make us unworthy of trusting ourselves?

It is amazing what we can do all by ourselves. Those who doubt this, lack imagination. Come on guys, don’t let your imagination atrophy. Just because the powers that be don’t trust us, doesn’t mean we can’t trust ourselves There is a tremendous power unleashed by wise and virtuous leaders who trust us. And, since the powers that be aren’t offering us this kind of leader, we need to be this kind of leader for ourselves. Take these lessons for would-be leaders to heart. Put them into practice in our own lives. Then, we can be the kind of leaders we so desperately need. Now, and always.

No More Riddles

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,
kind-hearted 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)

No More Riddles

Two chapters ago he used a riddle to tell of it. In yesterday’s chapter he described the appearance of the ancient Masters to tell of it. Today, he tells of it quite plainly. It is where we come from, our common Source.

You can’t know it, but you can be it, at ease in your own life. Just realize where you come from, the essence of wisdom.

If you don’t realize the Source, you stumble in confusion and sorrow. Observe the turmoil of beings. They are all around you, stumbling about, in confusion and sorrow. Watch them; but contemplate their return. Each separate being in the universe returns to our common Source.

How do we return? All of nature shows us, in great splendor. We observe the changing seasons. Spring, and then summer; followed by fall, and then winter. I have flowers growing in my back yard. Some last for only a day before they return to our common Source. The trees bud in the spring, and then bloom. Leaves appear on once vacant branches. Soon, the trees are full of leaves, only to shed them all, to return to being barren, empty, again. Ultimately, returning to the Source is when death comes. But, death isn’t the end we think it is. Oh, it is barren and empty for a time, for a season, only to be renewed again, a rebirth. And, the whole process begins again. We like spring. We like the rebirth. The flurry of activity. I like seeing how my garden grows. But it is returning to the Source, to the barrenness, to the emptiness, which is serenity. There is just nothing quite like standing outside in the winter; snow on the ground, ice in the barren, empty branches. The sound of the falling snow. Silence. Silence. The silence is all that remains. So peaceful. This is serenity.

It is on those cold, winter nights, when the starkness of returning to the Source is most evident to me. I breathe in. I breathe out. It is then I find it the easiest to empty my mind of all thoughts. But, winter isn’t the only time for contemplation. I know, as I go throughout each year, winter is coming. And, I contemplate our return.

So it is, as I sit out in my back yard garden, every day of the year, I watch as beings go, to and fro. So much turmoil, so much confusion, so much sorrow. Do they not realize where they come from? I let these thoughts come, and I let them go. Slowly, ever so slowly, my mind empties. No matter what turmoil is happening in my own life, I let go of it, out here, in my garden. My heart ceases to be troubled. It becomes at peace.

That is the best explanation I can give of how I come to realize where I come from. Not how I came, but how I come. I keep returning to our common Source. It is a kind of death. It is a death to seeing my self as self. Instead, I see the world as self. We all have a common Source.

And, I am transformed. Each, and every day. I am renewed. Reborn. I become tolerant. Disinterested. Amused. Kind-hearted as a grandmother. Dignified as a king. Please don’t think I am boasting of any special talent, here. I have no reasons to pat myself on the back. I don’t try to be any of these things. It all happens naturally, once I stop resisting. I simply immerse myself in the wonder of the Tao. And, I can deal with whatever life brings me. I understand, a little more each day, what death means. I experience it, a little, each day. So, I am ready.

Realizing Where You Come From

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)

Realizing Where You Come From

If you are anything like me, riddles always leave you with more questions than answers. That may have made yesterday’s riddle particularly confounding. Let’s not lose sight of our goal. The goal is still freedom. Freedom from all desire. Freedom to be content (at ease) in our own lives. And, yesterday, Lao Tzu made it quite clear, actually, this freedom can be elusive. If we are trying to know, it we won’t ever succeed; because, we can’t know it. It is so subtle. Beyond anything we can conceive. Yet, we can be at ease in our own lives. That was his promise in yesterday’s chapter.

So, today, we set out with just one purpose, realizing where we come from. To help us, Lao Tzu recalls not just one Master, but all of the ancient Masters. Like our riddle from yesterday, they were profound and subtle. Their wisdom was unfathomable. There is no way to describe their wisdom. All we can do is describe their appearance. Believe it or not, this is going to help us.

They were: Careful. Alert. Courteous. Fluid. Shapeable. Receptive. Clear.

How careful? Well, have you ever tried to cross an iced-over stream? Just picture that in your mind. It is treacherous. One wrong move, and you are likely done for.

How alert? Anyone who has been a soldier in enemy territory can attest to how alert they had to be. Your senses are heightened. You dare not make a sound. Yet, your breathing, the steps you are taking, your own heartbeat, seems ampliified a thousand fold.

At the same time they appear careful and alert, they also appear as courteous as a guest. This is a profound and subtle lesson, for sure. Think about it. They are being so careful, so alert; yet, they are able to remain calm and at ease; they behave like a guest in your home, so courteous.

Notice how fluid they are. Probably hearkening back to that iced-over stream, Lao Tzu compares their fluidity to melting ice. They go with the flow.

And, they are able to be shaped into whatever the moment requires them to be. That block of wood is an ancient way of referring to beginnings. What will that block of wood be shaped into? It could be fashioned into a thousand different things. They come from that block of wood.

As a valley receives the runoff of the melting snow from the mountains, so these ancient Masters appear ready to receive whatever the moment might bring them.

And their purpose was always clear. As clear as a glass of water.

So, how does the appearance of the ancient Masters help us to realize where we come from? I am glad you asked. Here are the lessons to be learned:

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

We can’t be in a hurry. That is one thing we should learn from the ancient Masters. They didn’t rush. They were patient enough to wait for it.

Wait for what? For your defining moment. When you realize where you come from.

Don’t seek fulfillment. A wise and virtuous person never does. They never seek it, they don’t even expect it. This is a tough one. But, I am just trying to be honest with you, here. You can’t be expecting it. That isn’t how it works. Don’t seek. Don’t expect. Just be present. When you are present, you can welcome all things. Whatever the moment brings, the right action will arise by itself, and you will be ready.