Lessons In The Darkrooms

In the beginning was the Tao.
All things issue from it;
all things return to it.

To find the origin,
trace back the manifestations.
When you recognize the children
and find the mother,
you will be free of sorrow.

If you close your mind in judgments
and traffic with desires,
your heart will be troubled.
If you keep your mind from judging
and aren’t led by the senses,
your heart will find peace.

Seeing into darkness is clarity.
Knowing how to yield is strength.
Use your own light
and return to the source of light.
This is called practicing eternity.

-Lao Tzu-
(Tao Te Ching, chapter 52, translation by Stephen Mitchell)

Yesterday, I said that it is in our very nature to love and honor the Tao. That we are all children of the Tao. That every being in the universe is an expression of the Tao. And, I said that it seems that humans, alone, of all beings in the universe have a problem with living according to our nature. I listed just a few consequences of not acting according to our nature: disease, famine, pestilence, premature death. It wasn’t intended to be a comprehensive list. But, I should have also included war. Why didn’t I think of that one? And, what is going on in Baltimore. (What is going on in Baltimore is just the tip of the iceberg. We are going to see a whole lot more of that.) And, there are so many more that I could add to the list. All are just symptoms of a much greater problem. One that we need to address. And, one that I don’t trust our rulers to address.

We have lost touch with who we are. We see ourselves as separate from the Tao and from all beings in the universe. We see ourselves as separate from our fellow humans on the planet. We even see ourselves as separate from other individuals living together with us in our homes and our communities. It is us vs. them. And, us is very lonely. Separate. Instead of listing all the consequences, one by one. I really should have just said that it creates sorrow. And, an absence of peace.

What we have to do is get back to understanding who we are. We are all, each and every one of us, children of the Tao. We are manifestations of the Tao. That is what today’s chapter describes.

Yes, Lao Tzu begins talking about the mysterious Tao. That is what we have in the beginning. That mysterious Tao. All things issue from it. Yeah, that is our origin. Every being has that in common. Our beginning. But there is something else we have in common with every being in the Universe. All things return to the Tao, as well. It is our end, as much as it is our beginning.

Yesterday, Lao Tzu talked a lot about how the Tao takes care of us from beginning to end. Just like a mother with her children. It nourishes us, maintains us, cares for us, comforts us, protects us, takes us back to itself. But we don’t sense that, do we? We don’t feel mothered, at all. What we feel all around us is our sense of aloneness, our separateness. We need to get back to the Mother. That is the only way to be free of sorrow. But how?

Here, Lao Tzu has the answer we seek. If you want to find Mother, you need to begin to recognize her children. You need to recognize, first of all, that you are one of those children. Then, extend that recognition to all the children of the Tao. We are all manifestations of the Tao. Recognize that, and begin to trace your way back to the beginning. The Source. Our Mother. Find Her. And you will be free. Still, the same question nags at us. How?

To begin to answer that it helps to first understand why we are in trouble, now. Our minds have been closed in judgments. Judgments against fellow children, mostly. Everyone has an opinion. And few want to be troubled with facts. But a closed mind helped us to get into this mess. Only an open mind is going to free us. But that isn’t all there is to it. There is also a matter of our hearts. Our hearts being troubled isn’t just the result of our closed minds. The other culprit is that we have trafficked in desires. That is one culprit that Lao Tzu has been addressing since the first chapter. We simply have to let go of all desires. We cannot be led by our senses, if our hearts are ever going to find peace.

Right now, all around us, there is only darkness. Which is why our senses are ever going to be useless to us. But there is something fascinating about darkness. I learned this years ago while growing up and helping out with my family’s photofinishing business. I spent great amounts of time working alone in the darkrooms. Whether I was developing film or printing pictures. It needed to be dark. Totally dark. Stray light would damage what I was trying to accomplish. It was amazing to spend great lengths of time alone in the dark. After a while, my eyes would get adjusted to the lack of light. I could see into the darkness. No, not with my eyes. They were useless, without any light. But I could see. And, over time, there came clarity.

Lao Tzu talks of the mysterious Tao being shrouded in darkness, as well. Peering into that darkness isn’t something that can be over and done with in short order. It is going to take time, lots of time, seemingly alone, peering. And our eyes get adjusted to that darkness. And then we can perceive it. Only faintly, at first, and then stronger. Clarity comes. Will we yield to it? Do we even know how?

Here is how: Use your own light. That is your strength. Use your own light to return to the source of light. That is what I learned in the darkrooms so many years ago. And that is what I learn again as I peer into the darkness shrouding the Tao. I yield to that darkness. I let that darkness be all there is. And I keep peering into it. Until I can see clearly. That is what Lao Tzu calls practicing eternity.

Practicing eternity. Understanding who we are. That we are all one in the Tao. That we are not separate and alone. We are all connected. We are all one. Sorrow, no more. Peace, at last.

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