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.
(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.