Knowing others is intelligence;
knowing yourself is true wisdom.
Mastering others is strength;
mastering yourself is true power.
If you realize that you have enough,
you are truly rich.
If you stay in the center
and embrace death with your whole heart,
you will endure forever.
(Tao Te Ching, chapter 33, translation by Stephen Mitchell)
Today, Lao Tzu reins me back in. I have been so focused the last few days on what others are doing, or not doing. And knowing others is important. It is intelligent to know others. But Lao Tzu reminds me that is not enough. If I want to gain true wisdom, I need to know myself. That requires me to turn my gaze back on myself.
He says that it takes strength to master others. But if I want to attain true power, I need to master myself. Okay, Lao Tzu, I get it. We’re changing the focus from an outward one; which, while important, doesn’t give me a complete picture of what is going on in my world. I keep insisting that I am my own master. Well then, I better make sure I have me, under control.
And Lao Tzu has two very necessary things to keep me occupied in knowing and mastering myself.
First, I need to realize that I have enough. That is going to require a great deal of both self-knowledge and self-mastery. Because I can easily come up with a list of things that I think I am lacking right now. But that is only because I have been preoccupied with looking outwardly. Once I return my gaze inwardly, I begin to see that he is right.
I must not be distracted. There is a whole lot going on out there right now. And I am easily enticed to turn my attention elsewhere. Besides, when I spend time in introspection, especially after being focused outwardly for so long, I find the inward gaze a little unsettling. I need to calm down. The waters are so muddied. I need to wait for the mud to settle. Then I can see more clearly.
I know that I can’t begin to master myself as long as I don’t fully know myself. But as the mud settles, I can see that all that I require, I already have. It is then, that I come to the realization that I am truly rich.
The second thing is the truly hard one. Lao Tzu reminds me that all those times that he has been talking about staying in the center of the circle, he wasn’t wanting me looking at whether others are, or ever will. His words were always directed at me. It is me that needs to stay in the center of the circle.
And what is this? Embrace death with my whole heart? I have been so focused on just trying to live in this maddening world. But, and this, of course, presents us with yet another paradox; if I will embrace death with my whole heart, I will endure forever.
Remember, we have shifted our focus, our attention. Yes, we have been so focused on this maddening world. That focus has sapped a whole lot of our energy. After all, I want to postpone or avoid death. I fear it. Oh, I don’t fear it because I am worried about what is going to happen after I die. I fear it because I don’t like thinking about end of life issues that happen while I am still very much alive. But what does worrying, fretting, and fearing get me? Is it making the struggle to live any easier? Of course not.
And that is why Lao Tzu says that I need to stop that. Let go of the worry, the fretting, the fear. Instead, embrace the thing I worry, fret over, and fear. Embrace it, and it won’t bother me anymore. Death is coming for me. Oh Noes! No, that is no way to look at it. I want to live in this present moment. And living in this present moment requires something more of me. I need to know me, more intimately than I have ever cared to know myself. I need to master my fears. And not be a slave to them, any longer.
I can’t let the fear of death hold me back from living today and every day.