It Begins With Me

Some say that my teaching is nonsense.
Others call it lofty but impractical.
But to those who have looked inside themselves,
this nonsense makes perfect sense.
And to those who put it into practice,
this loftiness has roots that go deep.

I have just three things to teach:
simplicity, patience, compassion.
These three are your greatest treasures.
Simple in actions and in thoughts,
you return to the source of being.
Patient with both friends and enemies,
you accord with the way things are.
Compassionate toward yourself,
you reconcile all beings in the world.

-Lao Tzu-
(Tao Te Ching, chapter 67, translation by Stephen Mitchell)

A couple of days ago, in my commentary on chapter 65, I said, “The number one problem I encounter, as I promote my libertarian taoist philosophy, is people who lack imagination. People have become so inured to our present system, they can’t imagine what it would be like to live without the chains.” Lao Tzu understood it all too well. He knew of some who said his teaching was nonsense. And, others who thought it lofty but impractical. And Lao Tzu, no doubt muttered to himself, “All it would take for them to see this nonsense makes perfect sense is looking inside themselves. And, if they would only put it into practice, they would find its loftiness has roots that go deep.” Lao Tzu and I feel each others’ pain.

When it is all said and done, Lao Tzu’s teaching boils down to just three things: simplicity, patience, and compassion.

Keep it simple, stupid. How many times have we heard this phrase? We have probably told it to ourselves on quite a few occasions. And yet, we still insist on making our lives far more complicated than they have to be. It is why just living requires such effort. Be simple in your actions; and, be simple in your thoughts. This is the practice of doing without doing, and knowing without knowing. But, we tend to try too hard at putting even these, into practice in our lives. Even simplicity has become a real chore, when living, can and should, be an art. We try to do too much, when what we should do is breathe, eat, work, sleep. But we aren’t satisfied with even these four basic requirements of life. We seek out new, and better, techniques for breathing. What is the newest diet craze? How can I be more efficient at work? And, with all the hustle and bustle we create in our lives, we then wonder, “Why can’t I sleep?” They call Lao Tzu’s teaching nonsense? Nonsense is making breathing, eating, working, and sleeping so complicated. It isn’t just what we do. It begins with how we think. We laugh at those we think of as simple-minded. But the simple-minded have a gift the rest of us should treasure. No wonder Lao Tzu calls simplicity one of our three greatest treasures! A return to simplicity is a return to the source of being. Lao Tzu keeps talking about not-doing, and he means it. We need to do less and less, until we arrive at non-action. Simply be!

How many times have we heard this worn-out cliché, “Patience is a virtue”? And, how is it, that the times you hear it are always the times you don’t want to hear it. We all know that patience is a virtue. But when we want something, we want it now, not later. Telling us to be patient is just annoying. But impatience while waiting for things, aside, what Lao Tzu really wants us to treasure is patience with both our friends, and our enemies. Patience in waiting for things may have its own reward; but, being patient with friends and enemies, alike, places you in accord with the way things are. Impatience, when it comes to material things, is petty. Impatience, with friends and enemies, has monumental consequences. When you are impatient with others, the temptation is to begin to rely on the use of force to get your way. How many good friendships have been ruined? How much violence has been wrought, only to rebound back and forth, over and over again? How about we just simply do this one thing? Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. Ah, the golden rule. Treat people like you want to be treated. You reap that, when you sow it, too. But harvests sometimes take awhile to come to fruition. Be patient!

Finally, be compassionate toward yourself. Lao Tzu may have saved the greatest of the three treasures for last. You are the most important person in the whole universe. Oh, don’t worry about that being a selfish thing for you to think of yourself. It is true of me, as well. I am the most important person in the whole universe. Each of us is. We are a microcosm of the whole universe. And we make mistakes. Big blunders. Egregious errors. Much of the time we are not simple enough in our actions or our thoughts. And, we often are impatient with both our friends and our enemies. But worse even than these transgressions is that we are not reconciled with who and what we are in our universe. As I said, before, you are the most important person in the whole universe. So, start showing yourself some compassion. I mean it. We really need to quit with the self-loathing. I hate my life, I hate my family, I hate my job, I hate… Cut that out! You really need to get to a place where you can look at your reflection in the mirror, look deeply into your own eyes, and say “I love you”, and mean it. Forgive yourself. Make peace with yourself. Nurture yourself, body and soul. Obviously, we aren’t talking about some narcissistic thing, here. We are talking about reconciliation. You are the most important person in the whole universe, because you contain within you, the whole universe. By being compassionate toward yourself, you are reconciling all beings in the world. That is why the old song says “Let there be peace on Earth, and let it begin with me.”

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