The Master gives himself up
to whatever the moment brings.
He knows that he is going to die,
and he has nothing left to hold on to;
No illusions in his mind,
no resistance in his body.
He doesn’t think about his actions;
they flow from the core of his being.
He holds nothing back from life;
therefore he is ready for death,
as a man is ready for sleep
after a good day’s work.
(Tao Te Ching, chapter 50, translation by Stephen Mitchell)
Yesterday, Lao Tzu said the Master has no mind of her own. Today, he says the Master gives himself up to whatever the moment brings.
We have that change in personal pronouns from female to male because the translator chooses to go back and forth between the female and male pronouns when referring to the Master. His point is that the Master isn’t gender exclusive. Any one of us could be the Master. It is my understanding that in the original Chinese, there isn’t any gender specification. And I suppose I could try to write it entirely without using gender specific language. Except for the fact that the English language doesn’t make that very easy. So, I will continue to use the back and forth that the translator chooses to use. I know I didn’t have to write this paragraph. I just knew it had been awhile since I had pointed out what was going on with the change in personal pronouns as we go from chapter to chapter.
Okay, back to the present chapter. Lao Tzu is really laying out the goal for us in today’s chapter. The idea is for each one of us, to get to a point where we give ourselves up to whatever the moment brings. As you read along through the rest of the chapter he talks about the inevitability of death and the need to be ready for it. But that isn’t the point of the chapter.
The point of the chapter is the art of living in the present moment. Too often, we are fearful of the future. What will happen? What if I die? Fear holds us back from living. Why do we fear death? We do. I know we do. I do too. But why? What is fearing it or worrying about it doing to make actually living life any easier?
So, I will admit right up front that I haven’t arrived at this point. But that doesn’t stop me from realizing that once I get to that point; when I really give myself up to whatever the moment brings; that I will actually be living, like I have never lived before.
And Lao Tzu gives us ways of telling when we are there. What I notice about these is how they are set up like dominoes, that each fall one after the other.
The first seems more simple than it actually is: He knows that he is going to die. Don’t we already know this? Well, we sort of do. We just don’t like thinking about it, or admitting it. But this reluctance to acknowledge reality is holding us back. We need to be firm about this. I know I am going to die.
Second: He has nothing left to hold on to. He specifically refers to what these things are that we have been holding on to: They are illusions in our minds and resistances in our bodies. We have spent a good deal of time talking about what is the eternal reality vs. what are merely illusions. The Master isn’t holding on to illusions any longer. He has let go of them all. But that isn’t enough, if the body is still putting up resistance. I picture me in a plane getting ready to jump out with a parachute. Or, maybe diving off a bridge with a bungee cord tied to my ankle. Yep. That isn’t happening. The spirit may be willing, but the flesh is going to put up plenty of resistance. See, I don’t think I am quite ready to live in the moment. I am still hoping it isn’t going to come to this. But, I need to refer back to the preceding paragraph: I am going to die. Yes! I know that! I was just hoping it wasn’t going to be right this moment.
Third: He doesn’t think about his actions. Now where were you when I was in that plane thinking about my actions. Oh, that is the point. I am not supposed to be thinking about my actions. But that sounds a whole lot more haphazard than Lao Tzu intends. When Lao Tzu says he doesn’t think about his actions, he explains how and why that is. It is because his actions flow from the core of his being. It is intuitive. He doesn’t have to think. He just acts.
Fourth: He holds nothing back from life. I had such trouble with the first three, this fourth one seems impossible. But if there is one thing that I know, it is that as long as I am holding back, I am not really living. I keep thinking to myself, but I am not ready for death. And that right there is the very reason to hold nothing back from life. Because it prepares you. And makes you ready. So that when death comes, as we all know it will, we can be as ready for it as any man (or woman) is for sleep, after a good day’s work.