She who is centered in the Tao
can go where she wishes, without danger.
She perceives the universal harmony,
even amid great pain,
because she has found peace in her heart.
Music or the smell of good cooking
may make people stop and enjoy.
But words that point to the Tao
seem monotonous and without flavor.
When you look for it, there is nothing to see.
When you listen for it, there is nothing to hear.
When you use it, it is inexhaustible.
(Tao Te Ching, chapter 35, translation by Stephen Mitchell)
We all have this tendency to want to put the cart before the horse. That is why, when I used to read through this chapter, I would immediately focus in on going wherever I wished without danger. That sounded to me like something I would very much like to do. After all, the world is a very dangerous place. There are places in the world I would consider unsafe, anytime, day or night. Other places maybe mostly safe during daylight hours; but, after dark, all bets are off. Is Lao Tzu really suggesting I can go anywhere? Anywhere? Like I said, before, that is putting the cart before the horse.
What Lao Tzu really is addressing, with this chapter, is the importance of perceiving the universal harmony, and finding peace in our own hearts. So, for the time being, let’s put out of our minds the thought of rushing into dangerous places.
The horse, before the cart, is being centered in the Tao. It has been a theme of Lao Tzu’s for some time now. And, the number one question I encounter in my journey, from those who are interested in the Way, is how do I do it? How do I center myself in the Tao?
Lao Tzu’s answers are not at all readily accepted, because he doesn’t offer us much in the way of positive things to do, to center ourselves in the Tao. Generally, we are told, time and time again, don’t intervene, don’t interfere, don’t try to control, don’t force issues. Let things take their own course. I, of course, picked up on how libertarian that approach to living is. But, it seems the majority of us want there to be something to do. Surely, we must do something! It is somewhat unsatisfying to be told to do nothing is better than to do something. We apparently would much rather rush into a dangerous situation, than step aside, away from danger, and stay safe.
I saw a post on my tumblr dashboard earlier this week. I resisted the urge to comment on it, then. It said something along the lines of “America intervenes in a situation and the whole world complains, ‘Why won’t America mind its own business?’ America chooses not to intervene in a situation and the whole world complains, ‘Where is America, when we need her?’” That was the extent of the post when I saw it. What was the point? I can only guess. But, I thought to myself, because I was determined not to get involved in an argument, “If the world is going complain, better that they complain because we didn’t intervene.” And, honestly, I don’t actually recall a time America wasn’t sticking its nose where it didn’t belong, rather than obsessively practicing non-intervention. So, I suspect the originator of the post was offering up a false dichotomy, in order to encourage America to interfere more. But, like I said, I am not wishing to get in an argument. Those are just my thoughts.
What is my point? My point is, there is a whole lot to be gained by staying in the center of the circle, being centered in the Tao, and letting all things take their own course. In not being compelled, especially by the will to power, to intervene, to interfere, to try to control, or force our way on others. And, believe it or not, I really am intending for this to be a lesson for individuals, not whole countries. I know I have zero influence over America’s foreign policy.
Now, where was I? Oh yes, still here, centered in the Tao. Here, I can perceive the universal harmony. Now, something about the universal harmony, we all need to understand, is it isn’t something we can perceive with our senses.
It isn’t like music, or the smell of good cooking. I happen to enjoy both of these very much; but, while I will stop and enjoy them, words that point to the Tao aren’t like that. On the contrary, they seem monotonous and without flavor. This universal harmony isn’t something to be looked for; not with our eyes, anyway. There isn’t anything to see. And, our ears won’t pick up on the sound of it. Listen all you want, there is nothing to hear.
And that leads me back to that one question I always am encountering on my journey. How do I do it, then? How do I center myself in the Tao? How do I perceive this universal harmony that Lao Tzu says can be perceived by those who are centered in the Tao? I, too, want to find peace in my heart, even in the midst of great pain.
It was just a few chapters back that Lao Tzu said the Tao is so small it can’t be perceived. And, what he has said, in today’s chapter, has only reinforced this truth. Yet, we can be centered in the Tao. We can perceive the universal harmony. We can find peace in our hearts, even in the midst of great pain. And, because I am on a roll I will include the cart on this one; we can even go where we wish, without danger.
But, you want to know how? That was the question, now, wasn’t it? I haven’t forgotten.
Lao Tzu has revealed the answer before, so I will remember back to when he did. You can’t know it, but you can be it. At ease in your own life. What can’t be perceived with our senses, is no less real than what we can perceive with our senses. Perhaps, it is even more real. But the truth isn’t out there, in the world we perceive with our senses. It is inside us. Deep within the core of our being. You know it, intuitively. And, you act on it, spontaneously. Look inside yourself, and you will see. No, not with your eyes. With your heart. There is a universal harmony which exists before and beyond anything we perceive with our senses. We sense it intuitively as we remain centered in the Tao, minding our own business, rather than others’. And, when we use it, it is inexhaustible.