The Power of Life and Death

Men are born soft and supple;
dead, they are stiff and hard.
Plants are born tender and pliant;
dead, they are brittle and dry.

Thus whoever is stiff and inflexible
is a disciple of death.
Whoever is soft and yielding
is a disciple of life.

The hard and stiff will be broken.
The soft and supple will prevail.

-Lao Tzu-
(Tao Te Ching, chapter 76, translation by Stephen Mitchell)

The Power of Life and Death

Lao Tzu has talked before of the virtue of being like a newborn child. It is one of his favorite metaphors for being in harmony with the Tao. Today, we look at that again. We are all born soft and supple. Even plants begin life in this same way, tender and pliant.

Lao Tzu is illustrating for us the art of living in harmony with the Tao. Only the dead should be stiff and hard, brittle and dry. This contrast is of particular interest to me today, as I was telling a friend of mine earlier, I seriously am in need of some reevaluation of how I am doing at this art of living.

I have begun to notice that I have let certain characteristics take form and shape in my own life that I don’t much care for. I have found myself to be increasingly stiff and inflexible, of late. Perhaps it is just the closer we get to these November elections, my tolerance is waning more. I think I have simply allowed myself to pile more and more on my plate, and I am getting unnecessarily stressed out, and overwhelmed.

I actually got annoyed the other evening while I was out walking, because I got stopped by someone asking the time. After looking at my phone, and gruffly responding with the time, I rushed onward mumbling about how “stupid” it is to not have a watch or a phone on you. I have seriously let this go on far too long. It is time to stop, and take a step back.

I don’t want to be a disciple of death! And, it isn’t just because the hard and stiff will be broken. Though they will.

I want to be soft and supple, like a newborn child again. I want to be a disciple of life, soft and yielding. And, it isn’t just because the soft and supple will prevail. Though they will.

No, there is more to it than a desire to prevail. It is because being stiff and hard and inflexible, sucks all of the joy of living out of me. And, no doubt, it affects everyone else around me, in much the same way. It is life draining. No wonder Lao Tzu calls it being a disciple of death! It is a miserable existence. And, I don’t just want to exist. I want to live!

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