The Tao is called the Great Mother;
empty yet inexhaustible,
it gives birth to infinite worlds.
It is always present within you.
You can use it any way you want.
(Tao Te Ching, chapter 6, translation by Stephen Mitchell)
Empty Yet Inexhaustible
This is the first time, but it will hardly be the last time, Lao Tzu calls the Tao the Great Mother. And, this is the third time Lao Tzu is using a metaphor to point at the Tao’s emptiness to signify it is inexhaustible. Empty bowl. Empty bellows. Empty Mother. I think he felt it necessary to do this three times, because we don’t usually think of emptiness in this way. When we think of emptiness, we think of lack. My empty gas tank is exhausted, not inexhaustible. But, Lao Tzu wants us to see emptiness in a whole new way.
That bowl’s emptiness makes it infinitely usable. That empty bellows is ready to be used over and over and over again. And, the Great Mother? She gives birth to infinite worlds.
That emptiness is always present within you. No, not the emptiness we sometimes feel inside. When our stomach is growling at us, saying “Feed me!” Or, when we have lost a loved one. And, nothing will ever fill that emptiness, they left behind, again. No, this emptiness, which is the Tao, gives birth to infinite possibilities for you. So, use it!
That has been the point of the last three chapters. This Tao, this emptiness which has always existed and always will exist, is always present within you. And, it is there to be used. You can use it any way you want.
Perhaps this chapter leaves you feeling empty, as in exhausted. You are thinking, “Okay, I get it, emptiness can be a good thing. But, I can’t begin to imagine the infinite possibilities which are present for me right now. I don’t even know how to “use” this Tao, in the first place.
I get it. I have felt the same way, before. But, remember, we are just getting started on this journey. We have so much more in store for us. Right now, embrace the emptiness. That’s right. Embrace it. Don’t be in such a hurry to fill it. Let that emptiness take root in you. In its depths lies the origin of all things. For today, be willing to be empty. Tomorrow, we will begin talking about how to use that emptiness.