On Daring to Be Different

Stop thinking, and end your problems.
What difference between yes and no?
What difference between success and failure?
Must you value what others value,
avoid what others avoid?
How ridiculous!

Other people are excited,
as though they were at a parade.
I alone don’t care.
I alone am expressionless.
Like an infant before it can smile.

Other people have what they need.
I alone possess nothing.
I alone drift about.
Like someone without a home.
I am like an idiot, my mind is so empty.

Other people are bright.
I alone am dark.
Other people are sharp.
I alone am dull.
Other people have a purpose.
I alone don’t know.
I drift like a wave on the ocean.
I blow as aimless as the wind.

I am different from ordinary people.
I drink from the Great Mother’s breasts.

-Lao Tzu-
(Tao Te Ching, chapter 20, translation by Stephen Mitchell)

On Daring to Be Different

Today’s chapter is intensely personal. The most personal chapter in all the Tao Te Ching. In the first stanza, Lao Tzu talks directly to you, the individual, a one on one dialog, confronting your difficulty with what we have been talking about in the last several days. He understands what a lonely road this is to walk. This detaching yourself from, throwing away, all outward means, and relying on what you know on the inside, trusting your self, and trusting the people as individuals, to do the right thing. Trust means not interfering. But, let’s face it, non-interference isn’t the majority opinion. Far from it. So, yes, it is a lonely road. And, while Lao Tzu gets it, and he certainly addresses your concerns in today’s chapter, he wants you to know that being alone doesn’t make you wrong. And, he is willing to share his own personal struggle with you. Just look how many times, in the remaining stanzas, he uses the personal pronoun, I. Lao Tzu means this to be comforting. This is empathy. He is offering you solidarity in your solitariness.

“Hey, you there. Yes, you. I know what I am asking of you. And, I know you are going to feel all alone; but, you just need to quiet your mind. Don’t let those thoughts rob you of being present. If you can stop thinking, all of your problems will come to an end. Do you really think there is any difference between yes and no, between success and failure? Must you value what others value? Must you avoid what others avoid? You have to know how ridiculous that is.

“Just take me, for example. Sure, other people are excited, as though they were at a parade. Meanwhile, I alone don’t care. I am expressionless, like an infant before it can smile. Other people have what they need. I alone possess nothing. I alone am drifting about like a homeless person. My mind is so empty, I am like an idiot. Other people are bright, and sharp, and have a purpose. I alone am dark, and dull, and don’t know. I drift like a wave on the ocean, blowing as aimlessly as the wind.

“So, yes, I get what you are going through. I know how “hard” it is to be different, to dare to be different. But, you now know that what others are all so caught up in, the turmoil, is all an illusion. So, don’t let your thoughts, propping up the illusion, dissuade you. Be different, like me. I don’t mean being different for the sake of being different. I just mean my not-knowing isn’t truly without purpose, it just appears that way. And, though I possess nothing, I have everything. So, it is okay to be different from everybody else. To dare to be extraordinary. Because, we alone get our nourishment from the Great Mother’s breasts.”

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