If you want to become whole,
let yourself be partial.
If you want to become straight,
let yourself be crooked.
If you want to become full,
let yourself be empty.
If you want to be reborn,
let yourself die.
If you want to be given everything,
give everything up.
The Master, by residing in the Tao,
sets an example for all beings.
Because he doesn’t display himself,
people can see his light.
Because he has nothing to prove,
people can trust his words.
Because he doesn’t know who he is,
people recognize themselves in him.
Because he has no goal in mind,
everything he does succeeds.
When the ancient Masters said,
‘If you want to be given everything,
give everything up,’
they weren’t using empty phrases.
Only in being lived by the Tao
can you be truly yourself.
(Tao Te Ching, chapter 22, translation by Stephen Mitchell)
The Power In Letting Yourself Be
I said in my commentary on yesterday’s chapter that I tend to emphasize yin, the passive, because I know that yang, the active, will surely follow. It is inevitable. It is the law of the universe.
And, in today’s chapter, sure enough, Lao Tzu talks about the importance of emphasizing the passive, yin, with letting yourself be. That, my friends, is where the real power to become lies. “Let yourself be” could just as easily be translated “Be content to be”. Of course, you want to become something more. But, be content to be less, let yourself be less. More will surely follow. That is how things work.
I was reading the introduction to a “new to me” translation of the Tao Te Ching that a follower recommended to me while I had some Christmas money to indulge on myself. I got it in a week or so ago and have been indulging myself reading it since then. In the introduction, Red Pine, the translator said that Lao Tzu’s imagery about the Tao is lunar imagery. He talks a lot about how people prefer light, while he prefers the dark. People celebrate the full moon, while he finds his delight in the new moon. And, the translator said something which really struck me. A full moon can only wane. What made Lao Tzu prefer the new moon is that it can only wax. If you want to become full, let yourself be empty.
It is when we aren’t content to be less, to have less, and want to be more, and have more, that enough is never enough. Because we strive to be more, we become less.
This is a lesson we really must learn. Don’t be in such a hurry to become! Be, first. Then, become. I have a friend who is quite fixated on where he wants to be. He isn’t content at all with who he is, and his present circumstances. He wants to skip to the future. And, he gets mad, really mad, every time the present whacks him with what is. So, I told him, “We have to see this present turmoil like stepping into a stream. When you first step in, the mud gets all stirred up, and the water is cloudy. But, if you stop, if you wait, if you are still, the mud will settle, and the water will become clear, again. The right action to take will arise all by itself. You will be able to see clearly to know what steps to take. And, that always beats rushing headlong into disaster.”
We have talked before of being in the present moment. It is where we come from. It is just like that standing still and waiting for the mud to settle. That is when a natural order emerges. It is both spontaneous and intuitive. But, just so you know, spontaneity isn’t chaotic. It isn’t haphazard. It isn’t flying by the seat of your pants. If your life is chaotic, and you never know which end is up, you aren’t being spontaneous. Especially, when you are angry every step of the way, because things aren’t going according to plan.
The Master, as always, is our example for us in all this. This is what residing in the Tao is all about. The Master doesn’t set out to be an example. But, being content to be dark, people see “his” light; not striving to convince, “his” words can be trusted; through “his” practice of not-knowing, we see and recognize ourselves in “him”; and, having no goal in mind, “he” succeeds in everything “he” does.
The ancient Masters understood the key to everything, the law of our universe. And, they said, “If you want to be given everything, give everything up.” Let yourself be incomplete. Don’t strive to be something more than you already are. Be content with the way things are. And, oh, what you will become! Your true self. There is no other way than to be lived by the Tao.