Needing to Take a Step Back

When they lose their sense of awe,
people turn to religion.
When they no longer trust themselves,
they begin to depend on authority.

Therefore the Master steps back
so that people won’t be confused.
He teaches without a teaching,
so that people will have nothing to learn.

– Lao Tzu –
(Tao Te Ching, chapter 72, translation by Stephen Mitchell)

I really enjoy taking these chapters one day at a time. But something that a friend reminded me of yesterday, is that the Tao that can be spoken of, is not the eternal Tao. That little reminder proved to be fortuitous, for as I am going along trying to explain what Lao Tzu is trying to teach us in each of these chapters, my ego starts to get the better of me. I think Lao Tzu was offering that little warning to himself back in the first chapter, as he sat down to compose his writings on the Tao. Every word that I use to try and explain the Tao is, more or less, a step away from the eternal Tao.

It isn’t that we can’t know. We learn by observing nature and by looking inside of ourselves. And I always need to be mindful of how egoless nature is, while I do tend to be egocentric. How can I effortlessly harmonize with the Tao when my ego is striving to achieve something that may or may not be in accordance with the Tao?

That is why Lao Tzu encourages me, in this chapter, to take a step back. It isn’t just so that my readers won’t get confused. I don’t want to be confused, either. I am not helping anyone, including myself, when I keep rushing onward.

So today, I spent some time enjoying the rainy weekend we have been having. In between rain showers, I was outside observing my little raised garden bed. My peas are just about ready to harvest. My tomato plants are full of tomatoes. My squash is blooming like crazy. Yes, my garden is loving the rain. It is simply amazing what happens when you plant seeds in good soil and give it lots of sunshine and rain. I am actually in awe of my little garden.

And awe is a good thing. That is another thing that Lao Tzu reminds us of in this chapter. He bemoans that people lose their sense of awe; and to fill that void, they substitute other things. I am not going to trash religion here. Religion is just one substitute that the people use to fill a giant hole in their hearts.

The other thing that Lao Tzu speaks of in this chapter is people no longer trusting themselves. I recall countless conversations I have had with people over the years. People who don’t believe other people can be trusted to do the right thing. “That is why we need laws, Chuck. That is why we need the government. The police. A standing army.” All because we don’t trust ourselves. And we sure as Hell, don’t trust our neighbors. Especially those neighbors in other countries all over the world.

My ego would love to go on a rant right about now. But I think this taking a step back is a much more appropriate thing for me to be doing today. The truth is, I can teach more without teaching. There is nothing to learn, but a whole lot to unlearn.

Why have we lost our sense of awe? Is it because our ego prevents us from seeing the awesomeness of what is real? And why do we no longer trust ourselves? Does self-reliance have to be a lost and forgotten art?

In taking a step back today, I am reminded of what Lao Tzu calls our three greatest treasures. Simplicity, patience, and compassion. We can reconcile all beings in the Universe. That power is in each and every one of us. I am not doing anything great. I just live my life simply. I make no apologies for it. In living simply, I find myself appreciating with awe, life’s simple pleasures. I am finding myself more and more patient with my friends and my enemies, with each passing day. That is a great stress reducer. If I can do this, you can do this. Be compassionate toward yourself, especially when you epicly fail.

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