Empty your mind of all thoughts.
Let your heart be at peace.
Watch the turmoil of beings.
But contemplate their return.
Each separate being in the Universe
returns to the common Source.
Returning to the Source is serenity.
If you don’t realize the Source,
you stumble I confusion and sorrow.
When you realize where you come from,
you naturally become tolerant,
kindhearted as a grandmother,
dignified as a king.
Immersed in the wonder of the Tao,
you can deal with whatever life brings you.
And when death comes, you are ready.
(Tao Te Ching, chapter 16, translation by Stephen Mitchell)
Two chapters ago, the one where Lao Tzu gave us a riddle, he told us that it is the essence of wisdom to realize where you come from. In yesterday’s chapter, Lao Tzu described the appearance of the ancient Masters as a way to talk about how profound and subtle their wisdom was. Today, Lao Tzu offers us a meditation to help us to realize where we come from, the Source. Saying that returning to it is serenity.
This is something that we can do on a daily basis. Take time each day, it can be in the morning or afternoon, the evening or the night. Whenever is a good time for you. Just do it. Empty your mind of all thoughts. How do we do that? Well, I have found the easiest way is not to try to empty my mind. But to let the thoughts come and go without lingering on them. Is your heart troubled? Acknowledge that your heart is troubled. But then let it be at peace.
For me, this daily practice isn’t something I do just once in the day. I do it throughout the day. I like to go outside and walk around in my backyard, smoking my pipe. I look at the ground, the trees, the sky (I especially like to look at the sky at night), and then I look out across my neighbor’s yard to the busy street and watch all the cars going by. The other seasons of the year I can see plenty of what might be called turmoil in the wee beasties crawling around on the ground, the squirrels and the birds in the trees. But now that it is Winter, most of the turmoil seems centered in the traffic on the street.
I want to ask them, “Where did you come from? Where are you going? And, why are you in such a hurry?” I could watch this turmoil for hours. But what Lao Tzu wants me to be contemplating is their return. Not to this street. But to the Source. Where they come from. Where they are returning. It is a common Source. We all come from it. We are all returning to it. That is what I want to contemplate. That is serenity. The returning.
Most of us spend a great deal of our time stumbling about in confusion and sorrow. Why do you think that is? Lao Tzu tells us that we need to realize where we come from, the Source. That is how to deal with whatever life brings you. And, as an added bonus, we will be prepared for death when that day comes.
I was chatting with my brother today. He was talking about the new year, and preparing to turn fifty years old. Talking about our Mom and Dad and how young they were when they died. We don’t want to die of cancer (like our Dad) or of Alzheimer’s (like our Mom). Yet, we need to be ready whenever that day arrives.
But, of course, we aren’t looking to hasten that day’s arrival. What are we going to do in the meantime? Contemplate our return to the Source. That returning is serenity. I naturally become tolerant. Not to be confused with the politically correct tolerance that the thought police want to force on us. Being tolerant naturally is so much better. Being disinterested. A much maligned term, disinterest. People don’t think you care. But that isn’t the case, at all. Now, I really can care. Because there isn’t anything in it for me. I don’t have a vested interest. That disinterest liberates me to really care.
And, I am amused, very easily amused. The darnedest things amuse me. It is because I have the key to unlock natural tolerance and disinterest within me. Like your grandmother, kindhearted. No, not that grandmother, your other one. And, dignified like a king. What is Lao Tzu talking about? Being immersed in the wonder of the Tao.
That is what contemplating our returning to the Source is all about. It is like being immersed. A baptism. Are you ready?