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?
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.
(Tao Te Ching, chapter 20, translation by Stephen Mitchell)
I made the mistake, on Thanksgiving Day in the United States of America of all days, of stirring up the rancor of some neocons, on my Facebook page. I had posted my link to the excellent Sheldon Richman article “Foreign Policy Comes Back to Haunt Us”; and then I had the audacity to talk about the conversation I had with a Muslim woman client of mine regarding U.S. foreign policy. A very enjoyable conversation, I might add. But, of course, I am the one who is in error. I should be proud to be an American, where I have the freedom to speak so freely against the policies of my own government. And, you know what? I am not proud to be an American. I don’t even know what that is supposed to mean. Perhaps someone who identifies as a proud American would care to enlighten me about what exactly it means to be a proud American. Now, that isn’t to say that I am not thankful, very thankful, on this Thanksgiving Day and every day that I can speak somewhat freely against the imperialistic foreign policy of the United States. I haven’t been rounded up and put into a FEMA camp, just yet. Though, if I am not on some government watch list, by now, I admit to being sorely disappointed. The whole business with the neocons did help me to identify more profoundly with Lao Tzu in today’s chapter.
While today’s chapter is easily the most misunderstood chapter in all the Tao Te Ching, one translator referred to it as, “One of the most pathetic expressions of human loneliness, from lack of appreciation, ever written.”, I take great comfort in what Lao Tzu has to say in today’s chapter.
We have been talking for at least a couple of days about exactly what ails us, since we have forgotten the great Tao. And, yesterday, Lao Tzu began to share the cure for it. Throwing away systems we hold near and dear to us, are drastic measures to have to take. But, the diagnosis was grim, and not to be taken lightly. Lao Tzu ended yesterday’s chapter where today’s begins. If throwing these things away isn’t enough, just stay in the center of the circle and let all things take their course. And, I said, that means stop thinking and stop doing, stop interfering with the course of nature.
So, Lao Tzu begins today’s chapter with, “Stop thinking, and end your problems.” In its proper context, this statement is easily understood. You have to be reading this chapter, as if it is isolated from the rest of the Tao Te Ching, to call it a pathetic expression of loneliness based on a lack of appreciation. But, I suppose my neocon friends will say that I am both pathetic and unappreciative. Which is why I so strongly identify with Lao Tzu as he expresses, not loneliness, but intentional empathy.
Yes, it is a deeply personal chapter. Twelve times he uses the personal pronoun, I. Seven of those times he cries out, I am alone.
It is ridiculous, says Lao Tzu, to feel like you must value what others value and avoid what others avoid. Lao Tzu isn’t mocking me as I sometimes wish that I could simply agree with the majority instead of always feeling like a lone voice. I really need to stop thinking. That would put an end to my problems. As if there was any real difference between yes and no, between success and failure.
But I am simply not able (willing) to shut off my critical thinking skills. Other people are so excited! Why is it that I alone don’t care about these trivial matters that excite them so? Unlike so many of my friends and acquaintances, I am expressionless, like an infant before it can smile.
It is also true, dare I say it, other people have what they need, I alone possess nothing. I am drifting about, alone, like someone who is homeless. I am like an idiot! My mind is so empty! (That is hyperbole; while I possess nothing, I have everything I need. Also, I am not anywhere near homeless. And, I really think I am far too clever for my own good.)
But, getting back to the chapter, Other people are bright, I alone am dark. Other people are sharp, I alone am dull. Other people have a purpose, I alone… Well, actually, I am not so unaware of my purpose. But this was never about me. And others do feel this kind of despondency. Like they alone don’t know what their purpose is. Drifting about like a wave on the ocean. Blowing as aimlessly as the wind.
Lao Tzu gets it. And, I get it. It is that intentional empathy we have been talking about. But, there is comfort to be had in today’s chapter. It is okay to feel like you are different from everyone else. It is okay to be different from ordinary people. To be extraordinary. That is why Lao Tzu tells us exactly what he does, as he resides in the center of the circle. He drinks from the Great Mother’s breasts. And that is what I am doing. And, what I encourage all of you to do. Mother’s milk is super good.