The Tao is always at ease.
It overcomes without competing,
answers without speaking a word,
arrives without being summoned,
accomplishes without a plan.
Its net covers the whole universe.
And though its meshes are wide,
it doesn’t let a thing slip through.
(Tao Te Ching, chapter 73, translation by Stephen Mitchell)
Lao Tzu has so many different ways of saying the same thing. Some of you might find that a bit redundant. I tend to like it; because I am just dense enough, I need a variety of ways to see the same thing. If I was to describe philosophical Taoism in as few words as possible it would be, “The art of living is being at ease.” The last few days we have been talking about all the reasons that we, as humans, are not living our lives at ease. I believe that Lao Tzu is telling us that regardless whatever the outward conditions on which we may wish to blame our unease, it always can be boiled down to the condition of the human heart. You can point my attention to any trouble anywhere in the world, and I am going to point my finger at your heart. Deal with that. Once you have taken care of that, you’ll find the rest of the world takes care of itself.
I hope none of you are thinking, “Well, that is easy for you to say.” Believe me, I always am pointing my finger at my own heart. I have my own personal times of testing. I just happen to be experiencing one in this present moment. Outward circumstances change. You can’t depend on others. You need to have confidence that the answers you are looking for are inside of you. Because if they aren’t inside your own heart, they are no where to be found.
In the last couple of years, I have really embraced the art of living. I have been at ease. No, I haven’t had a whole lot of money. Money, while useful, is not a guarantee of a life at ease. I have become a whole lot more inwardly focused; and, far from turning me into a recluse, I can honestly say that I now have some solid friends. This is the antithesis to the way I used to live my life. Then, the focus was outward. And friends, were merely acquaintances. You see, the more shallow I was, the more shallow my friendships were. That isn’t passing judgment on my friends from years gone by. That is merely pointing a finger at my own heart. I was shallow. You reap what you sow.
I hope I am communicating what I am trying to communicate. Words don’t do it justice. Suffice it to say what Lao Tzu has already said, “My teachings are easy to understand and easy to put into practice.” You just can’t let your own intellect deprive you of the true knowledge. I never did put these teachings into practice as long as I kept trying to. It was when I stopped trying and just did it.
And, so we arrive at today’s chapter. I want to be like the Tao. How many times has Lao Tzu told us to be like the Tao? I have lost count. Let me tell you something I learned. You can’t be like the Tao by trying to be like the Tao. It just doesn’t work like that. How does it work? Let’s look again at what Lao Tzu has to say about the Tao, today.
The Tao is always at ease. There it is. Always. At. Ease.
After typing the last line, I stopped what I was doing, and went outside to think about what it means to be always at ease. And, it came to me suddenly. Perhaps, the word that we should be looking at, isn’t the one we think we should be looking at. I was focusing on the word, ease. Then, I was thinking about that word, always. But, when I went outside I started thinking about the word, at. What a tiny, insignificant word! Or, is it? Because I started to realize that the problem I am always encountering in my own life is that I want a life OF ease. That is what I was working on for the first 49 years of my life. I want a life of ease. And, who doesn’t? But, a life OF ease and a life AT ease are two very different things. And, that difference makes all the difference.
A life of ease is a life with no difficulties. Sure, we would love to never have any difficulties. Or, at least we think we would love to never have any difficulties. When we are going through difficulties we like to comfort ourselves with the notion that there is some higher purpose for these difficulties. And, you can be sure, that if you are finding little comfort in that, your friends and family will still be trying to comfort you with that notion, anyway.
But, Lao Tzu isn’t making any promises of a life of ease. If you think that is what philosophical Taoism is teaching, then definitely do like I did; look inside your own heart, and have those crazy notions dispelled.
Lao Tzu is offering a life at ease. And that is something entirely different. The Tao is always at ease. And, we can be just like the Tao. But, notice how Lao Tzu explains what that means. It overcomes without competing. It answers without speaking a word. It arrives without be summoned. It accomplishes without a plan.
A life of ease would have nothing to overcome. But, a life at ease does have its difficulties. There are things that you will have to overcome. Just like the Tao. You will still need answers. This is a journey, and that means both arrivals and departures. There are things to accomplish. A life of ease offers none of these things. And, sometimes, we may think that would be a-okay.
But, that isn’t what Lao Tzu is offering us. A life at ease means we can overcome without competing. It means we can find answers without a word being spoken. It means we can arrive without being summoned. It means we can accomplish without a plan.
I know that is just repeating back what Lao Tzu has said in this chapter about the Tao. And I am not really fleshing out how to do that in our own lives. The reason for that, my friends, is that how that is going to be fleshed out in all of our lives is going to be done in myriad ways. Live your own life. Look in your own heart. You’ll see it played out for yourself.
This is where he reveals the mystery. We tend to get bogged down in the how. When we just need to regain our awe. (For those of you that didn’t read yesterday’s post, it was talking about losing our sense of awe.) Forget how. Just let that go. Allow yourself to get swept up by the awe again. The Tao has a net that covers the whole universe. And though its meshes are wide, it doesn’t let a thing slip through. And, you and I are not going to slip through, either.