It Should Happen Naturally

Express yourself completely,
then keep quiet.
Be like the forces of nature;
when the wind blows,
there is only wind;
when it rains,
there is only rain;
when the clouds pass,
the sun shines through.

If you open yourself to the Tao,
you are at one with the Tao
and can embody it completely.
If you open yourself to insight,
you are at one with insight
and you can use it completely.
If you open yourself to loss,
you are at one with loss
and you can accept it completely.

Open yourself to the Tao,
then trust your natural responses;
and everything will fall into place.

-Lao Tzu-
(Tao Te Ching, chapter 23, translation by Stephen Mitchell)

Today, I could really learn from the forces of nature. I never feel like I have expressed myself completely. And I never know when to keep quiet. Lao Tzu tells me to be like the wind and the rain. When the wind blows, there is only wind. When it rains, there is only rain. The blowing wind and the falling rain are metaphors for how to express yourself completely. I don’t think we fully appreciate that the wind and the rain know exactly when it is time to stop and let the clouds pass, revealing the warming sun.

There is a lesson to learn here today about opening ourselves to the Tao. Like the wind and the rain, knowing when enough is enough. We need to embody it completely. This is what he means by being at one with the Tao. It is letting nature have its way. Accepting what you are naturally, and letting the Tao shape you naturally into what you will become. That is the art of living.

We need to open ourselves to insight. This is being the master of our own mind; and being open to whatever the Tao brings our way. That is the way to be at one with insight; so that we can use it completely. It amazes me how quickly I will retreat back into my comfort zone, my sheltered place of refuge, where my own preconceived notions won’t be threatened, when the wind starts blowing a little. There is something I need to learn. Will I learn it now, or put it off until later? That wind is going to keep blowing. And while it blows, anything that can be blown away, will be blown away. It takes courage to face the wind. To open ourselves to it. To become one with it. To use it completely.

And, we need to open ourselves to loss. Just like the falling rain, loss is not something we can avoid encountering in our short lives on this planet. We can’t avoid it; so open your heart to it. Let the rain come down. Let it wash away all that isn’t truly you. Let it bring life-giving nourishment to what is truly you. That is how to be at one with loss. You must accept it completely.

Opening yourself to the Tao is letting yourself be lived by the Tao. It is how we are truly ourselves. Remember, being at one with the Tao is being at one with yourself. And, being in harmony with the Tao is being in harmony with yourself. We embody the Tao by letting the Tao embody ourselves. By opening yourself to insight, your mind is opened to the Tao. By opening yourself to loss, your heart is open to the Tao.

The wind and the rain are going to finish expressing themselves. The clouds are going to pass; and the sun will be there, where it always is, shining through. When you open yourself to the Tao, and trust your natural responses, everything will fall into place.

What Do You Want To Be? I Want To Be Me.

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 truly be yourself.

-Lao Tzu-
(Tao Te Ching, chapter 22, translation by Stephen Mitchell)

Yesterday, I really struggled with my blog post. Which is the antithesis of what the art of living is supposed to be. I even entitled the post, “How Can I Make This As Simple As It Is?” Which is an interesting title given that it was so difficult for me to write yesterday. What exactly was my problem? I identified it yesterday. I was trying to grasp at the ungraspable. I was trying to show you all the intricate details of the dark. I was trying to plumb the depths of something that was unfathomable. The art of living is being, not doing. I have said that over and over again throughout this journey. And yet, I was trying to make something that is already simple, simple. I wanted to give you something to do; when it is really about being, not doing.

Oh well, that was yesterday. And today is today. And today, we are really going to explore that idea of being, not doing. Yesterday, I did say a couple of very important things, I think. I said that being at one with the Tao is being at one with yourself. And, I said being in harmony with the Tao is being in harmony with yourself. That is the theme of today’s chapter.

What do you want to be when you grow up? I am sure we all got asked that question over and over as we were children. Perhaps, some of us are still hearing it from time to time. What do you want to be? What do you want to become? Lao Tzu begins today’s chapter with a list of things we might aspire to be or become.
If you want to become whole, if you want to become straight, if you want to become full, if you want to be reborn, and finally, if you want to be given everything. What do you want to be?

I am assuming with that question, that you are not that already. If you believed you were already whole, you wouldn’t be aspiring to become whole. And, with each one of these aspirations, Lao Tzu has a very odd way of getting us to where we want to be. When we aren’t whole, we want to strive to become whole. That would be our answer, right? But Lao Tzu gives us, not something to do, but something to be. Be what you already are.

Let yourself be partial. Let yourself be crooked. Let yourself be empty. Let yourself die. And finally, all those hopes and dreams, all your aspirations (whatever they may be), give them all up. Every last one. Don’t try to be what you are not. Be what you are. Let yourself be what you are. That, Lao Tzu says, is the way to become or be everything you want to be.

And, because Lao Tzu understands we will need the example of the Master to help us to understand what he is saying, the Master arrives as our example of how to reside in the Tao. Because that is what we are talking about, after all. The Master doesn’t display himself, and that is why people can see his light. People can trust his words because he has nothing to prove. People can recognize themselves in him because he doesn’t identify with himself. The Master succeeds at everything he does because he does everything with no goal in mind.

I can hear you mumbling about how strange this Master is. He doesn’t always sound like any human we have ever encountered. And yet, I continue to insist that each one of us can be the Master. That is certainly what I aspire to be. And guess what, I know just how I am going to become that. By letting myself be me.

Perhaps we scoff at that phrase about being given everything. But Lao Tzu was already expecting that kind of response. He says the ancient Masters weren’t using empty phrases when they said this. And this is key to our understanding of this chapter; and, everything about the art of living in contentment. It is only in being lived by the Tao that you can truly be yourself.

How Can I Make This As Simple As It Is?

The Master keeps her mind
always at one with the Tao;
that is what gives her radiance.

The Tao is ungraspable
How can her mind be at one with it?
Because she doesn’t cling to ideas.

The Tao is dark and unfathomable.
How can it make her radiant?
Because she lets it.

Since before time and space were, the Tao is.
It is beyond is and is not.
How do I know this is true?
I look inside myself and see.

-Lao Tzu-
(Tao Te Ching, chapter 21, translation by Stephen Mitchell)

Okay, yesterday was a dark and brooding chapter for Lao Tzu. Incredibly personal. In it, he did a lot of muttering to himself about how different he was from everyone else. But he concluded with accepting and celebrating that he was different.

Today, we take off from there; with Lao Tzu leaving off talking about himself, and talking about the Master, instead.

The Master keeps her mind always at one with the Tao. Now wait just a minute there, Lao Tzu. How can her mind be at one with the Tao. You have already told us before that the Tao is ungraspable. Won’t I have to grasp it to keep my mind at one with it? If I can’t grasp it, this would seem impossible.

But, as usually occurs whenever we are talking about the Tao, I have encountered a paradox. No, I can’t grasp it. But I can let go of, or not cling to, ideas. I know that I do a lot of repeating myself, but we tend to make this a whole lot more difficult than it needs to be. We think we need to do something. When not-doing is the very thing that needs to happen.

The Tao is already inside you. You don’t have to search far and wide for it. You can look inside and find it right there. It is already at work in you. It is the eternal reality behind all the Universe. Giving birth to it and sustaining it. We don’t need to grasp the ungraspable. We simply need to be the masters of our own hearts and minds and not cling to ideas and desires. It isn’t about doing anything. It is about being ourselves. Being at one with the Tao is being at one with yourself. Being in harmony with the Tao is being in harmony with yourself.

Lao Tzu found radiance yesterday in that dark and lonely place he was dwelling. The Tao is dark and unfathomable. How did he find radiance there? Well, it had nothing to do with the dark and lonely place. And everything to do with the dark and unfathomable Tao. That radiance came from inside of him. It shone from that dark and unfathomable Tao. It happens because we let it happen.

But, I know that I am making this ungraspable, dark, and unfathomable Tao way too complicated. That is only because I continue to suffer from a need to grasp it. To behold all its intricate details. To plumb its depths. And I am trying way too hard. That I am trying is already too much effort. When Lao Tzu tells us that “since before time and space were, the Tao is”, he is telling us that the Tao isn’t something that can be bound within time and space. All my efforts to make it so are exercises in futility. And, I know it is no good trying to define what” is beyond is and is not.” I know this is true. In spite of ideas to the contrary to which I still find myself clinging. I know it is true because I have seen it inside myself. That is what you have to do. That is as simple as it needs to be. Look inside yourself, and you’ll see it too.

Vive La Difference!

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?
How ridiculous!

Other people are excited,
as though they are 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 aimlessly as the wind.

I am different from ordinary people.
I drink from the Great Mother’s breasts.

-Lao Tzu-
(Tao Te Ching, chapter 20, translation by Stephen Mitchell)

The other night on Tumblr, I got a message from @bodhioshea asking me to please summarize what I think time is. I said that I think time is a useful construct. And something to the effect that past and future are meaningless. One being no more and the other never being. Or something like that. At least that is how I would respond now. And that is why living in the present moment is really the only thing that is important, since, in reality the present moment is all that exists. Anyway, I got an interesting response from @liarsandbullies that I would like to talk about today. “Living in the moment is almost impossible in the modern world. A luxury that few can afford.”

I was thinking of that response throughout my day as I was thinking about today’s chapter from the Tao Te Ching, and what we have been talking about all along on our journey through it. It is my contention that what Lao Tzu is teaching us is that there is an eternal reality which we, in the modern world have lost touch with. We aren’t living in harmony with it. And Lao Tzu has spent a great deal of time discussing the consequences of us losing touch with reality. Lots and lots of problems in the world today. And I think they can all be tied to the fact that we have forgotten the Tao.

So, I was just wondering if it is true that living in the moment is almost impossible in the modern world. And, is it true that living in the moment is a luxury that few can afford. What is truth? Well, I would say that truth is very different from the illusion that we have grown accustomed to in our modern world. While I would agree that it is almost impossible in the modern world to live in the present moment. That is only because we have made it that way. It is only a luxury, because few are willing to pay the cost associated with it. But I don’t find it a luxury, at all. I am living in the present moment in this modern world. I am not dwelling on the past or worried about the future. Today has plenty to keep me occupied. And, I am not a wealthy man; so, my life of leisure is not the result of having a nest egg tucked away that I can draw on. I am just making a conscious choice each and every day to live within my means today and every day.

And, I think of this very personal chapter by Lao Tzu today. It seems weird and out of place at first glance. Nothing like he wrote before or after. I counted twelve times he uses the personal pronoun, I, in this chapter. Evey time I encounter this chapter it reads like a crisis of faith or a dark night of the soul. Or maybe a bout of depression.

But I think Lao Tzu is living in the present moment. That is what he is displaying for us. Often, we make things quite difficult for ourselves. Living isn’t an art. It is drudgery. I know far too many people who are dwelling in the past, or worried about the future. That isn’t healthy living. And, it is not the path to contentment.

What advice does Lao Tzu have for us, today? We can learn a lot from the conversation he was having with himself as he mutters to himself off in some dark corner. Stop thinking, and end your problems. What difference does it make whether you say yes or no? What difference does it make whether you succeed or fail? Must you value what others value? Avoid what others avoid? How ridiculous!

That is Lao Tzu laying it all out for us. He is being remarkably human today. We over think things. We spend countless hours struggling with the choice between yes and no. And, we insist on climbing that ladder which Lao Tzu has warned us already, offers us the same dangers whether we succeed or fail. We simply don’t have to do what everyone else is doing.

In the rest of the chapter Lao Tzu comes to the realization that he is different; and, different is good. Vive la difference!

Do you ever feel like you are alone in the Universe? I know I do, sometimes. Other people are excited like they are at a parade. I alone don’t care and am expressionless. Other people have what they need. I alone possess nothing, just drifting about. I’m like an idiot, my mind is so empty. Other people are bright and sharp and have a purpose. I alone am dark and dull and don’t know. I am drifting like a wave on the ocean. I am blowing about as aimlessly as the wind.

Yes, I am different from other people; but, then again, other people aren’t drinking from the Great Mother’s breasts.

If These Three Aren’t Enough…

Throw away holiness and wisdom,
and people will be a hundred times happier.
Throw away morality and justice,
and people will do the right thing.
Throw away industry and profit,
and there won’t be any thieves.

If these three aren’t enough,
just stay at the center of the circle
and let all things take their course.

-Lao Tzu-
(Tao Te Ching, chapter 19, translation by Stephen Mitchell)

We have been talking the last couple of days about what happens when we forget the great Tao; or, to put it another way, we lose touch with the eternal reality. Having forgotten, or lost, our intuitive connectedness, we tend to substitute other things to fill the vacuum that has been created. Lao Tzu has been saying all along that the art of living involves knowing what to hold on to, and what to let go of. Some of the things that we need to let go of, are so toxic to us that Lao Tzu encourages us to not just let go of them. Instead, suggesting we throw them away. That is what today’s chapter is all about.

What is the art of living all about? It is being in harmony with the eternal reality. When you think about it as people losing touch with reality, I think it makes it very easy to understand. There is an eternal reality. That is what Lao Tzu is talking about. He calls it the Tao, for lack of a better name. What causes us problems in this world is when we are living our lives out of touch with that reality. The Tao manifests itself to us in the form of natural laws which govern the way the Universe works. Humans are going to act according to human nature. Just like every being in the Universe acts according to its nature. From the simplest form of life, to the most complex. To suggest otherwise, is not to understand how the Universe works.

Lao Tzu has a keen appreciation for human nature. Because his audience is humans, it is appropriate. So, everything that we read in the Tao Te Ching, needs to be understood in the context of someone who is merely pointing out how humans are naturally going to be. I have said before that we ignore this at our own peril.

Lao Tzu is teaching the art of contentment. He understands that people who are left alone to do what comes naturally to them, are going to be happy people. Whereas, people whose freedom to do what comes naturally to them is restricted for whatever reason, are not going to be happy.

Likewise, Lao Tzu has a very high opinion of us humans. He believes that we can be trusted to do the right thing. That what makes people untrustworthy is that they aren’t trusted.

Lao Tzu’s rules for the art of governing are really quite simple. It all comes down to trusting the people and not trying to control them. When I first encountered this principle in the Tao Te Ching, it immediately struck me how very libertarian this was. That was the initial attraction for me toward philosophical Taoism.

Today, Lao Tzu is pointing out three things we need to throw away; if we, as humans, are going to be happy and do the right thing. Perhaps, throwing away these three things seems a drastic measure. But, let me remind you that the last two chapters have covered the problems we have created for ourselves by forgetting the great Tao. And the myriad illusions we substitute for the eternal reality. Things have gotten rather desperate. And desperate times call for drastic measures.

However, I am certain that at least one of these throwaways is going to be a little bit too dear to you; and you won’t be so eager to want to discard it. I understand, I have my own pet things I am longing to hold on to. Is it holiness and wisdom? Or morality and justice? Or, my personal bugaboo, industry and profit? What is it you can’t let go of, let alone, throw away?

Lao Tzu has specific reasons for wanting to throw them all away. He wants us happy. Or, as he puts it, “a hundred times happier.” He trusts that people will do the right thing, if only we will trust them and leave them to their own devices. And finally, Lao Tzu believes that the problem of thieves can be dealt with at the root of the problem.

There is something else which it is important that we understand about these three things to be thrown away. And, that is that they aren’t the eternal reality. I have to keep reminding myself about this; because I, too, forget. Holiness and wisdom, morality and justice, industry and profit. They all seem so very important in so many different ways. But they are nothing more than wisps of vapor. Their importance is nothing but an illusion. And, relying on an illusion is not relying on the eternal reality, the Tao.

Understanding that, I am finding it much easier to trust that Lao Tzu is right when he says that holiness and wisdom are keeping us from being as happy as we can be. That morality and justice don’t make people do the right thing. And, that the global economy with its state-enforced monopolies is the breeding ground of thieves.

Still, I get it. These can be tough to throw away. Yet, Lao Tzu isn’t sure these measures, drastic as they may be, will be enough. That is why, in addition to giving us things to let go of, or throw away, he gives us something to hold on to. Hold onto the center of the circle. Stay at the center of the circle. And let all things take their course. That is really what the Tao Te Ching is all about. Just stay centered, and let things take their course. Don’t interfere with nature. Cooperate with nature, and nature will cooperate with you.

How Did We Get Here?

When the great Tao is forgotten,
goodness and piety appear.

When the body’s intelligence declines,
cleverness and knowledge step forth.

When there is no peace in the family,
filial piety begins.

When the country falls into chaos,
patriotism is born.

-Lao Tzu-
(Tao Te Ching, chapter 18, translation by Stephen Mitchell)

Yesterday, we were talking about what things are like when the Master governs. And, of course, that sounded ridiculously idealistic when compared to how we are being governed. Today, I’d like to talk about how we got here. What is it that gives the ruling elite their power? It isn’t the great Tao.

It is actually because the great Tao has been forgotten. Remember, the Tao is the eternal reality. It is the way things are. And that is not to be confused with the way things seem to be, which is the illusion which the ruling elite uses to their advantage to rule over and try to control us.

We said yesterday that the hallmark that sets apart the Master, from everyone else, is the Master trusts the people. And that makes people trustworthy. The eternal reality is that people can be trusted to act in accordance with natural laws. Just like every being in the Universe. One of those natural laws is that when they are not trusted, when we insist on not trusting those natural laws, we make people not trustworthy. I know there has to be some law of physics at work here. Something about for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction. But pay no attention to my limited understanding of the laws of physics. The point is that humans behave according to the laws of nature. They are innate in each and every one of us. We ignore this reality at our peril. Sometimes, it isn’t so much a matter of ignoring, as simply forgetting.

That is what Lao Tzu is talking about today. When the great Tao is forgotten, a chain reaction develops which is simply not going to end well. And we can see all the evidence of that chain reaction in plain sight before us today.

When the great Tao is forgotten, when people forget what is eternally real, we, of necessity substitute an illusion for what is eternally real. That is ultimately how we end up arriving at the present state of governance in all the countries of our world. The ruling elite has arrived at their impressive power by virtue of their reliance on the people’s having forgotten the eternally real; and, their acquiescence to the allure of the illusion.

The point of my blog posts each morning is to keep reminding us all what is eternally real; because, so many, many people have forgotten. And, that is what gives the ruling elite their power. As we remind people where they came from, the cracks and fissures in corporate establishment structures get larger and more defined. I am wanting to shake up my country; and indeed all the countries of the world. I am trying to prepare people; because whether we remember or not, the Tao will ultimately continue to do its thing. What is unsustainable is the illusion. It is going to crumble and fall. And that day is hastening on. Those that are not prepared are going to suffer needlessly.

But I am getting ahead of myself. When the great Tao is forgotten, what gets substituted for it seems innocuous enough. I mean, what could possibly be harmful about the appearance of goodness and piety?

If there is one thing that I have come to realize as I have been going through the Tao Te Ching chapter by chapter each and every day , it is not to trust how things appear. What seems to be? The way things seem to be are usually no where close to the way things really are. So the appearance of goodness and piety concerns me. And the notion that they seem innocuous, does nothing to dispel the red flags.

I will talk about those red flags in a moment. First, I want to talk about the rest of this chapter, which chronicles the downward spiral brought on by people forgetting the great Tao.

Lao Tzu says that when the body’s intelligence declines, cleverness and knowledge step forth. What is it that he means by the body’s intelligence? I think he means our intuitive connection with the Tao, with the way things are, the eternal reality. We have forgotten that. We have lost our connection, lost touch with reality. And once again, something must be substituted. Will cleverness and knowledge suffice?

And, of course, this downward spiral spreads out beyond the individual level. It affects, or infects, families, communities, whole countries. Soon, there is no peace in the family, and filial piety begins. There is that word piety again. But this time, Lao Tzu attaches that word “filial” to it. What does he mean? Filial means something done out of duty. Like the duty of parents to their children. And children to their parents. The duties of husbands and wives to each other. The red flags are really waving now. But I have one further level to descend to before we can address them.

We talked yesterday about how we as a people are governed. Lao Tzu spent a great deal of time talking about when the Master governs. People are hardly aware he even exists. But we also talked about the need to trust people. When the great Tao is forgotten, chaos ensues. It was only a matter of time. A vacuum had been created. And there will always be those who will rush to fill the void. In a country, that void is filled with patriotism. And patriotism, what is patriotism, but a fervor of mistrust? People who don’t look like us, or talk like us, or act like us. People that live on the wrong side of imaginary political borders erected by the powers that seem to be, can’t be trusted. And there is going to be a call to arms. It is our patriotic duty. And, now our descent is complete. Now, to address all those red flags.

So, what is it that concerns me about the appearance of goodness and piety? It is the same thing that concerns me about cleverness and knowledge stepping forth when the body’s intelligence declines. And, the same thing that concerns me about filial piety beginning when there is no peace in the family. And, the same thing that concerns me about the birth and rise of patriotism when countries are in the midst of chaos.

It is that it is all contrived. We, as individuals have lost our moorings. The eternal reality is not what things seem to be. That goodness and piety, the cleverness and knowledge, the filial piety, and even the patriotism are all born out of a sense of duty. They aren’t what they appear, on the surface, to be. They aren’t something that flow naturally. They aren’t spontaneous. And they ain’t nothing like the real thing.

We Can Do Better. And We Must.

When the Master governs,
the people are hardly aware that he exists.
Next best is a leader who is loved.
Next, one who is feared.
The worst is one who is despised.

If you don’t trust the people,
you make them untrustworthy.

The Master doesn’t talk, he acts.
When his work is done, the people say,
‘Amazing; we did it all by ourselves!’

-Lao Tzu-
(Tao Te Ching, chapter 17, translation by Stephen Mitchell)

Yesterday, we had a meditation where I challenged you to be the Master of your own mind and heart. Today, Lao Tzu talks about how the Master governs. This could easily apply to how you govern your own mind and heart. But Lao Tzu is talking about governing people, today. Being as I am a libertarian, as well as a philosophical Taoist, I always enjoy any opportunity that Lao Tzu gives me to talk about the art of governing.

We are on chapter 17, and this is only the second time that Lao Tzu has talked specifically about governing. Don’t worry, he is going to have many chapters yet to come about it. Today, I want to try and limit myself to only what he says in this chapter.

He begins by listing from best to worst the kinds of leaders we are going to encounter as a people who are governed. When the Master governs, the people are hardly aware that he exists. For Lao Tzu, and certainly for myself, that is the ideal way to govern. The Master doesn’t talk, he acts. The Master doesn’t entice the people with flowery speech designed to impress and deceive with the illusion of power and authority over them. When the Master governs, he doesn’t make a big show of himself. He acts; but not with great pomp and circumstance. You wouldn’t spot him at photo ops. He wouldn’t be making the rounds of late-night talk shows, or morning news shows, or prime-time specials. When the Master governs, it isn’t about him at all. That is why the people are hardly aware that the Master even exists. The Master serves as an example of how to go about this art of living. And when the Master’s work is done, the people say, “Amazing! We did it all by ourselves.” And so, they have.

Now, I know what you are thinking right now. This all sounds ridiculously idealistic. Where in the world is there anyone that would govern in this way? You certainly never find a person of this caliber running for office. And anyone that ever has established himself as supreme leader with or without the consent of the people, has ruled, not served. Yes, I know all of this. But idealistic or not, Lao Tzu has a reason for offering this ideal way of governing. Perhaps, it is because he wants us to know we can do better.

And we can certainly do worse. In fact, all of history is replete with examples of us doing much worse. What sets the Master apart from all the rest is that he actually trusts the people. That is his modus operandi. He trusts the people, and lo and behold, makes them trustworthy.

This is a concept most people, quite frankly, just can’t seem to get. I have political conversations with people all the time. And they usually leave me saddened. The level of distrust that most people have for their fellow human beings is astounding to me. It plays right into the hands of those who want to rule over and control us. I just want to tell everyone I meet that they have been hoodwinked. They believe a very convenient lie. The illusion of the way things seem to be. That people can’t be trusted.

What is the eternal reality? Lao Tzu understands human nature all too well. When you don’t trust the people, you make them untrustworthy. But that, of course, is just what the ruling elite wants. It perpetuates the need for them to be in power. It is easy to convince a simple majority, and sometimes just a plurality will do, that we need them to control all those untrustworthy people. When it was they who made them untrustworthy in the first place.

Lao Tzu invites us to see past the illusion to what is eternally real. The people can just as easily be made trustworthy. All that is required is that you trust them. But I won’t be holding my breath waiting for that to happen; because that would not be healthy for the State. The State needs to make enemies of the people. War is the health of the State. And if you don’t think your own governments have been at war with you, for generations now, you haven’t been paying attention.

If we can’t have the Master governing, perhaps a leader who is loved wouldn’t be so bad. At least you would think so. But sadly, they don’t stay loved when they don’t trust the people. Soon, even the most loved, will be feared and then despised. That is the downward spiral of a country that is not governed well. It is a picture of my country; and, it is a picture of yours.

We can do better. We must do better.

A Meditation On Being Present

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 in confusion and sorrow.
When you realize where you come from,
you naturally become tolerant,
disinterested, amused,
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.

-Lao Tzu-
(Tao Te Ching, chapter 16, translation by Stephen Mitchell)

Yesterday, Lao Tzu finished the chapter by telling us that the Master is present and can welcome all things. Today, Lao Tzu offers us a meditation on being present, and welcoming all things. I can almost hear in the background a solitary bell, chiming every couple of seconds. My breathing in and out, slows to keep pace with the chime of the bell.

In the past, I have tried to practice meditation and it never really worked for me. Why? Because I was trying. Meditation is about effortless action. It isn’t something that is forced. Trying to empty my mind of all thoughts, that isn’t going to work. We empty our minds of all thoughts by simply letting thoughts come and go. And not holding onto any of them. As we begin, our minds are quite full. There is a whole lot of emptying which needs to happen. But we aren’t going to force our minds to not think. That would be impossible. Don’t dwell on why your mind is so full of thoughts. Just let them go.

Let your heart be at peace. Lao Tzu seems to have the radical notion that the reason our hearts are in such turmoil is because we won’t let them be at peace. I think Lao Tzu is onto something here. A few chapters ago, I asked whether we were the masters of our minds and our hearts, or their slaves. We can be the Master. It is all in the practice of effortless action. Instead of doing, we need to simply be.

The Tao, which is the eternal reality, is at work in you. You can either choose to go with its flow, or swim against the current. It is the illusion which causes attachment to things. That is not the Way of the Tao. We need to let go.

I like to sit out in my backyard and watch the cars go by. People are in such a hurry. Going hither and thither. Always having someplace to go. There is so much turmoil. As you watch the turmoil of beings, contemplate their return. Each separate being in the Universe returns to the common Source. That is what today’s meditation is all about. Returning to the Source. That is serenity. Lao Tzu has talked before about the only path to serenity. It is in knowing where you come from. That is where you, and every being in the Universe, are returning.

But how can we return when we are stumbling about in confusion and sorrow, unaware of where we have come from and to where we are going? That is why I am listening to the sound of the bell chiming in my mind right now. That is why I empty my mind of all thoughts and let my heart be at peace. As I become aware of the Source, and realize where it is that I came from, I naturally become… Did you catch that? It is a natural process. You naturally become tolerant, disinterested, and amused. This is the kind of transformation that has been effected in my own life. I can talk about this without even the hint of boasting. Because, I know I had absolutely nothing to do with it. I just let the natural process occur. And you can too.

These are the hallmarks of someone who is immersed in the wonder of the Tao. Naturally tolerant, disinterested, amused, kindhearted as a grandmother, dignified as a king. I know where I have come from and I know where I am going. And that realization makes living in the present moment ever so easy for me. This is contentment. This is being able to deal with whatever life brings you. Yesterday, Lao Tzu called that “welcoming all things.”

We can even welcome death, when it comes. Because that is when your return to the Source is finally complete. And you are ready.

More On The Essence Of Wisdom

The ancient Masters were profound and subtle.
Their wisdom was unfathomable.
There is no way to describe it.
All we can describe is their appearance.

They were careful as someone
crossing an iced-over stream.
Alert as a warrior in enemy territory.
Courteous as a guest.
Fluid as melting ice.
Shapeable as a block of wood.
Receptive as a valley.
Clear as a glass of water.

Do you have the patience
to wait till your mud settles
and the water is clear?
Can you remain unmoving
till the right action arises by itself?

The Master doesn’t seek fulfillment.
Not seeking, not expecting.
She is present, and can welcome all things.

-Lao Tzu-
(Tao Te Ching, chapter 15, translation by Stephen Mitchell)

Yesterday, Lao Tzu used a riddle to point at what he called the essence of wisdom. Which is what it takes to be at ease in your own life. Today, he describes the appearance of the ancient Masters; to talk about their unfathomable wisdom. Today’s chapter, like the ancient Masters that Lao Tzu describes for us, is profound and subtle. Let’s see if we can get any further insight into how we can be at ease in our own lives.

In describing their appearance, Lao Tzu uses a series of metaphors, similes really. He paints pictures for us, and pictures are supposed to be worth a thousand words, so lets look at the pictures he has painted.

The first picture is of someone crossing an iced-over stream. I want you to picture this in your mind. Do you see this person? This person wants to get to other side. Needs to get to the other side. But an iced-over stream is treacherous. As this person crosses over, you can see the concern and caution etched on their face and the care with which they take each step. The ancient Masters were careful.

The second picture is of a warrior in enemy territory. Constantly on guard. Alert to any movement they might see out of the corner of their eyes. Listening intently to any sound of broken twigs. Profoundly aware of every breath, and every step, they take. How magnified they seem to be. Stealth is important. Why are my foot steps so loud? The beating of my heart?

The third picture is of a guest. In this picture, in my mind, I see a gracious host, being welcoming. But Lao Tzu doesn’t want me focusing on the host. He wants to draw my attention to the guest. Oh, the host is attending to their needs. But how is the guest behaving? Wanting to show appreciation. Demonstrating courtesy to the host for opening their home to them. Always conscious that I am an invited guest. And, I can be uninvited.

The fourth picture is of melting ice, perhaps alluding back to that iced-over stream. A picture of ice melting? Well, that is subtle. But it also shows us the fluid nature of the way things are. Left alone, it will finally cease to be ice, and be a puddle of water. Do we want ice? We can stop the melting. Or, we can let it continue.

The fifth picture is of a block of wood. Now we are really getting subtle. Here is a picture of a block of wood. What are you going to do with that? Well, you could shape it into anything you want. The uncarved block of wood is a favorite metaphor of Lao Tzu’s. It speaks of beginnings. And limitless potential.

The sixth picture is of a valley. In the picture in my mind, it is a beautiful valley surrounded by towering, snow-covered mountains. As the snow melts, streams of water run down to fill the valley and make it lush with green growth. The ancient Masters were receptive like that.

And the seventh, and last picture is of a glass of water. A glass of water? Sure, a glass of water. Nothing is as refreshing, as a nice, tall, glass of clear water with maybe a lemon wedge, and a few shavings from that melting ice over there.

Those are some profound and subtle paintings. But what do they mean? Lao Tzu wants to know if we have the patience to wait until our mud settles, and the water is clear. Can we remain unmoving until the right action arises by itself? The ancient Masters never did rush anything. And their wisdom was, to Lao Tzu, unfathomable. That is saying a lot.

If we want to be like the Masters, and I know that I do, we need to understand a little of the essence of their wisdom. The Master doesn’t seek fulfillment. Let’s put this into context. We are talking about a life of ease; that Lao Tzu tells us we won’t ever find, if we seek it on the ladder of success (refer back to the last two chapters). Don’t seek fulfillment. Don’t seek. Don’t expect. Just be present. That is the key. Just be present, and welcome all things.

A Riddle On The Essence Of Wisdom

Look, and it can’t be seen.
Listen, and it can’t be heard.
Reach, and it can’t be grasped.

Above, it isn’t bright.
Below, it isn’t dark.
Seamless, unnameable.
It returns to the realm of nothing.
Form that includes all form.
Image without an image.
Subtle, beyond all conception.

Approach it, and there is no beginning.
Follow it, and there is no end.
You can’t know it, but you can be it.
At ease in your own life.
Just realize where you come from;
this is the essence of wisdom.

-Lao Tzu-
(Tao Te Ching, chapter 14, translation by Stephen Mitchell)

Today’s chapter reads likes a riddle. Lao Tzu is really continuing what he was talking about yesterday, when he talked about the proverbial ladder of success being all an illusion, with its twin phantoms of hope and fear. I talked a lot yesterday about the phantoms. But I realize I didn’t talk very much about what the allure of the ladder is. Why do we seek out the ladder? It is because we have been led to believe that the ladder offers us a life of ease.

Lao Tzu wants us grounded in reality and living in the present moment. What that ladder offers us is illusory. That life of ease isn’t something we can know. That is what today’s riddle is all about. If you look for it, it can’t be seen. If you listen for it, it can’t be heard. If you reach for it, it can’t be grasped. That life of ease, at least the one promised to us if we will only get on that ladder, is not just illusory, it is elusive.

Once you get on that ladder, you find that above, it isn’t so bright. And below, it isn’t so dark. All that the ladder promises, where does it take us? To the realm of nothing. A life of ease is subtle, beyond all conception. As you approach it, you find it has no beginning. And when you follow it, there is no end.

If you find the riddle confounding, good. That is the kind of picture, Lao Tzu is trying to paint for us of a lifetime spent on the ladder. But don’t despair. While you can’t know it, you can be it. But being isn’t something which belongs in the phantom zone of the ladder. The ladder isn’t about being, it is about doing. And you will find that there is no end to the doing. Being is firmly in the realm of what is eternally real. The eternally real is the Tao, the Source. That is our beginning. And that is where we need to return. Lao Tzu tells us that if we want to be at ease in our own life we must realize where it is we came from. It is having faith in the way things are. That is the essence of wisdom. Being in harmony with the way things are.