How to Stay in Harmony

True perfection seems imperfect,
yet it is perfectly itself.
True fullness seems empty,
yet it is fully present.

True straightness seems crooked.
True wisdom seems foolish.
True art seems artless.

The Master allows things to happen.
She shapes events as they come.
She steps out of the way
and lets the Tao speak for itself.

-Lao Tzu-
(Tao Te Ching, chapter 45, translation by Stephen Mitchell)

How to Stay in Harmony

Today’s chapter seem familiar to you? Like maybe Lao Tzu said something just like this a few chapters ago? Good, you have been paying attention. It was just a few days ago, in chapter 41, where Lao Tzu talked about how our perception of the way things are is skewed. But, there is a reason to be returning, once again, to this. And, it isn’t just that returning is the movement of the Tao. Lao Tzu wants us to remember how skewed our perception of things is. Why? Because we need to be always stopping and reevaluating, to make sure we are still in harmony with the Tao.

It is important to remember, as we reevaluate, true perfection will seem imperfect. Yet, it is still perfectly itself. True fullness will seem empty. Yet, it is always fully present. True straightness will seem crooked. True wisdom will seem like foolishness. True art will seem artless. We need to be aware of how skewed our perceptions are, and learn to trust the Tao. It doesn’t matter how imperfect something seems to be. What matters is that it is perfectly itself. It doesn’t matter if what is full seems empty. What matters is that it is fully present.

But, how do we realize when it is perfectly itself, when what is seemingly empty is fully present? Ah, that is the million dollar question.

And, here is the million dollar answer: If you are wise and virtuous, you will allow things to happen, without intervening or interfering. Allow them to happen. Don’t worry, you will be able to shape events as they come. As we have said before, doing without doing isn’t, in fact, doing nothing. There will still be work to be done. But, when you let things come and go without interfering with them, your work shaping events will “seem” effortless. Then, it will be that much easier to step out of the way, and let the Tao speak for itself.

On the Pursuit of Fulfillment and Happiness

Fame or integrity: which is more important?
Money or happiness: which is more valuable?
Success or failure: which is more destructive?

If you look to others for fulfillment,
you will never truly be fulfilled.
If your happiness depends on money,
you will never be happy with yourself.

Be content with what you have;
rejoice in the way things are.
When you realize there is nothing lacking,
the whole world belongs to you.

-Lao Tzu-
(Tao Te Ching, chapter 44, translation by Stephen Mitchell)

On the Pursuit of Fulfillment and Happiness

Today, we continue to talk about returning to being in harmony with the Tao, and remaining centered in it. Yesterday, we talked about the importance of constantly reevaluating whether our work is going with the flow of the Tao, or going against it. And, Lao Tzu, from time to time, asks us rhetorical questions designed to help us with that evaluation process. He does this in today’s chapter, in fact.

Some of these questions might seem like no-brainers. But, don’t dismiss them out of hand. We are constantly going to be running up against what “we” want. And, we need to be free from these desires. Hence the need to constantly be returning to asking ourselves these questions.

Fame or integrity: which is more important? Like I said earlier, no-brainer, right? But, wait just a doggone moment. Is it really so easy to answer? Consider this: Even though we are conditioned to think we should value integrity as the more important of the two, what are both of these choices, but looking to others for fulfillment? Both fame and integrity are a measure of what others think of you. Whether you want to be famous, or be regarded as a person of your word (a person worthy of trust), it is still about something outside of yourself. You might value one or the other as more important, but they are, actually, equally unimportant, when it comes to being truly fulfilled.

And, what about the choice between money and happiness? Which is more valuable? Because we live in a consumerist society, we wrestle with this like there is no tomorrow. Yet, we never end up living today. Chasing after money, hoping we will find happiness, is an illusion. Reality is something far different. But, we will have to free ourselves from the illusion, and that isn’t easy. It is simple. But, it isn’t easy. If your happiness depends on money, you will never be happy with yourself. We “know” this is true. We readily give mental assent to the truth of it. But, putting it into practice in our lives? Well, it takes practice.

Which leads us to the question of success and failure. Which is more destructive? Lao Tzu has talked, before, of the proverbial ladder of success (and failure). The systems we have set in place to measure how content we should be with ourselves. Back in chapter thirteen he said, “Success is as dangerous as failure… Whether you go up the ladder or down it, your position is shaky. When you stand with your two feet on the ground, you will always keep your balance.” So, once again, it doesn’t matter which one we think is more destructive, they are equally dangerous, and thus, equally destructive. We must make the choice, each and every day, to stay off the roller coaster ride, stay off the ladder, and live our lives grounded in reality, with both our feet firmly on the ground.

I know that isn’t easy. But, it really is simple. It is simple, because it is “simply” a matter of being content with what you already have, and rejoicing in the way things are. When you realize there is nothing lacking, the whole world belongs to you. Don’t even ask, “How do I do this?” Asking that question is what makes it not easy. You simply do it. It is a choice only you can make. Be content! Rejoice! Don’t wait for circumstances to be such and such, they never will be. Stop pursuing it, and happiness will catch up with you.

The Master’s Way

The gentlest thing in the world
overcomes the hardest thing in the world.
That which has no substance
enters where there is no space.
This shows the value of non-action.

Teaching without words,
performing without actions;
that is the Master’s way.

-Lao Tzu-
(Tao Te Ching, chapter 43, translation by Stephen Mitchell)

The Master’s Way

It is now time for us to put what we have been gleaning from these last few chapters into practice. We want to return to being in harmony with the Tao. So, what do we need to “do”?

Today’s chapter hearkens back to something Lao Tzu stressed back in chapter thirty-six. Picking up on the subtle perception of the way things are. There, he said, the soft overcomes the hard, and the slow overcomes the fast. Today, he reminds us, the gentlest thing in the world overcomes the hardest thing; and, that which has no substance enters where there is no space. This, he tells us, shows the value of non-action. It is the counter to my earlier question, “What do we need to “do”?

Even, now, we are still inclined to want to do something. So, Lao Tzu insists, resist that. Because I am always gaining new followers, I feel it is necessary to talk, once again, about the practice of Wei Wu Wei, doing without doing. It is, after all, the fundamental practice of philosophical Taoism.

When Lao Tzu speaks of not-doing, or the value of non-action, it is often presumed he means to do nothing. And, that is a good starting point. After all, doesn’t he teach us that the Tao does nothing, and the Master does nothing.? But Wei Wu Wei is much more than doing nothing. For one thing, nothing is left not done. And, that is significant. Wei Wu Wei is the antithesis to always doing things and still leaving many more to be done. Wei Wu Wei can be translated many ways, but it can most simply be translated “doing without doing”. We tend to want to delve into the “doing”, and leave the “without doing” to work itself out. Lao Tzu would challenge us to focus on the “without doing”, and find to our utter joy, the “doing” works itself out.

But that doesn’t mean to do nothing. There is work to be done. The “without doing” means we aren’t relying on our “doing” to get things done. Say, there is some problem which you perceive needs a solution. Understand, the gentlest thing in the world overcomes the hardest thing in the world. Be soft. Be gentle. Don’t use force. Don’t coerce. Don’t try to control. Instead, take a moment to pick up on the flow of the Tao. Nature, itself. See in what direction it is going; and, go with it, rather than going against it. Instead of intervening, and interfering, go with the flow. Let nature run its course. Don’t try to hurry it up, or slow it down. Say, you perceive the ebb and flow of the Tao, and you think you are in tune with its natural rhythm, so you begin to work. Good. Now, be sure to take breaks from your work to reevaluate. This may be a shock to some, but the whole Universe isn’t dependent on your work. Problems have a way of working themselves out, naturally, given time, if we didn’t interfere with them. So, don’t be so insistent that you have to be involved. Stop from time to time. Take a step back. Make sure that the Tao is still flowing in the same direction. Remember, the way of the Tao is yielding. So, you too, need to practice yielding. The Tao’s movement is turning back. So, don’t be surprised, when it does just that.

Lao Tzu sums up the practice in the second stanza of today’s chapter. Teach without using words. Perform without actions. That is the Master’s way.

 

The Mystery We Will Yet Realize

The Tao gives birth to One.
One gives birth to Two.
Two gives birth to Three.
Three gives birth to all things.

All things have their backs to the female
and stand facing the male.
When male and female combine,
all things achieve harmony.

Ordinary men hate solitude.
But the Master makes use of it,
embracing his aloneness, realizing
he is one with the whole universe.

-Lao Tzu-
(Tao Te Ching, chapter 42, translation by Stephen Mitchell)

The Mystery We Will Yet Realize

Just when we thought things wouldn’t get any more mysterious, we find ourselves at today’s chapter. But, don’t let this mystery confound you. Lao Tzu has told us enough in the preceding chapters to interpret the mystery in today’s chapter.

We have been talking about returning to being in harmony with the Tao. And Lao Tzu, just a couple of chapters ago said that being is born of non-being. That is more helpful, than we may, at first, realize.

For the longest of times, I let the mystery of the one, the two, and the three confound me. I insisted on thinking there was some esoteric meaning to this mystery, and while I would take stabs at trying to understand it, I would always feel like there was something missing in my understanding.

We know being in harmony gives birth to all things. That is our key to understanding today’s chapter.

When Lao Tzu says the Tao gives birth to One. He is going back to the origin of the Tao. He could have just as well said, “The Tao gives birth to Itself.” This is where Non-being originates. Non-being gives birth to Being. Now the One becomes Two. Non-being and Being, Yin and Yang. So far, so good. You may or may not agree with my interpretation, but you should be able to see how I arrived at this interpretation. It is in harmony with everything Lao Tzu has said up until today’s chapter. But what is the third, the Three?

To understand the Three, it helps to know something of Chinese philosophy. Non-being and Being, Yin and Yang, do not act alone. They require a Catalyst, a third, to set things in motion. I believe this is referring to Chi. In ancient Chinese philosophy Chi is a third aspect of the Tao. It is the life force that flows through all things. If Chi is the third, or the Three, then the Tao is complete, and can complete all things. It is the Three which gives birth to all things.

It is in the second stanza that things really start to get interesting. It begins with the “all things” with which we ended the first stanza. I have never seen it this way before. What Lao Tzu is describing is our present condition. Generations of discord. Out of harmony with the Tao. All things have their backs to the female and stand facing the male. We have turned our backs on “yin” and are at odds with “yang”. If we are to return to harmony, male and female must combine. Turn around. That is the movement of the Tao.

Now, we are to the third stanza, where Lao Tzu says, “Ordinary people hate solitude.” You will recall that it wasn’t but a few chapters ago, where Lao Tzu was talking about the ordinary. And, I said then, “You don’t have to be ordinary.” The ordinary hate solitude. But those who are wise and virtuous understand how to make use of it. Knowing that the Tao started off alone, and from it springs all things, the wise and virtuous embrace aloneness, realizing they are one with the whole universe.

Well, that will have to suffice for today. I know, I know; it is heavy on the mystery. But this is the mystery we want to realize, and we will yet realize, once we are free from desire.

The Way Things Seem to Be and the Way Things Are

When a superior man hears of the Tao,
he immediately begins to embody it.
When an average man hears of the Tao,
he half believes it, half doubts it.
When a foolish man hears of the Tao,
he laughs out loud.
If he didn’t laugh,
it wouldn’t be the Tao.

Thus it is said:
The path into the light seems dark,
the path forward seems to go back,
the direct path seems long,
true power seems weak,
true purity seems tarnished,
true steadfastness seems changeable,
true clarity seems obscure,
the greatest art seems unsophisticated,
the greatest love seems indifferent,
the greatest wisdom seems childish.

The Tao is nowhere to be found.
Yet it nourishes and completes all things.

-Lao Tzu-
(Tao Te Ching, chapter 41, translation by Stephen Mitchell)

The Way Things Seem to Be and the Way They Truly Are

I said it was all very simple, yesterday. We need to turn back with the Tao. We need to practice the way of yielding. We know we want to be in harmony with the Tao, because all things are born of being. But, this “being” is born of non-being. I said it is simple. But, that doesn’t mean it is easy.

It isn’t easy because our perception of the way things are is skewed. This is something of which I am constantly reminding myself. And, when opportunity allows it, I tell others, too. Your perception of reality is not reality. Our perceptions are limited to the things we can see, hear, smell, taste, and touch. But reality transcends what we can perceive with our senses. Sometimes we simply can’t trust what we perceive with our senses.

Hence, the importance of today’s chapter.

What happens when we hear of the Tao? Oh, to the extent it agrees with what we perceive of the world around us, we might readily believe it. But, then there are those nagging doubts, considering the way things seem to be, when they don’t line up with it.

It takes a superior person, Lao Tzu insists, a wise and virtuous person, to hear of the Tao, and immediately begin to embody it. Most of us, conditioned by years of perceiving the way things seem to be, only half believe it, and half doubt it. Don’t beat yourself up over this, I fell into this category, too. It has taken me longer than I care to admit to fully embrace it, let alone embody it. And, while Lao Tzu calls out the fool for laughing out loud when they hear of the Tao, that response does serve a certain purpose. It wouldn’t be the Tao, if they didn’t laugh.

We have been enjoined to turn back, to return to harmony with the Tao. And, yielding is the way.

What follows is what is said regarding the way things are. But, pay special attention to that word “seems”, because it is our perception of the way things are, which is the problem.

We are on the path into the light. “But, it seems dark.” So? Of course, it is dark. You expected it to be light? We are on a journey into the light. If it was light already, the journey would already be at its conclusion. Keep walking.

“But, the path forward seems to go back.” Well, of course, it seems to go back. The Tao’s movement is one of turning back. Stay on the path.

“Yeah, but, the direct path seems long.” Wait a minute. First, you were complaining that it seemed to turn back. Now, you are complaining that it is taking too long? You sound like a child asking if we are there yet, when we just got started. Follow the Tao, wherever it leads.

My friends, true power will seem weak, true purity will seem tarnished, true steadfastness will seem changeable, true clarity will seem obscure; because, your perceptions of power, and purity, and steadfastness, and clarity, all need to be overhauled. The way we have been doing things for, oh, so very long now, has got to change. We can’t continue to look at things the way we have been. Our perceptions are skewed. We can’t trust them.

I am just going to come out and say it. The greatest art is unsophisticated. The greatest love is indifferent. The greatest wisdom is childish. Our problem is that we think there is something wrong with the unsophisticated, the indifferent, the childish. They don’t meet our expectations. Our expectations are that art should be sophisticated, that love should show the “proper” concern and care, that wisdom be filled with gravitas. But, what if we are wrong? What if our perceptions of things, and our expectations for things, have always been wrong?

The fool laughs out loud. Why? Because the Tao is nowhere to be found. We are so busy looking for it in all the wrong places. Why can’t we find it? It is nowhere to be found; yet, it nourishes and completes all things. You can, of course, go on half believing and half doubting. But, I think better things of you. I think you are going to immediately begin to embody it.

Time to Turn Back, Yielding is the Way

Return is the movement of the Tao.
Yielding is the way of the Tao.

All things are born of being.
Being is born of non-being.

-Lao Tzu-
(Tao Te Ching, chapter 40, translation by Stephen Mitchell)

Time to Turn Back, Yielding is the Way

I think we are all in agreement now. Generations of discord with the Tao have resulted in chaos in our world. It is time to return to harmony with the Tao. How are we to accomplish this? Today’s short chapter helps us out; quite a bit, I think.

Since we need to return, isn’t it interesting that return is the movement of the Tao? It is like the Tao has been anticipating this very present moment in time. So, let’s begin by understanding what Lao Tzu means by returning. He means turning back. For us, that means no longer going the direction we have been going, in our own willful way. Doing things the way we have always done them is what has gotten us into this chaos we are in. It is time to turn back to the Tao. And, that is exactly the movement of the Tao. Already, we are moving with the Tao. Just this simple act of turning back puts us more in tune with the Tao than we have been for a very long time.

That was simple. But, was it too simple? Now, what remains requires the humility Lao Tzu has been talking about. For the way of the Tao is constant yielding. If we are going to be in harmony with the Tao we must know how to yield, along with the Tao. We must nurture an unawareness of our own greatness. We must be humble. We have to know that we don’t know. Then, we will yield with the Tao.

I know, I know, this all seems too simple. But, Lao Tzu explains it to us in a very mysterious way, today. All things are born of being. Think of being in harmony. We talked about all that occurs when we are being in harmony, yesterday. But where does being originate? Being is born of non-being. There it is. The mystery. This is why we must know when to stop, when to yield.

Lao Tzu ends today’s chapter, there. And, while I hate to leave you hanging, I have to know when to stop. In the next few chapters, Lao Tzu will explain it all more fully.

Harmony or Discord?

In harmony with the Tao,
the sky is clear and spacious,
the earth is solid and full,
all creatures flourish together,
content with the way they are,
endlessly repeating themselves,
endlessly renewed.

When man interferes with the Tao,
the sky becomes filthy,
the earth becomes depleted,
the equilibrium crumbles,
creatures become extinct.

The Master views the parts with compassion,
because he understands the whole.
His constant practice is humility.
He doesn’t glitter like a jewel
but lets himself be shaped by the Tao,
as rugged and common as a stone.

-Lao Tzu-
(Tao Te Ching, chapter 39, translation by Stephen Mitchell)

Harmony or Discord?

In yesterday’s chapter, Lao Tzu diagnosed our problem for us. The Tao has been lost, or forgotten. We have substituted various things for the lost Tao. Kindness, justice, goodness, morality. But all these things have failed. All we are left with is an empty husk, ritual. Now, we have chaos. Lao Tzu began, yesterday, to prescribe for us a solution. But, before he can continue with that, he wants to make sure we understand the diagnosis. I am reminded of an earlier chapter, where Lao Tzu told us the importance of knowing when to stop, to avoid any danger. Names and forms are only provisional. There are institutions whose functions should end. Given the chaos in the political realm, people are beginning to realize the time is now.

It is time to remember the Tao.

There was a time, when we were in harmony with the Tao. The sky was clear and spacious. The Earth was solid and full. All creatures flourished together, content with the way things are, endlessly repeating themselves, endlessly renewed.

But, we have long interfered with the Tao. The sky has become filthy. The Earth has become depleted. The equilibrium has crumbled. Creatures are becoming extinct.

We are going to have to stop interfering. This is the only way to return to harmony, to equilibrium. To be wise and virtuous is to understand the whole. Then, you can view the parts with compassion. To be wise and virtuous is to constantly practice humility. No, you don’t have to intervene, to interfere, to try to dominate, to try to control, to try to force outcomes.

This humility is important. It is tempting to think we know, when we don’t know. The Tao doesn’t need you to do anything. Remember, those who are always doing something, always leave plenty of things not done. But, if we are wise and virtuous, we will, like the Tao, do nothing; leaving nothing undone. Don’t try to glitter like a jewel. Your constant practice must be humility. Humility is a state of unawareness. Even the Tao isn’t aware of its greatness. Just let yourself be shaped by the Tao. Into something rugged, and common, as a stone. Of what is a stone aware? Is it aware it is a stone? Is it aware of its greatness? No! And, we shouldn’t be, either.

You Don’t Have to Be Ordinary

The Master doesn’t try to be powerful;
thus he is truly powerful.
The ordinary man keeps reaching for power;
thus he never has enough.

The Master does nothing,
yet he leaves nothing undone.
The ordinary man is always doing things,
yet many more are left to be done.

The kind man does something,
yet something remains undone.
The just man does something,
and leaves many things to be done.
The moral man does something,
and when no one responds
he rolls up his sleeves and uses force.

When the Tao is lost, there is goodness.
When goodness is lost, there is morality.
When morality is lost, there is ritual.
Ritual is the husk of true faith,
the beginning of chaos.

Therefore the Master concerns himself
with the depths and not the surface,
with the fruit and not the flower.
He has no will of his own.
He dwells in reality,
and lets all illusions go.

-Lao Tzu-
(Tao Te Ching, chapter 38, translation by Stephen Mitchell)

You Don’t Have to Be Ordinary

Everything Lao Tzu has been saying, in the last few chapters, comes to a head in today’s chapter.

If we are wise and virtuous (like the Master Lao Tzu invokes as our example throughout the Tao Te Ching), we won’t try to be powerful. As long as we remain merely ordinary, we will always be reaching for more and more power, and never have enough. This is the downfall of the so-called powerful men and women in our midst. And, my friends, it is our downfall as well. The Master gets it! We already have everything we need. All the power is already at our disposal. It only remains for us to tap into it. But, you can never tap into it by trying to be powerful.

If we are wise and virtuous, we will be like the Tao, and do nothing; yet, leaving nothing undone. This is doing without doing, Wei Wu Wei, effortless action, going with the flow of nature, rather than working against it. Watch how ordinary persons intervene, interfere, try to dominate, try to control, try to force outcomes. The ordinary person is always doing something. They just can’t help themselves! Yet, the more they do, the more they leave to be done.

You are probably familiar with a very old meme. This was a meme before there was such a thing as a meme. “It is hard to soar with the eagles, when you work with a bunch of turkeys.” We have a whole lot of would-be eagles in our midst. And, they are always ready to blame “the turkeys” around them for thwarting their good intentions. Some of these “eagles” are kind. They do something, and something remains to be done. Some of the “eagles” are just. They do something, and leave many things to be done. And, some of the “eagles” are moral. God save us from the moral ones! For when they do something, and none of us “turkeys” respond, they roll up their sleeves and use force.

It always ends with force being applied. Why? Because no one trusts the Tao. The Tao is forgotten, lost. So, we rely on goodness. And when goodness doesn’t work, or is lost, we rely on morality. When morality fails to accomplish what we want, or is lost, we fall back on ritual. But, ritual is only the husk of true faith. It is the beginning of chaos.

Friends, this is the history of of our world, in one short paragraph. Not relying on the Tao, we rely on our inherent goodness. But that will never be enough to please those with the will to power. They will intimidate us with their system of morality, since we aren’t good enough without their rules. But, those rules are only so effective. There is still so much left to do. And people just don’t respond like they should. They will insist we are immoral, when what we really are is amoral. We simply don’t respond to, because we don’t subscribe to, their version of morality. It devolves in a downward spiral until all we have left is ritual. Why do we do things the way we do them? No one really remembers. It is just the way we have always done them. This is the State-created chaos that we find ourselves in today.

What is to be done? How do we break free of this downward spiral which has us in chaos?

I am glad you asked. Those who are wise and virtuous have something to show us, if we care to look and to listen.

Don’t be concerned with the surface. Concern yourself with the depths. Don’t be concerned with the flower. Concern yourself with the fruit. Let go of all illusions, your own will, and dwell in reality.

We will have plenty more to say about this. For today, I just think it is important for us to chew on this for awhile. Your own will is an illusion. Your perception of the way things are is an illusion. Reality is something very different. But we have to let go of all our illusions in order to dwell in reality. Most of us will never let go of our illusions. We are held captive by our desires. But, you, my friends, don’t have to be ordinary.

On the Inverse Relationship Between Peace and Desire

The Tao never does anything,
yet through it all things are done.

If powerful men and women
could center themselves in it,
the whole world would be transformed
by itself, in its natural rhythms.
People would be content
with their simple, everyday lives,
in harmony, and free of desire.

When there is no desire,
all things are at peace.

-Lao Tzu-
(Tao Te Ching, chapter 37, translation by Stephen Mitchell)

On the Inverse Relationship Between Peace and Desire

I think we are beginning to understand. We are beginning to realize the subtle perception of the way things are, how the Tao works in our Universe. Lao Tzu left off in yesterday’s chapter by telling us to let our workings remain a mystery. To just show people the results. That is actually how the Tao works in our Universe. Its workings are a mystery. But, it does get results. And, if we will let it, it will get results in us, too.

The Tao’s workings are a mystery! It never does anything. Let that sink in. It is the key to everything. It never does anything. Yet, through it, all things are done. Where we mess up our lives is in thinking we have to do something. How can we ever expect anything to be done, if we do nothing? It has been drummed into us since we were children. We scorn those who, we think, have a sense of entitlement, like they are owed something for nothing. And, we chastise them. Please don’t misunderstand me, here. Lao Tzu isn’t suggesting there isn’t work to be done. Over and over again he has told us to do our work. So, there is work to be done. But, he always adds, “then step back” or “then stop”. He doesn’t want us clinging to our work. He doesn’t want us thinking that everything depends upon our workings. That is why we should let our workings remain a mystery. We can be too proud of it. Don’t try to shine your own light. You will only dim it.

This is the very thing that trips up the powerful men and women of this age, and every age. If only they could center themselves in the Tao! Sound familiar? It wasn’t but a few chapters back where Lao Tzu was talking about their inability to remain centered. Now, he says it isn’t even possible for them to be centered in the first place.

Oh, it would be wonderful if they could. The whole world would be transformed by itself, in its natural rhythms. People would be content with their simple, everyday lives, in harmony, and free of desire.

But, notice, Lao Tzu didn’t say the whole world would be transformed by the good works that the powerful accomplish. It would be transformed by itself, naturally. What is needed is that powerful men and women get out of the way of the Tao. It is their interference that is the problem. They never can center themselves in the Tao, and remain centered, because they can’t abide having their workings remain a mystery. They want to shine a light on themselves. Toot their own horn. Draw attention to themselves. And aggravate problems which would naturally work themselves out, if only they left it alone.

One of my favorite quotes of the most quotable, Henry David Thoreau, is one which constantly comes to my mind as I think on our government’s heavy hand with regard to the economy. “…this government never of itself furthered any enterprise, but by the alacrity with which it got out of its way.”

Thoreau got it. But, the powerful among us refuse to. They won’t forgo their will to power. They have to be in control.

But, before this devolves into just another rant about the powerful among us, let me bring this all back to what we have been talking about regarding ourselves.

Who are the powerful, but people just like ourselves? We may not have the power over others that they do, but we have the same natural proclivities to want to hold onto what little power, what little control, we have over our own lives. It is those pesky desires, which Lao Tzu has been warning us about since chapter one. Why do we worry? Why do we fret? Why are we not content? It is because we are thinking of the self as self. We don’t see the world as self. In other words, we don’t see our connection to the world around us. We see ourselves as separate, and alone. If we saw how all beings are connected together, we would leave all things to the Tao. But, we see the world as a dangerous place. We are scared of it. Just look at all the scary things going on in the world. So, we won’t leave it to the Tao. No, we insist on doing all the work, ourselves. This is our desire at work.

But, when there is no desire, all things are at peace. You were looking for a panacea. And, there it is. Let go of all desire. Let it go. Trust the Tao. “But, it does nothing!” Yes, but through it, all things are done. I think it is time we start being honest with ourselves. We don’t really want there to be peace. That is the problem. We like the turmoil. In our own sick way, we thrive on it. Look at the attention we get. Being content with your simple, everyday life, in harmony, and free of desire, is boring.

Fine! But, I prefer boring.

Let It Remain a Mystery

If you want to shrink something,
you must first allow it to expand.
If you want to get rid of something,
you must first allow it to flourish.
If you want to take something,
you must first allow it to be given.
This is called the subtle perception
of the way things are.

The soft overcomes the hard.
The slow overcomes the fast.
Let your workings remain a mystery.
Just show people the results.

-Lao Tzu-
(Tao Te Ching, chapter 36, translation by Stephen Mitchell)

Let It Remain a Mystery

That wasn’t nice of me, at all, yesterday. I feel like I left my friend in the lurch. To say, “It is inexhaustible; just put it to use.” And, then to say, “We will expand on this, tomorrow.” However, in my defense, that was where Lao Tzu left off in yesterday’s chapter. I couldn’t very well skip ahead to today’s chapter, until today.

But, today has arrived. And, I think Lao Tzu is much more clear, today.

We have been talking about perceiving the universal harmony, finding peace in your own heart, in spite of your outward circumstances, even amid great pain. Today, Lao Tzu calls it the subtle perception of the way things are.

We all have our own personal set of problem circumstances. My friend wants to let go of his worrying. But, regardless of what yours is, we are wanting a solution. How do we do it? How do we use the Tao to overcome our “natural” proclivities?

If you want to shrink something, you must first allow it to expand. If you want to get rid of something, you must first allow it to flourish. If you want to take something, you must first allow it to be given. These words aren’t just for my friend, though they are for him; they are for all of us, including me.

Letting go of our desire to be in control. It has to begin there. Realizing the subtle perception of the way things are, how the Tao works in our Universe. The soft overcomes the hard. The slow overcomes the fast.

Are we getting the message? Let your workings remain a mystery. Just show people the results.

Am I really going to stop here? Well, once again, this is where Lao Tzu leaves off for today. Still, tomorrow, he will take it back up, exactly where he has left off. And, so shall we.