Remembering My Childhood

He who stands on tiptoe,
doesn’t stand firm.
He who rushes ahead,
doesn’t go far.
He who tries to shine,
dims his own light.
He who defends himself,
can’t know who he really is.
He who has power over others,
can’t empower himself.
He who clings to his own work,
will create nothing that endures.

If you want to accord with the Tao,
just do your job, then let go.

-Lao Tzu-
(Tao Te Ching, chapter 24, translation by Stephen Mitchell)

That reference to standing on tiptoe always brings me back to my childhood. I was small for my age, growing up. And I never liked that my younger brother was taller than me. Whenever we had pictures taken together, I was always standing on tiptoe to try and look taller. I didn’t think it was natural that my younger brother was taller. So, I resorted to something unnatural to try and make me appear taller. In looking back through pictures from my childhood, it is apparent. In candid pictures, I look natural. But in posed pictures I am not.

The resistance to being natural is the point of what Lao Tzu is talking about in today’s chapter. Are you a poser, too? Are you always standing on tiptoe? Rushing ahead? Trying to outshine everybody else? Always feeling the need to defend yourself? Do you have or crave power over others? Are you clinging to your own machinations? None of that is in accord with the Tao. And, none of that is going to result in anything that endures.

To those who think they already know, yes, that used to be me, they can’t know who they really are. If you really want to empower yourself, give up your will to power. Do your job and then let go of it. Don’t cling to it. Don’t try to make a big show of it. Instead of trying to shine, let your light shine. Be content to be who and what you are. Let go of all your desires to become something you are not.

It Isn’t Time Yet To Keep Quiet

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)

Yesterday, we talked about how very easy it is to dismiss this as nothing but a whole lot of empty phrases. Lao Tzu has been talking about residing in the Tao. That to truly be yourself, you must be lived by the Tao. What he is wanting for each one of us is that we will be truly ourselves. We don’t think we are there yet. We think we can only hope to become something. Yet, Lao Tzu insists that it isn’t becoming that is the challenge. It is being. Simply being. Can we be content to simply be ourselves?

Today, he is giving us just a little bit more of how we can fully embrace just that. He tells us to express ourselves completely. We never feel like we do that, do we? We always are holding something back. Never fully expressing ourselves. But that is exactly what we must do. Then we can keep quiet and see how the Tao lives in us.

He gives us the example of the forces of nature. We need to be like the wind and blow until we are all finished blowing. We need to be like the rain, and not stop raining until it is time for the clouds to pass and let the sun shine through again.

Being willing to fully express ourselves, without holding anything back, is the beginning of everything the Tao wants to accomplish in us. That full expression of who and what we are is opening ourselves to the Tao. And that is what makes us at one with the Tao, in perfect harmony with the way things are. Having fully expressed ourselves, now we can fully embody it.

What is holding you back from fully expressing yourself? What are you afraid of? Are you hoping first to get some new insight? But you already have everything you need. Just open yourself to it. Be at one with it. Then you can use it completely.

Perhaps, you are scared of experiencing loss. But loss isn’t something we can avoid. It will happen over and over again in our lives. The only way to accept it completely is to open ourselves to it and allow ourselves to become one with it.

What are you really afraid of? Open yourself to the Tao. You can do this. And, you can trust your natural responses. No matter what you may think to the contrary. No matter what you have been told. You can trust you. And, as you do, everything will fall into place. That is what it means to be in harmony with the way things are. To go with the flow. To do what comes naturally to you. At one with the Tao.

Stop resisting.

Not Just Empty Phrases

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)

I think it is very easy to read through today’s chapter and think these are all just empty phrases. What does he mean? We are driven from early in our childhood to become something. Something that we don’t apparently think we are right now. What do you want to be when you grow up? What is going to become of you? If it isn’t our parents and family or well-meaning friends putting us under stress, we will manage to do it all by ourselves. I want to become whole. I want to become straight. I want to become full. Perhaps, what you are seeking is some kind of rebirth. Whatever it is that you want to be given, you must first give it all up.

What does Lao Tzu mean? How can I become whole by being content to be partial? How can I become straight by being content with being crooked? How can I become full if I am content to be empty? What Lao Tzu is teaching us is to let go of our ambitions. We, of course, balk at this. I don’t want to let go of my ambitions. I want to become something great. How can I become something great without ambition? It isn’t easy to let go of that ambition, is it? It is almost like dieing. Maybe it is exactly like dieing. But, if we want to be reborn that is exactly what we will need to let happen. You have to be willing to give everything up.

Bear with me now, it is going to get better, I promise. Let’s look at what Lao Tzu is getting at as he uses the example of the Master. He says that the Master resides in the Tao. Yes, we are still talking about that. That is our example. That is what Lao Tzu is instructing us to do. The Master doesn’t put himself on display, yet people see his light. He has nothing to prove, so people can trust him. He doesn’t have any goal in mind, and that is why everything he does succeeds.

And now, we may be even more confused. What does Lao Tzu mean? Well, here it is. It has to do with that residing in the Tao. What Lao Tzu is telling us is that these aren’t empty phrases. It is only in being lived by the Tao that we can truly be ourselves. So, let’s take another look at what we want to become in that light.

You want to become whole. Good. Content yourself with being partial. And let the Tao complete you. You want to become straight. Content yourself with being crooked. And let the Tao even out all that isn’t straight within you. You want to become full. Then content yourself with being empty. You will find that the Tao is everything that you need.

Yes, it is a kind of dieing. But that is what it is going to take if you are going to be reborn. You must give everything up. Reside in the Tao. Be lived by the Tao. That is how to be your true self. Please don’t dismiss this as some hokie religion. What Lao Tzu is teaching us is how everything in the Universe works. The Tao is simply the guiding and unifying principle of everything in the Universe. You let the Tao live in you by letting yourself be who you are. You resist the Tao by trying to become something other than who you are. But, it is really funny how things work out. If you give up trying to become, and are content to be, you will become so much more than what you are. That is being lived by the Tao.

You’ll Have To Look Inside Yourself To See It

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)

We have been talking a lot about letting go of, or throwing away, our ideas of how we think the world should operate. The problems we are facing are only exacerbated by clinging to them. What Lao Tzu is offering to us is being one with the Tao. Being one with the Tao, or in harmony with the way things are, is all about returning to our common Source. Or, like Lao Tzu depicted it yesterday, drinking from the great Mother’s breasts.

Stop trying to grasp this. It is ungraspable. If we are going to accomplish this, we have to let the Master serve as an example. She doesn’t cling to ideas. She doesn’t grasp. She ungrasps. She lets the dark and unfathomable Tao, illuminate her.

I am going to keep my commentary brief today. Why? Because my posts lately have been overly long; though, I hope, illuminating. There isn’t anything really new to say today. We have been saying this all along.

We need to let go and let the Tao. If that sounds a whole lot like “let go and let God” good, that means you are getting it, somewhat. Not because the Tao is God. We covered that in a much earlier chapter. What is God, but our notions of how to make sense of it all? But, the Tao predates our notions of God. The Tao is before time and space. What are time and space but our notions of the way things are? Well, the Tao is before that, too. It is beyond is and is not. What is Lao Tzu trying to say here?

That we are still resisting. We still don’t understand that our ideas of what is, and is not, are holding us back from being in harmony with the Tao. Lao Tzu knows this is true; because he looks inside himself, and sees that it is true. Dare to let go of all these notions. Dare to look inside yourself and see. Let the Tao illuminate you. What do you see?

The I And The Others

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)

Yesterday, we were talking about things that we hold dear. Ideas, concepts, that Lao Tzu says we need to throw away. I went so far as to call them sacred cows. And, I want to make clear what I think Lao Tzu is trying to get across to us. What is it that he is wanting us to throw away? Perhaps it helps to realize what it is about any of these things that we are trying to hold on to and not wanting to let go of. And, Lao Tzu gives us a very good idea of just that in today’s chapter.

He begins by saying, “Stop thinking, and end your problems.” There it is, plain and simple. It isn’t so much holiness and wisdom, or morality and justice, or industry and profit, which need to be thrown away; as it is what we think those mean. All of our problems begin with the way we are thinking. Stop thinking, and you end your problems.

For the longest of times, when I got to today’s chapter, I always found myself treating it like it was somehow separate from all the other chapters. Almost like it didn’t belong. What is Lao Tzu doing here? Is he describing some crisis of faith, or a dark night of the soul? Is he suffering from a bout of depression?

How mistaken I was in my thinking. It is becoming much clearer to me now. What Lao Tzu is doing is continuing what he has been saying all along. Every one of these chapters is simply building on the last. He has identified the central problem. Yes, it is that we have forgotten the great Tao. Our body’s intelligence, our innate ability to connect intuitively with the Tao, is in decline; or worse, is virtually non-existent. It has to do with our minds, our cleverness and knowledge; and, it has to do with the withering of our hearts, through its obsessive desires.

That is what Lao Tzu is addressing today. It is time to take a step back. Maybe get alone with yourself. And do some serious soul searching. What difference is there really between yes and no? What difference does it make whether you are thought of as a success, or as a failure? Must you value what others value and avoid what others avoid? For Lao Tzu, the answer is, “How Ridiculous!”

That is the conclusion he is leading us to arrive at. He has already said it in so many ways. If we chase after money and security our hearts will never unclench. If we care about others approval, we will always be their prisoner. We need to be content to simply be ourselves. That means not comparing or competing. The respect we crave from others, begins with respecting ourselves.

Lao Tzu is letting us in on a little secret when he starts using that personal pronoun, I. We are measuring our own self worth by looking outwardly at others. Look at him compare and contrast: Other people are excited, as though they are at a parade. I alone don’ t care, I alone am expressionless. Notice the isolation that we bring on ourselves by comparing and contrasting ourselves with others. I am alone. 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. The isolation brings on a sense of misery. We are very much alone. And, we are become idiots.

Other people are bright and sharp and have a purpose. I alone am dark and dull and don’t know. The misery of our isolation is fully expressed as we feel ourselves drifting about like a wave on the ocean; and, blowing as aimlessly as the wind.

Things seem desperate. But, it is here, and only here, that we finally find who and what we really are. We have sunken as deeply as we can. We can go no further. And, Lao Tzu says, “Vive la difference.” Yes, I am different. I may never be like the others. I may never like what they like or succeed like they succeed. But, so what? I drink from the great Mother’s breasts.

I could leave it at that. Lao Tzu certainly did. But, I want to make sure that you understand the monumental shift that happened here. Lao Tzu has already told us that the idea that we are separate is an illusion. We are not separate. We are the whole. That is the eternal reality. In comparing and contrasting the I (which is separate) from all others, Lao Tzu is highlighting how alone, isolated, and separate we are feeling. We have each of us felt this. It is a very common experience. Interesting, because we think we are so very “different” from others. But, we have all felt the very same thing.

Yet, that is all an illusion. Yes, he celebrated our differences. Vive la difference. But he did not celebrate separateness. Instead, he expressly said how we are all connected to the one reality. And, that is the great Mother. She is our common Source. Drink from the great Mother’s breasts. After drifting about like a wave on the ocean, or blowing about as aimlessly as the wind, it is nice to return to the great Mother’s breasts. That is serenity.

Time To Clean Up This Mess. Things To Throw Away

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)

Yesterday, I was comparing the shape my country is in, and I suppose the whole world falls into the same category, to facing the devastation of a tsunami. No one ever accused me of a lack of hyperbole in my writing. But I do think it is a serious matter that we have forgotten the great Tao. And, I think the consequences we are facing, and will continue to face, are much like the kind of desolation that a tsunami brings. We’ve ignored repeated warnings. I don’t think we can do much more than deal with the aftermath.

That means a whole lot of cleaning up. And as we are surveying the devastated landscape, there is going to be lots of things we will need to throw away. Lao Tzu, in today’s chapter addresses the problems of cleanup when we have been substituting so many things for the great Tao. Remember from yesterday, that we said that the Tao is natural and spontaneous. Because we have forgotten the Tao, we have substituted the unnatural and contrived. Things like goodness and piety. Cleverness and knowledge. Filial piety, and patriotism.

Those things are not just poor substitutes. What they really are, are symptoms of just how bad things have gotten. Today, Lao Tzu uses different words. Words like holiness and wisdom. Morality and justice. Industry and profit. We really hold these words as precious and dear to our hearts. They aren’t just words. They are ideas. Must we really throw them away?

Well, yes. Remember, we are cleaning up after our day of reckoning. No matter how dear, how cherished, these ideas may seem to us, they have outlived their usefulness. We may not like the idea of having to throw them all away. The cure may seem more terrible than the disease. But Lao Tzu has words of encouragement for us all.

We, as leaders, have a responsibility to the people. If we throw away holiness and wisdom, people will be a hundred times happier. That would be a start. Give people a jump start on picking up the pieces and beginning again their own pursuit of happiness.

It is time to begin trusting the people again. It was because our leaders didn’t trust the people that we got into the mess that we are in. It is time that we trust them to do the right thing. Not command that they do. That is why our tired and worn out ideas of morality and justice must go. They never really achieved their stated purpose of making the people moral and just, anyway. Throw out those ideas. And trust the people. They will do the right thing.

We all have our sacred cows. Those things we don’t want to sacrifice. Lao Tzu is certainly not pulling any punches as he lists them one by one: Holiness, wisdom, morality, justice. I may be in the minority when I admit that I have less of a problem giving those up than some of you might. But then we get to industry and profit. And the struggle is real. Oh, it is easy to get on a bandwagon when you like what you are hearing. But what happens when they start talking about your own sacred cows?

That is my dilemma. I face it every time I cycle back through to today’s chapter. But, I don’t want to allow my own misgivings to get in the way of the plain context of what Lao Tzu is telling us. Does it help that I admit I don’t know how to throw these away? The answer is it is a whole lot easier than I am making it out to be. I know they need to go. But how that plays out is something I haven’t got completely worked out in my mind. Which is intriguing to me, since I don’t feel the same necessity to explain myself with the other throwaways.

I am going to take a few steps back and then re-approach this from a different angle. The problem we have been dealing with is that we haven’t been properly understanding how the Universe works. We have been at odds with the Tao instead of in harmony with it. Because of our failure to be in harmony with the Tao, we clever humans have come up with a variety of systems to try to make sense of it all. And make it work for us through interference and manipulation. This has been a disaster. That is what Lao Tzu has been describing. The point he is making is that we need to get back to where we came from. The clever substitutes are not going to help us to do that. All they are is a hindrance. That is why they need to go. We need to throw them away.

Okay, that was better. But it still may not be enough. That is why Lao Tzu has one more thing for us to do. And this is the most important of them all. Can we do it? Can we stay at the center of the circle and let all things take their course? Or will we continue to insist on interfering and manipulating? It isn’t enough just to exchange one set of interference and manipulation for another. We need to let go of our need to control. That is both the hardest and the easiest of tasks. It is hard because we so love to be in control. It is easy because the very idea that we can be in control is all an illusion. Think about that one for today.

This Time, Let’s Not Forget The Tao

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

When the body’s intelligence decline,
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)

I saw a poll recently. I don’t usually care too much for polls. They are so easy to manipulate. And, the results don’t usually mean what we may be hoping they mean. But I did see a poll recently. And, in that poll, which I don’t have in front of me, so I am typing this from memory, bear with me; something like 60 percent of the people polled said that the number one problem in America is the government. After my blog post on yesterday’s chapter, you would think that would give me some reason to cheer. I mean, how can I doubt that at least 60 percent of the people think our government is our number one problem. I might be just a little bit frustrated that it isn’t much closer to 100 percent. And, then I have to think realistically and accept what must be true; and that is that a good number of those 60 percent are just frustrated that we just don’t have the right people in charge. I figure there are a whole lot of people that are upset over the recent takeover of the Senate by the Republicans. And, I am sure there are plenty of people that are upset because they don’t think the particular Republicans that are elected are going to do what they expect them to do. I wasn’t asked to take part in the poll. But just for the record, I think the number one problem with America is that we have a federal government. And, the number one problem with the world is that the U.S. has an imperialistic federal government.

But enough about the poll. Most people look at the situation in the world and think we are in a really bad way. Not everyone is going to agree on what exactly the problem is. But most people, at least I hope it is most people, would agree that things are not the way they should be. Much of the time I hear people complaining with words something along the lines of, “How did things get this bad? When did things get so bad? How did we go so wrong?”

I am so glad you asked. I think Lao Tzu has a lot to say about that in today’s chapter. In today’s chapter Lao Tzu identifies both the symptoms that something is wrong and why we developed the symptoms in the first place. He identifies problems within the individual, the family, and the country. And, he identifies the root of the problem.

The root of the problem is that the great Tao has been forgotten. You were wondering what our problem is? That is our problem. Lao Tzu has been devoting chapter after chapter to trying to explain what he means by the Tao. I am not going to try to explain it in one blog post. It is so much more than a few mere words can convey. For my newer followers, I would recommend looking back through my previous posts.

When the great Tao is forgotten, it is like the tip of an iceberg breaking off and falling into the ocean. Seems innocuous enough. Big splash, but not too bad. But the repercussions will be cataclysmic far, far away. Goodness and piety appear. What could be wrong with goodness and piety? Yes, seems innocuous enough. But, if there is one thing I have learned while going through the Tao Te Ching day after day, and learning about the Tao, it is that there is nothing innocuous about the way things seem or appear.

The great Tao has been forgotten! And, that has triggered a tsunami. That goodness and piety have appeared and that they seem innocuous enough, should raise all kinds of red flags for us. We need to sound the alarm. A tsunami is approaching fast. But we didn’t see the need to sound the alarm. We thought goodness and piety would suffice.

That is when the body’s intelligence declines. What does Lao Tzu mean by body’s intelligence? Does he mean we aren’t as smart as we once were? Close, but not quite. Body intelligence is our innate ability to intuitively connect with the Tao. But we have forgotten the great Tao. And soon, our body’s innate ability to intuitively know, declines.

But, just like how goodness and piety appear with the absence of the Tao, cleverness and knowledge step forth to fill in the gap created by our weakened intuition. These are more red flags. Is anyone paying any attention?

Oh, I understand. You are wondering what is really wrong with goodness and piety, cleverness and knowledge. Is it enough for you that they are poor substitutes for the real thing? The Tao is natural and spontaneous. These counterfeits are unnatural and contrived. Their appearance is a sign of real trouble ahead. But we still aren’t paying attention.

It starts with individuals. But it extends outward from there. Like that tsunami I was warning you about. Now, there is no peace in the family. Even if this tsunami stopped right here, it already has done plenty of damage. No peace in the family. Before the great Tao was forgotten, there was peace. Families looked after each other, loving and caring and nurturing. It was all natural and spontaneous. But, now that that Tao has been forgotten, there is no peace. That is why filial piety has begun. That word, piety, has already raised red flags; but now he has added the word, filial, to it. And that really spells disaster. What does filial mean? It means something done out of duty. What was once natural and spontaneous, is now unnatural and contrived. We will have the duties of parents to their children.. And, the duties of children to their parents. The duties of husbands to their wives. And don’t forget the duties of wives to their husbands. In the absence of peace in the family, you will hear a lot about duties.

Like I said, just having it affect families like that, should be enough. But it doesn’t stop there. I started out my blog post today by talking about a poll identifying the government as the number one problem in America. And, I said that most people are wondering how did things get this way. It starts out with individuals forgetting the great Tao. But the repercussions spread outward from there, far and wide. It affects families and communities. Even whole countries and the world.

And, when a country falls into chaos (wouldn’t that pretty much sum up our situation today?), patriotism is born. Yesterday, we were talking about how best to govern a country. The Master certainly never forgets the Tao. And, there is a natural and spontaneous trust that develops throughout the land. Patriotism is not natural. And, it isn’t spontaneous. It is contrived, just like the goodness and piety, the cleverness and knowledge, and the filial piety. It is contrived by people that have a will to power and the need to control. Perhaps you will love them. It is just as likely that you will fear or despise them. But by now the tsunami is doing its peak damage. Ravaging the whole countryside.

And to think, it all started with a little chunk of ice crumbling and falling into the ocean. That is the consequences of forgetting the great Tao. It perfectly describes the mess we are in today. And, the best we can hope for is that the waters will reside and we can begin the work of rebuilding the shattered lives, homes, and dreams. This time, let’s not forget the Tao.

But Can We Do Better?

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)

It is always interesting to get to today’s chapter for me. I have been going along chapter by chapter. Lao Tzu hasn’t been talking, really, about anything specifically libertarian. Before today’s chapter I think he has only mentioned once, anything about the art of governing. The purpose for me blogging is to introduce both philosophical Taoism and libertarian thinking to anyone that cares to read about it. And, while I have been a libertarian since I was introduced to the idea back in college (that would be thirty some odd years ago), I have only embraced philosophical Taoism in the last few years.

I say all that to say that I am still learning a lot about philosophical Taoism. As I have been cycling through the Tao Te Ching, I have gone from feeling like a fish out of water when discussing the many chapters dealing with the mystical Tao, to starting to really appreciate those chapters all the more. I always felt such relief when I would come to a chapter like today’s. It is like, “Now, I can talk about something I feel like I really do understand something about.”

So, what to make of today’s chapter. He begins by listing from best to worst the kinds of leaders that we might encounter as a people who are governed. Of particular interest to me is how the Master governs. I am sure that is just my over 30 years of bias toward what I understand as the ideal. It is nice, for me, that Lao Tzu feels the same. If he didn’t, I don’t think I ever would have traveled so far down this road with him. So, let’s look at this Master governing.

First of all, the people are hardly aware that he exists. He doesn’t talk, he acts. The Master doesn’t entice the people with flowery speech designed to impress, and probably deceive with the illusion of his power and authority. The Master doesn’t make a big show of himself, because it isn’t about him. He acts, but not with great pomp and circumstance. You wouldn’t spot him at photo-ops, or making the rounds of late-night talk shows. Or morning new shows or prime-time specials, for that matter. This kind of demonstrates how very far from the ideal we really are in this day and age.

The ideal is having a leader who leads by serving as an example. But he, or she, does so in such a way that you really don’t see the leader at all. What you see are the results. When his work is done the people can honestly say, “Amazing! We did it all by ourselves.”

Now, I know what you are thinking right now. This all sounds like some utopian dream. It is ridiculously idealistic. But I did say that it was the ideal. Did I not? What is wrong with a little dreaming? The question I think we should be asking ourselves is, “Do we really have to settle for anything less than this?”

I know, I know, I can’t point to even one historical example of anyone governing like this. I’d like to think that just means that my own limited knowledge of human history is, just that, limited. I certainly welcome anyone messaging me with an historical example. It would make my day. But even though I can’t. Even if it has never happened before. Does that mean it could never happen?

But, I’ll play Devil’s advocate for just a bit, and look at the alternatives. After all, Lao Tzu gives them to us. And we do have all of human history from which we could draw examples. We can all name leaders who were loved. And, plenty who were feared. And, especially those who were despised.

There have been plenty of examples of these. Perhaps we would be happy to settle for leaders that we love. They weren’t all that bad. No, enough of playing Devil’s advocate. Those leaders that are loved have been few and far between. And, I am not so sure that history isn’t painting them in a much better light than they would deserve credit for.

The bottom line is that if you don’t trust the people you make them untrustworthy. That is the only way to govern well. I don’t care how loved you are, or feared, or despised. If you don’t trust your own people, you have some serious issues that may never come to light, but they are there, nonetheless. And, we can do better. We must do better.

A Meditation To Help You Deal With Whatever Life Brings You

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,
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)

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?

Being In The Present Moment, Ready For Anything

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 you 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)

We have been talking about the essence of wisdom. In yesterday’s riddle, Lao Tzu introduced the art of subtlety. What is beyond all that we can conceive with our senses. To understand the way things are, we cannot rely on our senses, which can only tell us of being. To understand the eternally real, we must enter the realm of nothing, which is profound and subtle. And, that means understanding non-being and being work together. When we are only thinking of being we are being misled by our senses. I told you yesterday about the teas I have been drinking. They portray that subtlety that lies beyond what we can experience with our senses. In order to appreciate the teas, I can’t trust my senses to give me the complete picture. The color of the tea, the smell, the taste, they are all too subtle. But when my senses are rendered useless, I begin to appreciate a nuance that is beyond what my senses can reveal to me.

Today, Lao Tzu has another example of the profound and subtle. He refers to the ancient Masters, whose wisdom was unfathomable. He says there is no way to describe their wisdom. He can only describe their appearance. But notice, if you will, the way the profound and subtle nuance of their wisdom comes across in spite of the limitations of your senses.

In describing their appearance, Lao Tzu uses a series of metaphors, similes really. He paints pictures for us; and, because pictures are supposed to be worth a thousand words, maybe we will find he is saying a lot. What I want you to do is picture these paintings in your mind. Let your mind and your heart work together to understand what Lao Tzu is saying.

The first picture is of someone crossing an iced-over stream. Do you see this person? They want to get to the other side. They need 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, even out of the corner of their eyes. Listening intently to any sound of broken twigs. Profoundly aware of every breath, and every step, they are taking. Each breath and step are magnified in their own ears. Stealth is important. This is enemy territory. They can’t be captured. Even the sound of their own beating heart threatens to betray them.

The third picture is of a guest. In this picture, in my own mind, I see a gracious host, being welcoming. Much like my gracious host that serves me tea each week. But Lao Tzu doesn’t want me focusing on the host. He wants my attention drawn to the guest. Yes, the host is attending their needs. But how is the guest behaving? They are showing appreciation. Demonstrating courtesy to the host who has invited them. Always conscious that they are an invited guest. They can be uninvited.

The fourth picture is of melting ice. Perhaps this alludes back to that iced-over stream from the first picture. But, talk about subtlety. A picture of melting ice? What does it show us? The fluid nature of the way things are. Left alone, that ice will melt down into a puddle of water. Is it ice we want? We need to change its environment. Perhaps what we really want is a glass of water.

The fifth picture is of a block of wood. Now we are really getting subtle. Here is a block of wood. What are you going to do with that? The answer is you can 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. Are you still picturing these in your mind? In my own mind, I see 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.

The seventh and last picture is of a glass of water. I knew that ice was melting for some reason. Nothing is as refreshing as a nice, tall, glass of clear water. Perhaps with a lemon wedge, and a few shavings from that melting ice over there.

I know those were some profound and subtle paintings. But what do they really mean? Lao Tzu wants to know whether 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? That is the essence of wisdom which the ancient Masters had. If we want a life of ease, which by the way, is the point of the journey, then we need to understand a little of the essence of their wisdom. They didn’t seek fulfillment. They weren’t seeking. They weren’t expecting. They were just present. That is what all those pictures represent. Being in the present moment. And, they were ready for anything.