Laughing Is Good Medicine

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 defines himself
can’t know who he really is.
He who has power over others
can’t empower himself.
He who clings to his 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)

Yesterday, we talked about opening ourselves to the Tao, to insight, and to loss. Then, to trust our natural responses. We will find ourselves embodying the Tao completely, using insight completely, and accepting loss completely. And, everything will fall into place. Because I have been battling a sinus infection, I haven’t been at the top of my game on these commentaries. While I have no regrets about the time I spent on opening yourself to loss yesterday, I know I didn’t spend as much time, as I would have liked, on being like the forces of nature, and trusting our natural responses. But, since Lao Tzu tends to go from yin to yang with each successive chapter, and he was talking about being natural yesterday, today he contrasts that with all the unnatural ways we can be. This should give me an opportunity to make up for what was lacking in yesterday’s post.

Doing what comes naturally, seems so natural. Why is it, we have such a difficult time with this? I don’t know about you, but I tend to look back on the unnatural ways I have tried to be, and laugh at myself. Hey, laughing sure beats crying. And regret is almost never useful. But laughing? That is good medicine.

I know I have told this story before, but every time I come back around to this chapter, where Lao Tzu talks about standing on tiptoe, I find myself laughing, again, at myself. Growing up, that is an oxymoron for anyone of you reading this, who knew me as a child. I was the oldest of three children in my family. But, I was quite small for my age, and a late bloomer. I was never very happy with my short stature; and, what made it worse was my baby brother was taller than me. There wasn’t a whole lot I could do about the situation. But, I did try my share of unnatural ways to overcome being my natural self. For instance, when it was time for family portraits, and I was standing with my brother and sister, I would stand on tiptoe to try and convince posterity (I suppose) I was taller than him. The resulting pictures show just how unnatural I was being. When you stand on tiptoe, you won’t stand firm.

And, the same is true for when I tried to rush ahead, or tried to outshine everybody else, or tried to define myself, or tried to have power over others, or clung to my work. Been there, done that, sums up my life pretty succinctly. And, I laugh now. But, it wasn’t funny then.

But, like I said, this isn’t about regrets. So, I won’t lament that I didn’t go as far as I could have, or that I dimmed my own light, or that I couldn’t know who I really was, or that I wasn’t empowering myself, or that I created nothing that endured. Except for those ridiculous pictures!

Instead, I am going to go on laughing at myself. And, I invite you to laugh along with me. If you want to accord with the Tao, let there be no regrets. Just do your job, then let go.

That is enough for today. Tomorrow, we will learn how the Tao got its name.

On Opening Ourselves, to the Tao, to Insight, and to Loss

Express yourself completely.
Then keep quiet.
Be like the forces of nature:
When it 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 you 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 the course that all things take. We have been sitting, here, in the center of the circle, with the express purpose of letting all things take their course. And, Lao Tzu reminds us, with today’s chapter, this is a natural course. What we are becoming, we are becoming naturally. We will learn to observe the world, but trust our inner vision. We will observe the turmoil of all beings, but contemplate their return to the source. The reason we don’t trust the Tao is because we don’t trust ourselves. Yesterday, Lao Tzu said the way to become is to let ourselves be. Today, he tells us to be ourselves completely. Don’t stop expressing yourself, until you have truly reached the end. Then, it will be time to keep quiet.

To help us to understand how to express ourselves completely, Lao Tzu enjoins us to be like the forces of nature. Every force of nature has a beginning, a middle, and an end. Whether we are talking about the wind blowing, or the rain coming down, they express themselves completely, before the clouds pass, and the sun shines through again.

You can’t open yourself to the Tao, until you have expressed yourself completely. As long as there is still something that remains, you simply can’t be open to the Tao. You have to be empty. But an empty vessel is ready to be filled. Open yourself, then, to the Tao, and you are, at once, at one with the Tao. You can embody it completely.

The process is the same, when it is insight we need. First empty yourself. What keeps us from gaining insight is how full of our own knowledge and cleverness we are. We need to be empty, to be filled. Go ahead, express yourself completely. Get it all out. Then open yourself to insight. You will become at one with insight, and you can use it completely.

I really don’t want to step on any toes here; but a whole lot of us don’t know how to accept loss. I have friends and family who have experienced loss; but they haven’t been able to come to terms with their loss. I am writing this on Mother’s Day, while thinking of my own mother, obviously. But, also, I am thinking of friends and family who have experienced the loss of their own mothers, too. Or, maybe it isn’t a mother. Maybe it is a father, a sister, a brother, a child. Losses are just what they are, losses. And, losses are part of the human condition. We establish a bond of love. And when that loved one is gone, you realize no amount of time spent with them, could ever have been enough.

Because loss is so very much a part of being human, Lao Tzu understands that we need to learn how to accept loss completely. If you are one of those reading this, who have experienced a profound loss, I want you to know my thoughts are with you, right now. I empathize with you, for I have experienced loss, as well. It seems to me that we have this tendency to want to rush through the grieving process. “When will I be able to move on?” We convince ourselves that we should already be over this.

Lao Tzu has some sound advice for us. Much like with opening ourselves to the Tao and opening ourselves to insight, we need to open ourselves to loss. And, believe me, I understand if you are reluctant to do this. But, it really is the one way to serenity. First, you really have to allow yourself to grieve. Fully grieve. You need to empty yourself. But that means expressing yourself completely. Do not hold back anything. Get it all out. No, this isn’t going to diminish your loss. But, it will allow you to open yourself to it, and to become at one with it. Then, you can accept it completely.

I am grieving with you right now. And I won’t stop grieving with you, until you have completed the process. For my followers, who would like to message me, I am here for you.

This chapter’s commentary went in a very different direction than I expected. But, I have learned, when I open myself to the Tao, I can trust my natural responses. And, everything falls into place.

Tomorrow, Lao Tzu will contrast our natural responses with the unnatural things we do. If we want to accord with the Tao, consider these to be a list of ways to be, to avoid.

The Course All Things Take

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 be truly yourself.

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

For the last couple of chapters, Lao Tzu has been sitting with us in the darkness, staying in the center of the circle, while letting all things take their course. In today’s chapter, Lao Tzu reminds us exactly what he means by the course all things take.

I hope you have been reading along with me for the last few chapters. In chapter sixteen, Lao Tzu talked about this course all beings are on. Each separate being in the universe returns to the common source. Returning to the source is serenity.

That is why we are sitting here in the darkness, drinking from the Great Mother’s breasts. The Great Mother, the Tao, is our common source. The reason we are here is so there will be no more stumbling in confusion and sorrow. Residing here, in the center of the circle, we will let all things take their course. And where does our course lead us? We will naturally become tolerant, disinterested, amused, kind-hearted as a grandmother, dignified as a king. We are being immersed in the wonder of the Tao.

Something we have no doubt noticed, alone in the darkness, is what a long way we still have to go. Lao Tzu said the answers are inside of us. We need to continue to stay here. And look inside ourselves for the answers.

If I want to become whole, I must let myself be partial. If I want to become straight, I must let myself be crooked. If I want to become full, I must let myself be empty. If I want to be reborn, I must let myself die.

Wait a minute, I don’t know whether I intended to sign up for that last one. Yet, it does make sense. If I want to be given everything, I must be willing to give everything up.

Here, Lao Tzu is the Master that sets an example for all beings, by residing in the Tao. He doesn’t display himself, so people can see his light. He has nothing to prove, so people can trust his words. He doesn’t even know who he is, so people can recognize themselves in him. And, because he has no goal in mind, everything he does succeeds.

This is all something Lao Tzu learned from the ancient Masters. And, they aren’t empty phrases. If you want to become your true self, you must be lived by the Tao.

I am keeping it short today. I have a sinus infection and am not my usual chipper self. Tomorrow, we will still be here, sitting alone in the darkness. Lao Tzu will tell us how to open ourselves to the Tao.

Don’t Cling To Ideas

The Master keeps her mind
always at one with the Tao.
That is what gives her 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)

When we left off yesterday, Lao Tzu was sitting at, and drinking from, the Great Mother’s breasts. That might sound like an enviable position to be in; but, of course, Lao Tzu chronicled the horrible darkness, and aloneness he experienced, and we all experience, as we stay in the center of the circle, and let all things take their course. We still have questions. And Lao Tzu has answers, though the answers are only partial. We are going to have to spend a few days here, drinking from the Great Mother’s breasts, and learning how to be at one with the Tao.

Lao Tzu begins today’s chapter by saying that wise and virtuous persons keep their minds always at one with the Tao. After all this darkness, that is what gives them their radiance.

Now, hold on there. The Tao is ungraspable. How can our minds be at one with it?

Lao Tzu tells us what is required of us. Don’t cling to ideas. Don’t be so quick to reach for those crutches, again. We can’t rely on our knowledge and cleverness, our own ideas of how things should be.

Okay, but what about that part about making us radiant? The Tao is dark and unfathomable. We have just endured unfathomable darkness. How is that going to make us radiant?

Oh, but see how you are still clinging to ideas? The Tao can make you radiant, if only you will let it.

My friends, I will readily admit it isn’t easy to comprehend the infinite and eternal, when all we have for a framework for understanding is the finite and temporal. That is why these answers will only seem partial to us.

Since before time and space were, the Tao is. No, let me amend that. It is beyond is and is not.

See what we are up against? Here we are, drinking from the Great Mother’s breasts, and we still don’t seem any closer to realizing the Source.

Lao Tzu gets it. That is why, one last time, Lao Tzu returns to the first person. “How do I know this is true? I look inside myself and see.

There it is!

The answers are inside each and every one of us. In the core of our being. And, that means it is time for me to return to my happy place, outside in my backyard. I still have a lot of contemplating to do. Tomorrow, we will learn how to let ourselves be, to become our true selves.

Being Alone, With Mother

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 were at a parade.
I alone don’t care.
I alone am expressionless.
Like an infant before it can smile.

Other people have what they need.
I alone possess nothing.
I alone drift about.
Like someone without a home.
I am like an idiot, my mind is so empty.

Other people are bright.
I alone am dark.
Other people are sharp.
I alone am dull.
Other people have a purpose.
I alone don’t know.
I drift like a wave on the ocean.
I blow as aimless as the wind.

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

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

Well, yesterday, I did promise you that today’s chapter was going to be a dark and deeply personal one. You can’t say, “I didn’t warn you.” It is also, I have gathered, one of the most misunderstood chapters in the Tao Te Ching. Some time ago, I was doing a bit of research on this chapter, and encountered one translator’s opinion of it. “One of the most pathetic expressions of human loneliness, from lack of appreciation, ever written.” I had to write that one down, though I don’t recall the name of Lao Tzu’s antagonistic translator. When I read it, I thought, “Really? This from a translator of the work?” I mean, don’t we all understand the importance of context when interpreting texts? And, make no mistake, here, my friends. Context is so very important. That is why I try to preview the coming chapter at the conclusion of each chapter’s commentary; and, I usually find myself talking about what Lao Tzu has said before, at the beginning of my commentaries. I don’t recommend reading these chapters (or my commentaries) in isolation from the rest of what Lao Tzu has been saying. Still, I can understand why this chapter is so easily misunderstood.

It does have a very unique feel to it. Very dark. And, very personal. I counted twelve different times the personal pronoun, I, is used. And, Lao Tzu seems to be doing a whole lot of comparing himself to others. That is something he has told us all not to do. So, what is up? Is Lao Tzu suffering from depression? A dark night of the soul?

Enough of that speculation! The only way to understand this properly is to see it in its proper context.

What has Lao Tzu been talking about?

He has been talking about the turmoil of beings, stumbling about in confusion and sorrow. We don’t realize our Source. The great Tao has been forgotten. We think of ourselves as separate from the world around us, instead of seeing how connected we all are. We have replaced our intuitive and spontaneous connection with the Tao, with crutches, which far from helping us, are only serving to spin us further and further out of control. In yesterday’s chapter Lao Tzu told us it was time to do some spring cleaning. Throw away those crutches! And, don’t replace them with other crutches. No, we need to learn how to rely, again, on the Tao. And, the only way to relearn is to jump right in and start to do it. Stay in the center of the circle, and let all things take their course.

That is what has brought us to today’s chapter. Where Lao Tzu opens with “Stop thinking, and end your problems.” Yes, we have problems a plenty. And thinking isn’t solving any of them. Thinking, relying on our own knowledge and cleverness, is one of those crutches we need to throw away.

What difference is there between yes and no? Between success and failure? Remember, earlier, Lao Tzu told us those are equally dangerous. And, then he really strikes at the root of the problem. “Must you value what others value, avoid what others avoid? How ridiculous!”

Lao Tzu is talking to himself right now, referring to himself in the second person. But he is getting ready to slide into the first person. And, what a slide it is!

Other people are excited, as though they were at a parade. Other people have what they need. Other people are bright. Other people are sharp. Other people have a purpose. I alone don’t care. I alone am expressionless. I alone possess nothing. I alone drift about like a homeless person. I am like an idiot, my mind is so empty. I alone am dark. I alone am dull. I alone don’t know. I drift like a wave on the ocean. I blow as aimless as the wind.

Wow! Is this “one of the most pathetic expressions of human loneliness, from lack of appreciation, ever written”? Well, he does say, I am alone, quite a lot. But, as I said, earlier, it isn’t like we don’t have context to help us to interpret what exactly Lao Tzu is doing here.

We have also been talking, over the last few days, about something I call “intentional empathy”. Lao Tzu gave us quite a task, yesterday. Throw away all those crutches we so dearly love. And, staying in the center of the circle, let all things take their course.

What Lao Tzu is doing here is not pathetic. It is empathetic. Lao Tzu is empathizing with all of us. It can be lonely in the center of the circle. Everyone else is still stumbling about in their own confusion and sorrow. But, we are actually in the process of realizing our common Source. It isn’t easy not to be distracted by what all the others are doing. We care! We truly care. And we want to do something to ease their suffering. As you let all things take their course, you will seem to be distant, unaffected, disinterested, like you don’t really care. It is lonely. But, you are not alone. Lao Tzu is sitting with you in the darkness. He lets you in on the great secret. It is okay to be different from ordinary people. It is okay to be extraordinary. Here, in the center of the circle, we get to drink from the Great Mother’s breasts.

Tomorrow, we will start at the Great Mother’s breasts. And, we will find out how we can always be at one with the Tao.

Time For Some Spring Cleaning

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 in the center of the circle
and let all things take their course.

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

Yesterday, we talked about the mess we are in, and how we got into the mess we are in. The great Tao has been forgotten. And, we have replaced our natural connection with the Tao, with different “crutches”. Goodness and piety. Cleverness and knowledge. Filial piety. And, patriotism. None of these crutches actually help us to regain our lost connection with the Tao. So, today, Lao Tzu tells us exactly what to do with them all.

Throw them away!

Holiness and wisdom, morality and justice, industry and profit, as much as we might not like to admit it, have all got to go.

These crutches aren’t helping, and what is worse, they are only hurting.

Holiness and wisdom don’t make people happy. And, if we would throw them away, as the refuse they are, people will be a hundred times happier.

Morality and justice don’t make people do the right thing. But if we weren’t using them to force people to do the right thing, people would, in fact, do the right thing. People are only untrustworthy, because we have made them untrustworthy, by not trusting them. Trust them. Leave them alone. They will do the right thing.

Industry and profit, oh I know what a bugaboo this one is. I know plenty of people who will cheer at the very thought of getting to throw these out. But, I also know plenty of people who will rise up in alarm at the very thought, these need to be discarded.

And, I am certain the same can be said about the other throwaways Lao Tzu has listed. So, maybe I better, better explain, what it is Lao Tzu is asking of us.

We talked about this, somewhat, yesterday. What is wrong with these things? The problem, my friends, is that these are systems which have been set up in opposition to the Tao.

And, make no mistake, just because the Tao has been forgotten, it doesn’t mean the Tao isn’t just as operative in our world. When we are relying on these crutches, these systems for trying to control, in the place of the Tao, we are only spiraling further and further out of control.

Exactly how much chaos is it going to take for us to realize what we are doing isn’t working out so well for us?

There was a time in my own life when I, too, was loath to part with holiness and wisdom, morality and justice, industry and profit.

Industry and profit took me a particularly long time to let go of.

I am still a market anarchist. That means I believe in free markets. So, it would seem, at first glance, I would not want to so cavalierly throw away industry and profit.

How I finally came to reconcile this one, was to see how the system of industry and profit we have set up, is not the free markets I believe in. Why do we have thieves?

Lao Tzu has talked about this before. Way back in chapter three, he said, “If you overvalue possessions, people begin to steal.” I had to ask myself, “Is our system of industry and profit promoting overvaluing possessions?”

In chapter nine, Lao Tzu warned us, if we chase after money and security our hearts will never unclench. In chapter twelve, he warned us, desires wither our hearts. In chapter thirteen, he told us, success and failure were both equally dangerous.

Clearly, our system of industry and profit is up to no good.

Now, I know that some of you will think I am suggesting we replace “capitalism” with some other “ism”. But Lao Tzu isn’t talking about replacing one set of crutches with another one.

He wants us to throw them all away.

I am still a free market anarchist. And, I have long believed the Tao is the invisible hand that works to bring about an emergent order. But, I am not so keen on our version of capitalism that overvalues possessions. Markets aren’t free! They are tightly regulated to make sure the biggest thieves prosper. Profits are privatized, losses are socialized. We bail out the biggest thieves; we only jail the petty ones.

Yes, when I look at industry and profit from this perspective, it surely has got to go.

But, what are you going to replace it with?

I thought I had already said this is the wrong question to be asking. There isn’t going to be any replacing. These things need to be thrown away. And, not replaced.

The one, right, question we should be asking ourselves is, “Is this even enough?”

Thankfully, Lao Tzu is ready with an answer.

Just throwing these things away may not be enough. And, if they aren’t, just stay in the center of the circle.

Just stay in the center of the circle? What does that mean? The circle represents everything. The Tao is in the center of the circle. There, yin and yang work together to bring order and balance, harmony, to our world. Stay there, and let all things take their course.

Now, Lao Tzu understands what a challenge that is going to be for us. In tomorrow’s chapter he will talk about what it is like staying in the center of the circle, and letting all things take their course. It is, by far, the darkest and most personal chapter in all the Tao Te Ching. But, if you can endure the darkness, you will see the light at the end.

How We Got In The Mess We Are In

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)

I titled today’s chapter, “How We Got In The Mess We Are In”. It is evident for all with eyes to see. I observe it when I am out in my back yard. The turmoil of beings, stumbling about in confusion and sorrow. Our leaders don’t trust us, and have made us untrustworthy. The great Tao has been forgotten.

How does Lao Tzu describe the chaos that has ensued? Goodness and piety have appeared. Oh, I can already hear the naysayers. “What is wrong with goodness and piety? That doesn’t sound so bad.”

Let’s take a look at Robert Brookes’ translation to see it more clearly. “Only when the Tao is forgotten is there a need for morality and righteousness.” Do you see the problem, my friends? This goodness and piety, morality and righteousness, isn’t something that flows naturally, from the core of our beings. It is forced. Contrived. Unnatural. We have to work at it. It is done out of a sense of duty. To one’s self. To one’s family. To one’s country.

It begins with individuals. When the great Tao is forgotten, the body’s intelligence declines. What Lao Tzu means by “body’s intelligence” is our natural connection to the Tao and our intuitive and spontaneous actions arising through that connection. Because that connection has been lost, our own cleverness and knowledge step in, to fill in the gap. Things which were once done effortlessly, now require great effort. We no longer trust our intuition. We rely on our own cleverness and knowledge. As Robert Brookes puts it in his translation, “Only when intelligence and cleverness appear is there a need for pretense.”

With individuals stumbling about in confusion and sorrow, no longer realizing the Source, it is no wonder families are in the mess they are in. What do police constantly get called in to deal with? Domestic disputes. There is no peace in the family. That the police get called in, shows just how far we have fallen. But, the roots go way further back than that. Back when the Tao was forgotten, and in its place we put filial piety. Here is Robert Brookes’ translation, again. “Only when families are not in harmony is there a need for filial piety.”

Filial piety, for those not familiar with the term, is what we do for the sake of appearances. The duty of a father to provide for his family. The duty of a husband and wife to each other. The duty of children to honor their parents. We tout these as family values, insisting the whole framework of society would break and fall to pieces if we didn’t practice this filial piety. But because the great Tao has been forgotten, these things don’t flow naturally. They are forced and contrived. No wonder the police end up being called in.

Filial piety doesn’t keep the whole framework of society from breaking apart into pieces. It is the evidence that the framework has already been broken and fallen to pieces. We are merely picking up the pieces and trying to fit them back together again. The whole country has fallen into chaos. And, that has given birth to the rampant patriotism of our day.

Patriotism is the ultimate evidence of a nation in decline. As Robert Brookes puts it, “Only when the state is in disorder is there a need for patriotism.” We wouldn’t have to try so hard to prove our love of country, if our country hadn’t become so unworthy of our love and devotion, of our trust.

This chapter would be a huge downer, except Lao Tzu is showing us the error of our ways, only to show us the way back to the Source. Come back tomorrow. It is time we start cleaning up this mess.

What We Could Do All By Ourselves

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)

The transition to chapter seventeen always does a number on me. Am I really ready to deal with whatever life brings my way, like I thought I was yesterday? Obviously, I need to spend some more time outside in my happy place. The vast and empty blue sky, from yesterday, has been replaced with a gray one, filled with clouds, and the threat of rain. That is what the weather is like in the Ozarks. It changes from one day to the next, and many times, it will change the very same day. The rain never happened. But, I still had this shift in Lao Tzu’s emphasis to deal with.

I have been in the zone over the last few chapters, talking about philosophical Taoism. And, then, we arrive at today’s chapter on the art of governing. Why is this throwing me a curve? It was the libertarian aspects of the Tao Te Ching, which originally drew me to philosophical Taoism. And, it isn’t like Lao Tzu hasn’t talked about the art of governing, before. Nor, will today’s chapter be the last one he will devote to it. It was in chapter eight where Lao Tzu outright mentioned it for the first time, as part of a list of ways to practice the supreme virtue. “In governing, don’t try to control.”

Some people can’t even imagine governing, which isn’t about trying to control. No wonder, then, that Lao Tzu has a list of four types of leaders in today’s chapter.

The first one is the kind of leader we all should like to have. This wise and virtuous leader governs in such a way that the people are hardly even aware they exist. They don’t talk, they act. And, when their work is done, the people say, “Amazing, we did it, all by ourselves.” I have to really use my imagination on this one. Because, in spite of my decent knowledge of history, I don’t know of any past or present leader who fits this description.

Oh, we have a habit of idolizing leaders of the past. The years are generally kind, far too kind; and we end up loving leaders who were either feared or despised in their day. And, the real problem is that throughout history, even those leaders who were loved in their day, by some, were feared and despised, by others.

In this presidential election year in the United States, all of the candidates seem to be loved, feared, and despised all at the same time. People, who have only a short term memory, may think this is more true this go around than anytime before. But, I don’t necessarily think this selection of would-be rulers is very much different than the ones who have come and gone before. It is just that with the passing of time, we forget how dreadful they have always been.

I know I will still be shaking my head on the day after the election, wondering how so many people believed that there was any reason to support their candidate. Generally, the answer I get is people are voting for the lesser evil. But, I just don’t get that. When I consider the likely contest is between Hillary and Trump, I just can’t manage to pick one as the lesser evil. In many ways, Hillary is obviously the greater evil. And in many ways, Trump trumps Hillary in the evil department. How am I supposed to choose? I could flip a coin. But, heads or tails, we lose.

Because I actually have an interest in politics, and not just for the comedy of errors, which is the presidential campaigns of these buffoons, I am quite disappointed that I can’t, in good conscience, give my consent to be governed by any of them. Remembering, well, my history, my country fought a war for independence because there were enough of us that could no longer, in good conscience, give consent to be governed by those who ruled them. I am going to keep on declaring my independence, until such time as I am offered a choice between two or more candidates with whom I could, in good conscience, consent to be governed by. I certainly would never trust myself to the whims of a majority, if only one candidate was worthy of my trust. No, since elections can give me no certainty on who will be elected, all the candidates running are going to have be worthy of my trust, or I won’t consent. And, quite frankly, I don’t believe any of you when you say, “I love Hillary”, or “I love Donald”; no one is that delusional. Let’s get real. You know in your heart of hearts that what is really motivating you is how much you fear and despise the other candidate. You have managed to convince yourself that your one vote will matter. That your “love” is the lesser evil. I would say “Good luck with that”, but we will need much more than luck.

Anyway, I didn’t expect today’s commentary to go this long, and look at how much I have droned on and on. The bottom line is this, I want leaders who will trust us and leave us alone. Leaders who won’t try to control us. We have been told for what seems like forever, now, that the people can’t be trusted to govern themselves. But, it is because our leaders don’t trust us, they make us untrustworthy. If they trusted us, it would be amazing what we could do all by ourselves.

Tomorrow, we will take a look at how we got in the mess we are in.

My Happy Place

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,
kind-hearted 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)

Today’s chapter is one of my favorite ones in the Tao Te Ching, because this chapter set me free from the limits of my finite and temporal reality. That was a pretty bold thing for me to say. I may have to get quite personal to explain myself. And, sorry, but it will be a little longer, too.

Lao Tzu has been giving us meat to chew on in the last few chapters. It seems like long ago, now, but it was only back in chapter twelve, that Lao Tzu talked about observing the world, but trusting your inner vision. Allowing things to come and go, with your heart as open as the sky. In chapter thirteen Lao Tzu said that both success and failure are equally dangerous; and, that hope and fear, being mere phantoms, are equally hollow. It isn’t just dangerous to seek fulfillment and contentment on the proverbial ladder. By seeking it, we will never find it. Those phantoms arise because we think of the self as self, as separate. When you see the world as your self, you won’t have anything to fear, and a whole world to love. In chapter fourteen, Lao Tzu used a riddle to teach us the essence of wisdom. Realize where you come from, you will be at ease in your own life. In chapter fifteen, yesterday’s chapter, Lao Tzu described the appearance of the ancient Masters to show us the essence of their wisdom. They were always present. Today, I am going to show how all of these chapters led me to this one.

How did I realize where I come from? How did I come to practice what I call “intentional empathy”? It is kind of a “Which came first, the chicken or the egg?” moment for me. I had been mulling over what Lao Tzu had been teaching on the practice of being always present, on realizing where I come from. And, I was thinking a lot about what it means to see the world as self, instead of continuing to see my self as separate from the world.

And, while I was mulling these things over in my mind, I read today’s chapter, where Lao Tzu said, “Empty your mind of all thoughts. Let your heart be at peace.” That led me out into my back yard, my happy place.

I don’t call it “my happy place” because it is the only place where I am happy. I am actually, a quite happy person, all of the time, and wherever I find myself. But, my back yard is a special place I like to go, none the less. It is the place I like to go, whenever it is time to empty my mind of all thoughts and let my heart be at peace. I like to walk out in my back yard. I have a very well worn path. And, I like to sit out there and look at the world around me. All of nature. It is spring time in the Ozarks. If you don’t know where the Ozarks are, that might not be such a bad thing. The more we keep it a secret, the quieter it will stay.

I sit out in my garden, a favorite activity of mine. I planted this week. My garden is now full of tomato plants, pepper plants, strawberry plants, impatiens, and I have spaghetti squash seeds I planted, too. I am super-excited about my garden. It is a wonderful place. Anyway, what was I saying? Oh yes, I go there to empty my mind of all thoughts and let my heart be at peace. Those were Lao Tzu’s instructions, weren’t they? How do I do that? Well, I will try to be as clear as a glass of water in explaining my meditation practice.

First of all, I don’t try to empty my mind of all thoughts, or make my heart be at peace. It is deliberate, but it isn’t forced. I go outside deliberately. I let things come and go as they will, from there.

I was out there today, of course. It kind of goes without saying. I am out there every day, several times a day. Here are some things I observed while I was out there. I looked around at the vast and empty blue sky, and the trees, the sunshine, the grass, and the flowers, not just my impatiens, but all the flowering “weeds” in my yard. I watched bees going from flower to flower. I have several different flowering weeds in my yard. It is one reason I am loath to have to mow my yard. I like taller grass. I like to see all the different colors. The yellows, the whites, the blues. My impatiens are purple, pink and red. I listen to the insects, the birds, dogs barking a few yards over, a distant lawn mower. I watch and listen to cars going by. My backyard faces one of the busiest roads in my small town. Always plenty of traffic (for a small town). I saw foot traffic, too. One guy walking by rather fast while looking at his smart phone. Was he texting, or surfing the web? I don’t know. His coming and going took seconds. I saw four others walk by on the other side of the road. They, too, were walking fast, almost marching, single file. It was kind of cute.

I said all that to say I was observing the world. That was something Lao Tzu told us all to do. Observe the world; but trust your inner vision. All the while, I am letting thoughts come and go. I am allowing my mind to empty. I have watched the turmoil of beings. All those beings I observed. Moving along at a fast pace. Even the bees seemed in a hurry, today. Each of them separate beings. Places to go, people to see, more flowers to pollinate. That is what I observe.

But that isn’t what I contemplated. What I contemplated, was their return. Not to my backyard, but to our common Source. Contemplation is a deeper thing than mere fleeting thoughts. My mind is emptying, remember? Contemplation of their, of my, return to our common Source, lets my heart be at peace. Returning to the Source is serenity.

The realization that all separate beings in the universe have a common Source to return to, realizing where I come from, where you come from, where all beings come from, has me seeing the whole world as self. I find, out there in my backyard, intentional empathy. Once again, this isn’t a forced thing. The empathy is intentional. But I didn’t try to empathize. I don’t actually think that is even possible.

Empathy is different from sympathy in that way. Sympathy is something that is forced. And, it can easily be manipulated. But that isn’t the way it is with empathy. Empathy flows naturally.

Oh, I could contemplate why so many beings are stumbling about in confusion and sorrow. But, then again, Lao Tzu has already told us why we do just that. It is because we don’t realize the Source. With that settled, it is much better to contemplate our return to the Source. To realize where we come from.

Because when you do, and I know this is true, practically speaking, since I have experienced it for myself, time and time again – you naturally become tolerant, disinterested, amused, kind-hearted as a grandmother, dignified as a king. That, my friends, is what intentional empathy looks like.

Hey, I know tolerance has taken on a whole lot of negative connotations in recent years. But, I think that is because the kind of tolerance many of us feel is being forced down our throats is just that, forced. That isn’t the kind of tolerance, Lao Tzu is referring to, here. When you realize where you come from, our common Source, you develop intentional empathy. And no amount of forced sympathy will ever produce the kinds of results that the practice of intentional empathy produces naturally.

For, it isn’t just a forced tolerance that sympathy requires of us. It won’t tolerate you being disinterested. It wants you interested. It will look askance at your amusement toward all the things that just don’t matter, that matter so much to those who want your sympathy. What are you laughing at? What’s so funny?

What’s so funny? Why am I laughing? Because I am immersed in the wonder of the Tao. And, I can deal with whatever life happens to bring my way. Even if it is death, I am ready.

Well, there you have it. A very personal account from a very private person. Did realizing where I come from, or developing intentional empathy come first? I think they happened simultaneously spontaneously.

And that will have to suffice for today’s chapter. I am getting ready to go back to my happy place again. Tomorrow, Lao Tzu will talk about another one of my favorite things, the art of governing. You did know I am libertariantaoist, didn’t you?

Wait For It

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)

After finding out, over the last couple of chapters, that fulfillment, contentment, isn’t something to be found on that illusory ladder of success and failure, that our hopes and fears are mere phantoms which arise because we are thinking of the self as self, that we need to be grounded in the reality of the always present, and see the world as self, it is time for one last example of the practice of being always present. Yesterday, Lao Tzu called it realizing where you come from.

He said it is the essence of wisdom to realize where you come from. And, today, he looks back at the ancient Masters, the wise and virtuous people of their day, to explain how being always present works.

He would like to talk about how profound and subtle their wisdom was. But, it was unfathomable, there is no way to describe it. Yet, just by looking at their appearance, you can see it.

Their appearance shows they were always present. 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.

With the little girl I teach, we have been learning how sentences can be in past tense, present tense, or future tense. We have been changing the tenses of verbs to show the change in tense. But these ancient Masters were always in the present tense. Because they were always present, they were ready for anything, and could welcome all things.

They are a great example. But it is up to us to realize where we come from, to practice being always present, for ourselves.

What is it going to take? Lao Tzu asks the two questions which answer that question for us. 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?

Now, wait just a doggone minute, I thought this was about being in the present. What is this about waiting and remaining unmoving?

I am so glad you asked. We have this idea of the present moment, which isn’t at all what Lao Tzu means by the practice of being always present. We think the present is but a fleeting moment. I am typing this right now in the present moment. But, now that that sentence is finished, it is in the past. In a few more words, I will go on to a future moment, where I will be typing a new paragraph.

That isn’t what Lao Tzu means by being always present. The always present is, well, always present. There will be waiting, and remaining unmoving, in the always present. If you are worried that your opportunity is going to pass you by while you are waiting, and remaining unmoving, you aren’t living in the always present. You are still stuck in the finite and temporal reality.

The always present contains within itself, infinity and eternity. All that is really required of you is patience. To wait, to remain unmoving. Let’s look back at the appearance of those ancient Masters, again. Have you ever crossed an iced-over stream? I haven’t. But, I imagine you would need to be extremely careful. However, I have crossed streams, before. That was the metaphor I had in my mind as I read about waiting till my mud settles. When I take a step in the water, it stirs up mud. Now, if I am patient, that mud will settle back down. The water will clear again. That certainly helps me to be able to see where it is safe to take the next step. You need to be alert. Waiting and remaining unmoving isn’t just a passive thing. You aren’t just standing there, doing nothing. You are alert. Ready to move, when the way is clear, when the right action to take arises all by itself. It means you need to be fluid, and shapeable. You have to be receptive, and clear, yourself.

So much wisdom! So profound and subtle! These Masters didn’t seek fulfillment. Which is exactly what Lao Tzu has been telling us has been our problem for so very long. We keep seeking, expecting. But wise and virtuous persons realize where to come from. They don’t seek. They don’t expect. They are present. Always present. And, so, they are ready to welcome all things.

Tomorrow’s chapter will be a meditation practice I, myself, use to practice being always present. It is where I come from.