Peeling Away The Layers

Knowing others is intelligence;
knowing yourself is true wisdom.
Mastering others is strength;
mastering yourself is true power.

If you realize that you have enough,
you are truly rich.
If you stay in the center
and embrace death with your whole heart,
you will endure forever.

-Lao Tzu-
(Tao Te Ching, chapter 33, translation by Stephen Mitchell)

Yesterday, I was talking about the hopelessness, when we see ourselves as separate. It becomes very easy to give into hopelessness; when you spend as much time on social media, as I was the last few days after the Supreme Court decision on same sex marriage. I found myself seeing myself as separate from the others. It takes intelligence and strength to know and master others. But is that really what I want to do? No, I don’t want to give into that hopelessness. I can’t be content with that.

What I really want is to know and master myself. But that requires much more of me. That requires true wisdom and true power. I know that I must see the world, not as separate from me, but as myself. That is the only way to accept the world as it is; it is the only way to accept myself, as one with the world.

That leads to an obvious question: How do I attain this true wisdom and true power? Thankfully, this is something that Lao Tzu has been doing a lot of talking about. He keeps telling us to do our work and then stop. We need to know when to stop in order to avoid danger. So, how do I know when to stop? I think it is easier than we may think. Have we completed our work? Have we fully expressed ourselves? Because that is when we need to stop, take a step back, and let the Tao do its thing. To be truly rich is to realize that you have enough. As long as you don’t realize this, as long as you are thinking that you need more, you will never have enough. But you really do have enough. You just need to realize this.

We have talked before about the difference between knowing and realizing. I think of knowing as giving mental assent to something. But giving mental assent to some truth isn’t enough. The difference between knowing and realizing, is that when you realize it, it actually begins to transform your life. You can think that you know something; but that knowledge doesn’t make a bit of difference in how you live your life. Your life will be full of what has been called cognitive dissonance. That results in your life being a struggle. You will keep running into walls; as you live your life as if what you think you know doesn’t really matter.

We want a life of ease. That is the promised life of residing in the center of the circle. A life of contentment, with ourselves and others, because we aren’t separate; we and the world are one. And that doesn’t mean just getting in the center of the circle. It means staying in the center, residing there. While in the center of the circle, the lies we have believed, the delusions of our separateness from the world, will be slowly peeled away.

This peeling away is a kind of death. It is a death to ourselves as separate. This is a death which we must embrace with our whole heart. It is only then that we will realize the true wisdom and true power of a life lived content with our simple, ordinary lives, a life that accepts the way things are. We tend to shy away from death. We fear it. It seems so final. But, remember, fear is only a phantom that arises because we are still thinking of ourselves as separate. If we will stay in the center of the circle, we will endure forever.