Category Archives: Uncategorized

Be Afraid. Be Very, Very, Afraid

If you realize that all things change,
there is nothing you will try to hold on to.
If you aren’t afraid of dying,
there is nothing you can’t achieve.

Trying to control the future
is like trying to take the master carpenter’s place.
When you handle the master carpenter’s tools,
chances are that you’ll cut your hand.

-Lao Tzu-
(Tao Te Ching, chapter 74, translation by Stephen Mitchell)

This is not going to be about the SCOTUS Hobby Lobby ruling yesterday. If you have not already had your fill of the apoplexy over that inconsequential ruling, then you will need to look elsewhere. If on the other hand, you are ready for a break from that useless chatter, as I am, I have something else for you today.

What is it that I would like to impress upon you today: The importance of realizing that all things change. Sometimes, that can be hard to believe. Some things never seem to change and the more things change, the more they stay the same; seems more credible. Those of us that have been around for long enough, can testify to the reality that all things do change, given enough time. Still, the time it takes for some things to change seems quite a challenge to our patience when we want things to change.

But that isn’t the worst of our problems with the reality that all things change. It isn’t the long waiting for change that Lao Tzu is addressing today. It is the trying to hold onto things, in the hope that they will never change. But each and every day, change is happening in all of our lives. Nature’s cycles proclaim it with the rising and setting of the sun, the waxing and waning of the moon, the changing seasons. This is just something that we have to accept. All things will change. And the very things we are trying to hold on to, those are the things that desperately need changing.

But we are afraid. Afraid to leave our comfort zone. Afraid of an uncertain tomorrow. We are so full of ourselves, that we actually are afraid of dying. No, we want more control over our every day lives. We are sovereign individuals. We are not slaves. No masters for us.

Hey, I get it. I, too, am a sovereign individual. But there is one thing that I have had to come to realize. That is, that all things change. And I can’t control the future. Now, that has never stopped me from trying from time to time. After all, I just happen to be in a very comfortable place right now. I like my present circumstances. I’d like to hold onto this for the foreseeable future, and beyond.

But what does Lao Tzu have to say to me about trying to control the future? He says, “Chuck, that is like trying to take the master carpenter’s place.” I used to read this line, and get all interested in trying to figure out who this mystical master carpenter was. Is this God? Or, especially because I was raised in the Christian faith, I would think of Jesus being raised by Joseph, a carpenter. Certainly Jesus learned the carpentry trade. Perhaps this is an allusion to Jesus.

But all of that speculation is pure nonsense. Lao Tzu predated Jesus by five centuries. And Lao Tzu’s only direct mention of God in the Tao Te Ching is as a joke. Off the top of my head, I can’t tell you in which chapter that is to be found. If you want me to look it up for you, send me a message. But really, I mean no offense to my readers from communities of faith. I am just trying to demolish side paths where we tend to wander off.

The point Lao Tzu seems to be making with his master carpenter reference, is that it should be taken literally. Yes, I do mean literally. When you handle the master carpenter’s tools, chances are that you’ll cut your hand.

We don’t have any more business trying to control the future, than taking the place of some master of a trade that we don’t know the first thing about.

And yes, that is scary. That is the point. He is trying to get us to understand that if we think leaving our comfort zone, or an uncertain tomorrow, or even death, is so very scary to us; we should be more frightened by the prospect of trying to control our future.

Holding onto the illusion that things will never change is folly. All things change. That is reality. But if you aren’t afraid of change there is nothing you can’t achieve.

The Kind Of Net We Can’t Slip Through

The Tao is always at ease.
It overcomes without competing,
answers without speaking a word,
arrives without being summoned,
accomplishes without a plan.

Its net covers the whole universe.
And though its meshes are wide,
it doesn’t let a thing slip through.

-Lao Tzu –
(Tao Te Ching, chapter 73, translation by Stephen Mitchell)

With all the bad news in the world today, today’s chapter offers us good news. Today I get to tell you, “Courage, my friends, there is hope for you and me.”

It starts with an understanding that the Tao is always at ease. It overcomes without competing. It answers without speaking a word. It arrives without being summoned. And it accomplishes without a plan.

Sometimes, as we go about our daily lives, the whole Universe seems to just be completely out of balance. Life can seem mostly chaotic. Sometimes, the fault is very clearly our own. Our choices. Our mistakes. But other times, it just doesn’t seem to matter how hard we work, it all just seems for naught. And through no fault of our own, we find ourselves at odds with a system that is simply stacked against us.

You may be in a very dark place right now. Perhaps you have been there for a very long time. It is tempting to give in to the darkness. To just let it swallow you up. But that wouldn’t be an encouraging end to your story.

Please understand that the chaos and imbalance you are suffering through right now is not the end of the story for you. It is just one chapter. And you are getting ready to turn another page.

Lao Tzu told us that the Tao is always at ease. And we all can know that same ease. Yes, sometimes things are out of balance, but the Tao is always returning things to balance again, if only we work with the Tao, instead of against it. We, too, can overcome by not competing.

Out of the chaos in the Universe, spontaneous order will emerge. No matter how far gone you feel you are. No matter how small or insignificant you think you must be. The Tao has an answer, without having to speak a word.

We don’t have to earn some special favor from the Tao, in order to get its blessing. And it isn’t far, far away in need of being summoned with just the right incantation. It arrives without being summoned. It was always very near at hand. Look within yourself, and there it is.

The Tao is like a net that covers the whole Universe. Its meshes may be wide, but nothing slips through that net. Not even small, insignificant you.

I know your present perspective may be quite disheartening. It is hard to believe this present darkness is all an illusion that will soon be swept away as the next page turns.

But then reality will dawn on you and it will be clear. What is this reality? That we are each individual pieces of an imaginative Universe. No single piece of the puzzle is insignificant. And none are ever truly lost. The Tao will achieve order and balance, though we may never be able to point to some grand plan that caused it to be accomplished.

Needing to Take a Step Back

When they lose their sense of awe,
people turn to religion.
When they no longer trust themselves,
they begin to depend on authority.

Therefore the Master steps back
so that people won’t be confused.
He teaches without a teaching,
so that people will have nothing to learn.

– Lao Tzu –
(Tao Te Ching, chapter 72, translation by Stephen Mitchell)

I really enjoy taking these chapters one day at a time. But something that a friend reminded me of yesterday, is that the Tao that can be spoken of, is not the eternal Tao. That little reminder proved to be fortuitous, for as I am going along trying to explain what Lao Tzu is trying to teach us in each of these chapters, my ego starts to get the better of me. I think Lao Tzu was offering that little warning to himself back in the first chapter, as he sat down to compose his writings on the Tao. Every word that I use to try and explain the Tao is, more or less, a step away from the eternal Tao.

It isn’t that we can’t know. We learn by observing nature and by looking inside of ourselves. And I always need to be mindful of how egoless nature is, while I do tend to be egocentric. How can I effortlessly harmonize with the Tao when my ego is striving to achieve something that may or may not be in accordance with the Tao?

That is why Lao Tzu encourages me, in this chapter, to take a step back. It isn’t just so that my readers won’t get confused. I don’t want to be confused, either. I am not helping anyone, including myself, when I keep rushing onward.

So today, I spent some time enjoying the rainy weekend we have been having. In between rain showers, I was outside observing my little raised garden bed. My peas are just about ready to harvest. My tomato plants are full of tomatoes. My squash is blooming like crazy. Yes, my garden is loving the rain. It is simply amazing what happens when you plant seeds in good soil and give it lots of sunshine and rain. I am actually in awe of my little garden.

And awe is a good thing. That is another thing that Lao Tzu reminds us of in this chapter. He bemoans that people lose their sense of awe; and to fill that void, they substitute other things. I am not going to trash religion here. Religion is just one substitute that the people use to fill a giant hole in their hearts.

The other thing that Lao Tzu speaks of in this chapter is people no longer trusting themselves. I recall countless conversations I have had with people over the years. People who don’t believe other people can be trusted to do the right thing. “That is why we need laws, Chuck. That is why we need the government. The police. A standing army.” All because we don’t trust ourselves. And we sure as Hell, don’t trust our neighbors. Especially those neighbors in other countries all over the world.

My ego would love to go on a rant right about now. But I think this taking a step back is a much more appropriate thing for me to be doing today. The truth is, I can teach more without teaching. There is nothing to learn, but a whole lot to unlearn.

Why have we lost our sense of awe? Is it because our ego prevents us from seeing the awesomeness of what is real? And why do we no longer trust ourselves? Does self-reliance have to be a lost and forgotten art?

In taking a step back today, I am reminded of what Lao Tzu calls our three greatest treasures. Simplicity, patience, and compassion. We can reconcile all beings in the Universe. That power is in each and every one of us. I am not doing anything great. I just live my life simply. I make no apologies for it. In living simply, I find myself appreciating with awe, life’s simple pleasures. I am finding myself more and more patient with my friends and my enemies, with each passing day. That is a great stress reducer. If I can do this, you can do this. Be compassionate toward yourself, especially when you epicly fail.

The Path to Wholeness

“Not-knowing is true knowledge.
Presuming to know is a disease.
First, realize that you are sick;
then you can move toward health.

The Master is her own physician.
She has healed herself of all knowing.
Thus, she is truly whole.”

– Lao Tzu –
(Tao Te Ching, chapter 71, translation by Stephen Mitchell)

Knowledge is Power! Isn’t that what we have always been told? With all of this talk about not-knowing, is Lao Tzu anti-knowledge? Is Lao Tzu really trying to convince us that ignorance is bliss?

I am happy to be able to say that knowledge is indeed true power. Ignorance may seem like bliss, sometimes; but having true knowledge is a true state of bliss. So how is not-knowing, true knowledge?

I think we need to understand the terms Lao Tzu is using. And for that, it is important for me not to stop reading after the first line. Context is important, after all.

As I continue to read, I find out what he means by not-knowing. Presuming to know is a disease. Lao Tzu is saying that by presuming to know, we hinder our natural ability to gain true knowledge.

I know I have mentioned a time or two before about how much I hindered my parents in their efforts to teach me, when I would interrupt with “I know.” It is this presumption of knowledge that is the real problem. It is a disease.

When Lao Tzu says that not-knowing is true knowledge, he means that by ridding yourself of this presumption that you already know, you gain the necessary freedom to truly know.

It isn’t exactly a 12-step program, but you have to first acknowledge that you are sick, before you can seek healing.

Sadly, it took years before I realized just how sick I was. So much time wasted. But having taken the first step, then you can be your own physician; and cure yourself of all knowing. This is the path to wholeness.