Dark Night Of The Soul?

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)

Wow! Doesn’t this chapter seem odd and out of place? Unlike so many chapters of the Tao Te Ching, Lao Tzu really gets personal with this one. I believe it the only time that he writes in the first person. I counted a dozen times he uses the personal pronoun, I. It is very personal, very human, very dark. Every time I read through this chapter I can’t help but ask myself, is he having a crisis of faith? A dark night of the soul? Is it a bout with depression?

And then I remind myself that the last two chapters have been particularly rough ones. Two chapters ago, Lao Tzu was talking of the aftermath of the great Tao being forgotten. Yesterday, we were talking about the need to throw away some hard things to throw away in order to get back on track.

Perhaps there is every reason for Lao Tzu to despair about whether his readers would get it. And so, it seems, we find Lao Tzu off in a corner somewhere muttering to himself: “Stop thinking, and end your problems.” Is the man suicidal?

Lao Tzu asks himself a series of questions. And, answers them. Yes, my friends, it is okay to talk to yourself. This chapter is about coming to terms with being different from everybody else. Other people are excited. Other people have what they need. Other people are bright. Other people are sharp. Other people have a purpose. I alone am different.

I alone don’t care. I alone am expressionless. I alone possess nothing. I alone drift about. What an idiot I am. I alone am dark. I alone am dull. I alone don’t know.

It is so very difficult when you feel like you are the only one who is experiencing what you are experiencing. You are alone. And you are different from everybody else. Nobody could possibly understand you. And you are stupid for feeling the way you are feeling. Why can’t you just be like everybody else?

But at the same time, you don’t want to be like everybody else. You want to be different. You don’t want to value what others value, just because they value it. You don’t want to avoid things just because others avoid them.

Going along with the crowd. Choosing what they choose. Doing just what they do. What a ridiculous way to live your life.

There is no difference between yes and no. And there is no difference between success and failure. Oh, why can’t I just stop thinking? That would bring an end to my problems.

Over the years, many times I have heard people counseling other people to be careful with the words they use to talk to themselves. I too, have heard people talk negatively about themselves and wanted to correct all that negativity with positive words. “Don’t call yourself an idiot. You have tremendous worth. You aren’t so different from everybody else. You aren’t really alone.”

But Lao Tzu isn’t looking for my sympathy. And he doesn’t need to change his stinking thinking. He simply is embracing who and what he is. And he comes to celebrate what makes him different.

Are you drifting like a wave on the ocean? Are you blowing as aimlessly as the wind? Are you different from ordinary people? Come to terms with that. Embrace it. And by all means, drink from the Great Mother’s breasts.

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