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.
(Tao Te Ching, chapter 21, translation by Stephen Mitchell)
Yesterday, we found Lao Tzu brooding alone in the darkness muttering to himself. Our moods do have their ebb and flow, don’t they? Sometimes, we feel like we are soaring with the eagles. Other times, we fell like we are in some pit of despair, with little light or hope.
Recognizing and accepting the ebb and flow of our moods is all just part of the art of living. Far too often, I think, melancholy is diagnosed as some sort of illness in need of chemical treatment. And it isn’t just being down that gets people worrying about you. You will be scorned for being too happy, as well. While society promotes, even demands, sameness and conformity, I like that Lao Tzu celebrates the individual.
Now there are legitimate medical needs that need to be addressed. So, I am not nay saying legitimate pharmacological solutions, when I say that just because an individual dares to not conform to a sick society it doesn’t mean they need a pill.
All I am saying, is that if it was okay for Lao Tzu to find his own radiance by going into, and staying awhile in, the darkness; then it is okay for you and me, too. Individuals need the freedom to explore the depths and the heights of who they are without fear of being outed by others. The sanest people I know are the ones that can not and will not conform. The rule breakers.
Individuals who have had the freedom to spend as long as they needed in their dark place, like Lao Tzu, have discovered there a creative energy and will to embrace their own individuality and differences from everybody else. They emerge from the darkness, radiant. And all I can say to them is, “Well done! Embrace the real you. Celebrate what makes you different and unique.”
That dark place is where we learn to let go of our own ideas. Yes, I said let go. You think we are holding on to them? If we were holding onto them we wouldn’t be in that dark place. No, that is where we learn to let go of them. And, it is because we have suffered in the darkness of solitude and silence, that we can emerge from there, free, and bathed in light. That is the work of the Tao.
I know the language that Lao Tzu uses to describe the Tao is often poetic and mystical. The reasons for this, I think, are obvious. Language is very limiting. He is trying to communicate the infinite here. How can you pin down the Tao using finite language? All he can really do is point at the mystery. We marvel at it in all its obscurity. And, when we dare to peer into the darkness for long enough, we do find clarity.
Physics, in the 20th century, started to uncover with science, things that Lao Tzu told us many centuries ago, can really only be fully grasped with the intuition. The Tao is before time and space. It is beyond is and is not. A lot can be learned by looking outwardly. So, philosophical Taoism has no quarrels with science. But at the end of the day, after all your efforts to understand how the Universe works, you may just make your greatest discovery of what is true, when you look for it inside yourself.