47th Verse – “Being” on the Right Path

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Without going out the door,
know the world.
Without looking out the window,
you may see the ways of heaven.

The farther one goes, the less one knows.

Therefore the sage does not venture forth and yet knows,
does not look and yet names,
does not strive and yet attains completion.

The theme of this verse touches on the same concept that we have seen in several previous verses, “doing” versus “being”. Instead of describing that again, this example came to my mind.

Let’s pretend that I am a gifted pianist. Playing the piano comes naturally to me and I feel at my best when I am releasing my music through the ivory keys that line the piano. You could say that my purpose for being here is to create and play beautiful music for all to enjoy.

However, my father thinks I should be a lawyer and playing the piano is waste of time and something to be done on my free time as a hobby instead of as a serious pursuit. After all, he is a lawyer, his father was a lawyer and his grandfather was a lawyer. According to my father, it’s in my blood to be a lawyer.

Instead of allowing my life to be guided by my calling given to me by the same source that ensures that my heart continues to beat, that allows the sun to shine on my face and that drives the creation of all that I see and experience, I decide that I know better. I decide to go to law school. I decide to push my piano playing to the side as an occasional hobby instead of nurturing my true gift.

I become a lawyer, am a partner in a large law firm, drive a fancy car and make millions. The Universe was wrong. I was meant to be a lawyer. This is my calling. Or is it?

Despite my supposed success in the eyes of society and, of course, my father, I am miserable. I am burned out on my job, I feel that there is something more important that I am supposed to be doing with my life and I constantly feel like something is missing.

I notice how things show up in my life when I pay attention to them. There is the ad posted on the cabs that pass by my office window with a pianist playing away on a shiny black piano. There is the piano music that I am constantly listening to and losing myself without even realizing I am hearing it. There is the coworker that just told me how his daughter is learning to play the piano and how she seems to be a natural at it but he is struggling with continuing piano lessons because of the cost.

My life is in a state of “doing”. I am “doing” what I think is right based on what society and my family has told me I should be doing. Instead of “being” what I know that I was really meant to be, I am forcing myself onto a path that is not natural for me.

The Universe is saying, “here you go, here is the path of your life’s work” and I have been ignoring it. That path was laid out for me, ready for me to walk down whenever I am ready. I see it occasionally through the glimpses and so-called coincidences that I see as I pass by on my chosen path. I am laying my own chosen path stone by stone…and it is exhausting.

It is exhausting because I am forcing my way through life constantly on an uphill climb. This is “doing”. The further that I commit myself to this chosen path, the less glimpses I see of the natural path that I should be on.

Feeling lost, tired and confused, I stop and look around. I stop pushing and forcing and notice what glimpses are presented to me. I see hints that lead me from the overgrown path that I was forging to the recognition of the natural path that I was ignoring.

As I get closer to this natural path, I start to play music again whenever I can. I feel compelled to write music and when I do, I feel a release as if I was holding back the music that was clamoring inside to come out. I feel the flow of doing what I was meant to do.

Little by little, as long as I continue to pay attention, more glimpses are presented to me and I become more in tune with my natural path. I feel the energy and stamina grow inside me. Life does not seem like such a struggle anymore. This is “being”.

The further I went away from my natural path, the less I knew about who I really was. By coming back to my natural path, the real me has been revealed.

46th Verse – Peace of Contentment

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When the world has the Way,
running horses are retired to till the fields.
When the world lacks the Way,
warhorses are bred in the countryside.

There is no greater loss than losing the Tao,
no greater curse than covetousness,
no greater tragedy than discontentment;
the worst of faults is wanting more-always.

Contentment alone is enough.
Indeed, the bliss of eternity can be found in your contentment.

Contentment is the secret to happiness and peace. All that you need is to be content with what you have, who you are, what is occurring in the current moment and whom you have in your life. That is it. Nothing else is needed to be happy and to be at peace.

Discontentment is the cause of all suffering. Simply by wanting something or someone to be different or feeling that something is needed in order to feel happiness causes suffering. You suffer until that thing that you think you need is attained or that situation is changed. However, the desire that existed does not become satisfied. Instead, it turns to the next thing that is needed or something else that needs to change. It is never satisfied and suffering continues.

Discontentment is also the reason for mankind’s tendency towards acts of war. Without contentment, there is a constant need for more power. This leads to a desire to rule over others, to conquer and to obtain that which someone else has.

What Lao-Tzu is saying here is that when humankind is content and in tune with the Way, weapons are not needed and available resources (the example of horses is used in the verse) are turned towards the creation and support of life. When humankind is discontent and out of touch with the Way, those resources become used for the conquering and destruction of others.

Imagine a world where all of the resources, time and energy that are used in the preparation and execution of war where instead placed on the betterment and support of life. Imagine if the intelligence that was focused on more advanced and more destructive weapons was instead turned to the eradication of disease.

All that is needed for this to be a reality is contentment. That alone is enough.

45th Verse – Look Beyond the Surface

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The greatest perfection seems imperfect,
and yet its use is inexhaustible.
The greatest fullness seems empty,
and yet its use is endless.

Great straightness seems twisted.
Great inteligence seems stupid.
Great eloquence seems awkward.
Great truth seems false.
Great discussion seems silent.

Activity conquers cold; inactivity conquers heat.
Stillness and tranquility set things in order in the universe.

To our ego-centered mind, everything and everyone that we encounter is interpreted a certain way on the surface. However, if we go beyond the initial surface interpretation, we can see the underlying truth and perfection.

For example, if I meet someone for the first time, I would instantly set certain expectations and make certain judgments of the person based on their surface level appearance. Their hair color, skin color, clothes, profession, etc all set certain interpretations.

However, if I allowsmyself to get to know that person better, I might find out that there is much more to him or her than my original ego-based assessment told me. In addition, I might learn that many of my original assessments were completely wrong. (This was one of the epiphanies that I wrote about from my recent Vipassana mediation course.)

This is the same with situations that we come across in our life. We see situations in our life and assess them on the surface as all wrong. I am in the wrong job, only if the weather was different, those people shouldn’t act like that, my kid isn’t behaving as I wanted him/her to act, etc.

That which seems wrong, twisted, stupid, awkward, false, etc on the surface is really perfection in the eyes of the Tao. Everything is unfolding just as it should even if it does not meet the expectations of our ego-centric mind.

Even though we refuse to agree with it, the bad things that happen in the world are part of the perfection according to the Tao. They are just as important as the good things that happen. This is the yin and the yang. Both are needed for either to exist.

By connecting with the stillness inside of ourselves, we can learn to see all things as neither good nor bad. They just are. Only when we realize this can we see “order in the universe”.

Some take-aways from this verse.

    • Learn to connect with the stillness and tranquility inside through meditation techniques.
    • Whenever you encounter someone or some situation, take notice of your internal self-talk. Realize what expectations and judgements you are creating as a result.

These steps start to build awareness, which is always necessary before any change is possible. Once you can utilize these steps on a regular basis, then you can learn to let the expectations and judgements go without attaching to them.