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.

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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.

That which is shining in me is shining in everything

That which is shining in me is shining in everything. ~ MC Yogi a.k.a. Nicholas Giacomini

Today is the last day of the PostADay challenge where we attempted to write a post once a day for everyday during the month of November. I had a bad, bad, bad day today and was not going to write my last post for the challenge. However, before going to be I was browsing through the September issue of Yoga Journal and saw an article on MC Yogi. I read the quote shown above.

As I lay in bed attempting to go to sleep and leave the day behind, this phrase kept running through my mind. So since I wasn’t sleeping anyway and there were a few minutes left in this 30th day of November, I thought I would let this out by sharing it with you all.

This was kind of like the light in me attempting to shine through the dark, mucky fog that the day had left me feeling. Now that I have shared this phrase with everyone, I am off to sleep feeling like I have answered the calling inside that wouldn’t shut-up until I did. Lol…sweet dreams. I hope you enjoy this quote.

44th Verse – Get off the Treadmill of Want

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Which means more to you, your name or your renown?
Which brings more to you, you or what you own?
I say what you gain is more trouble than what you lose.

Love is the fruit of sacrifice.
Wealth is the fruit of generosity.

A contented man is never disappointed.
He who knows when to stop is preserved from peril,
only thus can you endure long.

What are you putting emphasis on in your life? On your true self or on the person that relies on the approval and acceptance of others? On the person that is connected to everything and has everything needed or on the person who needs more and more material things to feel complete?

If you are putting more emphasis on getting more acclaim from others and more things, then, according to this verse, you are only looking for more trouble. What does this mean? If you reliant on outside things and people for your happiness and satisfaction, then you are going to be constantly disappointed. In addition, once you get that approval you are seeking or that object that you think you need, that will soon not be enough and you will then need the next person’s approval or the next bigger thing.

By gaining these things, you are losing because you are allowing those things to define you.When things define you, they are never enough and when you lose them, which you will, you lose your definition.

Love and wealth come to those that give without the need for retribution. What is wealth in this context? Wealth is a well lived life full of love, happiness and contentment.

“A contented man is never disappointed” because his (or her) satisfaction is not tied to any particular outcome. He/she sees the beauty in whatever is offered. He/she is grateful for what already exists and understand that everything and everyone is already connected, so there is no need for want and nothing is really ever missing.

The last two lines refer to knowing when to “stop”. This means to know when to get off of the constant treadmill of want and lacking. The desire for more and feeling that something is missing is a never ending cycle. Under this mindset, once something is gained, more is wanted.

By knowing when to get off that treadmill, one removes suffering and unhappiness.

43rd Verse – Fluidity in Action

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The softness of all things overrides the hardest of all things.
That without substance enters where there is no space.
Hence I know the value of nonaction.

Teaching without words,
performing without actions-few in the world can grasp it-that is the master’s way.
Rare indeed are those who obtain the bounty of this world.

This verse once again touches on the concept of being flexible and fluid in your actions and thoughts. We have seen before how forced actions cannot be sustained. Actions that are fluid and can bend as life changes are more easily sustained because there is a sense of effortlessness behind them.

This first stanza brings to my mind an image of water flowing through a rocky canyon. The soft, pliable water flows effortlessly through the hard rocks and enters any open spaces that it comes across. The water can flow at great speed and continuous motion while the rock is shaped by the pressure from the flowing water. Because the rock is hard and attempts to maintain its position, it is eroded and carved by the water.

Non-action is used in the verse to mean acceptance for what is and openness to the way of all things. In other words not fighting or resisting the natural flow of life. Of course, as we have seen in previous verses, this does not mean sitting on the couch and letting life pass by. Action is needed, but the key is to not get so caught up in expectations and outcomes (see Living in Expectancy) that we create more suffering and hardship in our lives.

The “master’s way” that is referred to in the second stanza is the state of being where a person can act without effort. Think of great sports legends who defined the sport that they excelled at. They often describe how when they are playing effectively, they are in the moment. They feel as if they can see the next action without even knowing it. They are in the flow and connected with what they are doing.

Many of us have glimpses of this “master’s way” when we are doing what we love and feel totally engrossed in the activity. We are in the zone, plugged in, on it, feeling it, or one of the many other euphemisms used to describe this state. This is when time flies by and nothing else matters.

As the verse says, “rare are those…” who can tap into this state on a regular basis. Those that can do it by remaining soft and pliable, accepting to the changes in the flow of life, and being unattached to particular outcomes or expectations.

This ability to be in tune with the “master’s way” is something that we all have. We just need to quiet the mind from the constant chatter of its rigidity in thought, focus on expectations, and resistance to change.

You cannot stop the waves, but you can learn to surf. ~ Jon Kabat-Zinn

Translation – You can not stop the problems and hardships from entering your life, but you can learn to accept and use them to learn and grow.

42nd Verse – Be the Change

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The Tao gave birth to one.
One gave birth to two.
Two gave birth to three.
And three begat the 10,000 things.
The 10,000 things carry yin and embrace yang;
they achieve harmony by combining forces.

People suffer at the thought of being without parents, without food, or without worth.
Yet this is the very way that kings and lords once described themselves.
For one gains by losing, and loses by gaining.

What others taught, I teach.
The violent do not die a natural death.
That is my fundamental teaching.

The Tao is the creating force of all things and is outside the control of our mortal hands. Everything that we see and experience carries both darkness (yin; also associated with water, earth, the moon, femininity and nighttime) and light (yang; also associated with fire, sky, the sun, masculinity and daytime). However, in order to achieve balance and harmony, both must be accepted.

People associate the possessions and the circumstances of their life with the level of happiness and contentment that they enjoy. However, one gains happiness and contentment by losing their attachment to those things of the outside world that they have become reliant on.

This last stanza can be summarized with the statement “what you put out is what you have given to you in return”. If you are a violent and angry person, then that is what you receive from others in return. That is the karma that you have created. On the other hand, what the verse is alluding to, but not explicitly stating is that the inverse is also true. If you exhibit love, peace, and joy then that is what you will receive more of in return. That is not to say that you will never see anger or misuse from others, but rather you will learn to not have your internal state impacted by such actions.

To summarize this verse, we can say that we must accept what is and understand that we have no control over the outside world. Therefore, we mustn’t become attached to things and expectations regarding situations in our lives. In return, no matter what the outside circumstances of our lives are, we must come from a place consistent with the qualities that we want to see in the world. Ergo, “Be the change that you wish to see in the world”.