Tuesday, August 05, 2008

Back To The Tao Te Ching

Yesterday I had to leave work early and spent part of the day working at home. Working at home was a challenge. Even though I have an office in an upstairs bedroom, my computer is downstairs in my music room. Immediately to my left is my couch and just a few feet away is my Lazy Boy recliner. They sang their siren song to me all afternoon. I should have asked my wife to tie me to my desk chair the way Ulysses was tied to the mast of his ship.Since I had gotten home earlier and didn't have to face the evening commute, I took advantage of the time and drove to the nursing home to see my Dad. As I walked in I saw him in the dining room waiting for his dinner. I was happy that I arrived just in time to feed him and talk to him while he ate. I enjoy feeding my Dad. I consider it a sacred moment and an opportunity for some intimacy with him. The conversation is light because he can't handle anything too heavy at this point. About half way through the meal one of my brothers showed up so the two of us stayed with Dad until he was ready to get back in the bed. Like most people in his condition he would like to stay in bed all day. However the staff won't let him and he is up for every meal and then required to sit up for a while. Before we left my brother and I took him for a stroll around the parking lot. It was probably 95 degrees but he thought it felt great because like most old people he's easily chilled. It was a good visit.

I've been a little sidetracked lately but I am back into the Tao Te Ching and the Chinese philosophy of Lao Tzu. Verse 23 is about living with flexibility. Let me quote a few lines of this chapter.

The flexible are preserved unbroken. The bent become straight. The empty are filled. The exhausted become renewed. The poor are enriched. The rich are confounded. Therefore the sage embraces the one. Because he doesn't display himself, people can see his light. Because he has nothing to prove, people can trust his words. Because he doesn't know who he is, people recognize themselves in him. Because he has no goal in mind, everything he does succeeds. The old saying that the flexible are preserved unbroken is surely right! If you have truly attained wholeness, everything will flock to you.

The first thing that strikes me about these words are the paradoxical nature of the words themselves. The bent become straight, the empty are filled, the exhausted become renewed. These words have a lot in common with the Christian Gospels. The first shall be last. The last shall be first. Take the back seat and you will often be ushered to the front. If you want to be the greatest, seek to be the least. They also remind me of some of the writings of the 16th century Spanish mystic, St, John of the Cross. Let me quote a few lines from some of his writings.

To arrive at having pleasure in everything, desire to have pleasure in nothing. To arrive at possessing everything, desire to possess nothing. To arrive at being everything, desire to be nothing. To arrive at knowing everything, desire to know nothing.

I think what all of this is saying to us is not to go down what we think is the obvious path. In our culture so many of us are so driven and full of our own desires and plans and goals. We think we know everything, including what we want and how to get there. The spiritual life, however, is one of paradox. What seems obvious is often the wrong path. The dark path is often the path of enlightenment. The mighty oak tree seems the strongest but is often the first to go in a tornado or hurricane. One of the strongest trees is actually the tall and slender palm tree. It can survives the hurricanes of life because it is flexible. I know I often fight life and my resistance may have sometimes kept me from going where life wanted to take me. I am not suggesting that all of us should be like rudderless boats on the ocean tossed about by the waves with no sense of direction. What I am suggesting is that our journeys should not always be guided by the world's compass. Follow your heart, follow your bliss, and let the wind fill your sails. As J.R.R. Tolkien, the author of The Lord of the Rings says, "All those who wander are not lost".

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