Saturday, December 22, 2007
The Still Point of Being
Trusting the Tao of Things
It’s difficult, oftentimes very difficult, to let go and trust life as we experience it with its entire vicissitudes, that somewhere beneath or above or within us – use whatever preposition you wish – there lies a pattern or a meaning. Let me come straight to the point. Some four weeks back I stood in a large room at the local undertaker’s viewing the body of a brother of a work colleague who had died of cancer. I had met this individual twice or three times through work – an amiable, jovial bon-vivant type of guy. Now here he was, Liam X, laid out in a coffin, just two months before his fiftieth birthday. As I viewed the body I noticed how yellow and shrivelled it was – how lifeless, lifeless, lifeless the cadaver was. In a corner stood his brother with his nephew, both confused and dazed. Liam X was a successful business man who left two beautiful children and a lovely wife, and I’m fairly sure, lots of money. This was a successful man indeed. He once lived life fully. Now he was no more. He was lifeless, lifeless, lifeless.
Why did the death of this man whom I did not know very well – certainly an acquaintance but not a friend – have such an impact on me? Well, I suppose this was a death in which I was not emotionally involved, but rather, almost more significantly, this was a death in which I was philosophically, existentially and by implication of shared years objectively involved. Liam X was exactly 1 month younger than me. I was born January 5th 1958 while he was born in February of that same year. For me, then, Liam X’s death hit me in a deeply conscious, self-enhancing, life-affirming way. It touched roots of being (even non-being) that resided deep within my very core; deep within every single cell of that home I call my body-mind.
Then, there is the coming to terms with my own ageing – what it is like to grow old. I suffer from at least three complaints – high blood pressure, a poor cholesterol level and endogenous depression – for all of which I am on medication. This morning the doctor warned me about my increasing waistline and that my bloods showed an increase in certain sugars which were borderline diabetic. That’s all I need – the possibility of more pills to add to my woes. However, I am not at all upset by these complaints as I will do my best in the New Year to begin exercising and getting my weight down. That way, the doctor advises me I will not be a candidate for diabetes – which, along with high blood pressure, runs in the family. Once again, I found myself observing more objectively than usual what the doctor was saying. Yes, I can do more exercise – definitely I can. Of late, I cannot remember consciously going for any walks. Definitely, there will be New Year resolutions as regards my weight. Also, as I recounted in my last post, I have decided to take at least a year out from teaching. I have decided to inscribe for an M.Phil. in psychoanalysis in TCD. I am beginning to feel that a weight has been taken off my shoulders. I am beginning to feel lighter already as a result of this decision. In like manner, I hope and believe indeed that such decisions will also influence me to make further ones as regards my lifestyle – type of food I consume, as well as the intention to do more physical exercise. If I’ve had the firmness of mind to decide on taking a year out, I can and will exercise the same firmness of mind as regards these other issues.
All of these things listed above, plus all the other existential concerns we experience as we go through life make up what I have called in my title above, “The Tao of Things.” They are the Tao of Things for me right now. I must trust the body sense of all that I am experiencing here and now. The language I am using here in these last few sentences is rooted in the therapy of “focusing” propounded and established by the great psychiatrist, Eugene Gendlin, M.D., and to which I was introduced some years back by a friend of mine. Oftentimes, our bodies know best, and it’s the best of wisdom to listen to its complaints and to take action thereupon.
Lao Tsu (Lao Tzu, Lao Zi) taught that the wisest approach was a way of ‘non struggle action’ ("Wuwei"or "wu wei") – not inaction but rather a harmonisation of one’s personal will with the natural harmony and justice of Nature. ‘The World is ruled by letting things take their natural course. It cannot be ruled by going against nature or arrogance.’ According to Chinese tradition,Laozi lived in the 6th century BC. Historians contend that Laozi actually lived in the 4th century BC, concurrent with the Hundred Schools of Thought and Warring States Period, that he is a synthesis of multiple historical figures or that he is a mythical figure. However, these facts are quite irrelevant to the importance of the teaching contained in that body of wisdom called The Tao or in the religious tenets of the religion called Taoism.
There are many names for Tao, e.g., The Eternal Tao; the Great Tao; the Primal Unity; the Source; the Cosmic Mother; the Infinite and Ineffable Principle of Life; the One; let’s even use that greener than green term Gaia; God; “the Unmoved Mover” (Aristotle); the Moral Order; the Right; the Principle; the Nature of Life’s forces; the Method; the Way; “the Unity behind the Multeity” (Coleridge) - in many ways the concept of Tao resembles the Greek concept of Logos. In fact, in modern translations of the New Testament into Chinese, logos is translated by the word “Tao”. We could add further names to this list of synonyms. Let the reader add his or her own!
I’ll finish this post with a few quotations from the Tao which appeal to me:
Free from desire, you realise the mystery/ Caught in Desire, you see only the manifestations. (Tao 1)
Practice not-doing and everything will fall into place. (Tao 3)
In dwelling, live close to the ground.
In thinking, keep to the simple.
In conflict, be fair and generous.
In governing, don’t try to control.
In work, do what you enjoy.
In family, be completely present.
When you are content to be simply yourself
And don’t compare and compete,
Everybody will respect you. (Tao 8)
I have taken all my quotations from the lovely edition of the Tao called Tao Te Ching: an Illustrated Journey (Translated by Stephen Mitchell, a Frances Lincoln Publication, 1999).
The picture I have pasted above is one I shot up through the trees from a supine position on the grass in July 2006 in a small park in Pistoia in Tuscany. In a way it expresses the Still Point of Being or the Tao.