I read the Tao Te Ching again over the weekend, looking, as always, for some inspiration and answers to life’s big questions. Of course, right off the bat the first line of chapter one demolishes this ridiculous expectation: “The Tao that can be told is not the eternal Tao.” Damn! I should be able to learn the secrets of the universe from a book! Except…wasn’t the universe around for, oh, some twelve billion years before there were books? Hmmmm. Maybe what made it possible for books to eventually be written is something far different from what is in books—words, concepts, ideas.
Laurel and I have been struck recently (not that this is a new revelation) about how shaky is the ground on which we all try to sustain ourselves. Of course, we have our idiosyncratic personal supports, which are different from other people’s supports. But almost everyone tries to sustain him- or herself by leaning on props that are something other than him- or herself. And those props are prone to falling over. People. Organizations. Political parties. Nations. Ideologies. Philosophies. Nature. Everything around us is changing and changeable. Disappointments are inevitable when we expect to find a firm grounding on ever-shifting sand.
Expectations have a lot to do with dissatisfaction. This is an obvious observation, but it bears observing nonetheless. What is happening is what is happening. And what isn’t happening is what isn’t happening. (If I keep on in this vein, I’ll have written a New Age book). So, how do we accept reality, whatever it may turn out to be? Chuang Tzu, an ancient Taoist sage, has some nice advice in a treatise called “The Full Understanding of Life.” Yes, these are just words. But they point toward a way of being that is anything but conceptual.
Chuang Tzu says, “The perfect man attains to be without form, as it were, and beyond the capability of being transformed….He will study with delight the process that gives beginning and ending to all things…In this condition, with his heavenly constitution kept entire and no crevice in his spirit, how can things disturb his serenity?” Wow. That sounds great. Having achieved that, I could probably even watch Fox News and not feel my blood beginning to boil. The key, it seems, is remaining continually drunk. Not on alcohol. But on something else that inebriates, and is all around us—maybe it even is us. This next Chuang Tzu paragraph is cool:
“Take the case of a drunken man falling from his carriage. Though he may suffer injury, he will not die. His bones and joints are the same as those of other men, but the injury which he receives is different: his spirit is entire. He knew nothing about getting into the carriage and nothing about falling from it. The thought of death or life, or of any alarm or affright, does not enter his breast. Therefore he encounters danger without shrinking from it. Completely under the influence of the liquor he has drunk, it is thus with him. How much more would it be so if he were under the influence of his Heavenly constitution.! The sagely man is kept hid in his Heavenly constitution and therefore nothing can injure him.”
Now, if I could just find that Tavern where the Liquor of Life never stops being served, and hangovers are unknown. I’ve heard sages say that it is so close at hand that we can’t see it because of its nearness, not its distance. Got to keep looking, I guess, though more and more I wonder if it is the looking that prevents me from finding it.