Sunday, November 15, 2015

Thoughts on the Tao Te Ching 23

Stanza 23

Express yourself completely,
then keep quiet.
Be like the forces of nature:
when it blows, there is only wind;
when it rains, there is only rain;
when the clouds pass, the sun shines through.

If you open yourself to the Tao,
you are at one with the Tao
and you can embody it completely.
If you open yourself to insight,
you are at one with insight
and you can use it completely.
If you open yourself to loss,
you are at one with loss
and you can accept it completely.

Open yourself to the Tao,
then trust your natural responses;
and everything will fall into place.

The good old worker bee,  I took this photograph in 2010


The above poem is essentially about the twin skills of openness and listening.  Both these skills lie at the heart of the practice of meditation.  When we sit to meditate we firstly relax our bodies and de-stress it bit by bit.  Then we concentrate on the rhythm of our breath as it oxygenates our body and expels carbon dioxide through our nostrils - that basic process physiologists and biologists call respiration.  In meditation circles we call the attention to our respiratory apparatus simply "the act of returning to or paying close attention to the breath." This simple act is one of sheer receptivity to the breath that keeps our very body alive in this moment in time.  In holistic practices like that of Focusing, invented by Dr. Eugene Gendlin the person engaged in the process focuses on the "felt sense" of some problem,  Essentially focusing like mindfulness uses those skills used for thousands of years by the different masters and practitioners of meditation in the various religious traditions.  

The sand on Donabate Beach, 2013

In focusing one is literally listening to how we hold certain feelings in our bodies.  I would argue that meditators actually do that very naturally anyway.  It is also my contention that mindfulness is secular meditation and that modern authors who peddle their wares in the form of books, CDs and DVDs on mindfulness stole the clothes of the traditional meditators, but that is a story for a different post than this one.

Another major theme in the above poem is that of self-expression.  Such expression can be done in many creative ways: in art of all kinds, in literature, in poems, in music, in dance, in mime and in sculpture and architecture and so on.  Then, once one has expressed how one feels, the author recommends that we learn to keep quiet.  This is good wisdom as we must for sure express all our emotions, especially negative ones as unexpressed feelings will eat and gnaw away at us forever until they are given expression through one medium or another,  However, there is nothing worst than someone who continually repeats the same old moan and never has the courage to do anything about it.  Such is not what our Taoist writer has in mind.  He (or she) sees the expression of feelings as being therapeutic once expressed.  In this way, the person gets whatever is weighing them down or even lifting them up off their minds.

The second stanza sings the praises of openness which it also sees as essentially healing and therapeutic.  Such openness allows us to feel empathy with our inner self, with others and indeed with the source of all life which some of us dare call God.  Interestingly, the poet recommends that we be open both to negative and positive experiences: On the one hand we can be open to the positive experience of insight and by being so open we become one with it.  On the other hand, we can be open to the negative experience of loss and in so doing becoming one with loss.  Such an openness paradoxically helps us accept that loss and learn to live with it from day to day.  In short, such openness allows the human spirit to heal.

The author invites us in essence to open ourselves to the Tao and in so doing we open ourselves to the healing powers of the universe.  The final stanza works like a chorus and is worth repeating as it is really a summary of the whole poem:

Open yourself to the Tao,
then trust your natural responses;
and everything will fall into place.

In conclusion, some word or phrase or line may suggest itself as a matra for meditation or as a thought to inspire a short period of contemplation.  I wish the reader of these few words peace and happiness in the now of experience.  Namaste, friends!

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