Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Thoughts on the Tao Te Ching 26

Poem 26

The heavy is the root of the light.
The unmoved is the source of all movement.

Thus the Master travels all day
without leaving home.
However splendid the views,
she stays serenely in herself.

Why should the lord of the country
flit about like a fool?
If you let yourself be blown to and fro,
you lose touch with your root.
If you let restlessness move you,
you lose touch with who you are.

Rocks on Donabate Beach


As we have outlined many times before in these pages, spiritual writers like to proceed by way of pardox, by setting up contradictions to make the reader or aspiring disciple think, ponder, meditate and contemplate.  Spirituality engages all faculties, not just that of the intellect.  It takes into account all the dimensions of the human being - intellect, heart, feelings, the unconscious, the non-rational and the irrational at times.  The last two lines make me ponder and wonder and they are worth re-quoting even at this close juncture to their former mention:

If you let restlessness move you,
you lose touch with who you are

These lines in the third stanza of the 26th poem brings the early philosopher and theologian St Augustine of Hippo to my mind.  Augustine (354 - 430 A.D.) often described himself as a restless seeker more so than a systematic and profound thinker.  He tells us in his Confessions that he restlessly sought out the truth (or the Good or God) behind the so-called world of the senses.  He declared that he had sought God everywhere, in his many travels around the then known world and in his relationships - some of them failures in worldly terms - and studies.  He tells us that he finally found God in the stillness of his own heart - within himself rather than in the world without. Those Augustinian thoughts seem to contradict outright what the Taoist poet is getting at. Once again, the contradiction is only apparent at one level.  I constantly refer to the predilection of spiritual writers with the healthy tension of opposites.  We have it here, both in Augustine and the Taoist poet. Augustine realised finally that truth or the Good or God could really only be found within his inner self, or heart or soul. So restlessness led Augustine to find rest for his weary soul within his own soul or heart through prayer of meditation, a process of contemplation or meditation he called "interiority" or the "interior way."  In this sense, he is actually in agreement with the Taoist author.

Icon of St Augustine of Hippo

In ways, even if we do not travel in a physical sense, we can travel in our inner selves or minds.  If we are seekers of peace, we shall certainly only find it within ourselves after much meditation and facing and integrating our own individual shadow as Carl Gustav Jung recommends. 

If we are overwhelmed by the weather, it is often good to recall that it is the inner weather of our minds that is the most important thing in anyone's life.  Then, no matter where we go, we will not need to complain about the outer weather.  A good traveller is one who is "at home" in his or her own mind, comfortable with themselves, happy with the lives with which they have been gifted.  In this sense, then, a good traveller never gets homesick.  Let us now add to the above paradoxes by suggesting that a person who stays at home because of some anxiety or depression or other mental problem can be a very restless traveller in his/her own mind.  In fact, they simply are not "at home" with themselves - and this is a very painful mental disequilibrium.

Once again, I invite any reader of the above lines to read over the above Taoist poem and let a word, phrase or line vibrate like a mantra in their minds for at least five minutes of peace and restfulness. 

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