It happened while reading last night. The last two chapters of The Untethered Soul by Michael Singer. The entire book has been quite an eye-opening experience, but it is the penultimate chapter which struck me like Thor’s hammer with clarity on a subject previously very clouded: The Tao Te Ching.
I’ve read the Tao several times, and studied extensively Dr. Wayne Dyer’s Change Your Thoughts, Change Your Life, an exploration of each individual verse and a commonization of the language and message, as he interpreted it, for today’s audience. I adore the book and, indeed, re-read, every morning prior to my meditation, a random chapter.
But Singer took this important and deeply complex book and subject to its root with a pair of simple, clean analogies. First, he likened the daily trials and tribulations of normal human life to a pendulum; it’s known that if you pull a pendulum to a given height in one direction, it will swing to precisely that height in the opposite direction before beginning its slow deceleration to balance. Life is precisely the same, Singer points out. Any extreme situation begets an equally extreme reaction, as we push back against whatever we perceive to be assailing us. But the Tao teaches that life needn’t be lived in the extremes. Indeed, peace and harmony lie between.
The example used so brilliantly was one I’ve used in my book and in many conversations about empathy over the time I’ve been describing it: traffic. If someone cuts you off in rush hour traffic, likely you’ll react angrily and spend at least some time fuming about it. You’ll spend that time living in the past, in the event that happened 8 seconds ago, or 8 hours ago, depending on how long you allow it to derail you. That isn’t the fault of the other driver, either. It’s your decision to dwell on it and let it eat away at your day.
Living the Tao, though, is living without reaction. You’ll notice the other driver being foolish and you’ll feel your ire rising, but when you notice yourself getting angry, you’ll deny them the ability to upset you, and you’ll remain in the now. The event lasts only as long as it lasts, and no longer.
There are 81 verses in the Tao Te Ching, and I’ve read and studied them all many times over the last 2+ years. Living in the center of the pendulum, allowing life to proceed without the need or desire to control it is key to personal peace. Singer drew the parallel of going through life blind, with no expectations of what was to come. Now, when a blind person walks with a cane, tapping and sweeping back and forth, they’re not looking for where they should go, rather they’re determining where NOT to go. Avoiding obstacles and staying centered. Staying on the path without venturing into extremes.
This isn’t to say that life should be lived in a vanilla and uninteresting way. Quite the opposite. Merely that life doesn’t need to be a chaotic bouncing from one extreme to another, crying, bitching, fighting, competing, envying, striving, stretching, reaching, REACTING. Life is meant to be ENJOYED, and that joy is meant to be SHARED. My joy is in creating, through both my writing and my artwork, and in service to my world. Be it bringing light with my words, joy via my artwork, or just helping a stranger load groceries into their trunk.
What is YOUR joy, and how will you express it today?