January 29, 2019
I unwittingly started this series on the Tao Te Ching with one of the first posts on my site, way back in October of 2017. That post was built around one of my favourite verses from what is definitely my favourite spiritual text: “Do your work, then step back. The only path to serenity.”
The Tao is little book packed full of such wisdom – simple, direct, practical. I have my copy sitting on my bedside table and I refer to it often, because it is largely concerned with two issues with which I mightily struggle: ego and non-attachment. There have been times when I’ve needed that little book. I need it now, which makes now a good time to dig deeper into some of the passages that resonate with me.
We’ll start with a biggie that, curiously, doesn’t seem to appear this way in every translation: “Have faith in the way things are.”
That’s a timely one for me these days, as once again I’m faced with uncertainty about my future. It’s tough being a working musician (and a working writer) sometimes. Money is tough. Finding gigs is tough. Holding on just a little longer when the phone isn’t ringing is tough. There are times – many, many times – when it feels like there’s no hope of being able to make it work. It’s the same for anyone in any profession, really. Or for people in relationships. Or people who are sick. Or people who are struggling with anger or addiction or loss.
It can be so hard to have faith in the way things are. It can be hard to have faith in anything at all, even at the best of times, so when things are spiralling, dejection is much easier than faith.
But how does that serve us?
Stress, worry, anxiety, bitterness. These negative reactions are natural and human and appropriate in many cases, but over the long term they don’t serve any purpose. They cause depression, they make you tired, they affect your relationships. They make things worse, not better, easy as they are. I don’t think Lao Tzu was being naïve when he wrote that we should have faith in the way things are. I think he was saying that acceptance is better than avoidance. That if this universal life force – the Tao – is real, it can be used to make change. Or, more specifically, it can use us to make change.
I know people who have had awful things happen to them and say they wouldn’t change a thing. I’ve heard stories about people whose rock bottoms – whose abuse, addictions, betrayals, suffering, and hardships – made them who they are. If you have faith in something beyond yourself, whether you call it consciousness or God or the Tao or the Flying Spaghetti Monster, the Tao asks you to believe that where you are is simply where you are and that your circumstances can be the springboard to a better life, a better you, or perhaps a resounding legacy.
A bodybuilder builds muscle through adversity. A drummer builds skill through practice. A frightened person builds courage by facing fear. A person at peace builds faith by believing through struggle. Instead of looking at your situation as a problem, can you look at it as an opportunity? Is it inviting you to overcome it, and in the overcoming find your strength? Provide inspiration? Teach someone? Be who and what you always wanted to be?
Look, I’m not being naïve about this either. Life can be brutal. Cultivating faith may be one of the hardest things you will ever attempt to do, and I certainly haven’t done it. This blog post has been more difficult than pretty much any other, because who am I to preach faith to anyone? But that’s always been the point, really: to write about what I struggle with. If you’re like me, your head is under attack from negative thoughts and projections. Your body is clenched and in pain. You’re tired.
So what do we do?
Be grateful for the good things, the good people, the good experiences in our lives (I am so fortunate).
Be responsible for the ways we’ve contributed to our current circumstances.
Be open to new directions.
Be willing to listen.
Be kind to people and to ourselves.
Focus on love.
Be courageous enough to take action and do the work.
And, as a segue to the next piece in the series, be patient as things unfold ….