Thoughts on Chapter 12 of the Tao Te Ching:
Five colors make your eyes go blind.
Five tones make your ears go deaf.
Five tastes make your palate dull.
The chase and hunt makes one’s mind and heart go crazy.
Rare and valuable treasures make people on guard.
The sage cares for her inner senses and not her outer senses,
preferring that which is within.
I think what Lao Tzu is saying in this chapter is that you can use your five senses to define things, but the sage doesn’t use the five senses to define anything. The sage looks within, where the truth is.
If you feel something like a piece of fabric, for example, most of what you are understanding about that fabric is not from you really feeling it. Instead, you are taking the definitions of all the fabrics that you have ever felt up until this point and you are applying it to that fabric. You are leaving out the possibility of something new that the fabric could be.
We do this all the time with the people in our lives, particularly with our families. To me, family are any of the people that you have been born and raised with. They’ve been with you or known you for your whole life. Whether you are close to them or not, they’ve defined you and you’ve defined them. Each of you has probably defined each other in a way that is steeped in memories. Your definitions of each other are stuck with what you have chosen to remember each other to be.
I think that our family gives us the most potential for learning our lessons. I love my family. I love my own family and the families that I have inherited through the people that I love. At the same time, I recognize that I am probably very limited in my perception of who they really are. I also understand that they are limited in their perceptions of me. It is just natural. That’s just family. That’s how it is.
When I get together with family, things come up inside of me. I’m facing my old patterns – whether those patterns are displayed in me or whether they are patterns I see in others, it doesn’t matter. I am often surprised by these patterns and think that I have moved beyond them, but just by the fact that they are present at that moment means to me that some remnant of them remains. If it was completely gone, I don’t think these situations would even occur. My challenge is to stay present to it. It is about being conscious in those situations so that I can grow from them. I can grow personally and our relationship can deepen from that experience. I can ask that I be given the foresight to recognize when I have been limiting other people in my thinking. I know that I can’t always know this, but I ask for this for myself and to deepen my connection with my dear family.
This all goes back to the senses because we decide ahead of time, when we are feeling a piece of fabric, that that fabric is going to feel a certain way. There might be a piece of gum on the fabric and we go, “Ooh, what’s that?” There could be things that happen that disrupt our perception of what that is and it makes us stop and think. It makes us look at it again, more deeply. This is a good thing when it comes to the people in our lives. We are disrupted from our automatic assumptions and are forced to look again, more deeply at the people we love. To me, this is what he is talking about here in this chapter. We need to allow ourselves to be open to the possibility that things or situations can be something different than we’ve defined.
Now, we don’t have a lot of emotions around a piece of fabric, but we do have a lot of emotions around people. There are always groups of people that we have judgements about. We have decided that this certain group of people is a certain way. I challenge us all to shift that and to see if we can find a different way to think about certain groups of people, belief systems, or anything else that pushes our buttons. How can we shift the way that we believe about it? It is not easy. Stuck patterns are stuck for a reason!
Entities, whether it is a person or an institution, are developing and evolving. They are always changing. So you can’t make really assumptions about them. Take religion, for example. Religions are always shifting and changing. Some religions shift and change faster than others, but we really don’t know. Unless we are in the midst of that particular religion or that particular church or synagogue, we really have no idea what is current. If you generalize to the whole religion, that could very different even than one of its churches. You just cannot assume. There are many churches, for example, that vary greatly from the standards set forth in the religion. So how do we judge this? We cannot.
In the last line, Lao Tzu suggests that we lean towards what is within. The truth that is within each of us is very basic. It is settled and easy. All of us have basic truths that cannot be changed. That is called Tao.