Reflections on Chapter 20 of the Tao Te Ching:
A life without cultivation has no center.
All the people are happily busying themselves
with celebration and feasting on life,
Taking in the sights like its springtime.
I, alone, stay calm and centered
with no desires like a newborn
who has not yet learned to smile.
Lazy, as if I have nowhere to go.
All the people possess more than enough,
While I appear to be left behind.
My mind remains foolish, indeed very blank.
Most people shine bright.
I, alone, am dark and dim.
People of the world are sharp and alert.
I, alone, am withdrawn and quiet,
drifting like the ocean –
Blowing free like a breeze with no place to go.
Most people have purpose,
While I, alone, seem playful and unrefined.
I am different from most people
in that I draw my sustenance
from the Great Mother.
This chapter brought home a concept that I have always believed and that is really challenging for people in general. I certainly have been challenged by this. I have a daughter who is heading into her teenage years, so I am being reminded of my own teenage years when you really care about what other people think and really wanting to look good.
This chapter is saying that it is OK to be yourself. If you are really following your path, it is often times not going to be met with support from others. It may, but in many cases it won’t. Many times the people around you may not be supportive of your growth and your changes. It’s a tough one. It’s a lonely road. I think that it’s easy to fall into just agreeing and dismissing it. As social beings, we often times will forego what we want for our friends and family. We may even change ourselves so that we fit what we think is what people want and our assumptions may not necessarily even be accurate. When everyone is doing that, then nobody is who they want to be. They are all just this fake version of themselves. There is something inherently wrong about that. That is part of what this work is for me, and this is an important chapter. This is what I really want people to get out of my work. You are really free to be yourself.
Enjoy what it is that makes you different from other people.
As a sage, a person really into developing your spiritual nature, you may find that the people around you don’t fit you very well sometimes. It’s OK that this is how it is. You have to trust that you are still doing the right thing, even though it may seem like everyone else around you is doing that. One reference he talks about being the fool. I don’t know what it was like during Lao Tzu’s time, but now (and probably always has been) if you are wanting to be deep and spiritual, people make fun of you. They think of you as the fool. I think that part of that is based on a judgement that you are not following in the way that everyone is following, and you are standing out. People don’t seem to like that. The deeper you go, the less likely it is that there are going to be people on your same path. But I really believe that this is not how we are meant to be. The people who are pushing forward and developing themselves spiritually are forging a new way of being for people. I think, if you look back at what we’ve been through. In the last 50 years in the U.S., we have made amazing developments. Amazing! We used to treat African Americans as less than. There are still remnants of that, but now we have an African American president! It’s wonderful how much we’ve developed. We judge ourselves and think that we are not developing.
Regardless of what the topic is, if you are willing to stand out for what you believe in and be willing to take the criticism of others for doing that, I think that you are helping us to move forward. Everyone has that potential. It’s just, how are you going to stay in it? Are you going to stand in your power with it? I think the deeper you go, the more challenging that is. I’ve listened to many of Wayne Dyer’s talks and read many of his books and he’s dealt with that. Marianne Williamson, too. All of them have been very challenged with that. Eckhart Tolle, at one point in his life was so depressed that he went and just lived on a park bench. (This was before he wrote books and got famous.) Part of that depression is the human angst. Wanting things to be more than they are and feeling stuck in that because it seems the entire world is pushing you to be normal. They are. There’s a reason for that. There’s an energetic building of things and when you are able to overcome an obstacle, there’s a win from that. So I think we set those situations up for ourselves. We put those hurdles in front of our lives. We don’t literally try and create problems for ourselves, but it’s the human condition. The soul’s journey is to create hurdles to overcome. We all know there’s joy in that.
I did the Warrior Dash recently. Why would I do that? Why would I sign up for something that is so hard? I am not a runner, yet I signed up for this race that has all these obstacles. Seems impossible for me to do because I am so out of shape. But I did it. I am proud of the fact that I did it. I’m proud because it had me overcoming those hurdles that strengthened myself. I know that my physical strength is a weakness, so I took it on. I decided I just wanted to move past my weakness. So that’s what I did.
In the chapter on Polishing Your Mirror, we talked about weaknesses. We talked about how developing yourself is a lot about pushing yourself past those hurdles. I think that’s one of the reasons it’s set up that way – that the bulk of humanity seems to be against you doing your thing. That’s your challenge to overcome. Your soul has put that as a challenge to you, to overcome that. What are you going to do with that? What are you going to do? Are you going to just sit on the couch and forget about it or are you going to do something about it? If you are or if you aren’t. Either answer is great. If you aren’t, it just gives you more opportunities to learn something from yourself…in the next moment of consciousness. You are reading this right now so to some degree, you have an interest in developing yourself as a person. It’s OK if you don’t step into that challenge. You will, at some point, become conscious of yourself. You will develop and grow and then you will fall into a slump.
It’s an evolutionary process. It’s inevitable. Everyone does that.
But not everyone is becoming conscious of their patterns. If you have that ability, it’s part of what you bring to the world – as a gift. That is part of what your gift is. If you have the ability to develop yourself, you can be a beacon for someone. You can be someone who people look at and say, “I might want to do that too.” Maybe we can shift that. Maybe we can shift it so that we are more in support of people developing themselves. I think in some ways, this is already happening. I have been selective of who I surround myself with, so my friends and family are very supportive, but not everyone has that. But people are waking up. Often times the criticisms we fear are not even coming from other people. We hear it in our heads. There’s an invisible force of people that think that I am strange for doing what I do, but no one actually has said anything to prove that out. I made it up. I made up my own obstacles.
Many people are raised in an environment where it is not supported to do this kind of work. I am willing to stick my neck out and say it’s great. I think it’s great to experiment with your spirituality and try meditation. I think it’s great to spend the energy that you have in this lifetime to develop yourself. Who knows? You get to the end of your life and it’s like, “What was my life all about?”
As I look back on my own development, I take this as an example of how I might feel going forward and I feel proud for developing myself. I’m happy with who I am. I want more of that in my life. I want more of being proud of myself and feeling like I am developing and growing.
It’s not about anybody else.
One of the reasons people have for not wanting other people to develop is that there is like this hierarchy. They want to cut people down because it seems as if they are ahead in some way. A lot of that criticism is because of what we talked about in Chapter 19 – the person developing is on some high horse and people hate that. If you find yourself sitting on top of a high horse, just get down. That’s all. It all goes back to being conscious and learning your lessons.
When people are developing themselves, they make mistakes. Sometimes when people start developing themselves, they act like everyone else should be doing it too. That’s why it’s really OK if you are not developing yourself. If you are really OK with not developing yourself in this moment, you are not going to judge other people for not developing. That’s what I think most people buck up against. The biggest complaint that people have when someone they know is eating healthy or starting a meditation practice, is that they are feeling judged by that person. It’s a common thing for people when they first start something is to think that everyone else should be doing it too. People hate that.
So what do you think of all of this? Do you have a good support network or do you feel like people are trying to be an obstacle for you? Please share your comments in the space below!
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