What Meaning Do We Have?

Reflections on Chapter 38 of the Tao Te Ching:

Huang Shan Mountain in China

Superior character does not display virtue
for all to see,
and thus is truly virtuous.

Inferior character
always keeps virtue in sight,
and thus lacks true virtue.

The highest virtue is without action,
Yet things always get done.
Lesser virtue creates much effort
in order to get things done.

Superior kindness
requires effort to keep its name.
Superior righteousness
requires effort to maintain itself.
Superior rules
require a response or it raises a hand to enforce.

In this way, the natural Tao is lost
and cultivated virtue is all that is left.

When virtue is lost,
Superior kindness follows.
When kindness is lost,
Superior righteousness follows.
When superior righteousness is lost,
Rules of propriety prevail.
The veneer of false sincerity thins
and chaos begins.

The great master abides in the deep truth of Tao
and does not dwell in shallowness.
She stays with the fruit and not the flower.

We human beings are so funny.

We have all these little pretenses about our lives. When you really look at them, they are so unnatural. When someone is really good at something, they don’t claim to the world that they are good at something. If they do, people kinda think they are a jerk. They don’t do that. They just do their thing. If they are really good at it, they already have a ton of people telling them they are good at it so they don’t need to have a bunch more people telling them they are good. That is the energy of it.

I think the same goes with rules and restrictions.

People don’t need a bunch of rules. They just do the right thing. Do you ever go up to a stop light where the light is out? Everyone just knows what to do. They just naturally help each other. When you think about it, there are very few situations that there are no rules – at least in the U.S. I would love to explore regions of the world where it is more fluid, where life is not so regimented. I think that we have built this falseness of our lives that isn’t really natural. We get in a car and go to a job that is contrived. Not to say that everybody does this, but a lot of us do.Our lives are built in this way that we do these things that are unnatural.

Lots of people, when they are dying, are scared.

I think that this is because we are afraid that we haven’t really done very much with our lives. Same thing with retirement. What is retirement? You work yourself to the bone for 40 or 50 years and then do nothing? Some people, when they hit retirement, they die. They just cash in their chips. They aren’t working anymore so they think their life is not worth anything anymore so they just die. It is horrifically sad. When you think about that, you wonder what that is all about?

What meaning do we have?

I think that we really want to create some meaning for our lives. You don’t need all those structures in place. Just do what really feels good for you. If you are like most people, what feels really good is helping people and making the world a better place. In some ways, we prevent ourselves from making the world a better place by contriving all these structures that we live by that don’t really need to be there half the time.

That is what lifestyle design is all about.

There are a lot of great books out there right now on this stuff. Chris Guillebeau is leading a movement called World Domination and there is Timothy Ferris with his 4-Hour WorkweekΒ and Michael Masterson’s The Pledge. Then we have Danielle LaPorte with her Fire Starter Sessions. This is just a few of them. I am sure that there are many more. All of these people are gathering to say there is more to it, so get out and LIVE. That is the common theme.

It is really about having your life be your own. It’s a process. We are all in different places with it and it is OK wherever you are. I think that we are so used to the rules and the structure of how you are supposed to be and what you are supposed to be doing. When that falls away, it is chaos. You may think that you can’t do it. You may think that it is crazy and that you can’t survive, but you would be wrong. You can.

You can reclaim your awareness.

You can make your life meaningful by pursuing things that really hold value for you. Find something for you that feels like it is a contribution. What are you contributing and how can you work that, like a piece of art? What can you do with your time here so that it is valuable and meaningful and gives you a sense of importance? It can be your job but it doesn’t have to be. It is also about your family and your friends and your home. All of those things play into you creating a fabulous life.

It is really about being conscious of that and finding your truth.

That is what Tao is about. It is about your truth and about finding your truth. It is about finding out what it is that you are here to do in the bigger picture. Maybe that is volunteering or maybe it is a friend that you have really made a huge difference in their life. People often say when a young child dies that it is really horrifying and senseless. For any parent to imagine that their child would not survive. Why would that happen? How would that serve anything?

All things have some meaning behind them that we can’t see.

All things have some purpose that we are not aware of. When awful things happen, you just have to trust that there is something in that. Maybe it is a lifetime or multiple lifetimes of lessons that are being learned in that process. A young child dying is very hard to comprehend. We can’t know all that is behind everything. We can’t know. We just have to be open to letting things just naturally flow the way that they were designed to flow and let it be OK. We have to just let the world be OK just as it is.

In the very last line, he talks about the fruit and the flower. In the U.S., we kinda want to just hang out with the flowers. The fruit is the juicy sweetness of life. The flower is the shallow pretty. The fruit is what comes out of it all. The flower is just the edge of it, not the whole thing. The fruit is where all of it comes together into fabulous.

Where in your life is the fruit? What do you think of this chapter? As you read through it, what does it say to you? Please tell us in the comments! We would love to hear from you.


  1. Great to see more commentary from you on the Tao in this post, Amy. Perhaps the flaw is in trying to leave a legacy? When effort, focus and energy is put to how others will remember you, one loses the now.
    Nanette Levin recently posted…R U πŸ™ w/ crappy copywriting?My Profile

    • lol…thanks, Nanette! I was out in the woods last week so I wasn’t blogging much but I am back! Hmmm… I like that idea. We definitely need a bit more of the now in our lives. I think that our legacy is in our day to day living, in how we live out our lives every day. If we lived in the now every single moment, I think that would create a wonderful legacy! πŸ™‚

  2. “Lots of people, when they are dying, are scared.” And, I would transpose that “lots of people, when they are scared, are dying.” We waste so much time in fear. My Fruit? In seeking joy in all things–even the manure piles. πŸ˜€
    Arwen recently posted…Crows, Swans & CarrionMy Profile

  3. Great post! I feel like I’ve been on this path and paying attention to the fruit and looking for a life with meaning. I have enjoyed this journey, even the tough moments because I know I’m doing the best thing for myself and my family. Thank you for such a great post.

  4. My children are my fruit. They empower me to go that extra distance. I think as a parent I feel that everything I do has a higher purpose than just getting a dollar or to fill time.
    I work shift work so I get better pay and provide for my family. I choose to work so that my daughters have a hard working successful female to look up to. I volunteer because I believe that if you do good, then good will come back. I get up on those days when Im depressed and want to do nothing because I have them to motivate me.

    • That is really cool, Te. Thanks for rambling around on my site. It’s appreciated! My daughter is my fruit as well! (Never really thought of it like that, but a nice way of putting it.) Good luck with UBC!

  5. Thank you! I like it a lot!

  6. Pingback: 38 – A Path to Character

  7. Great post Amy, it is so true that we can make life more fulfilling by pursuing the things we value. I went from loving a previous job to feeling like I was drowning. Now I can look back and see that a change in culture was not in alignment with my values.

    I love my life now and can’t emphasize enough to clients how important it is to be aware of their values

  8. Hi Amy,
    I just shared your link on my Facebook and Twitter. Your commentary on such an ancient text is just so contemporary and speaks to the heart of the matter in such a way that we can all understand so easily. You are brilliant at de-mystifying the Tao te Ching.
    Yes, rules are there for when we have lost touch with the Tao. The natural way of trusting and following our own nature and Nature has been mostly lost in our so called modern world.
    Sometimes I feel that the contempaltive life and being interested in awareness has been hi-jacked by technology, Ipads and smart phones etc. Every spare minute people are staring at screens. We marginalise our deepest dreaming and are only interested in pursuing pleasure and happiness rather than the true meaning of our lives!
    Life, Love Process Psychology
    Sherry Marshall recently posted…Chasing Happiness. The Buddhist Path of TherapyMy Profile

    • Thanks for stopping by, Sherry, and for sharing my link. I appreciate your kind words. I hear you on the technology bit. Funny enough, my day job is about technology. On the one hand, I do love it for what it has done for us collectively as humanity. In a strange kind of way, it has brought us together more. But I agree with you that it has also pulled us apart. People face screens instead of each other. I was reading an article the other day about parenting, and it was saying that one of the most important things that you can do while talking to your child is to face them. Ideally, at their eye level. It is about respect. Not just respect for your child, but about general respect for humanity. To me, this is what the problem is with computers. They have us fascinated. They are amazing things and there is so much to learn that it makes our heads swim. But it is also very important to take time away from it to actually BE with each other. Off screen.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

CommentLuv badge