Nature: Our Best Teacher

Reflections on Chapter 39 of the Tao Te Ching:

Rice Fields

Rice Fields

Sages have achieved oneness
since ancient times.

Sky is in harmony with Tao
and becomes pure.
Earth is in harmony with Tao
and becomes tranquil.
Spirits are in harmony with Tao
and become inspired.
Valleys are in harmony with Tao
and become replenished.
The Ten Thousand Things
are in harmony with Tao and live fully.
are in harmony with Tao and become pure action.

If sky were not pure, it might split open.
If earth were not tranquil, it might crumble.
If spirits were not inspired, they might dissolve.
If valleys were not replenished, they may be exhausted.
If the Ten Thousand Things did not live fully,
they might become extinct.
If leaders do not have purity in action, they may fall.

Therefore, the basis for honor is humility.
Sages take the low position.
For this reason, true leaders refer to themselves as alone, not worthy
because this is the root of humility.

The highest position requires no praise.
The highest position does not wish to sparkle like a gem,
But rather to be humble like a stone.

The elements are a fabulous role model for our lives.

Lao Tzu is talking here about the sage taking the low position. This is the natural way. Nature takes the low postion. You look at a tree and it is not saying, “Look at me, look at me! I am so accomplished!” A tree is not all bragging up on themselves. Squirrels don’t do anything either. They just do their thing and steal our nuts for the birds.

That is what he is alluding to here – the natural way.

Mankind has language. We have been able to speak and, in many ways, that has allowed us to evolve and do really amazing things. But on so many levels that has given us a lot of fluff. We have too many words. We make meaning out of nothing. It is unnecessary. Silence is golden, as they say!

It is like we talked about in Chapter 32 (The Road is Paved with the Stuff We Don’t Need), this chapter is talking about the natural pattern of things. When it is unnatural, we sense that. The way of humankind can be dangerous. We have had quite a scare with a lot of things. Icecaps are melting. We have done some really awful things to the planet like make plastics and global warming. Neither of these is natural.

I was thinking about shampoo just this morning. I was thinking about the plastic bottle and how it was only invented a little bit ago in the bigger picture. Every time I buy a new bottle of shampoo, I buy more plastic. That is a lot of plastic over my lifetime! They are starting to make more bio-friendly plastics, but that is a rather new development. This is a typical example of what I am talking about here. All this plastic is not good for the planet.

True leaders refer to themselves as not worthy.

So many people these days pump themselves up and make themselves out to look really great. We are naturally wary about this, as evidenced in the comment flurry Julia Neiman experienced the other day on her blog.  Although I am certain that Julia did not mean to imply that people should be false in any way, people were upset because they have seen so much of people carrying on with false bravado in today’s business environment and it touched a nerve. We are so attuned to it. There is something inherently unnatural about this false front. When someone is really great, they don’t have a need to display it. The tendency is most likely to hide it a bit. It is certainly an interesting dynamic. I love the concept of leadership and how this little book gives us such beautiful guidance for leading each other and getting along.

We really need to live fully in this lifetime.

I don’t care what your belief system is, all humankind has a desire somewhere inside of them to fulfill the destiny of greatness. A great potter making great pots, a bookkeeper that loves to have his financial records all lined up beautifully. Everyone has their thing. What he is saying in this chapter is that if you are not living fully, there is a piece of you that is dying. Any day that goes by that you are not living into your true potential is a mini-death.

In the U.S. culture, many have really strayed from our true nature. Some cultures support following your true path better than others. This is something that we are evolving into.

Being happy and fulfilled is so important.

People may always be suffering in some way. Perhaps that is part of the human condition, to have suffering. But I think the closer that you can come to your own fulfillment, the better.

When you meet someone that is really living out their truth, they are vibrant. They have this great aliveness to them. It’s inspiring! Nature is also inspiring. Nature’s job is to fulfill its destiny. It doesn’t have this stature thing.  A tree doesn’t need to be the greatest tree. They don’t care. They don’t have this inspiration to be the greatest something. It just is itself. We can learn a lot from that. We can learn a lot from absorbing that, from feeling that in our bones. One of the things that I just love about the Tao is that it continually refers back to nature. Nature teaches us so much!

I am enough.

I am me and I am OK just to be me and I don’t have to be anything. I can just be. Lao Tzu keeps coming back to this in the chapters. This is a theme that he keeps coming back to, again and again. No action is necessary. Nothing needs to be done. If you allow nature to take its course, it will go in the direction of fulfillment. It’s just the natural pathway. You don’t have to force anything to be anything.

Yet we try and force things all the time. We force ourselves to stay in a situation that is not good for us. It seems like  we are talking about non-action here, but we are not. Following your path is letting your body be your guide. Your body is your barometer in this lifetime. Let your body indicate to you what is right and what is wrong and which way to go. Just move in the direction you are guided to go. There is no big thing that you need to accomplish. You just move forward.

Just one little piece at a time.

Just today. What is it that you are guided to be doing today? When you are doing the right thing, it feels like something has come off your chest. You can breathe easier when the burden of obligation is released. That is what it feels like. You just move forward. It is all really beautiful.

What are your thoughts? I would love for you to share what these beautiful lines mean to you. This essay is just my interpretation, my thoughts. Do you want to share any of your own? Please feel free to do that. If you are shy or don’t want to, that is OK. Just tell us what you think about it all in the comments below or you can share this post using the buttons at the top sidebar!



  1. This is quite uncanny, Amy. I’ve been writing about nature this week, too, albeit from a different starting-point. But I’ve been preparing a piece about the elemental landscape for my next post, so your piece is very timely. It expands my thinking, as your posts so often do. Love that!

  2. It’s interesting to see that you’ve mentioned the “comment flurry” about my post on just jumping into business. Like a lot of things in life, it comes down to perspective – some people got that the message was don’t limit yourself, just make the decision to start your business and take action. Others missed the true nature of the post and saw only a negative aspect from the graphic about becoming a photographer that basically says, “point, shoot, you’re a photographer.”

    From my perspective it seemed like a good way to take a love for photography and turn it into an art business. And why this graphic spoke to me is because I actually know of someone who always wanted to be a photography and held herself back until someone said to her why don’t you just take pictures and start submitting them in contests and see where you place. On her first try she won the contest, a good sum of money and that started her career as a professional landscape art photographer. Winning that contest proved to her that she was “enough” as you state above. She became a photographer at the age of 72.
    Julia Neiman recently posted…Can You Just Jump Into Business?My Profile

    • I saw that, Julia. I knew what you were trying to say in your post. That is such a great story about your photographer friend. I have a friend who was amazing at taking photographs. She did not have any special training, but she was good. With some prodding, she finally started doing it “professionally” and I think that anyone would be lucky to hire her because she has a great eye. Like I said in my comment on your post, I think that you really have to go with your instincts when you hire someone. I hope you didn’t take offense that I mentioned your post. I thought that it was a very interesting conversation on the sensitivity that people have about people claiming that they are more than they are. Certifications really don’t prove anything! ANY time you hire someone you need to rely on your instincts. There are a lot of people out there that are not really qualified to work professionally in their field, but like you were trying to say – there are also many many people who are really good at something but they don’t follow their dream because they think they should have some piece of paper in order to do it “professionally”.

  3. I totally loved this Amy! It makes so much sense. My favorite part was “You don’t have to force anything to be anything.” I have a tendency to be a type A person and constantly doing something or feeling guilty if I’m not busy. This summer we’ve been spending a lot of time at our camper in Chetek. My husband just built a dock so now we can be right on the water. It’s totally changed our experience. The river is so healing with the beautiful birds and little animals and majestic trees. I am learning to be fulfilled simply “being” and it’s been a beautiful experience. I may have to check out the Tao – is there a title you recommend?
    Julie Geigle recently posted…Afraid of Being AloneMy Profile

    • You are so blessed, Julia! It sounds like you and your hubby are very happy right now – that is wonderful! I love the birds too. They are so sweet and peaceful. Thanks for stopping by! I love Michele’s new commenting forum! I was excited to see you there. I will have to stop by and say hello!

  4. I don’t care what your belief system is, all humankind has a desire somewhere inside of them to fulfill the destiny of greatness.
    I really loved this line in your post. We all do have greatness in us and it’s our job to share it and shine our lights brightly. So enjoyed this post and the message.
    Kathy Anne

    • Thanks, Kathy Anne! Welcome to the blog! Yes, we definitely are destined for greatness. Sometimes it feels like those shoes are just too big to fill, but if we just do a little bit every day and are consistent, we can do great things. Thanks for visiting and commenting!

  5. Julia,
    What a thought provoking post. I agree that here in the US our culture does not support following our true paths. We seem to get caught up in the material world we live in and I’m as guilty as the next guy. Perhaps stepping back and treading slowing will help us follow the right path for each of us.
    Thanks for sharing this post.

    • So sorry Amy, I wrote “Julia” by mistake. It’s getting late for me!
      Sue recently posted…BlissfulnessMy Profile

    • No worries, Sue. I think the key is not to listen to those things that do not move you in the right direction. We only ever have today. All we can change is what is in front of us right now. There is great freedom in that. I was watching a program last night called Radical Simplicity. It was on Netflix. It was very good. The author was wanting to make a difference in the world by lessening his carbon footprint, so he just started making little changes. He even cooked on a solar stove and grew his own food. He also biked 30 miles to work every day (round trip, I hope!). He may have seemed a bit extreme, but he really just kept making steps and got to that point. He is an educator, so part of the film he was talking to his students who were wanting to learn how to be more sustainable. His approach was very kind and gentle, very Tao. He told them not to worry about what they haven’t done up until this point, but just to make little steps forward. He likened these changes to when you fall in love and will do all kinds of new adventures for your new love. In this case, his new love was the planet. He was falling in love with the planet. I think that we all share this potential. Thanks for stopping by, Sue!

  6. Amy – I love the photo of the rice fields – it is very soothing! Your post touches upon something I’ve been pondering: the carbon footprint we all leave (such as the plastics)…and what we are here on earth for – what our purposes are. I enjoyed reading your post!
    Sue Jorgenson recently posted…Pretty Random ObservationsMy Profile

    • I am not sure if you just left this part or if I just didn’t see it, but I just talked about that in the above comment! lol… If you have Netflix, definitely check out Radical Simplicity. If you don’t have that, look it up on Amazon and read about it. Pretty cool stuff.

  7. Amy,
    First of all, that photo is so beautiful–striking & dynamic! Love it. Your post was full & rich. This the 2nd time in the last few days I’ve been reminded by someone to be like nature, to be natural. And that natural for me is being human.

    • Thanks, Janet. I was talking with some friends recently and we were talking about using images from Flickr. It was suggested that I not use them because people can just post other people’s photos, so I started buying images from istockphoto. This one was one of those. I always love photos of rice fields. There is something timeless and simple about those fields. People have been growing and cultivating rice in the same ways for centuries and seeing them always reminds me of this constancy of life that flows from one generation to the next.

  8. Amy, I love your blog post. There’s a lot to contemplate. What jumped at me was ‘We have too many words. We make meaning out of nothing. It is unnecessary. Silence is golden, as they say!’. A few things came out for me here.. when I write my blog posts I always find that they are so lengthy. I always feel that I have to write more words to say it all. When in reality it doesn’t necessarily add to the value of the message that I’m trying to convey. Something that I will be keeping in mind. And second this made me think of my son who has autism and how he can’t communicate with words as fluently as we all do. He has limited language skills. Yet I understand him, probably better than if he did express himself more with words.

    And the other thing that jumped off the page at me was ‘I am enough’. Thank you… I needed to hear this message because I have a tendency to push myself constantly beyond my limit. Loved it all. Including your name… Amy is also my daughter’s name. 🙂
    Suzanne McRae recently posted…The ritual of cleansing our spaceMy Profile

    • What a wonderful response, Suzanne! So thoughtful. Thank you! I really enjoyed writing this one. I think that I like to hear those words too. We all need them! What a cool insight about your son. It is so true that our communication is so much broader than words.

    • About the “too many words”, I do that too! Editing is a big job. I think you just get better with practice.

  9. Another awesome post. I love the idea of not forcing and just allowing. When people ask me or I think about who/what I want to be, the answer is always the same. I just want to be me. I want to be comfortable with me…in my skin…in my home…in my relationships…in my life. I just want to be enough as I am. I relaxed all weekend without my computer and today, I am working but also plan to spend a bit more time reading and watching an episode of one of my favorite shows that I have recorded. Life is too short to work all the time and I need more consistent breaks and only I can make that happen:)
    Michele Bergh recently posted…Traditions of Love and LightMy Profile

    • The one thing about working for yourself is that you aren’t “given” vacation time. While the “you are your own boss” works great sometimes, sometimes it is also nice to sneak out and take a skip day. Definitely one of the challenges of doing your own thing is to find that delicate balance of not doing that so much that you are not able to sustain your business, but doing it enough that you don’t feel resentful. Glad that you are taking some time off, Michele, because I know how you just LOVE to work!

      • It is a challenge since I love what I do and I also recognize the importance of the break and am more committed to it over these past six months than ever before. These gentle and compassionate reminders are so helpful to keep me on track:)
        Michele Bergh recently posted…Go For ItMy Profile

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