The Power of Below

Reflections on Chapter 66 of the Tao Te Ching:

Ocean Waves


How does the Great Sea become leader of the valley?

The Great Sea is the leader of the rivers and valleys
because she is able to take the lower position.

Therefore one that desires to be above others,
surely ends up on the bottom.

If one wishes to be ahead of others,
she must surely be walking behind.

The true sage is given her place above
but does not weigh heavily on her people.

She stands before them as a leader,
and causes them no harm.

The world below is happy to uphold such leadership
without end.

She does not compete and therefore
the world has nothing against her.

There is a great conspiracy going on in the modern world.

There is a belief that the higher position is automatically more powerful. I think that this goes way back. I think that this has been our human struggle. But this is a fallacy. Just as in a democratic society the people are more powerful than the president, in nature water is more powerful than the mountains.

Subtly wins out.

It is not in the big gigantic acts that the lower position wins. It is in the tiny things that are done every day. Step by step, the lower position just does its thing while the higher position is busy shouting to the masses about how great they are.

Some of the best leaders are very quiet in their leadership.

We were just talking about power the other day on The Study of Stillness: Part 3 post. In this chapter, Lao Tzu is saying that leadership does not win with a competitive edge. The goal is not to obliterate the opponent, but to understand them.

There is an interesting dynamic with men and women. If you talk to any married couple, on the surface it looks like the man is the leader and in a lot of ways, he is. But the women are often the quiet subtle leader. It is almost an unspoken rule. He knows that she makes a lot of the decisions, but they sort of  agree to keep this a secret. She may not be bold and out there, saying “I am the decision maker”, because that is not typically the subtle womanly way of doing things.

This chapter is about the soft and gentle leadership of service.

This is the leadership of helping others and raising people up. It is not where the woman lets the man control everything.  Ever notice how, in those situations, it doesn’t really work?  Neither is satisfied. Men prefer a woman who lets them appear in command, but who help them to stay on track and help guide them.

We are taught in the US that personal power is usually really out there and obvious.

I don’t think that is accurate. Just because someone isn’t blatantly saying that they are powerful, doesn’t mean that they aren’t. People who hold true power don’t need to tell others and they don’t want to tell others. You see this a lot with financial power. A person who is financially power doesn’t need to flaunt their power. They don’t want to and they don’t need to. I am talking about true power here. If someone is truly at peace with their finances, they know that they don’t really need much and they don’t need to tell people about it.

I wrote my version of the Tao Te Ching in the feminine voice.

Some disagreed. I disagreed many times as well. I did it as an experiment, for myself. But I also did it because I wanted to challenge the thinking of how our language speaks in the masculine as a default. If something is unconscious, you can’t address it. So I made the feminine voice conscious. It was kinda jolting at times, but I am glad I did it.

As I was writing the chapters, it often just didn’t feel right to use an all-female voice.  

Why was this? I wondered. I think that part of the reason that things are in the male voice, perhaps, is because it is not true feminine to really want to be blatantly in control of everything. I know that I am going against myself on this one, with the whole feminine voice thing.  I struggled with it throughout the whole year of writing it. I could probably do it anyways. I might do both, just for fun, but the womanly thing is not to stand out.

During the Women’s Movement in the 60s and 70s, women wanted to appear strong and powerful, just like the men. They burned their bras and protested. The model that we had to work from was the male model, of “this is what power is”. Women emulated that.

We don’t really have to do that.

There is no need for women to do that. I think that there is a discomfort in doing that. If you are truly powerful, you don’t shout it to the world. There is a weakness in shouting and proclaiming it. There is no need to recognize it at all. Just keep doing what you are doing, helping people and making a difference. The recognition comes from the impact that you have made.


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  1. I really enjoyed your post today, it has such insight and clarity about it. thank you for sharing it.
    Athena Brady recently posted…What is self-love and why is it so important?My Profile

  2. Very nicely put Ame. I have to again give you well deserved praise for taking on the female voice within ancient texts. It’s so true that women don’t necessarily even speak in the same voice so using ‘she’ for ‘he’ often does seem out of sorts. Bill and I tried this a few times with The Course in Miracles and had some exceedingly satisfying moments and some mildly disturbing ones. It is not like me to think ‘he’ or ‘she’ when it comes to God or Holy Spirit. I feel that most personal guides feel one or the other, but perhaps not. Jesus was a man… That leaves all of us, the people… why isn’t there a word for us that doesn’t mention gender. so many times we tried to read it feminine and it just felt exclusionary the other way. I came to believe it was the exclusions and seperations that were the problem in gender language and not the masculine or feminine issues, at least for me.
    But then again, that low position feels incredibly grounding for me.
    your loving sis,
    Kimberly Jewell recently posted…Off to Chichen Itza!My Profile

    • Thanks, Kim. Yes, there is something with a “just-not-right”ness to it when you read it all female. I think it is because we do not want the spotlight, really, when it comes down to it. It feels somewhat emasculated (?) to do it that way. As far as labeling God goes, Tao to me seems to not be masculine or feminine so I prefer Tao to God.

  3. Amy, you make my evenings more silent & insightful when I receive these teachings and read it in your blog. Thank you. Yes, I have learnt much later in life and it has indeed brought peace by saying “step back and shut up!”

  4. hi Amy
    I think you were right to use the feminine ,for me the Toa seems to be more female than male ,of course we all have both in us,he seems to be saying that the softer
    side of our nature prevails ,in the end,
    there is such beautiful wisdom in that book

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