The Highest Knowledge

Reflections on Chapter 71 of the Tao Te Ching:

Blue Tree Sunrise

Knowing that you do not know is the highest knowledge.

Not knowing what should be known is disastrous.

Only when she is sick of her illness can she be healed.

The sage is free of illness. She is sick of sickness and is therefore well.

Our current culture is obsessed with knowledge.

We’re obsessed. I must admit, I am one of them. We just love knowing things, but the truth is that people either don’t know anything and assume that they do or they assume that they don’t know the answer and they do.

At some point you realize that not knowing is the best place to be.

Lately, I have been going through my contacts and trying to work out who are my people. Who do I want to get closer to and spend more time with? (My chosen word this year is CONNECTION.) In this process of doing this, I have realized how much knowledge is out there in the people that I know and care about.

I was talking with a friend of mine the other day and she was talking about all these different things that I didn’t know about her. I was just so grateful for having her in my life. It was amazing. If I had been in a place where I was like, “I already know that.” I couldn’t possibly have gotten even close to understanding what she was talking about because my cup would have already been full.

Not knowing what you should know can be disastrous.

Perhaps you might turn a blind eye to what is happening around you sometimes. The act of avoidance, or procrastination is common but can be disastrous. I will give you an example of this from my own life. I was driving the other day and my car was making a rattling noise. I knew I had to bring it into the shop but I didn’t want to bring it into the shop. I was procrastinating, so I let it go another day and kept driving and it kept getting worse. A couple of days later, I was driving and it got so loud that I got worried and pulled over.

I imagined all kinds of things in my mind of what it could be.

In my active imagination, it was the engine and I needed to buy a new car. As it turned out, it was the wheel that was loose. This was something that I should have known or I should have fixed right away but I pushed it out of sight instead like we sometimes do. It could have been disasterous.

I was so grateful.

It happened on the coldest day, but we were warm and dry. My daughter was in the car with me and we were fine. I had several people stop and ask me if I was OK, I had my AAA card so I felt better knowing they were there if I needed them. In the end, my husband came and helped me get it to the shop, but all I felt was this overwhelming sense of gratitude. So many things to be grateful for. I love my car. I don’t want to get rid of it. It was a good experience but a learning experience for me.

We have such an attachment to our problems.

Think about when someone is sick. I understand where it comes from because people want to show that they care, but have you ever noticed how when someone is sick, everyone zeroes in on them and showers them with attention? They talk about the illness or if someone is sick, they talk about their cold or their illness a lot. Everybody does this. It is human nature and normal. We are just showing that we care.

When we are sick of being sick and all that talk
and energy on being sick, we just get over it.

I noticed with myself if I am feeling under the weather, I try not to give it very much attention. I obviously do try to take care of myself, but I try not to talk about it too much. I try not to highlight it and put energy into it. It really just perpetuates the situation.

I’ve noticed this with my daughter.

When she was younger, she had so many sick days that I got called in by my supervisor. He said that I was taking too many sick days, so we had to work it out. It was getting ridiculous, so I spoke with my daughter and decided that, unless she was dying, she was going to go to school. I think that she may have been having some issues at school causing this, but for whatever reason, she did not want to go to school.

We were giving a lot of attention to her illnesses.

As a young child, she was seeing that and was probably enjoy that pampering that she was getting. It made me realize that I needed to care for her, but in a way that doesn’t relate to her sickness. We need to change this kind of automatic behavior and love each other for being well.


What about you? Was there anything in this chapter that spoke to you? Please let us know in the comments. Also, if you like this post and want to share it, please share it with the buttons at the top of this page. I appreciate it! Thanks for stopping by!


  1. A very nice post. I am one of those who tries to ignore things but I end up worrying more than if I’d stopped to find the fix. I’m glad you found out what was wrong with your car. Sickness is something we do all relate to because of our own experiences. As a teacher, I don’t like it when sick kids come to school, especially if they are trying to give me their work, with obviously their germs. But I’ve survived over 20 years of it. Thanks for the new perspective of concentrating on the person and not the illness. One is not their illness unless that person chooses to be.
    Sheila Skillingstead recently posted…Protecting your coreMy Profile

  2. Hi Amy,

    What a beautiful, practical post! Thank you!

    I had a similar episode with my truck, when it finally broke down on the side of a highway on top of a mountain with no cell service, in the middle of the night, and with no street lights. I was thrilled. No kidding! Part of me had known for awhile that I didn’t want to be driving any more. (We have great, cheap taxis where I live in Mexico.) But I was having trouble letting go. So instead, the truck let go of me! It was perfect. Within minutes, a wonderful family picked me up and drove me all the way to my doorstep. The truck was towed to a junker, and I’ve made many new taxi-driving friends.

    Experience without attachment – hard to do, but infinitely worth it!

    Thanks again for a wonderful post! Hug,

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    • That is an awesome story, Carole! How fun. I think it’s great when life hands us those lessons that we have avoided. It’s like, “Here. Just TRY and avoid this one! hahahaha!” So fun when you can see it and laugh.

  3. This attention paid to problems feeds into the addictive nature of drama. Drama creates a physiological response that can be quite addictive. Feeding our attention into our problems can really get that fueled up.
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  4. I spent many years of my life being ill with anorexia. Yes, you do get lots of attention but not the good kind. I think it is important to show our loved ones they are loved everyday. It only takes a moment to give a hug.
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  5. The statement you made “we have such an attachment to our problems” really resonated with me. In fact, while reading through the post and reading the comments, I kept scrolling up and rereading that one line. I’ve been working on changing my mindset to not stress over problems, but see them as new and different opportunities. Thanks for sharing this!

    • My pleasure, Vickie. I have especially noticed this even more after I wrote it. I caught myself a few times talking about ailments and I had to laugh!

  6. A really interesting post Amy and so relevant to me today. A friend of mine was depressed and I went straight in with a pep talk. What she really wanted was someone to listen. This is a side to me I have to watch,we can’t fix people only they can do that.
    Athena Brady recently posted…Giving Something Back Post 3My Profile

  7. Amy I loved your post once again. This really jumped out at me at the beginning of your post… “Only when she is sick of her illness can she be healed. The sage is free of illness. She is sick of sickness and is therefore well.”

    I had an issue several years ago where I was told I would need surgery to fix it. I decided right then and there I was not going under the knife to resolve this issue, and that issue was resolved.
    Suzanne McRae recently posted…Bloom True: Flora Bowley’s Intuitive Painting eCourseMy Profile

    • Wow, Suzanne. That is what I call healing! You really know your beliefs about illness when you get faced with a big one and observe yourself. I have been very fortunate with good health, but I would hope that I would be as faithful in my healing as you when I do face it sometime. That is a great story!

  8. Too funny – when I get sick (it doesn’t happen often) it’s my body’s way of telling me I’m pushing too hard – and I’ve finally learned to listen. I guess in my case (I’ve rarely been accused of being normal – whatever that is), being sick provides an opportunity for a forced slow down to recharge and reflect. There’s something cathartic about allowing yourself to be still to heal. I kind of enjoy those times when I’m too sick to perform at normal levels and can justify spending a day or two on the couch.
    Nanette Levin recently posted…Creative writing can be hystericalMy Profile

    • I love this, Nanette. I so agree with that. I always say that to myself when I get really sick. Our bodies speak to us every day. When we don’t listen, they get a little more serious with the message! I have to also say that I get a little enjoyment out of the rest deep down as well when that happens. I so rarely take breaks in my life, so my illnesses are some of the few times when I truly do nothing for a few days.

  9. I went through the sickness thing with my kids too. I had a policy for most of those years similar to yours…Go to school unless there was an obvious reason close to death to stay home and, if the nurse said you had to leave school, I would go pick them up. I also gave them a certain number of “freebie” days where they could stay home, just because as long as they were taking care of all the things they were supposed to be taking care of and their grades were where they needed to be. They looked forward to those special days.
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