The Perfectly Imperfect

Reflections on Chapter 81 of the Tao Te Ching:

sunrise at Nan province,North of thailand

Truthful words are not beautiful.
Beautiful words are not sincere.

Good women don’t argue.
Women who argue well aren’t good.

The wise person does not have book knowledge.
The person with book knowledge is not wise.

The sage does not collect things
and so she gives to others.

Since she gives to the people,
she has tremendous abundance.

The way of Tao is sharp
but never harms.

The way of the sage is to serve
and not compete.

Things are never as they seem.

We want things to be perfect, but it is the imperfect things that are perfect. You can try to structure everything so it has this perfection and you can formulate it all around in your mind, but it will never be so.  It’s the opposite of what is there. If you are trying to make something be something, it is not that thing. Perfection always has an inherent fake-ness to it.

That is truth.

It seems counterproductive that when you are generous you are prosperous, but it’s true. Money is not finite, it is flow. If you desire to be confident and you are striving for confidence, where are you right now? Yeah… It’s the opposite.  When you strive for perfection, it eludes you.

We’ve all probably had that person in our lives that will tell us like it is.

When you are in a situation with someone, it seems like you are going to hurt their feelings if you tell them the truth. But it is less hurtful in the long run to just tell the truth. Just be with someone and let them be the way they are. Tell the truth. I was talking with my sister the other day and we were talking about this. We talked about how much of a relief it is when someone tells the truth about something. It isn’t under the rug anymore, or it isn’t the giant pink elephant standing in the living room. We are all perceptive. We all know everything inside our cells, so we may as well make the outside match the inside.

Many think that a leader is supposed to be above everybody.

The best leaders are actually the ones underneath people pushing them up. That has been said before in the Tao, but it is coming back to that here in the very end. In chapter 80, we were talking about the knitting line (I was wrong) and we had some conversation in the comments about the knitting part and about writing. What is wrong with writing? I have been writing to you for the last year and a half. Writing isn’t bad or wrong, it just isn’t the experience.

When we try to capture Tao, when we try to define it and identify it, it’s not there.

You just can’t do it. Tao is something that is every aspect of being, but it can’t be captured, it can’t be written down. It says that in the very first chapter and it says it here in the very end. You have to let the Tao just wash over you and be part of your experience. Enjoy those moments. The more you try and study it and make sure you have it right, the more wrong it will be.

That is just the way of the Tao.




  1. Being able to speak my truth and saying it how it is without being on eggshells about it, or afraid that I may offend others by saying something that they don’t agree with or believe in, is kind of where it’s at these days. I feel frustrated that often I cannot speak my truth and be all of who I am. Thanks for this post that helped me see more about my lesson.
    Suzanne McRae recently posted…Sisters: our week away at a cottageMy Profile

    • It is my hope that it will always be in vogue to be truthful. 😉 And as much as it is in vogue, we will still struggle.

  2. I awakened today thinking about family situations that make me anxious. I realize that offering my truth is the most loving and curative response. I wonder about the part of myself that wants to hide and obfuscate. It sometimes feels safer to do so…. When people are raging and menacing, not listening, at least I can tell the truth to myself. Getting a safe distance may be the most honest response. The problem is that I am sometimes afraid when people aren’t raging or menacing, and it’s important to know the difference. Important to know that the truth relieves anxiety and creates an environment where relaxation and creative flow are natural.Amy, thanks for this blog, it feels great to connect.

    • Thanks for your response, Rachel. I imagine just typing those words took a bit of courage. I had to actually look up obfuscate, but I love learning new words. That is awesome.

      As for your family challenges, it reminds me of something I learned in Tai Chi. If someone is attacking, you do not attack with an attack. In that case, the one with more force wins and it may not be you (no one wins, really). Instead, you step back and allow their energy to blow past you, off to the side. Energetically, this can also be done. When people come at you, it helps to step aside and let their anger go past you. Know that it is not about you. Sometimes this is the best way to protect yourself. When someone attacks and gets this sort of response, there is nothing for their anger to push against. They either let go, they stop trying or they blow past you into the next town and you don’t have to deal with it.

      I once had a friend who got upset with me. I tried to talk to her, to understand what was wrong but she just kept being angry and would not tell me. So I stopped engaging. I let her go. I figured that someday, if it was important to her, she would tell me what it was but that it was not any of my business and I did not need to waste my energy needlessly to try and draw it out of her. I try not to engage with angry people or people with weird behavior that tries to hook me into some sort of game.

      Sometimes I get angry. When I do, I wish I could put a big wall around myself when I feel like that so no one engages with me. Sometimes we just need space to be angry, but no one else should really have to put up with it if they don’t want to. If someone is trying to make you put up with their angry mood, that is a game. You don’t have to play. Just ignore them until they ride it out or don’t hang with them. Hope this helps!

  3. Hi Amy,

    I love this verse! To me generosity makes perfect Taoist sense when you think of it in terms of the Law of Attraction. When you are generous you feel abundant, because you have enough to give some away. And when you feel abundant, you attract more abundance. So the best thing you can do to attract abundance is to give! Yeah!


    Carole Remy recently posted…Beauty of the Beast Unleashed! Now on Amazon Kindle! #TBSUMy Profile

  4. Hi Amy, the anger thing is hard to deal with and can eat you up inside. I too sidestep angry people it is normally their lives they are angry with and not you. Sometimes its hard to step away from someone close when they are angry as you feel you are deserting them in their time of need. However, we all have different paths to the truth and have to follow our own way. As for imperfection it is great if you think about it the imperfections are what draw us to people and vice versa. We like people who struggle like most of us do we often feel a connection with them because of their imperfections.
    Athena Brady recently posted…Giving Something Back 15My Profile

    • I wrote a reply to this earlier but it must have gotten lost in the ethers. Anger is tough one. I think it is tough for all parties. It would be nice if we could just do without it, but it is a part of us. I am not sure if I feel deserted when people leave when I am upset. I guess it depends on the circumstances. I just know what doesn’t work for me is when people try and make me feel happy. When I am sad or upset, I just need to ride it out. That is just me.

      I think about the imperfection thing a lot. This is such a great chapter because that is so true.

  5. First Amy I want to congratulate you on writing essays for ALL the verses. That was quite an undertaking, but such a beautiful practice that I’m certain deepened your studies and the way you navigate your life. Yay you!

    I think the truth thing is very important, but I also believe everyone could benefit from training in non-violent communication. I’d love to see that in early childhood curriculums.

    But the thing I most like about Tao (and your essay, and all of them) is the delicious paradox that there is no real way to speak of it; no way to capture was is in flow and have it remain in flow. It’s a delightful, and maddening invitation to BE.
    Deborah Weber recently posted…HelichrysumMy Profile

    • A big yes to that, Deborah (the delicious paradox). A big yes to the non-violent communication too. Have you read What We Say Matters? That book is all about that. I think it would be a good one to study for a book review.

  6. What a wonderful way to conclude this journey, Amy (although it never really ends, does it?)! I feel so fortunate to have found you and your blog. Witnessing your candid study and reactions to messages from the Tao has been enlightening, thought-provoking and inspiring. I admire your courage for decided to tackle this project in a public forum. It will be exciting to see what you decide to tackle next :-).
    Nanette Levin recently posted…Life is a carnivalMy Profile

    • Thanks, Nanette. I am having such fun with it. Yesterday, I was working on writing the Chinese character for Tao (dao), meaning path. It was fun to explore that. On our Vancouver trip, I got a little Buddha board that has a brush and a gray board that turns black when you write on it. So I was practicing my Chinese. I might try and incorporate that character somehow in my blog. It turned out pretty cool. I had fun playing with Photoshop to try and extract just the character from the background.

      • I look forward to seeing your creation. Maybe there’s a whole ‘nuther idea brewing with characters :-)?
        Nanette Levin recently posted…Life is a carnivalMy Profile

        • LOL. I am SO not ready to do novels. “Ready” may not be the right word… it will probably not happen! lol… I have been thinking of you a lot as I have been enjoying Rich Brother, Rich Sister. That is a very good book. Since my husband has been pouring through Robert Kiyosaki’s other books, I will pass it on to him as well. Thanks, Nanette!

          • I meant Chinese Characters (language is so curious in how we interpret it, isn’t it?). Glad you’re enjoying the book. Hope your husband does too.
            Nanette Levin recently posted…Life is a carnivalMy Profile

          • I read it for hours on the plane. I had a long series of flights so I had lots of time to read, which was great. I am about 3/4 of the way through it. It is a keystone book for me. I read all of his work years ago. It changed how I thought about many things. In some ways, his work was a catalyst for me so coming back to it both through my husband and through your gift has been very revealing. I am like his sister in many ways. I want to just forget the world and live in my spirituality. She actually did it, which I admired, but then my husband is like Robert. He reminds me that we need to take care of ourselves as well, so we have to stay present in this life we’ve chosen right now in order to prepare ourselves for our future. It’s all beautiful.

          • As for the Chinese character, I will post it.

  7. The way of the sage is to serve and a true leader is the one that encourages others to lead.
    Thanks Amy for being a true sage and leader in all your magnificent chapters on the Tao. I have studied Taoism in Process Oriented Psychology for many years, but for me, it has been embodied by its founder, Dr. Arnold Mindell.
    You though, by writing consistently on your Tao Tuesdays have inspired and amazed me, with your transparency, openness, courage and ideas and willingness to share who you are in a public setting.
    Thank you for being you.
    Sherry Marshall recently posted…Democracy By-Pass as The World Turns.My Profile

    • Super sweet, Sherry. Thanks! I don’t consider myself a “sage” – more like a “sage-in-training”! Haha. I would like to be one, but am discovering parts of myself every day that do not hold up to that ideal and I just work on those things. It’s a lifelong quest that, if we are lucky, we are all doing for ourselves.
      amy recently posted…SoulSpace: Phase 1 – AssessmentMy Profile

  8. I want to thank you, Amy, for taking me on a trip to better understand the Tao, my life and this world. I don’t know if I understand any of those things better, I just know I’m more at peace with myself because of this undertaking and I’m very thankful and grateful to have experienced all this and more from reading your interpretations. Thank you for sharing your time with us.

    • Hi Gary,

      I’ve been an absentee blog owner and found your lovely comments. Thanks for participating! I am glad to see that you are having fun with the Tao. It is an amazing study!
      amy recently posted…I Ching #37 – FamilyMy Profile

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