This is the first of a series of ‘Taoist Reflections’, a new category of posts that will focus on short contemplations on Taoist philosophy and how it can be integrated into your daily life.
The contemplations are based on the main Taoist text – The Tao Te Ching by Lao Tzu – which is perhaps the most important body of work ever written by a single author in all human history. The Tao Te Ching offers the finest distillation of pure wisdom expressed in 81 short verses and which I, like many others, strongly believe it to be one of the rarest gems of cultural and spiritual heritage to date.
It is customary when starting a series to give an introduction or background about the topic – in this case Taoism. However, Taoism holds no customs, forms or traditions. In fact one of its main pillars is staying free from all rigid forms and structures – whether it is institutional, cultural, mental or behavioural. This doesn’t mean lacking purpose or direction but rather cultivating the flexibility to adapt to the natural rhythms of life. This is following the way – the Tao.
Observing your Outer Reality and Living your Inner Reality:
The master observes the world
but trusts his inner vision.
He allows things to come and go.
He prefers what is within to what is without.
– Excerpt from the 12th verse of the Tao Te Ching
The above excerpt from the 12th verse, like most of the text in the Tao Te Ching, is power-packed with various basic truths that resonate on many levels of human life. In my view, it points at two fundamental aspects of self-realisation:
1. Recognizing the transient and illusory nature of perceptible reality
2. Trusting and staying true to your inner vision irrespective of what is going on in your life
The master ‘observes the world’ and ‘allows things to come and go’. The word ‘observes’ is quite telling. It means noticing something but not necessarily participating in it or fully engaging with it. You can observe something while not identifying yourself with it or get carried away into believing it is something obvious, true or compelling.
Think about outer reality as all those things happening in your life right now. Your work, relationships, finances, bills, projects, possessions and everything else. Are you just looking at it from a detached observer’s point of view or do you feel compelled to follow its push and pull because you believe it’s rock solid real? Do you feel sucked into that reality?
When you feel crushed because you’re facing some adversities or setbacks or perhaps you feel overwhelmed by so many things happening beyond your control – do you ‘allow things to come and go’? Or do you feel it’s taking over you because it’s so ‘real’, so ‘tangible’?
What the text is saying here is that approaching self-mastery means being lucid of the fact that all those currents of life will come and go. So allow them to come and go. Don’t be swept away by those currents. If you believe your problems right now are so ‘real’ you will materialise them even further. Stay detached. Don’t get sucked in the emotional vortex and you will see how it will change your reality because your reality is born out of what you believe and feel.
What happens in those trying moments? What do we tell ourselves? A deeper part of us might be saying “Hang on in there. It’s going to be perfectly fine and you will get out of this even stronger than ever. Keep your eyes on your goals.” But this inner vision may go unheard in these challenging times. We are bound to ‘trust’ more what our outer reality, or rather what our mind is saying at that time such as – “It’s so hard. It’s over. This is it. I’m at the end of the line and my dreams are shattered”.
Staying true to your inner vision means trusting that inner voice, that inner vision, even when it’s overpowered by the loud shouting of your thoughts and worries. It means when the storm comes, listen to your heart, keep your eyes on your inner vision no matter how faded it might seem and stay still. Do not follow the mad rantings of your mind. Allow things to come and go.
That once solid outer ‘reality’ starts losing its grip on you. Your inner vision becomes a conviction. Like a true master you will prefer ‘what is within than what is without’ because you would have re-aligned your compass to your inner reality.