The Tao: Chapter VIII

The Tao Te Ching has inspired me to realise some core truths about what matters and what does not in the spiritual sense more so than the rational philosophical. Yet perhaps that’s a bit of a fluff announcement in itself considering how the two were never mutually exclusive. There is a sense of great foundation in the 8th chapter, clearer perhaps to a layman than the other musings that have come before – some interesting things about the universe being inherently female is one but that’s another discussion in itself.

“In a home it is the site that matters; In quality of mind it is depth that matters; In an ally it is benevolence that matters; In speech it is good faith that matters; In government it is order that matters; In affairs it is ability that matters; In action it is timeliness that matters.” – Tao Te Ching, VIII

It’s rather to the point and as someone who has been criticised (or envied, depending on who you ask) for their pragmatism and bluntness, I rather appreciate its straightforwardness. It’s wholly beautiful, a code that requires few words and few interpretations to be understood.

In regards to the home, in my interpretation, the “site” refers to the foundations and environment. Homes are not houses and such, here we can say either this is in regards to a physical place or the family. Foundations of equality, balance, harmony and truth are the sticking posts of this structure, its confines filled with love stronger than concrete.

The depth of mind for me is comparable to the epithet from the Jedi friends: there is no ignorance, there is knowledge. A shallow mind is a stagnant one like a puddle. Quality is found in the growth and endless vastness; the ability to learn and expand beyond its own perceived horizons with infinite potential – a potential every human has access to if we just dare to see ourselves.

When it comes to allies, I’ve spoken about the stoic discussions of friendship before, specifically from Seneca. The same rings true here, in benevolence we find an ally and friend. That is the only motivation of a companionship: benevolence outwards and inwards, any relationship made to serve or fulfil a need other than the sake of friendship itself is fickle and flawed.

Now we come to the part that is less relevant perhaps to those not in office: government. I suppose it’s true though to an extent, anyone who watched the scenes coming out of Washington DC on January 6th would agree that chaos breeds chaos. An ordered mind, an ordered government is the only way to properly govern. Sure, the separation of church and state is important to ensuring the priorities of the people but so should there be a separation of self and state, because its not a career for the individual but a vocation of the communal – a shared responsibility that’s one for the greater good of everyone not just the few or fickle.

When we speak about affairs we speak about what we chose to do in our lives. For example, in my own affairs, it would be quite dim to decide to become a maths tutor when I’m not really good at maths nor do I like doing it. Ability and affairs are what we speak about when we talk about our natures in stoicism and what is true to our individual nature and what are we doing to enable we can live according to our greatest good in alignment with the greatest good of the collective humanity.

Finally, this line reminds me of the quote of Marcus Aurelius about never acting in a way that would be cause for regret. Action, while we can be actively passive, is required and necessary. If you a believer in divine timing and Providence, no action happens outside of when it is meant to, even your own. Living every day as it is your last, without some mad panic that the terrible “live, love, laugh” wall signs would have you believe is a good start. Even perhaps today you say, not today and you stay in bed, you are choosing to take that action and that’s fair enough. But if you decide to rush out of bed to get on a plane to take yourself off into the unknown chasing love and life, no time is the wrong time.

Z3N0

Quick Quote Post: 15

I was reflecting on the nature of pride today and that I’ve found most common in the 21st Century is that people are often prideful and proud of people who they do not know and never will. It’s a fan culture and cult of celebrity that creates this strange relationship and expectation. It seems to seep into the culture of sports too and politics even – perhaps much more obvious than k-pop culture – with people taking pride in a team or national spirit that realistically has nothing to do with them. It’s like when some fans say: “oh we did well last night, we beat your team” or something to that effect as if they were there themselves on the pitch.

David Mitchell and Robert Webb sum it up quite well, no millenia old wisdom required.

“No one should feel pride in anything that is not his own. We praise a vine if it loads its branches with fruit and bends its very props to the ground with the weight it carries: would anyone prefer the famous vine that had gold grapes and leaves hanging on it? Fruitfulness is the vine’s peculiar virtue. So, too, in a man praise is due only to what is his very own. Suppose he has a beautiful home and a handsome collection of servants, a lot of land under cultivation and and a lot of money out at interest; not one of these things can be said to in him – they are just things around him. Praise in him what can be neither given nor snatched away, what is peculiarly a man’s.” – Letters from a Stoic XLV

Here perhaps we can argue that Seneca was sick of sycophants praising his massive estate and riches rather than how much of a man of character he was – or wasn’t depending on who you ask.

Take pride not in glory of the sports team, your favourite singer making it to No. 1 on the charts because it’s all arbitrary. Be proud and praise the virtue and nature within the individual; not just of others but also yourself.

People always forget that last part. Don’t, it’s important.

Z3N0

Quick Quote Post: 13

Today saw the departure of dear colleagues and I must admit, I had to refrain from hugging anyone to stop myself from crying in front of 100 people. I know, I know, not very stoic. That being said, I am an empath, so to stop myself from succumbing to a collective despair and nostalgic melancholy, measures had to be taken. I recalled a few lines of Marcus Aurelius and became rigid in composure neither falling to ecstasy or despair. What despair is there? Three valued colleagues who have mentored and befriended me are retiring and due to spent the next few decades with a well-deserved respite from years of solid graft. What’s the tragedy? There is only celebrations surely at the closing of a chapter and welcoming of a reward.

“Somethings are hurrying into being, others are hurrying to be gone, and part of that which is being born is already extinguished. Flows and changes are constantly renewing the world, just as the ceaseless passage of time makes eternity ever young. In this river, then, where can there be no foothold, what should anyone prize of all that races past him? It is as if he were to begin ro fancy one of the little sparrows that fly past – but already it is gone from his sight. Indeed this is the nature of our very lives – as transient as the exhalation of vapour from the blood or a breath drawn from the air. No different from a single breath taken in and returned to the air, something which we do every moment, no different is the giving back of your whole power of breathing – acquired at your birth just yesterday or thereabouts – to that world from which you first drew it.” – Meditations 6.15

And another, to round off the thought:

“There is nothing to value in transpiring like plants of breathing in like cattle and wild creatures; nothing in taking the stamp of sense impressions of jerking to the puppet-strings of impulse; nothing in herding together or taking food – this last is not better than voiding the wastes of that food. What, then, is to be valued? Applause? No. Not therefore the applause of tongues either: the praise of the masses is the mere rattle of tongues. So you have jettisoned trivial glory too. What remains to be valued? To my mind, it is to act or refrain from action according to our own proper constitution, something to which skills and crafts show the way. Every craft seeks to make its product suit the purpose for which it is produced: this is the aim of the gardener, the vine-dresser, the breaker of horses, the dog-trainer. And what is the end to which the training of children and their teaching strives? So this is the true value: and if this is firmly held, you will not be set on acquiring any of the other things for yourself. Will you not then cease to value much else besides? Otherwise you will not be free or self-sufficient or devoid of passion: you will need to be envious and jealous to suspect those who have the power to deprive you of these things, and to intrigue against people who poses what you value. In short, anyone who feels the need of any of these things is necessarily sullied, and what is more je will often be driven to blame the gods too. But reverence of your own mind and the value you give to it will make you acceptable to yourself, in harmony with your fellows, and consonant with the gods – that is, praising all that they assign and have dispensed.” – 6.16

Z3N0

Quick Quote Post: 12

Today I found myself at a loss, trying to understand the motivations of other people in both my professional and personal sphere. I found myself wanting answers locked within minds that I would never be able to access. So of course, I look to my handbook and guide:

“Do not look around at the directing minds of other people, but keep looking straight ahead to where nature leading you – both universal nature, in what happens to you, and your own nature, in what you must do yourself. Every creature must do what follows from its own constitution. Every creature must do what follows from its own constitution. The rest of creation is constituted to serve rational beings (just as in everything else the lower exists for the higher), but rational beings are here to serve each other. So the main principle in man’s constitution is the social. The second is resistance to the promptings of the flesh. It is the specific property of rational beings and intelligent by the activity of the senses or impulses: both these are of the animal order, and it is the aim of intelligent activity to be sovereign over them and never yield them the mastery – and rightly so, as it is the very nature of intelligence to put all these things to its own use. The third element in a rational constitution is judgement unhurried and deceived. So let your directing mind hold fast to these principles and follow the straight road ahead: then it has what belongs to it.” – Meditations 7.55

Things are as they are and will be as they will be. Worrying about the nature of this and that is a fallacy and slows us down on the path. We can’t walk properly looking back or looking about. We look forward, fall forward and walk forward. This is The Way.

Z3N0

Tending to a Garden

I was talking today again with a friend regarding dysphoria and my own views of gender identity within myself. It was a discussion that I am accepting of my presentation and express femininity how I like, reaching a balance within the soul, of yin and yang being my constant duty of care to myself. It’s not troubling, this feeling yet it is disquieting to think it took me nearly a quarter of a century to notice my own reflection. With a genderless soul and comfortable presentation, in this life I am to be contented with how things are and accepting of change in the next. I’ve had conversations like this before, its the curse of constant self reflection that everything is under scrutiny even the most fundamental building blocks of my own identity. Is it not the duty of a stoic to look within, reflecting on the impressions of their own life?

In this conversation, I likened this progress and growth akin to gardening:

“From wasteland to Greco-Roman perfectionism, it takes time and maintenance and effort and I’m happy with that.” – Z

I shared my thoughts with another confidant, who provided another perspective on things:

“You cant water your plants everyday for a year but if you take a break for a month or so they’ll start to die. It’s not a process that’ll ever be finished but one you’ve got to keep on working at (and let’s be honest tending to an established, flourishing garden you check on everyday is easier than one you’ve neglected where you’re having to revive each plant every few months when you pick up that motivation to care for them again). But also you’re going to have a few plants that die off regardless of how much time and care you put into it. Concentrating on those losses which are essentially irrelevant to the bigger picture of what you’ve achieved just distracts you from how much of a beautiful garden you build from the ground up.

… If you have a row of plant pots each filled with different seed; some beautiful flowers, some plants toxic to humans and some useful for life such as food and herbs. It doesn’t matter how perfect those pretty flowers are if you’re using your time and resources to water the seeds in the the toxic plant pot, the only fully established plant with the most deep seated roots you’re going to get it in that of the toxic plant. Because, by giving it your time and resources, you’ve allowed it to grow and and in doing so you’ve not allowed the others to flourish because it’s taken all of those resources from you and you have nothing else to share with the others. … Not all toxic plants are awful to look at, a lot are the most ethereal flowers you’ve ever seen or the most colourful berries but they will still harm you regardless of how desirable they are to us.” – X

Aside from being in awe and overjoyed with the privilege of seeing this new perspective, I was also reflective on the words. It’s true, we can tend our gardens all day long but craft a garden of death, of nightshade if not careful enough to see what we sow. It’s also another indictment that truest wisdom is not just from the books of the ancients but within conversations with each other. True, not every conversation will bear such rich fruit but once in a while we find ourselves a golden apple tree in this murky wood. My advice to you, gardener, is to take a seed and plant it in your own psychic grove. Or at the very least, hug the tree and hold on with all you have, awaiting the fruit to fall and nourish you. For a diverse garden, at least, of healthy flora, of sage and lavender smells.

Sit in your garden now. Observe how your progress and sip some sangria in the sunlit with a warm contented smile.

Z3N0

Quick Quote Post: 10

Today, I’m stepping out with family, for a meal then a glorified piss-up in a field. In any case I thought I’d share some wisdom that has been playing on my mind through the night. It was a good night, if nights can be described as good rather than just night. It was one of clarity and reflection and genuine connection. A spark of destiny and a cause for my throat chakra with and my rational centre telling my third eye and heart to pipe down a little and not get too excited. Yet I feel genuinely hopeful for a connection and a harmony of perfect balance and comfort. There’s a concern from a feeling of the past of things lost, things gained yet spring has left us and we are into the summer now. With the sun comes light and with light comes the ability to see. Not to mention literally roast and sweat my face off making me a shame to the Italian genealogy yet proud descendant of Yorkshire for the other three-quarters of my makeup.

“The properties of the rational soul. It looks on itself, it shapes itself, it makes itself however it wishes to be, it gathers for itself the fruit it bears – whereas the fruit of plants and the corresponding produce of animals is gathered by others. It achieves its own end wherever the limit of like is set. Unlike a ballet or a play or suchlike, where any interruption aborts the whole performance, in every scene and whenever it is cut off the rational soul has its own programme complete and entirely fulfilled so it can say: ‘I am in possession of my own.’…”

Here in my notes, I write that we grow into out our purpose and evolve into the virtuous being – a rational being. We must take responsibility for our own growth, however, and leave the job to no one else.

” … Further, the rational soul traverses the whole universe and its surrounding void, explores the shape of it, stretches into the infinity of time, encompasses and comprehends the periodic regeneration of the Whole. It reflects that our successors will see nothing new, just as our predecessors saw nothing more than we do: such is the sameness of things, a man of forty with any understanding whatsoever has in a sense seen all the past and future.

Particular qualities too of the rational soul are love of neighbour, truthfulness, integrity, no higher value than itself. This last is a defining quality of law also. There is thus no difference between the true principle of philosophy and the principle of justice.” – Meditations 11.1

Reflect on your own growth and finding your own clarity. See the universe for what it is and what it is is out of your control. Find your peace and find your balance and see that virtue is not something we can aspire to but something we can walk.

Z3N0

Quick Quote Post: 9

“A bitter cucumber? Throw it away. Brambles in my path? Go round them. That is all you need, without going to ask, ‘So why are these things in the world this way?’ This question would be laughable to a student of nature, just as a carpenter or cobbler would laugh at you if you objected to the sight of shavings or cut-offs from their work on the shop floor. Yet they have somewhere to throw their rubbish, whereas the nature of the Whole has nothing outside of itself. The marvel of its craft is that is sets its own confines and recycles into itself all within them which seems to be decaying, growing old, or losing its use: then it creates afresh from this same material. This way it requires no substance other than its own, and has no need for a rubbish-dump. So it is complete in its own space, its own material and its own craftsmanship.” – Meditations 8.50

See things as this, that in regard to our ultimate reality, there is no end nor beginning from our atoms to our environment. When a thing blocks your path or creates a bump in your road, simply manoeuvre, there is no need for some panic. You will get to where you’re going like all of us in the end. From your mistakes to other’s mistakes, do away with it and carry on. In the case of Marcus Aurelius” bitter cucumber, we find a solution such as learning to wait until it ripens or find a better grocer. What panic is there? If we find our loves failing us and our hearts fatiguing with each latest drama or shadowed causation, what is there to do other than identify, do away, and move on?

It’s Todorov’s Narrative Theory making its way into my thoughts again:

  • Equilibrium
  • Disruption
  • Recognition of disruption
  • Attempt to repair
  • New Equilibrium – link back to Step 1.

Things are as they are, and we can only control our reactions to them. It is down to us to decide whether to react or overreact to stimuli – of course, the former being the only logical choice in regard to the benefit of the self and humanity entire. What does making a scene over bitter cucumbers do? What does making a scene about a friend ghosting you on social media do, or ignoring facemask regulations during a pandemic, or being stuck in traffic? Hot air does nothing but contribute to global warming, I say.

You have everything you need in life whether you realize it or not. If you have nothing, you have everything and if you have everything, you have nothing. I pity the morose billionaire in their Dubai mansion with an M&M dispensary room and three home cinemas, I really do. How discontent with their own being they must be to crave and desire more and more brick and mortar. It all returns to the earth in the end and as fleeting as a tent in a side street of London.

I digress…

Live and breathe your path and the obstacles you come across can be overcome without so much a whisper of contempt. No time machine exists to remove them before they appear so you can only accept that they do and will and that you will overcome them.

With a smile, always. It may take you a while to smile, but you will.

Z3N0

Quick Quote Post: 8

Tonight I was going to write about the massive topic that is suffering yet ironically, I thought this would be a pain. So that topic is shelved for another day.

Instead, I’m going to share a long quote that I found resonated with me on my travels today. I experienced feeling like I was standing in the oddly calm eye of the hurricane as the world span uncontrollably around me. It was a lonely experience but I was ok with it. It was almost alien and I seemed unable to reciprocate the panic and stress and anger of my co-workers – something I’m not entirely unhappy about at all.

“Do not let the panorama of your life oppress you, do not dwell on all the various troubles which may have occurred in the past or may occur in the future. Just ask yourself in each instance of the present: ‘What is there in this work which I cannot endure or support?’ You will be ashamed to make any such confession. Then remind yourself that it is neither the future nor the past which weighs on you, but always the present: and the present burden reduces, if only you can isolate it and accuse your mind of weakness if it cannot hold against something thus stripped bare.” – Meditations 8.36

“Is my mind sufficient for this task, or is it not? If it is, I use it for the task as an instrument given by the nature of the Whole. If it is not, I either cede the work (if it is otherwise my responsibility) to someone better able to accomplish it, or do it as best I can, calling in aid someone whom in cooperation with my own directing mind, can achieve what is at this particular time the need and benefit of the community. Whatever I do, either by myself or with another, should this sole focus – the common benefit and harmony.” – Meditations 7.5

To quote another of my favourite things…

There is no chaos, there is harmony.

Reflect on these statements, next when you stand in a chaos of not your own making with the task of bringing harmony or keeping serene. On Monday, there are only four additional days to your Saturday morning off, if you are living the 9-5. It’s all fleeting and transient happenstance that you can overcome and be proud of overcoming each day. Even in your personal life, it goes without saying but I’ll say it anyway for those who missed the point, and I may well have said it before:

You got this.

Z3N0

Quick Quote Post: 7

I want to take today to share two verses from the Tao Te Ching on the balance of character. A friend spoke to me last night about having relationships that are unbalanced, unequal in their respect. For as long as I’ve known this person, they have been one of the most quietly strong individuals I’ve ever known, my best friend throughout my darkest time and perhaps there may have been more had I not in my arrogance neglected them too. They feel complicit in the behaviours of others for being a passive supporter of the relationships yet I disagree with that belief. I think this present moment and this very time is when they have been able to instead reassert a balance between integrity and passiveness. Now is the time for the archers on the walls to fire back at the invaders to the kingdom, dismissing trifling perceptions and immorality before they can reach the city. Like Bukowski said about success, these kinds of revelations are like flies: let them come to you before you can swat them. Don’t try.

“To use words but rarely is to be natural. Hence a gusty wind cannot last all morning, and a sudden downpour cannot last all day. Who is it that produces these? Heaven and earth. If even heaven and earth cannot go on for ever, much less can man. That is why one follows the way! A man of the way confirms to the way; a man of virtue conforms to virtue; a man of loss conforms to loss. He who conforms to the way gladly is gladly accepted by the way; he who conforms to virtue is gladly accepted by virtue; he who conforms to loss is gladly accepted by loss. When there is not enough faith, there is a lack of good faith.” – Tao Te Ching XXIII

“He who tiptoes cannot stand; he who strides cannot walk. He who shows himself is not conspicuous; He who considers himself right is not illustrious; He who brags will have no merit; He who boasts will not endure. From the point of view of the way these are ‘excessive food and useless excrescences.’ As there are Things that detest them, he who has the way does not abide by them.” – Tao Te Ching XXIV

Find your faith in yourself, find your way, find you middle path, find your balance and you will be the happier for it. It’s a natural thing, the natural state of being to be one with your own flow, synchronised with you chi and spiritual path.

As Bukowski said: don’t try.

Z3N0

Quick Post Quote: 6

Today I watched as a spectator a live performance of a destructive insecurity. An acquaintance of mine decided to create an argument, invent feeling to validate their own place within the social group. A test of the waters, if you will. It felt entirely irritating and quite sad but I could recognize that deep insecurity as an aspect of myself. This acquaintance demanded an apology for a weird fictitious slight to be able ensure the structural integrity of the friendships they have, to see how far they could push before the roof would collapse in. Who else can say they’ve not done this? We all have, as children when we push the limits of our parents love with cries for more and more attention.

Yet it is in our nature to evolve, isn’t it? We should be seeking validation from within to confirm our own standing in this world, yet that’s easier said than done. Somewhere along the way, our brains evolved to keep us safe by running simulations of possibility to risk assess our lives. Sometimes, these simulations spill into our actions and before we know it we have our performance. A live production of shit to see if our audience is still there or if they left in the interval, distracted by a better show.

“So if you have a true perception of how things lie, abandon any concern for reputation, be satisfied if you can just live the rest of your life, whatever remains, in the way your nature wishes. You must consider, then, what those wishes are, and then let nothing else distract you. You know from experience that in all your wanderings you have nowhere found the good life – not in logic, not in wealth, not in glory, not in indulgence: nowhere. Where then is it to be found? In doing what man’s nature requires. And how is he to do this? By having principles to govern his impulses and actions. What are these principles? Those are good and evil – the belief that nothing is good for a human being which does not make him just, self-controlled, brave, and free: and nothing evil which does not make him the opposite of these.” – Meditations 8.1

Need clarity on a circumstance? Seek it out. Abandon the performance because the show shouldn’t go on so step from the stage. Get a closer look at your audience you will see an ocean of faces: your face.

Z3N0