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

The Snap

Yesterday I had a nap – not really a nap, more like lying on my back staring into space not exactly thinking about anything – to let my day melt. Throughout my work, I pick up stowaway energy, become fixed on minutia, and allowed the immaterial to stick like gum on a shoe to my conscious. I felt myself in conflict with my own calm. It was a strange panic to be in a form of fuzziness, a fuzziness I didn’t realize that had existed before.

It creeps up on you, this heavy clammy feeling. It’s like unwashed sweat after a run that sticks to you and you only really notice it when you pause and think.

A friend messaged me to tell me they were worried about me, that I seemed different and aggravated. I had no idea what he was talking about. I do now and it took me to follow his advice to see. The advice: meet a buddy, have some drinks and unwind. I didn’t do the first due to COVID but the latter I did. Strangely, in that moment after my beer and moment to unwind there was a snap.

It was a snap in my own mind. I woke up, my head was clear suddenly. It was like hitting the refresh button on a crashed webpage without even realizing it was crashed. It opened up my mind to the power of peace. Peace within, taking a moment to meditate on the reality of things, despite not sensing anything wrong.

Maintenance perhaps? We all need a moment to check in with ourselves like an spiritual and philosophical MOT. That’s what it is, isn’t it? An awakening of the true mind, a true self in to see reality for what it is. And in this reality, I was fuzzy, focussed on the wrong things, experiencing a rather passive expression of anger and irritation without even realizing it.

I need to share this video, of Mooji’s thoughts on the subject, of the realisation of observation, observing this strangeness of the self.

Please subscribe and like this video to support his channel

Sometimes, a little pause, a little moment to see the self enables you to see others and the Whole as it truly is not what we perceive it to be behind a haze.

“I have withdrawn from affairs as well as from society, and from my own affairs in particular: I am acting on behalf of later generations.” – Letters from a Stoic VIII

Act on behalf of the future, the future of you and the future of the Whole. Take a breath in this moment, find your centre even if you never thought you’d needed to find it before. You will find a strange new peace, a shower of light washing away the fuzz stuck to your skin; a lightness of the mind and soul as you embrace the world with wider, clearer eyes.

It’s an instant snap when you find it. As if Thanos clicked his fingers to allow you to see and embrace your power as a human being and expression of Universe rather than turn to dust (then reappear five years later following the valiant sacrifice of Iron Man, of course).

Empathy Sponge

Something I live with and only recently came to terms with, as in acceptance (thank you, stoicism), is that I am an empath. I’m not sure what that means scientifically, the Myers-Briggs Type Index isn’t particularly helpful as I flit from INTP to INFP to INFJ depending on the test and that’s the extent of my psychological knowledge. Although, I have seen lots of crime shows and read a book on neurology but that hasn’t seemed to be of any help. The spiritual discourse, is much more accessible to me: taking on other’s energy and having to clear it off and having stowaway emotions and the like.

Example A:

I was at work and a member of the team began to share some things about their lives and started crying. Everyone had lots of things to say and I didn’t – I was busy. When the moment passed and she was okay, someone said: “Z, such a typical man, can’t deal with emotions.”

I left the room shortly after and stood in the toilet having to deep breath and fight back tears that I knew weren’t mine.

Example B:

I have a highly controlled and very closely monitored libido, primarily for stoic reasons. Power over the self is the ultimate power – the only power I have – and due to Lockdown, things have been quiet on that front. Yet I’ve recently connected with someone who I admire for being so free with their sexuality and accepting of it rather than control it or lock it down. Suffice to say, the closer we have become as friends and as connected we have become, it has had an affect on me. A testament to the connection perhaps as we’ve never met in person.

Example C:

My hobby of a night is to play Star Wars: The Old Republic and have an active role in a roleplay guild – like Dungeons and Dragons but in space. It’s almost like method acting as while not nearly to the same extent as they do for my character, things bug me ‘ooc’ or out-of-character. It shouldn’t, I know this: it’s fictional puppetry yet the personalities seem to have an effect. When the group is calm, having fun through the characters so am I. Yet when they are not, I feel myself agitated.

While the energy of most people washes past, when I make connections with individuals, it seems I catch stowaways. For a stoic, this is a challenge and perhaps entirely contradictory to the entire philosophy. Yet, I disagree. I think it’s a spiritual or psychological thing I just happen to have that I can adapt to or be drown in it. Maybe I’m alone in my experience as an empath: these emotions hit me, I don’t know what to do with them and they hang on like a heavy backpack. Sometimes, of course the burden isn’t too bad like in the case of my sexually liberated friend – not bad at all.

Yet it takes a toll on me, physically. After a day at work where I may encounter hundreds of people all with their own energies, emotions and ailments, I am mentally drained to a point where I struggle to keep my eyes open. Some days at work, I may not even do anything physically demanding, spending most of it sitting, yet I feel like I’ve ran a marathon.

I deal with it because I have to. I manage it and protect myself through meditation to empty my mind and aura. I choose my friends more carefully based on the baggage I end up having to carry which is not an indictment of them at all. Perhaps it is sometimes. A person who is deeply angry at the world with no intention of changing just from the energy that they present is worth avoiding where possible. In another sense, it’s been helpful when I can understand another person better and do what I can for them in my capacity acting in a virtuous way. Of course I can get the wrong vibes. Sometimes they cross wires with my own feelings and others’ feelings but navigating that is part of the process of not just an empath but a stoic – even just as a human being.

Meditation is the key to being a healthy, functional empath. There was a time where I would absorb all the energies around me and become so tired and dismissive of everyone that I just told them to fuck off because I’d rather be alone. It makes things more intense, this ability that I’m still only the cusp of empowering. It makes every relationship feel richer and intimacy the more intimate. Yet the price is then, disappointment or a betrayal of the self when this becomes or is unhealthy. As a child I was always called sensitive yet I never appreciated it for two reasons. For one Batman was my icon and secondly, it felt untrue. I was being sold a simplistic lie that never sat well. I am a stoic but I’m also an empath; a rocky road to be sure, but my only road.

So, I put it out there, fellow empaths: how have you managed? I’d love to hear from you; let’s help each other. Or not, of course, if you don’t want to. As individuals and as rational beings: we got this.

Z3N0