Sunday, May 21, 2017

Tao Te Ching – Chapter 24

This sweet little chapter carries forward from Chapters 22 and 23 the encouragement to release the ego. Here the emphasis is on the limitations of holding onto the ego.

One who stands on tiptoes is not steady
One who strides cannot go far

The wisdom of these first two lines is made clear to me in martial arts practice. In tai chi sparring (called push hands), if I am not “in my feet,” I become unbalanced and am easily uprooted. This is also reflected emotionally. Fear causes us to “rise.” Our breathing becomes shallow and we often raise our center of gravity. We feel off balance and unsteady. You can see this for yourself. How long can you stand on tiptoe? Now stand normally and let your weight sink into your feet. Different, yes?

The same is true for steps that are so extended that I sort of “fall” onto my front foot.  Try this experiment. Stand naturally and then take a step forward. Keep your weight on your back foot until your front foot is placed safely on the ground. If your step is not too long, you should be able to keep your weight on your back foot and lift your front foot back off the ground without losing your balance. If my step is too long, I won’t be able to lift my front foot. My weight is thrown forward and I am vulnerable to attack. If I try to maintain this pace, I will soon tire.

Again, this plays out emotionally as well. If I react in fear, my thinking speeds up in an uncontrolled way. I am unable to assess a situation and act appropriately. I feel drained of energy. Often I end up making a situation worse.

The next four lines emphasize the result of focusing on the self.

The self-displayed are not enlightened
The self-righteous are not illustrious
The self-praising are not accomplished
The self-important are not enduring

One who follows Tao
Sees these as excessive and extraneous
And therefore avoids them

When we are not focused on the self, we are at peace. We move through our lives with little effort because our way becomes clear. We do not force and therefore have no conflict. We have no fear and therefore act appropriately and with courage. We are unconcerned with credit or blame and therefore are unburdened. Our hearts are rooted in Tao and therefore our spirits are free to soar.

Even after all this time
The sun never says to the earth
“You owe me.” 
Look what happens with a love like that
It lights the whole sky
   ~Hafiz (as quoted in Change Your Thoughts, Change Your Life by Wayne Dyer)


  1. Galen, I really enjoyed your observations from Tai Chi practice as they relate to this chapter. I'm not ready to do push hands yet, but I feel the same in my simple practice of Tai Chi. As to letting go of the ego, I aspire but it sometimes seems like a distant prospect.

    1. Whether you do push hands or not, I bet you can tell a difference in your tai chi practice if you are not rooted. And you can also tell if your steps are too big to keep your balance. I love tai chi because it gives us such great information about our bodies, and that information can spread out over all aspects of our lives. I don't practice yoga, but I imagine it does something similar. Thanks for commenting, Sandra. And good luck with your tai chi practice!

  2. I love the analogy of the tip-toes and the too-large stride leading to the unbalanced self. Certainly, when we allow our egos to take charge of our daily walk, instead of surrendering to God, it is a sure recipe for a huge fall to come. May we learn to let go and let Him!
    Blessings, Galen!

    1. Thanks, Martha. It never ceases to amaze me how doing a physical practice like martial arts can teach me so much about life!

  3. This is another one that I truly enjoyed reading and can relate to it. I tried the exercise and was not to steady. I became off balanced quickly. I think I need to keep trying and exercise a bit more. However, I am not a spring chicken anymore. That being said, I think there is a message to me about being more balanced in my life. With our busy life, I often make choices that hold me up instead of pushing me forward.
    I don't want my own ego to be what keeps me off balance.
    I do find that when I am focused on others; I am more at peace.
    I had a little self-reflection on this one.
    Thanks my dear friend! Hugs~

    1. LeAnn, I'm glad you tried the exercise. Sometimes our bodies can teach us things directly. That's what I love about martial arts or other physical practices that are really much deeper than just the physical aspects. Ego will always keep us unbalanced because it keeps us out of sync with the natural harmony of the universe. Thanks for commenting.


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