Saturday, June 17, 2017

Tao Te Ching – Chapter 26

Heavy is the root of light
Tranquil is the master of restless

This opening couplet captures the essence of this chapter. The first line reflects a principle shared by martial arts as well as many wisdom teachings and even some mythology.

In Greek mythology, Anteaus was the son of Mother Earth. He grew up to be a great warrior. His secret was the strength that he got from his mother. As long as he was in contact with the earth, no one could harm him. (Hercules figured this out and defeated him by holding him up in the air.)

In martial arts we learn to “sink” our energy into our feet, or root. This helps us maintain balance and “uproot” our sparring partners. Qigong breathing exercises also teach us to breathe into our bellies. This belly breathing tells our brains that we are safe and promotes not only physical health, but also a sense of emotional well being.

This connection to the earth and to nature is emphasized throughout the Tao Te Ching. The earth represents not only our physical root, but also the yin energy of the female, the mother, the receptive. It is the source of our wisdom, our strength, our very existence.

This sense of groundedness is further reflected in the second line. When we are securely rooted in our true nature, we find an inner sea of tranquility. We might joke about inner peace, but this principle is basic to all sacred paths. The Bible teaches us to be still and know God. Meditation is the central practice of Buddhism. We find God in silence, when we listen beneath the noise of our daily lives.

Serenity quiets the restless energy that characterizes our human “busyness.” We often feel buffeted by the chaos of life and sometimes overwhelmed. A friend often describes her life as out of control. She responds by trying to exert control by force, but that just creates more restless “movement.” This is exhausting, as I well remember from my own attempts years ago to control things I could not control.

As this chapter teaches, restlessness is not mastered by force, but by tranquility. I’ve found in my own life, that when I begin to feel churned up (notice the directional reference “up,”away from our root), my best approach is to sit, to settle “down”– by the creek, on my meditation cushion, in the car, wherever – and breathe. When I focus on bringing my breath into my belly, my mind detaches from the hamster wheel of distressing thoughts looping through my brain. My body becomes loose and relaxed. The world seems different to me. The way becomes clear (or if it doesn’t, I can be patient until it does), and I can move forward with renewed energy, calm and confident.

Try it. Next time you sense a “disturbance in the force,” (couldn’t resist a Star Wars reference), take a few deep breaths, all the way into your belly. Feel your connection to the ground and imagine roots growing down into the earth. Feel the energy drawn in through your root, enlivening your body and calming your mind.

Whether you do this for a minute at a stoplight, or thirty minutes on your meditation cushion, you will experience the benefit. Like Anteaus, we are nourished and protected by our connection to our origin, to the life giving energy of creation, to the sacred wisdom and power of the universe.

Serenity is not freedom from the storm, but peace amid the storm. ~S. A. Jefferson-Wright


  1. Galen, I have a huge week ahead of me with having Virginia as both of us engage in VBS at our church. This reminder to breathe, to ground myself when the chaos could be swirling, is the perfect preparation for the challenges that can present themselves. Thank you for the inspiration, my friend!

    1. Martha, after what you and Danny went through, VBS will be a walk in the park, regardless of the level of noise and chaos! You got this!!

  2. I practice that kind of breathing when I am frustrated, it really helps. Also when I have trouble falling asleep which is a lot. It is an age old practice in many culture still today. But there is nothing like the deep down peace leaning on the Lord can bring. It goes deeper then any breathing practice we can do, it centers us into Him and not ourselves. Great post.

    1. That's true, Betty. This breathing practice is universal, in part, I think, because we are are born breathing this way. This is how we all breathed before stress brought our breathing into our upper chests. Sinking our breath back into our bellies is a physiological process that tells our brains that we are safe and all is well. As you point out, it can certainly complement beliefs that bring peace to our spirits. Thanks for commenting.

  3. Thanks, Galen...I hadn't thought of those opening lines as you have. Now I can see how these "elements"...HEAVY and TRANQUIL...could directly relate to the Yin/Yang, "tensions of opposites" as I like to imagine. You have inspired me to contemplate how to balance Life's (heavy then grounded) Events on my breathe.

    1. Thanks, CD. There is a lot in the TTC about opposites, beginning in Chapter 2. As you say, this is reflected in yin/yang. When one is separated into two, it is still one, but it manifests as two. Each is a part of the other, as evidenced by the dot of yin in the yang part of the yin/yang symbol, and the dot of yang in the yin part. Each flowing endlessly into the other. Our breath reflects this too. Inhale/exhale--all part of the same breathing cycle.

      My tai chi teacher is fond of pointing out opposites--"If something goes up, something goes down. If something contracts, something expands." Qigong also reflects this--it's all about breathing!

      Thanks for commenting.

  4. Loved the last quote; it is true! As usual, I come away from reading your thoughts and it generates more of my own.
    I know that when I feel life spinning out of control, I turn to prayer. In doing so, I often pray for a while and then forget the precious moment of just waiting and listening for an answer. When I take the time to do this; it is then that I find the true peace I am seeking. I even like the idea of doing some quiet pondering and belly breathing before I pray. I'm going to work on this one. I want to try your thoughts on belly breathing more.
    This one sentence really spoke to me; "When we are securely rooted in our true nature, we find an inner sea of tranquility." I had multiple thoughts on just that one idea.
    Next time I have a "disturbance in the force", I will try your suggestions.
    Blessings for your thought on this one; they spoke to me. Hugs~

    1. LeAnn, I hope you will let me know if you try to include belly breathing with your prayer practice. I think you will find that it enhances your practice. I think it is the simplest most effective practice for so much of the stress and distraction we encounter in our busy lives.

      I'm so pleased that you find the posts here to generate your own thoughts. Isn't that the way it should be? I'm not here to tell anyone what to think, but I try to help people open doors for themselves. I love hearing your own thoughts in response to posts. I hope you will keep sharing them!


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