Sunday, June 17, 2018
Tao Te Ching – Chapter 44
Fame or self, which is dearer
Self or wealth, which is greater
Gain or loss, which is painful
The first two lines remind me of a popular question – would you rather be rich or famous? Although here, we are asked to evaluate both fame and riches in comparison to our self. The character for self also means body, so we could make our evaluation in terms of our physical lives, or in terms of our identity or sense of self.
The third line asks us to look at the effect of gain or loss on our lives. Most of us would prefer gain to loss, but if we examine our attachment to gain and our aversion to loss, we might see that both can cause anxiety.
Excessive love comes at a great cost
More acquisition is balanced by more loss
Knowing contentment avoids disappointment
Knowing when to stop avoids trouble
Thus one long endures
The message here is one of balance and equanimity. Fame comes and goes. Riches come and go. We receive and release. There is a point of equipoise where the self remains balanced, not seeking to force or interfere.
Sometimes people misinterpret this to mean that we should just sit around doing nothing. That is not in harmony. When it is time to work, we work. When it is time to rest, we rest. We take responsibility for our lives. We provide for our families. We contribute to our communities.
We can do all of that from a centered place of contentment and gratitude, knowing when we have enough, or have done enough.
My sister is an artist, and I often wonder when she knows that a painting is finished. There seems to be a point where she has done enough, and more would be too much. She just knows. That fascinates me.
I have a friend who lives in a gorgeous, palatial home, but is always worried about money. How can a person who lives in such luxury have such a joy crushing sense of lack? That fascinates me too.
This chapter invites us to examine our own lives, to notice where we are out of sync, where we struggle hold the scales out of balance, and to consider the effort it takes to maintain our disequilibrium. Can we observe without judgment? If we can, then perhaps we can gain some insight that might allow us to release even just a little of that burden.
Be cool at the equator; keep thy blood fluid at the Pole. ~Herman Melville, Moby Dick