Monday, April 5, 2021
Tao Te Ching – Chapter 80
This chapter starts with a description of a small country with few people. They live simply and in harmony with nature. (This chapter could have been the model for the back to the land movement of my younger years. Reading it brought back wonderful memories of living in a shack in the mountains of Montana!)
The people in this chapter enjoy their tasty food, appreciate their beautiful clothes, live contentedly in their peaceful homes, and are happy in their everyday life. The Chinese characters in these lines raise the question of what comes first. For example, do they enjoy their food because it’s tasty, or is their food tasty because they enjoy it? Are they content because their homes are peaceful, or are their home peaceful because they are content?
In other words, are these positive qualities inherent in the objects, or are the qualities a result of the relationship the people have with these objects? If I have an attitude of appreciation and contentment toward my surroundings, I am more likely to enjoy them and be at peace. But if I am generally dissatisfied and always wanting something different, I am going to see my life as lacking and never good enough.
Studies have shown that only 10% of our happiness in life is related to our circumstances. That’s not very much, especially when you think how typical it is for people to hold their happiness hostage to something outside themselves. I’ll be happy when I get a job, when I retire, when I have kids, when my kids grow up, when I find a partner, when I finally get that partner out of my life, and so on.
If only 10% of our happiness is dependent on all those things, then what is the true basis of our contentedness in life? Yes, our attitudes, our habitual thinking patterns, our choices in outlook – this is what really dictates the quality of our life experience.
So what can we learn from the people in this chapter? It seems that they are content with living simply and in harmonious relationship with each other and with their environment. Does living close to nature enhance this sense of well being? Some of us might be familiar with the Japanese custom of forest bathing. I can attest to my own experience of spending time at my cabin. My kids will tell you I am a much nicer person (!) when I spend a weekend sitting by the creek in the woods.
But whether you spend time close to the earth or not, we all have the power to choose our outlook on life, to be grateful, to care, to be content.
He who is not contented with what he has, would not be contented with what he would like to have. ~Socrates