Tag Archives: detachment

Thursday Tao: Tao Te Ching – Chapter 10

Carrying body and soul and embracing the one,
Can you avoid separation?
Attending fully and becoming supple,
Can you be as a newborn babe?
Washing and cleansing the primal vision,
Can you be without stain?
Loving all men and ruling the country,
Can you be without cleverness?
Opening and closing the gates of heaven,
Can you play the role of woman?
Understanding and being open to all things,
Are you able to do nothing?

Giving birth and nourishing,
Bearing yet not possessing,
Working yet not taking credit,
Leading yet not dominating,
This is the Primal Virtue.

When I read this chapter of the Tao Te Ching, I think again on water, detachment and emptiness. I discussed before my thoughts on what it means to live like water, but there is yet another way not described there in which water is like the Tao: the tighter one tries to grasp it, the less one finds oneself holding in the end. Likewise, the harder one strives to cling to the Tao in concept, the further one finds oneself from it. Like water, we should find equilibrium naturally, rather than trying to force it.

When we try to make ourselves balanced, we ultimately run the risk of unbalancing ourselves by putting rules and codes into place for our lives. Rather, we should look instead to what gives us the deepest, most sustainable happiness and call that our balance. When trying to make ourselves malleable, we ultimately lose site of the fact that it is the newborn’s lack of experience that makes it so supple. When we focus on trying to bring structure to the ineffable Tao, we ultimately cloud our vision, distract our thoughts.

Instead, we should let go of our preconceived notions, let go of our limited perspective. The goal is effortless action, doing without doing. Rather than forcing our balance, we should let it coalesce naturally by seeking contentment. Rather than try to define the Tao, we should experience it by virtue of our simply being. We should lead not through cunning and deceit by through example of action. We must embrace the emptiness to be filled, embrace the valley spirit to give birth to and nourish good works in our lives.

This goes back to the concept of detachment, of removing oneself from one’s things, both physical and mental. This also extends to our works. The most successful work is done not in search of credit, and removing ourselves from the work allows it to be done completely and correctly. It lets the work stand on its own. In the end, it is enough that something is done without having to say “I did this.” Likewise, the most successful leadership is virtually invisible and ends with the team saying to one another, “Look what we’ve accomplished” without thought of being lead to the goal.

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Thursday Tao: Tao Te Ching – Chapter 7

Heaven and Earth last forever.
Why do heaven and Earth last forever?
They are unborn,
So ever living.
The sage stays behind, thus he is ahead.
He is detached, thus at one with all.
Through selfless action, he attains fulfillment.

Last week I visited the subject of emptiness as it pertains to the Taoist lifestyle (or at least my interpretation of it), and this week extends that idea somewhat to the concept of detachment. Consider the non-intelligent machine of the universe. It is not a mind. It has no emotions or thoughts or desires. It simply is, and because it simply is, it is eternal, without beginning or end. Constantly changing, but constant nonetheless. It wants nothing, so all needs are fulfilled.

What lesson can we take from this aspect of the universe? Should we be mindless automatons? Is ignorance bliss? Well, sort of, but perhaps the more important idea is that we should recognize that our attachments bring with them both positive and negative aspects. Mo’ money, mo’ problems. For everything that we desire, for every attachment we create or maintain, there is a cost, be it physical, mental, or emotional. So we must consider the cost versus the result. Is the newfound anxiety and stress worth the fulfillment of this desire? Or will I be happier if I forget about it and move on? And we must weigh the end benefits of our various desires against one another. Will the cost I pay to fulfill this desire bring me more happiness applied to a different desire? Is either desire worth the cost at all, really?

This does not necessarily mean depriving ourselves. It is more about learning to let go and choosing to maximize happiness and contentment. It is about finding balance. Becoming overly attached to some idea or some desire leads to losing other things that we care for. It can be dangerous, when it comes to things like drugs or alcohol, or it can lead to financial ruin when our attachment and desire outstrips our sense. Over devotion to an activity or idea can cost us our relationships, our careers, life experiences, or more. If we pull back, if we stop putting our immediate desires first, we can then choose to focus our energy on those aspects of our lives that give us real fulfillment. Often we will find that the cost associated with an attachment simply isn’t worth it.

In real world terms, what does this mean? For me, it means looking critically at my life and choices and desires, big and small. For example, I have an attachment to saving money. I am pessimistic when it comes to monetary matters, and if I let myself get too wrapped up with the idea, I wouldn’t enjoy the money that I work for each week. Just this week, for my wife’s birthday we went out to celebrate with a nice meal. Having a good time was going to bring me more fulfillment than being stubborn with my money. We splurged and had one of the best meals we’ve ever had. Could we do this every week? No. Getting too attached to that desire would lead to financial ruin. Getting too attached to my desire to save money leads to a loss of life experiences. Striking a balance is the key to more happiness for me. The more balance we can find, the more we can meet our various desires.

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