Newsletter - February 2022

Restoring the Balance

 

“Be aware when things are out of balance. Stay centered within the Tao.” (Lao Tzu)

 

What we do depends on where we’re coming from. Step back far enough, and we’re always centered in one of two places: our selves or the Tao. It’s our choice. Pick the former and we chase our desires and put the balance at risk. To restore the balance, the Tao Te Ching (Chapter 53) reminds us that all we have to do is “stay centered within the Tao.”

 

It’s not surprising, really, that we tend to see the world most easily from our point of view. After all, we are the ones looking out at everything from behind our own eyes. Indeed, when we’re young, this is the only viewpoint we see. Then, as we grow up, we become aware that others look out at the world from behind their eyes and we discover they sometimes see things differently.

 

With a little practice, we learn to see things from other people’s point of view and can sometimes make interesting new discoveries. At other times, sadly, it seems we get sidetracked into whose viewpoint is right or wrong. I think this is where we start to lose the balance that Lao Tzu is talking about.

 

Another time we start to lose the balance is when we see the world in terms of what we want it to be, instead of as it is. This isn’t merely sad; it can cause serious trouble because we often don’t stop there. Instead, we go on to believe it’s up to us to make the world into what we want it to be. And so we get busy with how best to rearrange reality until it matches our desires and expectations. With this approach it doesn’t take long until the balance is lost, especially if other people appear to get in our way.

 

In both these examples we are centered in our selves. In the first, it’s our viewpoint that is right and is the one that matters. In the second, we’re about to act on the world to make it conform to our desires. In both cases, it’s all about us. So, what happens when we’re centered in the Tao?

 

I think what happens when we’re centered in the Tao is that we discover we are in the presence of something much greater than our selves. We become aware of something unfolding all on its own which is all around us, and includes us. We’re no longer at center stage directing the show. In fact, we discover that what is around us is not a show – it is the real thing. Reality is what it is and we have an amazing part to play in its unfolding. But the only way to do this is to let ourselves go and not to put our selves at the center. Instead, we need first to listen and then to respond. I think that when we do this, we can restore any balance we may have lost.

 

An example that’s true for me is when I pay undue attention to every thought and desire that occurs to me. Watching the butterfly thoughts in my mind is often harmless enough. But when I chase after one thought or desire in particular and decide to act on it, that’s when I can often start to lose my balance. Interestingly, whether or not I succeed in fulfilling it, as soon as I'm done chasing one desire, in almost no time at all another one springs up to take its place. However one thing I can be sure of is that, if I allow myself to be pulled this way and that, I will always be off balance. What's more, a lot of the time I don’t even succeed in fulfilling my desire of the moment. Instead, all I succeed in doing is creating confusion and stress.

 

Interestingly, Lao Tzu doesn’t say whether this is right or wrong. He just says “Be aware when things are out of balance.” You would think confusion and stress would be pretty good clues. So, now that I'm aware of them, what am I supposed to do? The suggestion is to let go of my approach, and instead “stay centered within the Tao”? What would that look like I wonder? What would happen?

 

I’ll let Lao Tzu answer those questions. “The Master gives himself up… He doesn’t think about his actions; they flow from the core of his being” (chapter 50). Your actions always flow from whatever you’re centered in. When you’re centered in the Tao, the Tao is what’s at the core of your being. In fact, the Tao is there all the time whether you’re aware of it or not. “Do you have the patience to wait till your mud settles and the water is clear? Can you remain unmoving till the right action arises by itself?” (chapter 15). When we are balanced, the right action always presents itself. When we get our selves out of the way, the light always shines.

 

From time to time, we all experience confusion and stress. When things are “out of balance,” what does that look like for you? Whether or not you think of it as being centered in the Tao, what works for you to regain your balance?

 

If you have any thoughts you’d like to share, you can get in touch with me by:

 

Thanks for reading. Please feel free to share this newsletter.

 

Francis

 

(In Harmony with the Tao: A Guided Journey into the Tao Te Ching is available as an e-book or as a paperback from your nearest independent book store, from White Cloud Press, from Amazon.com, or from Amazon.ca.)