Ancient Parallels, Modern Applications©
While preparing material for another monthly webinar, my Spirit Guides engaged me in an interesting conversation, “suggesting” a different way to explain “Dynamic Balance, ” a central concept in my three “Dancing with the Energy” books. They recommended creating a short video (“a picture is worth a thousand words”) in addition to showing me several parallels and linkages across cultures and millennia that hadn’t occurred to me before. This newsletter shares a small portion of that conversation.
I have studied the Tao Te Ching off and on for almost 40 years and have 17 different translations of it on my computer. Why so many? Because each translation offers a slightly different perspective which leads to a new insight, an expanded and deeper understanding. As with any ancient (especially spiritual) text or any manuscript in a foreign language, there is no single “correct” translation, only the one that most resonates with you. All quotations below are from my overall favorite—and in my opinion the most contemporary and spiritual—interpretation by Stephan Mitchell (1988).
The Tao Te Ching (6th century BCE Chinese text attributed to the sage (“Old Master”) Lao Tzu, is a fundamental manual for Taoism. The Tao (translated as the “Way”) in the title is executed through “nonaction” (wu wei, literally “no action”), meaning no unnatural action. But it is not passivity. It doesn’t mean not acting, it means “effortless action” or “actionless action”. It means action so aligned with original nature that there is no trace of the actor in the final product.
• “The Master stays behind; that is why she is ahead. She is detached from all things; that is why she is one with them. Because she has let go of herself, she is perfectly fulfilled” (Chapter 7).
• “Giving birth and nourishing, having without possessing, acting with no expectations, leading and not trying to control: This is the supreme virtue” (Chapter 10).
• “The Master, by residing in the Tao, sets an example for all beings. Because he doesn’t display himself, people can see his light. Because he doesn’t know who he is, people recognize themselves in him. Because he has no goal in mind, everything he does succeeds” (Chapter 22).
Wu wei is both the manner in which the Way continually generates all of creation as well as the manner in which the sage-king (the ideal, wise ruler) governs most effectively. He does so by cultivating within himself a constant awareness of and responsiveness to this natural Way, the ebb and flow of nature. He actualizes the Way within his own life by taking no unnatural action and, through example, guides his subjects toward natural action and encourages a flourishing kingdom. He inspires the principle of Tao in his subjects resulting in their own personal fulfilment and peace.
But the Tao doesn’t only refer to the governance of countries. More importantly, it is a formula and a process for individuals performing the daily tasks of life skillfully and efficiently while in a state of tranquility. It is similar to what we now call a “high alpha state” of consciousness that athletes often refer to as being “in the zone”. Such action is in accord with the natural course of the universe. Nonaction is spontaneous, does not interfere, and allows things to progress naturally. In essence, “The Master does nothing, yet he leaves nothing undone” (Chapter 38). When the Tao is allowed to flow naturally, unchallenged (and unchallenging), the inexhaustible, effortless, and invisible Way (Source energy) that existed before the universe continually creates “All-That-Is”.
If you are like me, I didn’t “get it” to begin with. It all sounded like a very magical and mystical paradox—as if there were some deep wisdom buried within it—but I understood very little of it at the time. It was only when I began practicing Tai Chi that I really “felt” the spirit of wu wei flowing through my body. As I was taught, wu wei is always the first position or form in Tai Chi and must be maintained throughout each and every form as well as the transitions between postures. Now I understand not only why, but also that “a picture really is worth a thousand words”.
In my experience, wu wei embodies the essence of being grounded and centered while preparing for and executing planned action in a seemingly spontaneous and natural flow of body, mind, and spirit. Nothing is to be forced; nothing is to occur before everything is calm and ready to move on. All action is taken like a sapling bending with the wind. One’s life should flow like water (a common theme in the Tao), soft and yielding, but unsurpassed for dissolving or overcoming hard and inflexible obstacles. Paradoxical? Perhaps … until, with practice, it increasingly becomes a “Way of Being” rather than a method of doing. Therein lies its power to change your life.
I am struck by the way in which Stephen Mitchell consistently uses the term “Master” in his interpretation of the Tao. While all of the other 16 translations on my computer also use this term, they also use the words “sage” and “ruler” as appropriate. Mitchell does not. He has clearly replaced the term “sage” (wise) with the word “Master” which includes “wise” but also means teacher, guide, or expert. Mitchell’s replacement of the word “ruler” (of a kingdom) with the term “Master” acknowledges the individual, spiritual application of the Tao and of wu wei in addition to governance. But what is “governance” at an individual level other than becoming the “Master of your life” which Maitreya (channeled by Margaret McElroy) spoke and wrote about so often? In my view, this is a major part of what makes Mitchell’s the most spiritual translation of the Tao.
So, what about the ancient parallels and modern applications? First of all, the Tao, the Way, is equivalent to the Alignment of all your life energies with Higher Self, the foremost and pre-eminent principle of Conscious Living. Here are a few examples from the Tao:
• “The Master keeps her mind always at one with the Tao; that is what gives her radiance” (Chapter 21).
• “Why did the ancient Masters esteem the Tao? Because, being one with the Tao, when you seek, you find; and when you make a mistake, you are forgiven. That is why everybody loves it” (Chapter 62).
• “The Master takes action by letting things take their course. He remains as calm at the end as at the beginning. He has nothing, thus has nothing to lose. What he desires is non-desire; what he learns is to unlearn. He simply reminds people of who they have always been. He cares about nothing but the Tao. Thus he can care for all things.” (Chapter 64)
Second only to Alignment is the Conscious Living principle of Balance. Alignment cannot fully be achieved without your life energies being in Balance.
• “Know the male, yet keep to the female … Know the white, yet keep to the black … Know the personal, yet keep to the impersonal … The world is formed from the void, like utensils from a block of wood. The Master knows the utensils, yet keeps to the block: thus she can use all things” (Chapter 28).
• “The great Way is easy, yet people prefer the side paths. Be aware when things are out of balance. Stay centered within the Tao” (Chapter 53).
The third major principle of Conscious Living is that of Allowing your life energies to flow freely, without resistance. Allowing is the underpinning for Balance and Alignment because, without it, the others cannot fully be achieved. Allowing (effortless effort, non-resistance, going with the flow) is the very definition of wu wei, the entry point and key to the Way.
• “Practice not-doing, and everything will fall into place.” (Chapter 3).
• “True mastery can be gained by letting things go their own way. It can’t be gained by interfering.” (Chapter 48).
In summary, Alignment with Higher Self (the Way, the natural order) is attained through Balancing all aspects of life. Both of these can only be accomplished through Allowing (non-resistance, natural effortlessness, wu wei). After all these years, only now do I realize the impact of the Tao, this ancient wisdom, on my current life and my work. I would have loved to include it in my books! But there are no accidents; perhaps a future book? Who knows? “Always in motion is the future” (Yoda, Episode V – “The Empire Strikes Back”, 1980).
And why would anyone else want to apply these ancient parallels to modern life, a world of constant change? That is a topic for next month’s newsletter.
Stay tuned and have a great month!