I believe the Tao Te Ching is the wisest book ever written. Thought to be written in China by Lao Tzu some 2,500 years ago, the Tao is a guidebook on how to live life.
What does Lao Tzu mean by the Tao? Here’s the definition given in the Merriam-Webster dictionary:
“The unconditional and unknowable source and guiding principle of all reality.”
One could say that God and the Tao are interchangeable. Or the Tao and nature. Or this: The Tao is what existed before the Big Bang occurred 13.8 billion years ago.
The passage I’m writing about today is chapter 33. This is it:
“Knowing others is intelligence; knowing yourself is true wisdom.
Mastering others is strength; mastering yourself is true power.”
What Lao Tzu is saying here is that the riches of life are found inside us.
When I come across wisdom like this that was imparted so long ago and that resonates with me, you know what I do? I lean in. And I listen.
Putting chapter 33 into action
What would listening to this Tao nugget entail for us? It would involve refocusing our energies on knowing ourselves and mastering ourselves.
Maybe even more important is what it would require us to STOP doing, which is trying to manipulate the outside world so that we can feel good inside.
“If I get him to like me, I’ll feel good inside.”
“If I scheme my way to the promotion, I’ll have a cooler title and make more money…then I’ll feel good inside.”
“If I starve myself and lose that weight off my butt and thighs, I’ll feel good inside.”
It doesn’t work! If we succeed at any of these, it’s only temporary. Always.Then it’s right back to figuring some other way to manipulate the world so we can feel better. Rinse and repeat, over and over, until we take our last breath.
The sad truth is that most people are like miners digging for gold on the beaches of Honolulu. There’s no gold on them thar beaches, people!
Lao Tzu got it right. The gold, the riches of life, are found inside us.
This is flowery, high-brow spiritual language we’re talking about here. “Master yourself. Know yourself.”
So instead of you all saying, “Wow. That’s great. I totally get it,” and then moving on with your day, let’s dive into how you can actually incorporate this wisdom into your lives. Consider this simple two-step process.
STEP 1: EXAMINE YOUR LIFE
First, conduct a broad, objective survey of your life. What are you doing? Most important, look for the ways you are looking to the outside world to make you happy.
Are you in a marriage or relationship where you consistently let that person determine whether you are happy, sad or upset?
Look at how you decide your self-worth. Does it come from your job title? Your car? Your academic degrees? Your kids’ academic degrees?
Maybe you work eighty hours a week and make great money but are exhausted much of the time and don’t have much of a life apart from work. What’s behind that?
Look at the main components of your life and ask yourself the motivation for doing those things.
STEP 2: REALIGN BASED ON YOUR FINDINGS
If we’re positing that the gold is inside, job number one is to clean up that inside so we can harvest the gold. How do we do that?
Well, it’s loud in there for most of us. Tons of thoughts swirling around that divert our attention from the inside to the outside world.
How do we quiet things down inside? Develop a regular meditation practice. I know I sound like a broken record on this, but meditation is the best way to turn down the volume on all that chatter inside so that we can do the work of knowing and mastering ourselves.
While working on quieting down inside, we simultaneously look for ways that we can refocus our attention from the external to the internal world. Some of these could be big and life-altering. If you’re that person working eighty-hour weeks on Wall Street, maybe you consider changing jobs. Obviously, that decision needs to be well-considered.
For most, probably best to start smaller, effecting changes that don’t uproot your life. If you work out two hours a day because you need the world to see your rockin’ body, maybe you cut that back to one hour a day. Use the freed up hour for meditation, yoga and taking walks in nature.
You get the drift. It’s about realigning your life in a way that allows you to work on your inner life.
A bank robber named Willie Sutton, when asked by a reporter why he robbed banks, famously replied, “Because that’s where the money is.”
As Lao Tzu knew so well, we work on our insides because that is where the beauty and richness of life is found.
Thanks for reading.