I just checked how many articles I’ve written about the Tao te Ching. Nine. I’d thought I’d written many more than that.
Why? Because the Tao is my favorite book of wisdom.
Legend has it that the Tao was written in the 6th century BC by Lao Tzu, a scholar who worked for the royal court in the Zhou Dynasty. After growing disillusioned by the decline in morality he’d witnessed, Lao Tzu chose to embark on a life as a hermit.
Lao Tzu writes it down, then disappears
When he reached the edge of the kingdom, a guard, Yinxi, recognized him and requested that Lao Tzu write down the wisdom he had accumulated. The result was the Tao Te Ching. Lao Tzu left the text with Yinxi and was never seen again.
One of my favorite of the many beautiful teachings of the Tao appears in Chapter 22:
“If you want to be given everything, give everything up.”
There are two halves to this profound passage. One is about what we need to do, and the other is about what happens when we do that.
Let’s start with what Lao Tzu suggests we do — ‘give everything up.’ What does he mean by that?
At first reading, one might think it’s mostly the Christ-like teaching of giving away everything we own, like clothes, homes and the like. I don’t think that’s the thrust of this teaching.
I think it’s more about giving up ourselves. It’s about giving up all of the egoic attachments we all carry around. Giving up identifying as rich or poor, strong or weak, successful or unsuccessful, smart or stupid.
Harmonizing with nature
What would Lao Tzu have us identify as if not those worldly things? Mostly as a conscious being whose only purpose is to live in harmony with nature, something we can’t do when we are stuffed to the gills with baggage.
I think it also means surrendering to the universe, AKA giving up on trying to control everything. In short, ‘giving everything up’ means letting go.
And what happens when we do this? When we let go of ourselves and our attachments and surrender to our natural place in the universe? We are ‘given everything.’
It’s not about getting stuff
What does that look like? Let’s start with what that doesn’t look like. It’s not being given a nice car or a beautiful house. It’s not even getting a wonderful life partner or fantastic kids, though being given everything could include all of those things.
Getting everything in this case means having a calm, peaceful center. It means living from a place of lightness and stillness. It means being cleared of the emotional, egoic baggage we carry in our lower selves. It means being given the ability to live life from a place of conscious presence, rather than being at the mercy of our fearful, sensitive, backward and forward-looking egos.
I don’t know about you, but that sure sounds like getting everything in my book. Light. Aware. Present. Fearless. Clear-headed.
This piece of wisdom reminds us that the path to ‘getting everything’ is not about addition. It’s not about adding to our lives. More food. More clothes. More spiritual books. More anything.
The path to life’s riches is about subtraction. It’s about letting go of the baggage that psychically weighs us down. Letting go of the slights, the grievances, the traumas…Letting go of all of it.
If we do that; if we give everything up, we will, as Lao Tzu so wisely wrote, be given everything.