– 15 –
The ancient adepts of the Tao were profound,
subtle and discerning;
their wisdom was unfathomable.
There is no way to describe them
other than vaguely by their appearance.
They were careful as someone
crossing an iced stream in winter.
Alert as a warrior in dangerous terrain.
Cautious and courteous as a guest.
Yielding like ice on the point of melting.
Shapeable as a block of uncarved wood.
Receptive as a valley.
Amorphous as muddied water.
But the muddiest water clears
as it is stilled.
And out of that stillness
Do you have the patience to wait
until your mud settles and the water is cleared?
Can you remain still and tranquil
until the right action spontaneously arises?
The Sage doesn’t seek to be full.
Only because she is never full
can she remain like a hidden sprout
and does not rush to early ripening.
In this chapter, Lao Tzu describes the Sages of old, those who lived their lives in constant alignment with the Tao. He poetically depicts them as being like elements of nature and this is a central theme of the Tao Te Ching: that by observing and aligning with the rhythm and flow of nature, we reconnect with our deepest essence, that which might be described as the Tao; the natural, spontaneous flow of life.
The Sage is awake, alert, kind, malleable and receptive. There is no element of self-seeking and, precisely because of this, she is in perfect balance with life.
What better role model to have than an enlightened being; someone who is liberated from the tyranny of mind, conditioning and societal programming, and is free, spontaneous and in complete alignment with their essential nature? And they do exist, although they are rare gems in our current world. Lao Tzu’s description is clear and inspiring. It might interesting to reflect on which of these characteristics you already possess, and which you can develop, cultivate or strengthen. Contrary to what many assume, our personality is not rigidly set in stone. In fact, it changes all the time, and with a little conscious effort can be easily moulded and developed.
Lao Tzu makes reference to muddy water, which might represent our unconscious neuroses, fears, aversions, attachments and the assorted mind-stuff that continually churns around in our head. So how do we clear this muddy water? Do we get agitated and try to stir it up or boil away the mud? Such actions only serve to worsen it. Instead, Lao Tzu suggests retreating to that still place within in which we are constantly connected with the Tao. He urges us to be rooted there; to wait patiently, allowing the mud to settle and allowing right action to spontaneously arise.
By letting go of our constant grasping and craving – and our never-ending quest for happiness and fulfilment, which in itself is a source of suffering – we can reach a state of peace in which we are more in harmony with the present moment. When we’ve stopped projecting into an imaginary future, all things begin to shine when we instead realise that life is simply THIS…HERE…NOW. This is all there is.