- R. T. Coleman
Everything Is As It Should Be
Updated: Jul 24, 2022
The Tao that can be told
Is not the eternal Tao.
The name that can be named
Is not the eternal Name.
The unnamable is the eternally real.
Naming is the origin
Of all particular things.
Free from desire, you realize the mystery.
Caught in desire, you see only the manifestations.
Yet, mystery and manifestations
Arise from the same source.
This source is called darkness.
Darkness within darkness.
The gateway to all understanding.
First Verse, Tao Te Ching
How better to characterize the last 5 years than darkness within darkness?
The tremendous loss of loved ones, of connection, of faith in our leaders and our democracy, of progress, of ourselves.
Interpretations of this first verse of the Tao Te Ching vary widely. R.L. Wing’s, in his 1986 translation titled The Tao of Power: Lao Tzu’s Classic Guide to Leadership, Influence, and Excellence, notes, “the…(nameless) created a universe composed of matter and energy. The Tao (the named) is the behavior of the physical laws that coalesce matter and energy into All Things in the universe and direct their evolution” (p. 26). To Wing, Lao Tzu is asking us to drop our expectations, let go of any preconceived notions, and let go of anything we “know” that could limit us, such as the “manifestations” of our desires. By naming things as "good" and "bad", we undermine our ability to see them as part of the whole.
I encountered the Tao through Wing initially, when his text was part of an undergraduate course in Chinese culture. I retrieved it from my bookshelf a few months ago when I began a daily study of the Tao by listening to Wayne Dyer’s book Change Your Thoughts, Change Your Life: Living the Wisdom of the Tao. Dyer describes this verse as an explanation of the difference between trying and allowing. Desire for things, for certain outcomes, causes us to believe that we must strive for those specific (named) things, sometimes at the expense of other options. Non-desiring, or allowing, occurs when we have no expectations about the outcome. We can allow things to happen as they will, as the Tao flows.
This first verse introduces several concepts that are explored more fully throughout the Tao Te Ching. The idea that the Tao isn’t something that can be described or explained. The notion that by naming something, we limit it, confine it to our own expectations rather than truly understand it. The limits of desire in producing what is truly beneficial for us as human beings. The belief that the Tao is what we call the Source of All Things, yet in naming it the Tao we fail to understand more than a fraction of what it might mean.
What strikes me in this verse is the last line. “The gateway to all understanding” is…darkness. Ignorance. Emptiness. How can this be?
This may not be what Lao Tzu meant, but in light of the last 5 years, I can’t help but hope that the darkness we experienced together has awakened us, helped us understand that we’ve been seeking answers in the wrong places. We have struggled through a long, hard winter, isolated, alone, afraid. We all experienced that, together, yet so very far apart.
On my daily walk around the farm, I watch as spring reveals her gifts of rebirth, renewal, and rejuvenation. The greys of winter are replaced by pinks and purples and yellows, and I am reminded that everything occurs in its own time. To everything there is a season. I cling to the mantra that has sustained me over the last few months:
All is well.
Everything is as it should be.
Dyer, W. W. (2009). Change your thoughts, change your life: Living the wisdom of the Tao. Chagrin Falls, OH : Findaway World
Tao Te Ching by Lao Tzu: Translated by Stephen Mitchell. (1999). London: Francis Lincoln Ltd.
Wing, R. L. (1986). The Tao of power: Lao Tzu's classic guide to leadership, influence, and excellence. New York, NY: Doubleday.