Monthly Archives: September 2008

Muteness (repost)

Apologies for the quiet lately — I’m moving into a period of contemplating my losses, with 9/11 and the five year anniversary of my mom’s death this month. It’s an emotional time of year for me and there’s just a lot going on internally. I should be back to my normal daily chatter soon enough.


(Following is a repost from February, 2005)

Beside Still watersl.jpg

The more you dwell in the spirit,
The farther you are from common ways.
If you want to speak of Tao’s wonders,
Few will listen.

If you spend a long period of time in study and self-cultivation, you will enter Tao. By doing so, you also enter a world of extraordinary perceptions. You experience unimaginable things, receive thoughts and learning as if from nowhere, perceive things that could be classified as precedent. Yet if you try to communicate what you experience, there is no one to understand you, no one who will believe you. The more you walk this road, the farther you are from the ordinary ways of society. You may see the truth, but you will find that people would rather listen to politicians, performers, and charlatans.

If you are known as a follower of Tao, people may seek you out, but are seldom the ones who will truly understand Tao. To speak of the wonders you have seen is often to engage in a futile bout of miscommunication. That is why it is said that those who know do not speak.

Why not simply stay quiet? Enjoy Tao as you will. Let others think you are dumb. Inside yourself, you will know the joy of Tao’s mysteries. If you meet someone who can profit by your experience, you should share. But if you are merely a wanderer in a crowd of strangers, it is wisdom to be silent.

Deng Ming-Dao, 365 Tao

Nature says few words.
A whirlwind does not last all morning,
nor does a rainstorm last a whole day.
What causes them? Nature.

If even Nature’s utterances do not last long,
how much less should human beings’?

Tao Te Ching, 23

Those who know do not speak.
Those who speak do not know.
Close the mouth; shut the doors.
Smooth the sharpness; untie the tangles.
Dim the glare; calm the turmoil.
This is mystical unity.
Those achieving it are detached from friends and enemies,
from benefit and harm, from honor and disgrace.
Therefore they are the most valuable people in the world.

Tao Te Ching, 56

When I was a teenager, before I ever even heard of Tao, I remember coming across the quote “If you do not understand my silence, you will not understand my words”. It struck a chord in me since I was sometimes criticized for being quiet, or people said it was hard to get to know me, or that I was “reserved”. It’s more that I might not take part in light conversation or gossip. I tend to know people very deeply, sometimes too deeply for their own comfort. But I sometimes avoid what is considered as polite conversation. I would rather know what someone truly thinks about things than discuss the weather, or a sports team, or your dental visits, or who is doing what to whom these days.

And people can be shallow. They may not think about anything very deeply. I observe them, and find their heart, and learn who they are. How they joke tells me their prejudices, how they talk about others tells me if they are a gossip or someone who truly cares for others. Even a casual mention of the weather tells me if they know and follow the changes or just react to them. “When is this rain going to stop?” can bring a response from me of “well, they say it will rain through tomorrow, and then be nice until next Monday”.

I am all about studying process and change. How things work and how they change over time. That is why the Tao appeals to me. And there are many things that speak to us in silence.

Arbitrary (Repost)

Meaning in life is arbitrary.
Why ruin the universe with rigidity?

Why do we make the choices we do? After all, we do not have unlimited freedom to do things. We find ourselves constrained by our gender, our race, our economic circumstances, our personalities that were shaped both by genetics and the random processes of life. Furthermore, we find that other people have their own ideas of what we should be doing, and they constrain us still further.

A person born into one culture will have entirely different options than one born into another. They may both lead valuable lives, but they will most certainly differ in many respects. The meaning that they find will come from different palettes. We cannot say that one person’s life is more valuable than another’s.

Of all the people who have lived, have any of them been truly “better” than another? We see in their lives only the exercise of preferences, not differences of inherent meaning.

All meaning in life is arbitrary. It is not tied to god, family, or self unless we define it as such. Nothing in life gives us meaning in and of itself. It is we who assign meaning to objects and relationships. We all try to make the structure of our meaning pretty, but in the end, there is no escape from the feeling that it is all arbitrary.

It might be better not to ruin the universe with our own patterns.

Deng Ming-dao, 365 Tao


1. Determined by impulse rather than reason; random; chosen for no reason

usage note: Something is arbitrary if its value is not determined by anything but choice.

Something mysteriously formed, born before heaven and earth.
In the silence and the void, standing alone and unchanging, ever present and in motion.
Perhaps it is the mother of ten thousand things.
I do not know its name.
Call it Tao.
For lack of a better word, I call it great.

Being great, it flows
It flows far away.
Having gone far, it returns.

Therefore, “Tao is great;
Heaven is great;
Earth is great;
The king is also great.”
These are the four great powers of the universe,
And the king is one of them.

Man follows Earth.
Earth follows heaven.
Heaven follows the Tao.
Tao follows what is natural.

— Tao Te Ching, 25

Even the name Tao is arbitrary, because we are trying to create meaning out of something that has no meaning. Tao simply is.

Do you think you can take over the universe and improve it?
I do not believe it can be done.
The universe is sacred.
You cannot improve it.
If you try to change it, you will ruin it.
If you try to hold it, you will lose it.

— Tao Te Ching, 29

Tao warns us against trying to “take over the universe”. I certainly learned that lesson when I tried too hard to tell friends what they should or shouldn’t do and ended up losing the friends instead, deservedly so. I’ve learned in my garden that some things simply aren’t going to grow, that this isn’t the right place to try and grow them. They may be beautiful plants in other places, but not here in these conditions. A good gardener learns to respect their climate and soil and grow what works.

These days I leave things alone as much as possible and let them be the way they want to be. Life is a lot easier that way. I think we would all be much happier and our lives would be far richer if we would let others simply be who they are, without trying to exert our own controls or societal pressures on them.

“If we are to achieve a richer culture, rich in contrasting values, we must recognize the whole gamut of human potentialities, and so weave a less arbitrary social fabric, one in which each diverse gift will find a fitting place.”
— Margaret Mead

“It is utterly false and cruelly arbitrary to put all the play and learning into childhood, all the work into middle age, and all the regrets into old age.”
— Margaret Mead

“Be just and if you can’t be just, be arbitrary.”
— William S. Burroughs

“All media exist to invest our lives with artificial perceptions and arbitrary values.”
— Marshall McLuhan

“To divide one’s life by years is of course to tumble into a trap set by our own arithmetic. The calendar consents to carry on its dull wall-existence by the arbitrary timetables we have drawn up in consultation with those permanent commuters, Earth and Sun. But we, unlike trees, need grow no annual rings.”
— Cliff Fadiman

“We surround ourselves with arbitrary and artificial limitations, and then blame them on the gods” — Anonymous

So much of what we allow to limit us are simply arbitrary choices, often ones made by other people for us when we were far too young to understand why those choices were made. At some point, we have to take the responsibility to look at those choices and see if they really fit with who we are, or not. There’s nothing wrong with living your life in a certain way, with whatever restrictions or limits you want to accept. Realizing why your life is the way it is, and the choices you made to make it that way is a lot more mature than just bemoaning the way things are.

(Reposted from September of 2005)