This one has stumped me!


11. Tools

Thirty spokes meet at a nave

Because of the hole, we may use the wheel

Clay is molded into a vessel

Because of the hollow, we may use the cup

Walls are built around a hearth

Because of the doors, we may use the house

Thus tools come from what exists

But use from what does not.

Translation variously sourced and compiled at

This one has stumped me.  Tools are material and have form.  Uses, on the other hand, are immaterial and, from the examples Lao Tze gives us here, fulfill or make use of potential.  In all these examples, the potential is found in space. Yet, space is everywhere.  Some space is occupied by material and visible things.  But there is a lot of space that is not occupied by material or visible things.

Even when you get into the subatomic level, much of what has been traditionally described as ‘matter’ is in fact made up of space.  Is Lao Tze therefore talking about the potentiality that is always present?  Of creative energy that is always present and that we might be pointed to again and again with each new ‘thing’ that we create? Because each new thing, each tool, holds potential?

I wonder.  Do you have any idea?

Lucy Lopez

Learning to live the wisdom of the Tao post by post!

Risen from the dead

07032009002-2Bromeliad in bloom in my garden

You have just recovered from days of pain and discomfort.  You’ve risen from the dead.  What did you leave behind?  What have you brought back?

I left my hurts behind, my frustrations and feelings of victimization.  I left my regrets and my guilts behind.  I left my helplessness and despair behind.  I have left an aching body and watering eyes behind.

I have brought back a stronger body, hope, fresh eyes, tenderness, new visions, joyful dreams, more faith, a willingness to say “I don’t know.  It’s confusing.  I sense injustice”, and to leave it at that.

And in doing that, perhaps I am a little more able to ‘accept the world’ and thus ’embrace the Way’.  Perhaps.

10. Harmony

Embracing the Way, you become embraced

Breathing gently, you become newborn

Clearing your mind, you become clear

Nurturing your children, you become impartial

Opening your heart, you become accepted

Accepting the world, you embrace the Way

Bearing and nurturing

Creating but not owning

Giving without demanding

This is harmony.

Translation variously sourced and compiled at

Perhaps I’ll be better at ‘giving without demanding’ for what would I demand?  Am I wise enough to know what to demand?  But oh, I do yearn for harmony.

Lucy Lopez

Learning to live the wisdom of the Tao post by post!

Didn’t John Howard and George Bush know when it was time to ‘Retire’?

Image taken from The Age

John Howard

Image taken from the Age

9. Retire

Fill a cup to its brim and it is easily spilled

Temper a sword to its hardest and it is easily broken

Amass the greatest treasure and it is easily stolen

Claim credit and honour and you easily fall

Retire once your purpose is achieved – this is natural

Translation variously sourced and compiled at

I’ve noticed that weeds are just plants that have overgrown their welcome.  Know what I mean?  If they just knew when to stop, they could quite easily cohabit with other plants.  But unfortunately, they just don’t seem to get what Lao Tze is telling us here and so make a nuisance of themselves!

But plants are not the only weeds around.  I’m sure we’ve all encountered human ‘weeds’ too; people who just don’t know when to stop.  It may have been someone who literally overstayed their welcome whether in your home, organization or country.  I am thinking, for instance, of guests who have become too reliant on your hospitality or people in management roles who have stayed too long and have nothing fresh to offer their organization or prime ministers (see The Age report) or presidents (see this CNN poll) who have refused to give up their positions of power.

Now, whilst it’s easy to recognize weed-like behavior in others, what is less recognizable is our own weed-like behavior.  You see, I think that we too sometimes lack the awareness and the will to know when ‘enough is enough’, when we need to pull back and let things take their course.

Pulling back and letting go, or ‘retiring‘, as the Tao Te Ching describes it is not so easy to do especially when you feel you’ve invested so much into something.  It’s your ‘baby‘ and I mean that literally as well as metaphorically.  No one else knows it as well as you do.  No one else will care for it or manage it as successfully as you can.  And so, with this kind of thinking, we hold on tightly to the reins of our ‘baby’.

What we don’t realize is that the original creative energy that we had expanded into our ‘baby’ has reached its capacity and is starting to spill (disperse), break or get ‘stolen’, often by the very ‘baby’ itself.  The baby wants to use what you have invested in it to do its own creative work and understandably so.  If it was allowed to do this, it would not need to ‘steal’ from your investment.  Instead, it would acknowledge, use and build on what you have built freely and gratefully without shame or inhibition!    This is natural.  In fact, the creative work/output of your ‘baby’ is surely a testament to the great work that was put into it by you!

It’s not that by letting go of the reins we are admitting that we have nothing more to contribute and no more creative work left to do.  Hardly.  Rather, we are moving aside for fresh creative work by others and moving toward fresh creative work for ourselves somewhere else, in a different capacity perhaps or in a different environment.

Lao Tze also makes a point about claiming credit and honor, warning us that if we do, we will fall (flat on our face, I might add :-)).  Have you ever wondered why this is so?  Here is what I think.

When we try to claim credit and honor for ourselves, we fail to recognize the interconnected nature of our lives.  If you were to honestly ask yourself how you might be solely responsible for a particular outcome, you will find that there was never a point when you were ‘alone‘ in your creative work for there is an interconnectedness permeating our very existence.  Could you have done your creative work, for instance, without the particular circumstances at the time?  Could you have done it if not for all the experiences you’d had up till that point?  Could you have done it if not for all the people and things that were involved in those experiences?

At any given time, we are the product of all our history up until that point and it is on that history that we draw when we work towards our goals, often unconsciously.  To claim credit and honor for ourselves is to undermine the role of this history whether or not you believe your ability to do your creative work came about because or despite it! It also reinforces our erroneous perception of ‘separation‘ which in turn prevents us from drawing freely and fully from the Way, the source of all energy!

So, yes, we need to learn when to retire and we do that by recognizing when our purpose is fulfilled.  And when is that?  I’d like to take that point up in my next post.

Lucy Lopez

Learning to live the Wisdom of the Tao post by post!

How can I live without serving Myself?


7. Complete

Nature is complete because it does not serve itself

The Sage places himself after and finds himself before

Ignores his desire and finds himself content

He is complete because he does not serve himself

How do you ‘not serve yourself’ when, on some level at least, you have to?  I mean, you do have to look after your physical well being – have a roof above your head, food and clothing.

Perhaps the next verse from the Tao Te Ching might help:

8. Water

The best of man is like water

Which benefits all things and does not contend with them

Which flows in places that others disdain

Where it is with harmony with the Way

So the Sage

Lives within nature

Thinks within the deep

Gives within impartiality

Speaks within trust

Governs within order

Crafts within ability

Acts within opportunity

He does not contend and none contend against him

Translation variously sourced and compiled at

I don’t know about you, but these ideas strike such a beautiful chord within me.  I imagine myself being like water, benefiting all things without coming into any conflict.  I imagine what it would be like flowing effortlessly and joyously into places that I, as my conditioned, my ‘less than best’ self, would not want to go to.  I imagine myself being in complete harmony with the very source of life:

Living within nature (not at odds with it), thinking within the mind of unity (not the separatist ego-mind), giving without discrimination of any sort, speaking as if there was nothing but trust, governing within order since disorder can never be governed, crafting, working, producing within ability because disability or inability is unproductive and acting within opportunity, realizing that every situation, every moment is a moment of opportunity, of infinite possibility.

It is an amazingly powerful and liberating way to live.  How tremendously empowering it would be to start each day in this way, indeed in this Way, and to return to it often in the course of a day when the mind has likely slipped away from the Way i.e. a-Way!  It occurs to me that when one lives this way, serving one self is simply impossible, for everything that one does will, by default, provide for or benefit oneself even as it provides for or benefits all.

You might say it is a matter of consciousness – what consciousness do we live each moment in?  A single, separate mind/being consciousness or a unified, complete mind/being consciousness?  What are your thoughts?

Lucy Lopez

Learning to live the Wisdom of the Tao post by post!