Forget moderation, go for substance!


12. Substance

Too much color blinds the eye

Too much music deafens the ear

Too much taste dulls the palate

Too much play maddens the mind

Too much desire tears the heart

In this manner the sage cares for people

He provides for the belly not for the senses

He ignores abstraction and holds fast to substance

Translation variously sourced and compiled at

Are these words to counsel for moderation in all things?  Why is it that we are wired up for moderation, for balance? Seems like an odd question to ask and yet, why must we moderate our lives, in all aspects?

It is as if the entire universe observes the principles of homeostasis.  When you go too far in one direction, there is a self-regulating mechanism that kicks in to redress the imbalance.  But why is it an imbalance?  Why can’t we just remain at one end, in one polarity?

Perhaps it is because our potential is widely distributed over infinite possibilities and when we focus only on some, we deny the rest and that interferes with our ability to flow fully and freely in Source, in the Way.

But Lao Tze is not just talking about moderation.  In fact, what he says here has less to do with moderation than it does with anchoring ourselves to the ground of being, to ‘substance’.  Substance is beyond abstractions or dualities or polarities.  It is beyond the flimsiness of sensations.  Substance is free, limitless and whole.  Substance is the true source of life.

Ah, that I be anchored in substance!

Lucy Lopez

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

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!

‘The Way that can be experienced is not true’


I’ve noticed I get excited when I approach the Tao Te Ching. It’s because I know that I’m likely to encounter profound conundrums that have very practical implications. I mean, this is not esoteric stuff. It is hard-core reality!

For instance, Lao Tze says:

‘The Way that can be experienced is not true’

Huh?  Okay, after the initial koan-ic shock I relax and allow meaning to flow through.  So my first take on this is that my mind, conditioned by this life and possibly many others, typically experiences  ‘things’ as other, as separate from itself. I can assure you from years of personal human experience that it’s not the most useful way of perceiving things. It gives rise to all sorts of separation anxieties – too much separation from those people and things I love and not enough separation from those things I don’t. And it’s always comparing, comparing, comparing and judging, judging, judging, neither of which leaves me feeling particularly good about myself or others.

I mean, imagine one of my elbows comparing itself with one of my eyes.

“You’re luckier than me. You get to see so much more than I do. I’m always having to see things after you’ve had a first look in. And you don’t get nearly as many bruises and bumps as I do…”

“Are you kidding??!!” exclaims the eye with utter incredulity. “If you saw some of the things I did, you’d be more than grateful you had a rear seat facing backward! Besides, everyone’s always peering into me as if there was something wrong with me, not to mention how much harder I have to work especially when she lies or cries. That’s something you just don’t want to have to do…”

You get my point, I hope. I mean, they could see that they are all of the same body you know and just enjoy theirs and each other’s experiences instead of finding reasons to be dissatisfied. Actually, just enjoy regardless of whose experience it is.

So, yes, this mind of mine that sees you as separate from me and the people fighting in Gaza as even more separate isn’t doing me any real favors. I mean, I’m almost always preoccupied with looking after myself because if I don’t who will? And meanwhile a lot of people and things (plants, animals and the world in general) get hurt while I’m more concerned about my wellbeing than I am of theirs. I remember this line which I’ve been told is from a song:

When a mother sees her son as more important than another mother’s son, war happens.

I’m not sure if it’s the exact words, but that’s the gist of it.

So anyway, that’s one of the things about the mind seeing things as separate to itself. And it does that by being the ‘experiencer’ of that thing. But the Way or the Tao is beyond experiencing, so that anything that can be experienced is not the Way/Tao.

I get that. There’s another layer of reality, you know, that has no sense of separation, no sense of experiencer or experienced or experiencing. I think some people describe it as non-duality or some such stuff.

But get that as I might, there is something else about that line that really gets me excited. It really does. I mean, here it is. If what is being experienced is not true, then all the stuff that I do experience is not true! I mean just contemplate that possibility for a moment.

The implications are tremendous especially when it comes to all that awful stuff we experience. Briefly, and for some reason I think brevity is the only way one can deal with something so profound. I mean, I would even suggest silence but that would make this blog thing a bit of a waste of time, wouldn’t it? And we are here with some spare time on our hands right?

So, briefly, what it suggests to me is that there is a point or place or state of mind in which all the stuff of life is no longer true and that point or place or state is the Way!

Beyond the gate of experience flows the Way,
Which is ever greater and more subtle than the world.

Now all I need to do is to slip through that ‘gate of experience’ beyond which flows the Way and just flow with it. And you know what? I’m sure I’ve done it. Many times. It happens when I am present, aware, right in the moment. Trouble is, I keep slipping back into the land of nod, I mean experiences.

Thanks for reading and drop me a line won’t you? Oh by the way, here’s the entire verse from Chapter 1.

1. The Way

The Way that can be experienced is not true;
The world that can be constructed is not true.
The Way manifests all that happens and may happen;
The world represents all that exists and may exist.

To experience without intention is to sense the world;
To experience with intention is to anticipate the world.
These two experiences are indistinguishable;
Their construction differs but their effect is the same.

Beyond the gate of experience flows the Way,
Which is ever greater and more subtle than the world.

Translation variously sourced and compiled at