We live in a world of opposites — the ying and the yang. Dark/Light. Wet/dry. Hard/Soft. Good/Bad. Right/Wrong. In “What is Tao,” Alan Watts writes,
Because of the inseparability of opposites, you realize that they always go together, and this hints at some kind of unity that underlies them. In Lao-tzu’s philosophy this unity is called Tao. … The word has two general meanings. One is perhaps best rendered in English as “the way,” “the way of things,” or “the way of nature.” The other sense of the word means “to speak.” ~ Alan Watts, What is Tao, p39
To paraphrase Watts, the problem is that we have been brought up in traditions that to a great extent have taught us that we should be suspect of our animal and instinctual nature. The good of this is that it has helped us achieve great technological advances. However, if we carry this effort beyond a certain point, our manipulations interfere with the course of nature and this, he notes, gets us into serious trouble indeed.
The challenge I see, then, is accessing the wisdom to know when enough is enough. Lao-Tzu writes in the”Tao-te’Ching”:
The highest form of goodness is like water.
Water knows how to benefit all things without striving with them…
In choosing your dwelling, know how to keep to the ground.
In cultivating your mind, know how to dive in the hidden deeps.
In dealing with others, know how to be gentle and kind.
In speaking, know how to keep your words.
In governing, know how to maintain order.
In transacting business, know how to be efficient.
In making a move, know how to choose the right moment.
If you do not strive with others,
You will be free from blame.
Thinking about these words, I am reminded how liquid water slips deftly around any obstacle, ever seeking the lowest possible station. I ask myself, “How can I change my ways in order to live more simply, more kindly, more efficiently?” Observing the elements of nature in action, what lessons can we learn about living better lives?