soul food

Everybody on earth knowing
that beauty is beautiful
makes ugliness.

Everybody knowing
that goodness is good
makes wickedness.

For being and nonbeing
arise together;
hard and easy
complete each other;
long and short
shape each other;
high and low
depend on each other;
note and voice
make the music together;
before and after
follow each other.

That’s why the wise soul
does without doing;
teaches without talking.

The things of this world
exist, they are;
you can’t refuse them.

To bear and not to own;
to act and not lay claim;
to do the work and let it go:
for just letting it go
is what makes it stay.

Lao Tzu
Ursula K Le Guin’s version

The second poem of the Tao Te Ching is a reminder of the impermanence of truths. We see that especially now, in an age obsessed with sensitivity and outrage. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, mind, but today’s answers become offensive within a matter of days or months.

I think, too, of the impermanence of identity, the fluidity of who and what we are. Gender isn’t a fixed point, for example, but an evershifting paradigm.

It’s a reminder, too, I think, that absolutism is rarely useful. Most answers lie somewhere in the middle, and rely upon a nuanced understanding of polar opposites.

Ultimately, for me, the Tao is always about finding a useful way to live. To act without acting. To teach without speaking. To accept the impermanence of all things: opinions, possessions, ideologies, identities, dreams.

To accept the world for what it is, and not what we wish it was.

This is especially difficult for me at times. Pacifism, anarchism: I live in a world that is often repugnant to me. I live in a country that hates my beliefs.

I’ve always accepted that few would ever agree with me, and I think that’s important, regardless of your ideology. We see so much that people demand others to fall in line and believe what they believe, to accept their goals as the goals of a nation, to show no dissent because it may weaken their noble cause.

The world is what it is. It is how it is.

But the world can change, just as all things change.

The Tao isn’t about inaction. The Tao is a reminder that your actions may not lead to your goals. That what you believe is true today may prove to be incorrect in the near future.

And so how do we make positive change in the world without fighting? How do we resist without resisting?

These thoughts have been sloshing around in my skull since the election and I still don’t have an answer. I don’t recommend doing nothing, but I’m not convinced that the tactics people are using are especially fruitful in the long run.

We need to change from the ground up, and that begins with your friends and family. To show them a new way. To teach them without arguing. To be a guide or an example without demanding that they watch, listen, or pay attention.

Change begins with the self, I suppose. Because we do change. We will change.

And in changing, others may follow.

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