not wanting

The five colors
blind our eyes.
The five notes
deafen our ears.
The five flavors
dull our taste.

Racing, chasing, hunting,
drives people crazy.
Trying to get rich
ties people in knots.

So the wise soul
watches with the inner
not the outward eye,
letting that go,
keeping this.

Lao Tzu
Ursula K Le Guin’s version

Often, the Tao asks us to look inward. To know ourselves, and then master ourselves. Mastery, here, is not stoicism. The point is not to retreat from pleasure and so on. Not to live like a spartan. The point, I think, is to teach ourselves that we don’t need all that.

Since we’ve been married, Chelsea’s gotten very into Marie Kondo and minimalism as a lifestyle.

The point of these things isn’t to live with very little. That’s an outcome of the lifestyle’s philosophy. But the point is to understand what you have and what you need, and to rid yourself of the excess. I’ve never read any Marie Kondo, but Chelsea tells me that she often talks about the value of objects. Whether that value is determined by sentiment or utility, it doesn’t matter. Kondo asks people to only keep the things that give them joy. So while it might be nice to have thirty coats (I love coats), do I really value all of them? Or do I have them just because I want them? Maybe I really only need two or four of the coats. Not because they’re the most practical (though that’d likely be part of it) but because I actually enjoy owning them.

Going through this process, Chelsea’s removed about half the clothing she once owned. And it’s not because she was relentlessly cutting back, but because she realized how many things she owned that she actually didn’t want or care about.

I think of that when I read this poem of the Tao Te Ching. The point isn’t to restrict yourself. The point is to discover what you value in your own life, and to shift yourself towards them.

It’s not about removal or restriction: it’s about self-discovery.

And the Tao is a process and the process is demonstrated in the Tao Te Ching. So this comes early, telling us to know ourselves, to discover what we value, and to keep it, while letting go of all the things that are noise, clutter.

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