raw silk and uncut wood

Stop being holy, forget being prudent,
it’ll be a hundred times better for everyone.
Stop being altruistic, forget being righteous,
people will remember what family feeling is.
Stop planning, forget making profit,
there won’t be any thieves and robbers.

But even these three rules
needn’t be followed; what works reliably
is to know the raw silk,
hold the uncut wood.
Need little,
want less.
Forget the rules.
Be untroubled.

Lao Tzu
Ursula K Le Guin’s version

Le Guin’s commentary is useful here:

This chapter and the two before it may be read as a single movement of thought.

“Raw silk” and “uncut wood” are images traditionally associated with the characters su (simple, plain) and p’u (natural, honest).

Look back on the previous two chapters and read this one again. It’s worth considering these three in the way Le Guin suggests. It’s by no means a definitive way to look at this. I mean, even within this poem, Lao Tzu is telling us we don’t need to listen to him.

What I continually find fascinating about the Tao Te Ching is how it always seems relevant to life as it is in this moment. Though it was written 2,500 years ago, this poem makes perfect sense with regard to social media and how we generally behave on there, which is a strange thought.

What the Tao asks us throughout the text is to recede from the quest for glory and recognition, to instead live simpler. Nothing is gained by appearing holy or righteous or wise.

This is something that’s often a challenge for me: to shut up.

But I’m trying. I’m trying to talk less and listen more. To share other voices, other perspectives. In part, that’s probably why I began doing this with my blog. To go through the Tao Te Ching poem by poem. It seems a better use for this blog, and a better use of my time than all the things I would be writing here.

My frustrations and terrors, my nightmares and angers. The constant dread I’ve felt since November.

This gives me a moment to breathe. To just be quiet and listen. To do anything besides add my own noise to the very noisy world we live in.

And today, I’m most excited to see my wife again. To see my kitten.

After a week working in China, it’ll be nice to be with the ones who need me. With the ones I need and love.

Take care of yourself.

Sometimes it’s all you can do, and, often, it’s all the Tao asks of us.

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