back to the beginning

The beginning of everything
is the mother of everything.
Truly to know the mother
is to know her children,
and truly to know the children
is to turn back to the mother.
The body comes to its ending
but there is nothing to fear.

Close the openings,
shut the doors,
and to the end of life
nothing will trouble you.
Open the openings,
be busy with business,
and to the end of life
nothing can help you.

Insight sees the insignificant.
Strength knows how to yield.
Use the way’s light, return to its insight,
and so keep from going too far.
That’s how to practice what’s forever.

Lao Tzu
Ursula K Le Guin’s version

Le Guin’s commentary:

This chapter on the themes of return and centering make circles within itself and throughout the book, returning to phrases from other poems, turning them round the center. A center which is everywhere, a circle whose circumference is infinite…

Find stillness and peace in your life. Then you will hear Tao, will feel it. An infinite mother, and we are her finite children. All the world, all the universe, is her finite child.

The question becomes: how does this apply to my life? How do I read the Tao Te Ching and make that matter? Should it matter? Does it matter?

My answer to all of them is sort of a shrug. It only matters to the degree that you want it to matter.

That being said, ways that I have been trying to make an active step in my life over the last couple months is to turn away from the parts of my life that are mostly just noise. For me, that largely means disconnecting myself from the bubble that is internet discourse. Of course, this sort of sounds absurd when I’m writing this online, and you readers probably only stumbled across this post because it gets shared and published on my facebook and twitter pages automatically.

And there are times when I still pop my head into facebook and twitter. Though I tend to keep these to under a minute. Partly because when you’re not swimming in that stream of constant information and feedback, it becomes monstrously difficult to even parse what’s happening in anyone’s life.

And I think, for me, that’s why it’s been so useful to largely disconnect from those spaces. It wasn’t good for me. Studies keep showing that it’s generally not good for any human to spend a lot of time on any social media, as it seems to increase anxiety and depression. That’s not to say it’s an incorrect behavior or even one that I think you’re foolish to persist in, but for me, personally, I’ve seen the positive effects of not existing in that continual deluge of constant information.

Other things I’ve been trying to do: be less passive with my time. Chelsea and I have a bad habit of just turning on netflix and then opening up our laptops while we let our screens dictate our evenings. This isn’t necessarily an easy thing to stop. There are still too many nights when we do exactly that. But we’re trying to be better.

Part of it is just being more selective with what we watch. Not just turning something on as a background distraction, but choosing to watch things–even silly, frivolous things–that we actually want to watch and experience. The biggest factor there is closing our laptops and watching the show or movie together.

That’s not a solution either, of course, but it’s a step in the right direction.

The more fruitful and important step is to do things with our time that adds value to our lives. For me, that’s been drawing fictional maps and writing and even playing videogames, which is something I’ve always loved but have not done very much in the last decade. For Chelsea, that’s been building furniture and various other DIY projects, but also, interestingly, learning more about make up.

When you hear that someone’s really into make up, it sounds frivolous or stupid or vain. But I think that’s a shallow way to look at anything. Any single activity, to the uninitiated or uninterested, appears to be a waste of time. But make up is a creative process. It’s not something I’ve often thought about, but it’s been interesting to see Chelsea progress at it. She never used to care about make up or things of that nature, but she’s found a value in it. A creative outlet that also has helped her self-esteem, and made her feel more confident.

And it would be easy to read what I just said and think to yourself, Her vanity makes her feel better about herself? But I think that’s a demeaning way to look at it, or at least a vile depiction of what gives one confidence and value.

It’s not vanity for Chelsea, but personal value. It’s something she’s always felt deficient at (make up application, not her own appearance), and so becoming more confident and better at this activity as made her just simply feel better. Her face is becoming a canvas for her, and she’s learning a lot about her own face, and about her own creativity.

I find it really interesting as a sort of sideline observer. Like any burgeoning interest, she’s enthusiastic and experimental. Not all experiments are successful, but learning what doesn’t work is just as important as learning what does work.

I think these things are, in a way, outward expressions of the Tao. Living intentionally, and with balance. Finding pleasure and joy and enrichment in your life.

These are political things, too. Learning and growing are acts of resistance. Finding value is an act of resistance. Persistence is an act of resistance. Our protest may be small in scope, but it’s a first step. To live intentionally, to live with calmness and clarity is a radical step. And it is a first step. A starting point.

So remember that resistance to authority is more than carrying a sign or sharing information on facebook, or even living every moment as a political struggle. These simple actions build into greater actions. Being a kind and thoughtful member of your community–whether that community is geographical or ideological–is a radical step.

And these are parts of what we’re doing. The listing of acts of kindness are, I think, a trivialization of what’s needed, because kindness isn’t a performance. It’s a demonstration. To care for those around you is a radical act during a time of great selfishness and tyranny. And so that’s part of living intentionally for us. To remember that the world is greater than our lives, and that our simple actions can be like seeds that blossom into greater actions, or even just bear fruits of kindness in the behavior of others.

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