Tag Archives: work

“Tao Teh Ching: Chapter 11” by Lao Tzu

ChineseWagonWheel

Thirty spokes converge upon a single hub;
It is on the hole in the center that the use of the cart hinges.

We make a vessel from a lump of clay;
It is the empty space within the vessel that makes it useful.

We make doors and windows for a room;
But it is these empty spaces that make the room livable.

Thus, while the tangible has advantages,
It is the intangible that makes it useful.

I found this passage to be somewhat cryptic, so I will offer only my interpretation.

It seems that the empty space, or the void, is the unknowable source of all existence. While we cannot perceive this ineffable emptiness, it has a direct impact on our physical beings and our daily lives.

I also have the impression that Lao Tzu is cautioning against attachment to material things. Trying to grasp and hoard things in life tends to create mental clutter and creates a barrier between ourselves and the divine essence.

Finally, I can apply this to my meditation practices. I see all the tangible things as the thoughts that clutter the mind. When I meditate, I try (often unsuccessfully) to quiet that mental chatter and open myself to the profound silence which is the subconscious mind. It is impossible for me to describe this connection. As soon as I try to analyze or think about it, the conscious mind takes over and the connection is lost. But those brief moments of deep mental quietude help put the rest of my life and thoughts into perspective.

I would love to hear your thoughts and impressions on this passage. Please feel free to share your thoughts in the comments section. Cheers!

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“Tao Teh Ching: Chapter 10” by Lao Tzu

TaoTehChing

In keeping the spirit and the vital soul together,
Are you able to maintain their perfect harmony?
In gathering your vital energy to attain suppleness,
Have you reached the state of a new-born babe?
In washing and clearing your inner vision,
Have you purified it of all dross?
In loving your people and governing your state,
Are you able to dispense with cleverness?
In the opening and shutting of heaven’s gate,
Are you able to play the feminine part?
Enlightened and seeing far into all directions,
Can you at the same time remain detached and non-active?

Rear your people!
Feed your people!
Rear them without claiming them for your own!
Do your work without setting any store by it!
Be a leader, not a butcher!
This is called hidden Virtue.

In this passage, Lao Tzu provides guidance to leaders on how to best govern. But since this advice is based upon spiritual principles, it applies to all of us in our daily affairs.

Many of us have a tendency to rest upon our laurels. We work hard to reach spiritual harmony, and when we reach it, we run the risk of thinking we are done. We begin to neglect that which we worked to attain, just as the leaders who attain power often begin to neglect their people. When Lau Tzu advises rulers to rear and feed their people, he is also advising the sage to nurture the spiritual enlightenment that the sage has found.

There is something else that I think Lau Tzu was warning against, and that is self-righteousness. Consider the last lines of the first verse:

Enlightened and seeing far into all directions,
Can you at the same time remain detached and non-active?

Throughout my life, I have met many spiritual seekers who, once they reach a spiritual goal, assume a holier-than-thou attitude. They allow the self to revel in the spiritual advances that they made, and as a result, begin to lose what they gained. It’s an easy trap to fall into, and I confess that it happened to me at one point also. The key then is humility, allowing yourself to remain detached enough to remain centered on the path and continue growing spiritually. And stay vigilant, watching for when feelings of superiority or self-importance seep in and become obstacles.

Thanks for stopping by and taking the time to read my thoughts. I hope you have a truly blessed day.

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“Tao Teh Ching: Chapter 9” by Lao Tzu

Image Source: Wikipedia

Image Source: Wikipedia

As for holding to fullness,
Far better were it to stop in time!

Keep on beating and sharpening a sword,
And the edge cannot be preserved for long.

Fill your house with gold and jade,
And it can no longer be guarded.

Set store by your riches and honour,
And you will only reap a crop of calamities.

Here is the Way of Heaven:
When you have done your work, retire!

This is very practical advice for living life in the material world. We are spiritual beings having an earthly experience, and we must work and do certain things to take care of ourselves in this life. But what Lao Tzu is saying here is that we should not let our earthly desires dominate our lives. We all must work, and we all need a certain amount of wealth in order to survive, but the key to happiness and the “Way to Heaven” is to be content with just enough, and not to keep constantly striving for more. When we reach fullness, it is time to stop and rest. When a bird has finished building a nest, it does not keep building other ones. Likewise, when the bird has eaten enough, it stops eating. If it were to continue eating after it was full, it would no longer be able to fly.

We can spend our lives chasing after things that mean nothing in the end, but will that bring us happiness? I personally do not think so. I encourage you to pause, rest, and reflect on what is really important in your life. I suspect that it will not be material gains.

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“From Play to Carnival” by Umberto Eco: Capitalizing on Play

Sofonisba Anguissola

Sofonisba Anguissola

This essay is included in the book Turning Back the Clock: Hot Wars and Media Populism. It explores how society has taken the basic human need for play and twisted it into a commercialized commodity in a process that Eco refers to as “Carnivalization.”

Eco mentions Homo Ludens early in this essay, which is a book by Johan Huizinga and something I actually read in college. The book is critical in game studies and explores the role of play in society. In his book, Huizinga lists five characteristics that play must have:

  1. Play is free, is in fact freedom.

  2. Play is not “ordinary” or “real” life.

  3. Play is distinct from “ordinary” life both as to locality and duration.

  4. Play creates order, is order. Play demands order absolute and supreme.

  5. Play is connected with no material interest, and no profit can be gained from it.

(Source: Wikipedia)

For those of you who are interested, here is a link to a free PDF version of Huizinga’s book:

yale.edu

When we consider these qualities that define play and then consider our society’s distorted sense of entertainment and the marketing machine behind the entertainment industry, it is evident that we are losing our playfulness as a species. What parent does not secretly lament the loss of freedom that their children have to go out unsupervised to engage in spontaneous and unstructured play? We placate ourselves by saying how we are keeping them safe and that the world is more dangerous now than when we were younger. But is that really true? There were dangers when we were young. We are just more afraid now, which is a result of media hype.

Eco talks about the various ways that play has been destroyed through capitalization. Television is the obvious one, but he also discusses the tourism industry, the ability to incorporate play into work hours, mobile phones which blend function with entertainment, shopping as entertainment, and religion. I completely agree with all his assertions regarding these carnivalizations, but the two that he discusses that really rang most true for me are sports and politics:

Sport has been Carnivalized. How? Sport is play par excellence: how can play be Carnivalized? By becoming not the interlude it was meant to be (one soccer match a week, and the Olympics only every so often) but an all-pervasive presence; by becoming not an activity for its own ends but a commercial enterprise. The game played doesn’t matter anymore (a game, moreover, that has been transformed into an immensely difficult task that requires the taking of performance-enhancing drugs) but the grand Carnival of the before, during, and after, in which the viewers, not the players themselves, play all week long.

Politics has been Carnivalized, and so we now commonly use the expression “the politics of spectacle.” As parliament is steadily deprived of power, politics is conducted on television, like gladiatorial games…

(Turning Back the Clock: pp. 74 – 75)

I personally hate watching televised sports, particularly because of all the commentary. I would much rather participate in a sport than watch others play. It almost feels like voyeurism to me. And as far as politics go, one of my main reasons for cancelling cable television is I just can’t stand the constant assault of political pundits who have turned politics into a spectator sport where it is our team against theirs.

The other day I went with my youngest daughter to a local game store to purchase a new board game. This store has a gaming area upstairs where people can gather and play games. I was encouraged by the fact that the parking lot was full and the place was crowded with people who were playing games for the sheer fun of doing so. I hope this is an omen of a shift away from media-controlled profit-driven entertainment and back to an emphasis on play for the sake of play.

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