Obscurity Wisdom

by Christopher Lovejoy on May 5, 2013

I’m not even sure how to begin this post, and so I’ll begin this post by not being sure.

The image of laboring in obscurity does not excite me, and yet, living in obscurity does hold a certain appeal for me.

I appreciate fully what it means to relish my privacy, solitude, and freedom, but only by coming to know, through experience, how it feels not to have my privacy, solitude, and freedom.

Obscurity … the very word oozes lack of significance.

To be obscure is to be unknown, to be inconspicuous, to be … unimportant (gasp!).

To be obscure is to create, direct, or produce something that is hard to understand.

Wherein lies the wisdom in obscurity? Perhaps Lao Tzu knows something we don’t.

Tao Te Ching, Verse 36

How do you wish to be seen?

How do you wish to be loved?

How do you wish to be known?

How do you wish to be desired?

How do you wish to be enjoyed?

The remedy for finding relief from the shadow of obscurity is so very simple it’s almost painful: see, love, know, desire, enjoy.

Should you want
to contain something,
you must deliberately
let it expand.

Should you want
to weaken something,
you must deliberately
let it grow strong.

Should you want
to eliminate something,
you must deliberately
allow it to flourish.

Should you want
to take something away,
you must deliberately
grant it access.

The lesson here is called
the wisdom of obscurity.
The gentle outlast the strong.
The obscure outlast the obvious.

Fish cannot leave deep waters,
and a country’s weapons
should not be displayed.

Edited slightly by yours truly to enhance the flow of text

Ref: Change Your Thoughts, Change Your Life: Living the Wisdom of the Tao

If endurance is your need, then verse 36 is for you, but then perhaps this verse has more to offer than mere consolation.

Let us see if it does, to know wherein lies the wisdom of obscurity.

My Impressions of the Verse

The rhythmic pacing of the first four stanzas of this verse has much to recommend it, but the verse falls flat on the fifth and dies on the sixth.

Perhaps this is deliberate? Or just a consequence of nuances getting lost in translation?

As you read along, I invite you to entertain your own impressions …

Should you want
to contain something,
you must deliberately
let it expand.

Should I want to contain something natural, like the energy to express myself creatively while attending to an obligation, then I would do well to find a time and place to let this energy expand naturally.

Should you want
to weaken something,
you must deliberately
let it grow strong.

Should I suddenly want to weaken the intensity of a strong feeling or emotion, like anger or fear, then I would do well to enter a space where I can let it grow strong before allowing it to dissipate naturally.

Should you want
to eliminate something,
you must deliberately
allow it to flourish.

Should I want to eliminate clutter in the drawer of my desk, as it makes it hard to find what I’m looking for, then I would do well to allow it to flourish in my own mind so that I can dispel my resistance to it.

Should you want
to take something away,
you must deliberately
grant it access.

Should I suddenly want to withdraw my approval from something, as it seems to cause my discomfort, then I would do well to grant it access to my way of thinking so that I can allow it to inform me fully.

The lesson here is called
the wisdom of obscurity.
The gentle outlast the strong.
The obscure outlast the obvious.

The lesson here is to stay clear of the clouds of judgment so that I might hold the contrast and be the balance I wish to see.

By way of contrast and balance, and with a kind and gentle disposition, I stay calm and I stay warm – obscurity at its best.

Fish cannot leave deep waters,
and a country’s weapons
should not be displayed.

Obscurity has value: know when and where to remain anonymous so as to stay safe and secure.

Implications for Personal Fulfillment

Keeping your balance on the way to fulfillment by way of satisfaction is safe; it’s comfortable, and for many, relatively easy.

It’s also boring beyond belief (to others, not to you).

People have no desire to know you for your ability to keep your balance. They want to know how you lost your balance and then got it back again. They want to know how you keep losing your balance without losing your composure.

They long to lavish you with praise and recognition for being a loser and then a winner, for being a loser while also being a winner.

The winners who never lose, who never give the impression of losing, neither need nor want your praise or recognition. We know such winners by their attitudes and we temper our praise accordingly.

And then there are those who never want to lose, desperate to garner praise at every turn: “heads, I win; tails, you lose!”

But if you’re tired of winning and losing, or if you’re just plain bored with winning and losing, then the wisdom of obscurity would have us realize that a balanced life is enough – and good enough.

We need not go out of our way to be seen, loved, known, desired, or enjoyed to be valued.

We need only see, love, know, desire, and enjoy with easy invitations to reciprocity.

Next up: What if I Do Nothing? (Living in Simplicity)

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This post is one of many in an ongoing series that began here.

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