Returning, Yielding

by Christopher Lovejoy on June 2, 2013

Every weekend since August 26, 2012, I’ve posted a thoughtful response to each of the first 39 verses of the Tao Te Ching. As I’ve done so, my understanding and appreciation of this ancient text has evolved ever more deeply into the mystery of Being qua Being.

The subject of this post, verse 40, reads like a summary of previous verses, highlighting two key movements: returning and yielding. Where returning evokes images of home, of returning home, yielding indicates a posture of giving in or giving way.

Impartially speaking, returning and yielding are neutral in their connotation: in the heroic journey, a character can be on the verge of returning home in triumph or defeat; yet another character can be poised to (a) give in, and (b) give up or give way without giving up.

Where following the energy of the Tao is concerned, returning and yielding are neutral – they are what they are. But then again, perhaps returning and yielding require careful handling, depending on the context in which I explore or experience them.

Tao Te Ching, Verse 40

It has been said that if you can master the wisdom contained in the words that follow, you’ll be as sagacious as any sage can be.

So, now, let us see just how sagacious we can be.

is the motion
of the Tao.

is the way
of the Tao.

The 10,000 things
are born of being.
Being is born
of nonbeing.

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

To even begin to appreciate this rather pithy verse, a familiarity with previous verses would be helpful (to say the least).

My Impressions of the Verse

My overall impression of this short, simple verse is favorable. It conveys the essence of a perspective that would have us negotiate personal mastery in relation to universal mystery.

is the motion
of the Tao.

Returning pertains to a world of manifestation, to the world of the 10,000 things, to the processes and products of a manifesting Source.

Naturally speaking, returning is a returning of form, first to its elemental constituents, involving death and decay, and then, more basically, to the formless energy and information from which it arose.

Divinely speaking, returning is a returning to the presence, promise, and power of Source consciousness, involving a process of assimilation (the absorption and integration of myriad memories and experiences).

Based on their near-death or beyond-death experiences of merging with Source Consciousness, there are those who make a compelling case that “all that is” is currently in the process of returning to Source Consciousness, which is but a part of a much larger Source.

(Hint: think of these Beings of Light we hear about on The Other Side as miniature fractal representatives of a Source Being of Light, which itself is a miniature fractal representative of an even larger Source Being of Light, and so on, and so on, and so on ad infinitum)

The assimilation referenced above is the assimilation of a myriad of individual memories from manifested experience by a Collective Being of Light, perhaps in preparation for another go, for another cycle of expansion and contraction, of further exploring and returning.

is the way
of the Tao.

Where returning is a returning to Being, by way of having and doing, yielding is a yielding to nonBeing. This is not to say that nonBeing is primary to Being, only that personality (rooted in Being) requires the input of impersonality (nonBeing) for it to function fully.

Let me share a personal example.

I recall standing near the edge of a bluff and feeling dizzy by the precipitous drop mere inches away, making it impossible for me to enjoy the view. These impersonal facts not only informed my experience as a living being, they also informed the energy of my being.

Thankfully, I was in a position to yield gracefully to the energy and the experience (and step away from certain death).

The 10,000 things
are born of being.
Being is born
of nonbeing.

The world of the 10,000 things (the charming Chinese way of indicating indefinite multiplicity) is born of formless Being.

With the most powerful of tools, science makes clear that all matter is resolvable into patterns of energy and information.

What science does not make so clear (owing to its naturalistic, materialistic, mechanistic, reductionist biases) is that matter cannot be resolved (or influenced) without the participation of consciousness.

Unfortunately, the line above, “being is born of nonbeing”, is not precisely articulated and therefore somewhat misleading.

More clearly and precisely, Being and nonBeing are universal complements that serve to make possible a complete conceptual understanding of “what is” (the impersonal information) and a complete experiential appreciation of “how it feels” (the personal experience).

Consider this analogy: nonBeing is to Being as a bare, smooth, monochrome wall is to a vital living being making an appearance in front of this wall. Focus is drawn naturally to the being even as the divine significance of this being is made manifest with respect to nonbeing.

So wherein lies the wisdom of this verse?

Implications for Personal Fulfillment

As I mentioned elsewhere, the Oriental way of thinking and speaking leaves much to implication. To begin to make explicit the implications of this verse for personal fulfillment, I draw attention to a simple yet profound distinction: let it be or make it so?

If you were to serve as my mentor, how would you advise me with respect to the following: in the course of living and loving my life, would you counsel me to “let it be” most of the time or would you encourage me to “make it so” most of the time?

If, as Lao Tzu counsels us by way of the Tao Te Ching, the way to do is to be, is there no room for “making it so”? In word and deed, does verse 40 of the Tao Te Ching, with its emphasis on returning and yielding, leave us any room for “making it so”?

Let us start here: there is being and then there is having. Having implies owning and claiming, which leaves open possibilities for losing and lacking. If wanting implies a sense of lacking, then seeking and striving for the sake of having seems inevitable.

In the event of losing ownership or in the light of lacking quality or quantity, I might graciously allow this event or fact to be as it is, with no further thought or action on my part, but then again, I might feel more inclined to “make it so” in pursuit of compensation.

The Western culture in which I live prides itself on seeking and striving to “make it so”, or at least on giving the appearance of seeking and striving to “make it so”. Certainly, the language of this culture is full of references to making it so – effectively, efficiently, successfully.

Any push for success, be it subtle or obvious, is a confession of wanting, which implies lacking. In seeking and striving to compensate for the lacking that informs the throb of my wanting, I risk losing myself in ‘doing’ for the sake of ‘having’ at the expense of ‘being’.

This is why Lao Tzu is so keen to point out that the way to do is to be.

In other words, authentic being justifies doing for the sake of having without the wanting and the lacking.

If I orient myself towards the past (“the past is a memory”), then I must want to restore something of what I had before. If, however, I orient myself towards the future (“the future is a figment or a fantasy”), then I must want to acquire what I do not yet have.

Either way, I seek and I strive to compensate, forgoing the possibility of having fulfillment in the present moment.

Much has been made of forming and setting intentions, of making impressions, of paying attention to attraction on the way to manifestation.

Little is made of acknowledging and experiencing, accepting and allowing, evaluating and appreciating, welcoming and receiving.

But then, could the mantra, “acknowledge and experience, accept and allow, evaluate and appreciate, welcome and receive”, be just one more intention in a long list of intentions formed by wanting, wanting, and more wanting informed by an incessant sense of lacking?

Forming an intention to have anything immediately sets up an expectation that requires holding an attitude of gratitude as well as a belief in myself to realize its value and bring it to fruition, but what if I dropped all intentions (and brought about the evaporation of expectation)?

This is what verse 40 seems to be calling us to do: return to Presence, yield continuously to present moment awareness, drop any and all intentions and expectations of having more or better or faster, where the grace of being is enough to inform quality and inspire vitality.

I suppose this post is my invitation to experiment, to switch paradigms from one of seeking and striving to one of being and relating.

To yield continuously, however, seems impossible, and yet the more I yield, the more I return to peace and love, to harmony in unity.

Next up: Beyond Appearances (Living Beyond Appearances)


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

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