Beyond Appearances

by Christopher Lovejoy on June 9, 2013

A concern for appearances is a symptom of separation from Presence, from the essence of who I am, inside the flow of experience.

When I express a concern about appearances, I confess lack (“this is not good enough for you/me, him/her, us/them”) or doubt (“this is too good to be true”) and might even compel me to say “yes” when I mean “no” or “no” when I mean “yes”.

Looking back on my life, I’m willing to believe that someone made at least one derogatory comment, if only in jest, about each of the following: how I looked or dressed, walked or talked, sang or danced, jogged or jumped, sat or stood, behaved or didn’t behave.

As we live in a conditional world, it’s not uncommon to harbor concern about how we appear to others. To address and assuage such concern, it seems natural that we aim to change or fix or improve our physical or material circumstances first, as they are the most accessible, by being more conscious of how we dress, walk or talk, run or jog, sing or dance, move or jump, sit or stand. If needs be, apply makeup.

Or, if none of this seems feasible, then change or fix or improve the way we think about them (with positive stories and affirmations, no less).

Underlying all of these sensations and thoughts that occur in reaction to appearances, however, dwell feelings about appearances. At the level of feeling, do we pretend to appear better (or worse) than we are or do we accept (deeply and fully) how we appear?

Do we continue to form attachments that maintain synthetic, manufactured identities of who we pretend to be? Or do we release our attachments to pretense so that we might surrender graciously to Presence and to presence of mind (present moment awareness) to express deeply and fully who we know ourselves to be?

Tao Te Ching, Verse 41

The world is not as it appears. Perhaps the world will never be as it appears.

This common wisdom would have me realize that truth (for me) has many faces, not all of them pleasant, not all of them agreeable.

In this light, I’m willing to face the fact that perceived deviations from personal authenticity, integrity, or intimacy bless me with the knowledge that I still carry emotional depth charges from the first seven years of my life awaiting integration with the whole of who I am.

Changing, fixing, or improving the illusions of my life are appropriate as far they go (which, in my view, aren’t that far), but unless or until I address, process, and release these emotive charges, I’m only ever playing with appearances, with effects rather than causes.

Great scholars hear of the Tao
and they begin diligent practice.
Middling scholars hear of the Tao
and they keep some and lose some.
Inferior scholars hear of the Tao
and roar with the laughter of ridicule.
Without that laughter, however,
the Tao would not be the Tao.

Some constructive sayings on this:
the way of illumination seems dark,
going forward seems like a retreat,
the easy way seems hard, true power
seems weak, true purity seems
tarnished, true clarity seems obscure,
the greatest art seems unsophisticated,
the greatest love seems indifferent, and
the greatest wisdom seems childish.

The Tao is hidden and nameless;
the Tao alone nourishes and provides
and brings everything to fulfillment.

Edited slightly to enhance flow and to reflect more inclusive language

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

This verse invites us to cultivate a personal, intimate relationship with Presence – with a commitment to present moment awareness.

When we steadfastly commit ourselves to being gentle, consistent, patient, and responsible with this process, bypassing appearances, the Way to integration for the sake of wholeness becomes as easy or as hard as we choose to make it.

Ultimately, unity favors harmony on the Way to organic fulfillment.

My Impressions of the Verse

Verse 41 addresses the play of appearances in a way that goes beyond mere physical image.

The receptive, reflective, responsive ideal of being gentle and consistent, patient and responsible, for example, leaves sagaciously inclined scholars of life and death wide open to the play of dualities, where nothing is as it appears.

Great scholars hear of the Tao
and they begin diligent practice.
Middling scholars hear of the Tao
and they keep some and lose some.
Inferior scholars hear of the Tao
and roar with the laughter of ridicule.
Without that laughter, however,
the Tao would not be the Tao.

In a broad sense, a scholar is simply someone with an appetite aptitude for study. If someone can study the Tao Te Ching and follow through with diligent practice, a great scholar is born. One need not be a highly educated specialist.

Curiously, the last two lines of this portion of the verse make it clear that scholars who are deemed middling or inferior by the standard of diligent practice are no less worthy as persons than scholars who are deemed great.

However, …

The Way is only attractive to those who are already wise enough to know how foolish they are. Sarcastic laughter from other fools who believe themselves wise does not deter the truly wise from following the Way. Following the Way, they do not become complicated, extraordinary, and prominent. Rather, they remain simple, ordinary, and subtle ~ Michael LaTorra (A Warrior Blends with Life: A Modern Tao)

On a pathway of awareness with respect for Presence (and the Way), we live, we learn, and we grow by way of contrast.

Some constructive sayings on this:
The way of illumination seems dark,
going forward seems like a retreat,
the easy way seems hard, true power
seems weak, true purity seems
tarnished, true clarity seems obscure,
the greatest art seems unsophisticated,
the greatest love seems indifferent, and
the greatest wisdom seems childish.

A commitment to living consciously with Presence – to living consciously with authenticity, integrity, and intimacy – has consequences: a return to being, knowing, feeling, and loving without condition has consequences for the quality of my experience.

Polarities in dualities fluctuate. Nothing is as it seems.

As an ideal of surrender, the supreme virtue (to heed, to follow, to express the Tao and the Tao alone) would have us be gentle, consistent, patient, and responsible with the energies of ambiguity and ambivalence.

Consciously and intentionally insisting on any one polarity of a duality (e.g., light) draws the opposite into play (e.g., dark) to the extent to which the insistence is established and maintained through the course of time.

If I insist on being clear, obscurity is drawn into play. If I insist on being strong, I am soon faced with negotiating my own weakness.

The Tao is hidden and nameless;
the Tao alone nourishes and provides
and brings everything to fulfillment.

Paradoxically, a delicate balance need not be consciously or intentionally maintained when I knowingly follow the Way each step of the way.

Implications for Personal Fulfillment

Earlier in this post, I made reference to organic fulfillment. This is in contrast to synthetic fulfillment.

If synthetic fulfillment is the fulfillment of desire in accordance with the intentions, expectations, and wishes of others (however indirect), then organic fulfillment is the fulfillment of desire in accordance with my own capacity to source intent from insight.

As I open up to receive the benefits of Presence, to trust, heed, follow, express, and reflect on its insights, I am, in effect, cultivating a personal, intimate relationship with Presence through the perceptual experience of present moment awareness.

Regardless of what is going on around me, regardless of how things might appear, I am as I am, wherever I am. Being as I am, wherever I am, without condition, has one crucial consequence for the quality of my experience: my insight informs my intent.

Here, insight tells me not to feel better but to get better at feeling, as clear access to feeling, both positive and negative, serves to gauge the quality of my experience like nothing else can. In light of this knowingness, unpleasant, disagreeable emotional charges (fear, doubt, anxiety, frustration, and resentment, for example) invite resolution through the presence of Presence.

Presence is shared by all living creatures – a unified field of energy and awareness that underlies and oversees all living beings. My organic identity is shared with all of life as Presence is our shared connection with all of life.

Presence provides the precise circumstances required to trigger those emotional charges in need of conscious integration, to gather present moment awareness, to enliven my experience, to experience authenticity, integrity, or intimacy.

Presence knows me better than I presently know myself.

Presence knows exactly which experience restores present moment awareness. As I surrender to Presence, I surrender to the flow of my experience as it comes and goes, and because experience is guided by Presence, my experience is not only valid, it’s required.

Presence attends to those aspects of experience to which I consciously surrender. Learning to surrender is my ultimate challenge. Allowing Presence to guide me, but then trying to figure out how to do it myself, shortcircuits my connection with Presence.

One further consequence of being, knowing, feeling, and loving as I am without condition is that intent inspires insight. Even as insight informs intent, intent inspires insight.

Insight is insight into the soul of my experience, identified by form and quality.

Intent is intent of the spirit of my experience, identified by change and vitality.

Let us bring these suppositions down to earth with an example: on a hot, humid morning in the midst of summer, I inadvertently get caught in a cooling rain. I surrender my will to standing in a cooling rain for the very first time and become a witness to the ensuing relief.

As a witness to the relief, I acquire insight into the effects of a cooling rain on a hot, humid day.

I interpret the form of my experience (the cooling rain) as relief. The quality of my experience is judged as good (pleasurable and desirable and enjoyable) for having brought me relief. If a hot, humid morning should ever again coincide with a cooling rain, and I’m ready, willing, and able, I’ll know just what to do; I’ll know just what to intend.

As insight serves to inform intent, intent might also inspire further insight: the next time I follow my intent to surrender to a cooling rain on a hot, humid day, I just might be inspired to imagine a scenario where I seek and find a private place to remove my clothes.

Just as the soul of my experience (unexpected relief in a cooling rain) serves to feed the spirit of my experience (a surrender to change and vitality), the spirit of my experience (intent informed by insight) serves to feed the soul of my experience (a naked surrender) at a later date.

Ideally, all of these elements of my experience impress and express themselves peacefully and blissfully through Presence: soul and spirit, insight and intent, form and change, quality and vitality. Most preferably in harmony.

Next up: O, Sweet Harmony (Living by Melting into Harmony)

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

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