Wholly Wholesome

by Christopher Lovejoy on October 6, 2013

There came a time in my life when the prospect of being wholly untroubled by good or bad fortune began to have appeal.

Perhaps it was the moment when I read about being whole, rather than merely good or bad. Perhaps it was the moment when I realized the value of incorporating my shadowy aspects.

Perhaps it was the moment when I understood what it meant to be a witness to my version of this world.

At some point in my life, I learned about attachments and the trappings of worldly success and how frightfully quickly and easily they can own me rather than the other way around.

I learned about unintegrated emotional charges – in particular, fear, anger, and grief – and how to contain them skillfully with Presence without suppressing or repressing them.

I came to realize that discernment is best exercised on a sunny day, without the clouds of judgment, and that sound judgments are best made with discernment, without attachment.

I learned that good times sometimes seem to last forever, but don’t, and that hard times never last, even when they seem neverending.

When I finally realized that good or bad fortune was ultimately my responsibility and my responsiblity alone, I just knew I had to embrace the promise and possibility of wholeness.

I just knew I had to become more intimate with being wholly wholesome and wholly whole.

Tao Te Ching, Verse 58

Ruling with a light hand and a light touch is what this verse is about.

A society that realizes the cooperation of ruler and ruled would see fit to govern itself with laws created, enacted, and applied with a view towards keeping mercy and justice in balance.

On a more personal level, we govern ourselves and each other all the time.

How might we serve as guides without imposing our wills on each other?

When rulers know their own hearts,
the people remain pure and simple.
When rulers meddle with people’s lives,
the people become restless and disturbed.

Bad fortune is what good fortune leans on;
good fortune is what bad fortune hides in.
Who knows the ultimate end of this process?
Is there no norm of right?
Yet, what is normal soon becomes abnormal;
people’s confusion is indeed long-standing.

Thus, masters are content to serve
as examples and not impose their wills.
They are pointed but do not pierce;
they straighten but do not disrupt;
they illuminate but do not dazzle.

Edited slightly to enhance flow and to reflect more inclusive language

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

‘Wise counsels’ and ‘master servants’ seem like oxymorons, but what if?

My Impressions of the Verse

Einstein once observed: “nothing happens until something moves”.

Movement, of course, implies change, but change can be uncomfortable, as and when it reminds us that life is really not so permanent, steady, reliable, secure, or predictable.

Mother Nature herself provides ample evidence of disorder.

I can well imagine that someone charged with overseeing the welfare of a person or a family, a company or an organization, a society or a nation, knows what it means to lose control.

Unfortunately, resisting and reacting and being troubled by it all doesn’t seem to help. With its characteristic wisdom, verse 58 offers a few clues on how to be – and what not to do.

When rulers know their own hearts,
the people remain pure and simple.
When rulers meddle with people’s lives,
the people become restless and disturbed.

Those who appreciate the commitment to regulate themselves know their own hearts better than those who don’t.

The implication here is that if you know your own heart, you’ll follow your own heart, and when you follow your own heart, acting and speaking from the heart, others will be more inclined to keep their intentions pure and simple with respect to your acting and speaking.

Another vital implication is that being and doing and acting with a bias towards serving rather than taking, giving rather than getting, neutralizes the urge to meddle in the affairs of others.

Bad fortune is what good fortune leans on;
good fortune is what bad fortune hides in.
Who knows the ultimate end of this process?
Is there no norm of right?
Yet, what is normal soon becomes abnormal;
people’s confusion is indeed long-standing.

Bad fortune serves as the contrast for appreciating good fortune. In exchange, good fortune offers a refuge for bad fortune. This dynamic seems constant and neverending. Is there a way out?

Personal fortunes are shifting all the time; what seemed good turns out bad and what seemed worst turns out best.

Thus, masters are content to serve
as examples and not impose their wills.
They are pointed but do not pierce;
they straighten but do not disrupt;
they illuminate but do not dazzle.

Masters exercise their wills without imposing them: they hold and carry the potential to pierce, disrupt, and dazzle, but they also contain the power to make a point, straighten things out, and shed light on troubled and troubling situations and circumstances.

Wise enough to remain untroubled by good or bad fortune, they exercise discernment with sound judgment as things turn hot or cold.

Implications for Personal Fulfillment

What implications might this wisdom have for personal fulfillment?

yin yang

The quintessential symbol of the Tao, the taijitu, inspires a view of personal fortune as a whole that contains a balance of parts, inviting a broader perspective on good or bad fortune.

Within good fortune lies a seed of bad fortune and within bad fortune lies a seed of good fortune. In a world of constant change, a unity of constancy remains present to this change.

This unity of constancy is Presence, which is absolute and balanced, which can be accessed through present moment awareness.

Presence is my anchor in a sea of change, allowing me to hold the contrast between what I perceive as being ‘good’ or ‘bad’. What seems ‘good’ could later be felt as a burden and what seems ‘bad’ could later be construed as a blessing.

When ‘bad’ fortune seems troublesome, I remind myself that someone’s (perhaps my own) ‘good’ fortune leans on it or depends on it.

When ‘bad’ fortune seems troublesome, I remind myself that the taijitu is ever flowing; what seems ‘wrong’ or ‘bad’ cannot last. Eventually, it must yield to what is ‘right’ or ‘good’.

If presence at peace is the essence of my state of being (which is always already whole), then the promise of love is the essence of my way of being (which is always already wholesome).

If good and bad fortune serve to express a unity of constancy in the midst of change, being wholly wholesome serves to hold the contrast with a unity of constancy in the midst of change.

Good and bad fortune revolve around seeking and finding, having and getting, gaining and keeping, but what if we assumed the circulation of good and bad fortune as the revolution itself?

What qualities might we adopt to prevent or remove the sting of misfortune?

Next up: Thrift, in Moderation (Living by Thrift and Moderation)

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

Image credit: yin yang, © umnola – Fotolia.com

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