Everlasting Change

by Christopher Lovejoy on January 26, 2014

What if you could bring your attention to be focused perpetually on the seeing rather than the seen, on the hearing rather than the heard, on the touching rather than the touched, on the smelling rather than the smelled, on the tasting rather than the tasted?

And what if you could bring your attention to be focused perpetually on the thinking rather than the thought, on the feeling rather than the felt, on the sensing rather than the sensed, on the speaking rather than the spoken, on the doing rather than the done?

How might these basic shifts in focus enhance your relationship with change?

Tao Te Ching, Verse 74

In addressing the ubiquity of change with due respect paid to the reality of death, this verse becomes fundamental to your motivation to be, have, and do all that you can be, have, and do.

If you realize
that all things change,
there is nothing
you will try to hold on to.
If you are not afraid
of dying, there is nothing
you cannot achieve.

There is always
a lord of death.
They who take the place
of the lord of death
are like those who cut
with the blade
of a master carpenter.
They who cut with the blade
of a master carpenter
are sure to cut their own hands.

Edited slightly to enhance flow and to reflect more inclusive language

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

The first portion of this verse offers a promise; the second supplies a caveat.

Are we willing to make good on the first even as we pay heed to the second?

My Impressions of the Verse

Many (if not all) of the verses of the Tao Te Ching are packed with meaning.

Verse 74 is no exception.

If you realize
that all things change,
there is nothing
you will try to hold on to.
If you are not afraid
of dying, there is nothing
you cannot achieve.

This is not to say that daily routines and relatively permanent setups are without merit. By being at peace or by making peace with constant change, we can be its master rather than its servant.

We involve our souls in quality and we engage our spirits with vitality even as we respect the prospect that the subjects and objects of our encounters and experiences could be gone tomorrow.

There is always
a lord of death.
They who take the place
of the lord of death
are like those who cut
with the blade
of a master carpenter.
They who cut with the blade
of a master carpenter
are sure to cut their own hands.

This blade is double-edged, with reference to dying and killing, with respect to cultivating and celebrating relationships with persons, places, or things.

When we sense that a relationship is dying (or has died), we can choose to continue to resist with all our might; we might even react, taking the place of the lord of death and risking a mortal wound. When we indulge an impulse to lash out, there’s no telling whose hopes and dreams we have killed.

This part of the verse also has relevance to mercy killing.

I recall a moment from my childhood when I crouched by the side of a country road in darkness, next to my beloved golden retriever, her eyes imploring, her breathing rapid. She had chased her last car.

She was on the verge of death and I felt humbled by the sight of her. If I had been handed a gun, I would not have had the heart to use it on her.

Implications for Personal Fulfillment

With verse 74, the fulfillment of desire seems tenuous when viewed from a certain vantage point. Desires follow in the wake of intentions and are subject to change; they come and they go, as do their objects.

There is, however, a presence that never ever changes, a presence with an inherent sense of promise that channels meaning into our lives, and without this meaning, there could be no fulfillment of desire.

The presence of which I speak is what I call the willing witness, which connects intimately and vitally with the questions about outcome and process that I posed at the beginning of this post.

aside: willing has two essential components:

(1) being ready, eager, or prepared to do something;
(2) giving or doing readily (e.g., being willing to serve)

both of these components serve legitimate ends

The willing witness is not a role we play; it’s a state of being and doing that we adopt and assume as observers, which, when employed judiciously, can spare us needless pain and suffering.

Where willing is concerned, critical discriminations are required, not only with respect to who and what we’re willing to serve, but with respect to what we’re ready, eager, or prepared to do.

When these discriminations fail us, as they sometimes do, we have immediate recourse to the willing witness, which allows us to observe the consequences of failure with detachment.

Even with a clear conscience, the willing witness cannot be ignored or dismissed; it remains with us for life, and even beyond death, when we become a witness to our own bodies for the last time.

Not unlike an embedded rock submerged in a stream, the willing witness is a constant in our lives: it can observe anything and everything that changes, that comes and goes, with equanimity.

Best of all, the willing witness can allow meaning and purpose to emerge from the depths of stillness, in sound or silence, through sacred feeling and through desires divinely inspired.

Next up: No More Demands (Living by Demanding Little)

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

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