When we define some events as good and other events as bad, we instantly qualify them with merit (or demerit) that is really unnecessary and often incorrect. We often find ourselves mired in suffering, sadness and confusion and there’s nothing abnormal about this. It’s very easy to get knocked off-center and to find yourself trying to analyze events in terms of “blessing” or “disaster.”
A blog I read posted a “philosophical musing” the author found on Facebook. I don’t need to tell you that a lot of the material on Facebook is neither “deep” nor “thoughtful,” and the author was moved to write her own response, coming from her unique perspective, about the quote. The original phrase was meant to be uplifting or inspiration, but implies a lot of what Taoism (and Buddhism) avoid to begin with, so I thought I would share it here.
The quote she found:
“There are things we don’t want to happen, but have to accept; things we don’t want to know, but have to learn; and people we can’t live without, but have to let go.”
My analytical break-down and response (edited for space and continuity) from a Taoist perspective:
I feel that the quote shared on Facebook (as with many quotes on Facebook) is meant to be “deep” and thoughtful, but is really neither.
“There are things we don’t want to happen, but have to accept;”
This part of the quote instantly implies that things we don’t want are negative, thus forcing us to “accept” these “bad” things when they do. Qualifying life events as good or bad tends to disturb the delicate flow and balance of things and is often unnecessary. From a Taoist perspective, we might say, “it may seem bad at first, but how do we know it’s not a good thing in the end?” rendering our subjugation to “acceptance” null.
We don’t need to accept it, because we are not expecting anything. Keeping a neutral, open mind allows us to let things come and go, even situations that cause pain, because we are not declaring them to be “bad” or “good.”
There’s a Taoist story about a farmer and his son who find a horse that describes this sense of neutrality and openness:
Among the people who lived close to the border, there was a man who led a righteous life. Without reason, his horse escaped, and fled into barbarian territory. Everyone pitied him, but the old man said : “what makes you think this is not a good thing?”
Several months later, his horse returned, accompanied by a superb barbarian stallion. Everyone congratulated him. But the old man said: “what makes you think this cannot be a bad thing?”
The family was richer from a good horse, his son enjoyed riding it, but the son fell off the horse and broke his hip. Everyone pitied him, but the old man said: “what makes you think this is not a good thing!”
One year later, a large party of barbarians entered the border. All the healthy men drew their bows and went to battle. From the people living around the border, nine out of ten died. But just because his son was lame, the old man and his son were both spared.”
A different way to start that the original inspirational quote might be–”there are things we wish would go differently, but we cannot always know what is really the best path for things in our lives until we have opened our mind and given things a chance.”
The next part:
“There are things we don’t want to know, but have to learn”
I wonder if they are trying to imply that there are things we don’t want to know ABOUT? Or are they saying that, “yeah, we know you hate taking calculus–but you still have to stick it out and learn it to become an engineer”? It’s unclear, but I will assume they mean that there are times we are forced to learn about something when we’d rather be doing, or learning, something else.
Learning is always healthy, as is knowing when to let learning go and just be natural without preconception.
In Taoism, we can find a lovely paradox that describes how “unlearning” is better than learning, while reading the Tao Teh Ching which is kindly teaching us. It’s one of the more beautiful (and confusing to some) moments in the Tao Teh Ching. How, after all, can learning cloud our mind while we sit here reading a book which allowed us to come to that understanding? Because learning is neither bad nor good. It is natural and healthy–yet should never be used as a replacement for real spiritual practice.
A good example of what I mean is this:
You could read every book in the library on horseback riding. It would be enjoyable and you would indeed learn things, but there is no substitute for getting in the saddle, on the horse, with reigns in hand.
I can’t imagine there being things I don’t want to learn about, even if they seem to be “terrible” things. And, I remember Lao Tzu’s warning about residing only in books and book learning. Learn and also be in the world.
Learning is magic, after all.
“and people we can’t live without, but have to let go.”
In Taoism, we concentrate on the center, developing our internal world, our internal sense of balance and connection. It may sound You-centric, but it does not imply superiority, simply that you are you. You have to start with you. Though we are all connected, in this physical form you can really only approach the world from your physical standpoint (which is where meditation comes in, to expand this reach). All answers are already within.
The more centered your internal universe, the easier it is to take things we THINK we can’t live without.
Letting go IS healthy. But it’s not simply because we cannot live without something and, again, must force ourselves to let go. Letting go should come naturally.
From the Tao Teh Ching:
“Things arise and [the master] lets them come; things disappear and she lets them go. She has but doesn’t possess, acts but doesn’t expect.” (2)
Buddhism also discusses how unhealthy it is to be attached to other people, objects and places. You can be detached and loving. They are not mutually exclusive. “Detachment” is not negative, either. It is just the realistic centered-ness that comes from focusing on inner balance. You may love them, protect them, wish they could be around forever–(of course!) but you are never forced to let go of them because you never possessed them to begin with.
“The Master observes the world
but trusts his inner vision.
He allows things to come and go.
His heart is as open as the sky.”
(Tao Teh Ching, 12)
Of course we must endure sometimes–but it’s all about perspective.
The other blogger’s response to the quote, from a different spiritual perspective. Some of the parallels are interesting.