Fortunately, working at home during the COVID pandemic has enabled me to focus on my hobbies more with my free time and not have to worry about going to a work dinner function or spend extra hours driving my car like a maniac to go shoot hoops with my buddies or be at specific social events during the weekend. It’s like time is frozen. I’m back in high school or college again, skimboarding like a teenager, watching weird sci-fi movies on my fire tv, working out like a professional athlete 6 days a week to prep for a varsity sport of some sort, and most recently taking a trip back to IB English Class and Philosophy with Mr. Cummins at City Honors School, good times. It was a time where I felt I could be anyone and think anything. It freed my mind and my soul and really helped me rediscover my inner peace all over again. I highly encourage every working adult to do the same and rediscover their childlike curiosity all over again. For some quick and impactful motivation read my favorite sections from a book I came across about Happiness and Relationships. No matter what your religion, it’s applicable to all.
Most recently, I’m studying chinese philosophy and trying to read whatever I can on the subject. Taoism is the first school of thought I came across. The word play is beautiful and thought provoking at the same time which is what drew me to the subject. It’s like the culture takes a simple concept, makes it seem complex just enough to open your mind and then leave you with that “a-ha” moment and you feel refreshed all of a sudden. There were a quite a few snippets from Tao Te Ching: Or the Tao and Its Characteristics I read that really shook me to the core and resonated with daily living in America. Quite honestly, if there were more philosophers running our country instead of politicians I’d feel alot better each day knowing our rulers were more loving and understanding in their daily pursuits.
The thirty spokes unite in the one nave; but it is on the empty space (for the axle), that the use of the wheel depends. Clay is fashioned into vessels; but it is on their empty hollowness, that their use depends. The door and windows are cut out (from the walls) to form an apartment; but it is on the empty space (within), that its use depends. Therefore, what has a (positive) existence serves for profitable adaptation, and what has not that for (actual) usefulness.
Think about the last time someone mentioned an empty space and got excited for the potential for it to be the fuel that keeps the engine of life going. So much of our psyche as Americans is to focus on profit, structure and tangible/functional beauty. The people “behind the scenes” can be thought of as the empty space as well often neglected or unacknowledged in society all the while the producer or director take all the sexy credit. On a higher level, if we embrace nothingness and let our minds relax that’s when action and usefulness can actually take place. It’s not the things we buy or the social media presence that drives society but rather the osmosis of thinking that occurs when we are truly free and unchained like that apartment hallway that generates so much social interaction and traffic yet often plays second fiddle to the architectural beauty surrounding it. You see, these memories of social interactions between these walls inspire us to be better people. Think about your dad or best friend you talked to in that hallway or some great news you received or even where you had sex with a girl you barely met that one night that’s often showcased in every college movie from the 2000’s. Funny and inspiring events that change the trajectory of humanity. In a way, we can become more human by embracing nothingness. This is a paradox in itself because we’re complex physical beings that are demanding of more attention every year it seems. We demand people to recognize our talents for that fame and fortune the American dream has instilled in us from our birth. In closing, doing nothing and being nothing at a particular time and place just means you’re a blank canvas ready to make shit happen and became all the better for it. It’s the perfect time to “Free Your Mind” like Morpheus in the Matrix famously said.
And what is meant by saying that honour and great calamity are to be (similarly) regarded as personal conditions? What makes me liable to great calamity is my having the body (which I call myself); if I had not the body, what great calamity could come to me? And so, Those who revere their bodies as if they were the entire world can be given custody of the world. Those who care for their bodies as if they were the entire world can be entrusted with the world.
I want to focus more on the idea of our bodies as focal points of what we do everyday. I agree as a fitness addict I’m a firm believer in your body as your only true home where you have to live and do the best to prevent harm and keep it in shape. However, what comes of this is fear or the calamity mentioned in the text excerpt. We often base our decisions in life because of physical harm or risk/fear. Sometimes though potential or honor, both intangible yet positive qualities are actually really attainable in life if we stop thinking about challenges as physical ones. The high level takeaway is to focus on the concept or “inner workings” of something and go with that feeling instead of the fear of pain or neglect. An example I can give is simply going to college to become educated in a field of your choice not one your parents say you should do because of the job market, pay or prestige or whatever. Honor in your profession and loving your life after college despite the loans or even some physical setbacks because of lack of health insurance at some point or having to work multiple manual labor jobs to pay for school is worth it in the long run. Your self-respect and synergy with your profession/lifestyle are more important for your mental well being long term than any of the physical ailments that may come at a cost. Even if at the end of your career you end up with alot less money in retirement for choosing a liberal arts career instead of a STEM one, you’re actually a better, more independent person because of it. BONUS: Just cracked open The Daodejing of Laozi and got the rest of this quote started from the Analects of Confucius. Notice caring instead of revering your body gives you a better connection and trust with the world and nature as opposed to merely owning and obsessing over it. To care (sharing health and wellness knowledge is my interpretation for a modern day take however ironically Daoists don’t believe in intelligence, learning and creativity as a way to make the world a better place whereas Confucianism does) and connect with other people is preferred over showing it off for attention and fame according to Daoists. In both situations, we feel like we have the world in our hands so to speak; it’s just by caring you’re one with the world instead of manipulating it for your own benefit through reverence. “With great power comes great responsibility”, quoted many times in Spiderman moves can be another modern day tangent for discussion as well as it relates to the slight differences between Daoism and Confucianism pertaining to learning (knowledge is power) in the modern world.
We meet it and do not see its Front; we follow it, and do not see its Back. When we can lay hold of the Tao of old to direct the things of the present day, and are able to know it as it was of old in the beginning, this is called (unwinding) the clue of Tao.
Honestly, this sounds alot like a gut feeling we get when there’s a fork in the road. It’s like an omnipresence that’s in our DNA and an old friend that helps us get through tough times in the present. Go with it. Not super mind blowing but again this “nothingness” concept I spoke of earlier has huge power in our lives if we know it well and build a relationship with it as we get older.
The (state of) vacancy should be brought to the utmost degree, and that of stillness guarded with unwearying vigour. All things alike go through their processes of activity, and (then) we see them return (to their original state). When things (in the vegetable world) have displayed their luxuriant growth, we see each of them return to its root. This returning to their root is what we call the state of stillness; and that stillness may be called a reporting that they have fulfilled their appointed end.
We often hear people say to know our roots in life because it’s where our personalities and motivations typically stem from. Our lives take many twists and turns (processes of activity) yet when our backs are against the wall we listen to our hearts and dig into our roots (original state) for strength. I really like the stillness claim to strength with Taoism. Typically, inactivity or stillness is a sign of weakness in Western Cultures. By slowing down, we actually grow the most in life. An example I can think of is when you’re in a group class of some sort let’s say an exercise class where high intensity mentalities dominate. You know you’re athletic but not intense like everyone else. If you educate your mind (about proper exercise technique and form) and figure out what your motivation is for being fitter you’ll more than likely avoid injury, enjoy the lifestyle that much more and have longevity in the activity or sport you wish to pursue in life well into adulthood or even your retirement years.
Therefore the sage is (like) a square which cuts no one (with its angles); (like) a corner which injures no one (with its sharpness). He is straightforward, but allows himself no license; he is bright, but does not dazzle.
I’m actually very happy finding wise people in life and having a conversation with them. My previous jobs allowed me to interact with very intelligent engineers who were really down to earth philosophers. There are many sages I think but many people don’t know how to spot them. This quote is beautiful in it’s simplicity and strength. Squares and corners are basic objects with strong capabilities if used in an appropriate fashion. However, it is the sage that has these strong yet humble qualities but doesn’t impose his will. In many cases, people’s diverse experiences in life give them this wisdom on how to be strong. The ones with the greatest setbacks but strong will are the humble sages we should all seek out and be like.
(The master of it) anticipates things that are difficult while they are easy, and does things that would become great while they are small. All difficult things in the world are sure to arise from a previous state in which they were easy, and all great things from one in which they were small.
This is great advice for learning and applying something new in life. Prepare for the challenges ahead by honing in on easy foundational skills. Everything can be broken down into pieces for learning and understanding. If someone is unwilling to help you see the stages of a difficult task, take it upon yourself to find out about them and ask questions or do your research. This is something I’m struggling to communicate with new skimboarders who watch me rip frontside and backside turns with ease on waves. Their immediate response is I’ll break my neck and I don’t have that coordination to do what I’m doing. That maybe true now but by mastering the drop step on your board, you’re halfway there and it only takes repetition for this foundational skill not talent. Nothing that comes easy is worth doing long run. Often fear of embarrassment especially in adults trying to learn something new keeps them doing easy things in life unaware of their true potential. There’s always a next level and you’re probably closer than you think if you can change your mentality to look inwards at your technique and not outwards at the end result.
To know and yet (think) we do not know is the highest (attainment); not to know (and yet think) we do know is a disease.
Short, sweet and probably the most powerful Taoist quote I’ll wrap up with for now before moving on to Confucianism. Humility in knowing something but not forcing it on people allows your mind to be free for learning something new and spreading the quality of humility to others. If you don’t know something and fake it, you’re not spreading truth and in actuality just manifesting what people want to hear instead of communicating knowledge. I won’t get political but the recent Trump presidency was notorious for these baseless claims of knowledge all from a superior that was not a true sage. Be careful of who you admire and look up to in life. Knowing their essence gives you better insight into how knowledgeable they are. Again, we’re using humility as a code for nothingness that creates a more powerful impact than words or dogma. Often humble people have experienced fame or fortune but again choose to look inward and share intangible positive human qualities instead of forceful and oppressive ones that are a disease of the human spirit. A quiet confidence so to speak is what should remain for the highest attainment Taoists speak of.
The Master said, ‘I will not be afflicted at men’s not knowing me; I will be afflicted that I do not know men.‘
Transitioning to Confucianism, the quote above takes the humility concept of Taoism and adds in a bit of virtue which is prevalent in the school of thought. It shouldn’t matter about your fame or fortune but rather how you understand and treat other people. If you can’t understand others with virtue, you won’t completely know yourself either. How often do we make snap judgements of people based on an instagram post or thing they said in the heat of the moment? Situations breed unusual human behavior but the “essence” of someone and figuring out what makes them tick will not only improve your outlook on life but possibly enhance your own identity even if you’re already rich and famous so to speak. Think of those volunteers or religious churchgoers that also have material riches beyond compare. Sure, they could stand on a pedestal and continue making more money and getting more credit from their followers but they choose to give their time, talents and money to those in need. Other men they don’t know but want to help and listen to are their focal points in life. By helping or listening to others you start to know more about the world around you instead of the one inside of you that you’ve built up for so many years. Ironically, those that give of themselves to know others benefit just as much if not more so spiritually than those less fortunate. As a single male millennial, I struggle most with this concept of giving in it’s fullest form. Money I can give no problem, but time and talent is still a struggle. Possibly, teaching skimboarding for free on the weekends will open my mind as well as my heart to understand more about people’s learning habits and how to help them be better learners and healthier individuals. COVID makes these volunteer opportunities challenging but this quote is an important reminder to think of others even when we can’t socially get together.
The Master said, ‘I have not seen one who loves virtue as he loves beauty.’
Physical beauty is the prominent force for “liking” someone or something. Instagram as mentioned earlier and other social media platforms encourage love of beauty. Things have not changed all that much. I can’t remember when morality or ethics were more popular than beauty in any field of modern day study, pop culture or media. Even as a graphic designer myself, I have to make things look good even if the subject material is shallow or void of any virtue whatsoever. When you think about it, it really does limit human potential and in some ways regress our American culture. This begs the question, “Are we capable of doing/being so much more in life?”
Becoming more virtuous is the answer to this question. It’s not a physical quality and hard to spot but if we train our minds not our eyes to see it, we’ll be better for it. A small example I can think of is basically just doing more daily research on beautiful things we encounter whether it’s reading consumer reviews or even clicking on a fashion model’s instagram story to see who they really are behind the scenes. Our concept of beauty will start to change and begin to show more of the ethical side to their lives or driving forces behind their professions. As a follower, we peel away layers of “reality” and our concept of right and wrong or acceptable behavior starts to take on more of a mental rather than visual form. From the mental state, we then ask ourselves, “Am I like that influencer in some way, what qualities are different, better or worse?” The end of this introspection is the desire to be a better person and not a crazy fanatic if we let the process of self questioning and reflection take place. This is when love of virtue not beauty is the attractive force for people to follow. Maybe we make positive changes in our lives because of it rather than praising or bashing the instagram influencer in the comments section.
The Master said, ‘The wise are free from perplexities; the virtuous from anxiety; and the bold from fear.’
I want to focus on the “virtuous being free from anxiety.” This resonates with another Chinese proverb, “Relaxation is who we really are, and tension is who we think we should be.” The modern day work schedule breeds anxiety so how can someone ever really become virtuous? From my experience in the office space of life, I’ve encountered many dissatisfied and depressed employees who seem to find the bad in everything. It’s contagious and in some ways perpetuates the quote “Misery loves company.”
Instead, people either use their intelligence to prevent from being perplexed or be a macho man and not fear any challenge or obstacle. All of these are very one dimensional talents that we as Americans covet. Again, social media perpetuates not only the beautiful but wise and bold. Why can’t we have virtue in those influencers who are not just copycat Buddha accounts? lol. Or find a modern day office worker with this sense of ethics and virtue?
R-E-L-A-X. Aaron Rodgers provided us the answer years ago. He even claimed he meditated alot this past offseason to win his MVP award in 2020. He also got engaged so maybe love has something to do with it as well. This could be a whole other topic of conversation later. Free your mind people and develop a positive life away from work or whatever it is that’s dragging you down. Healthy hobbies help with this too.
The Master said, ‘In ancient times, men learned with a view to their own improvement. Now-a-days, men learn with a view to the approbation of others.’
The Master got it right in 2021 as well! Education is made more now to get a job and fit in with others and be accepted instead of being a well rounded individual. It’s both a blessing and curse, I attended City Honors School as I developed my inner philosopher but also didn’t have any firm career direction. One thing has remained the same though is the desire to be a better person tomorrow than I was today in any pursuit. I’ve always been an open book to ideas and stand firm on my religious upbringing and health and wellness mentality. I just hope others can do the same and not be swayed too much by other people, money or a career for their overall well being in life. Learning is a life-long process not one that ends when you’re employed or from the approval of all your social media followers. It’s really crazy how much social media is the antithesis for many Chinese philosophical principles of humility and virtue. But each day is another opportunity to change that one post at a time and anyone can do it which is the power of our free will.
Next up is Buddhism. I’m currently reading a book entitled The Buddha in the Mirror and it starts with “The Gem in the Robe” parable:
The house was a very prosperous one and [the poor man] was served many trays of delicacies. The friend took a priceless jewel, sewed it in the lining of the poor man’s robe, gave it without a word and then went away, and the man, being asleep, knew nothing of it. After the man had gotten up, he journeyed here and there to other countries, seeking food and clothing to keep himself alive, finding it very difficult to provide for his livelihood. He made do with what little he could get and never hoped for anything finer, unaware that in the lining of his robe he had a priceless jewel. Later the close friend who had given him the jewel happened to meet the poor man and after sharply rebuking him, showed him the jewel sewed in the robe. When the poor man saw the jewel, his heart was filled with great joy, for he was rich, possessed of wealth and goods sufficient to satisfy the five desires. We are like that man.
Often times we are blind to the riches in our lives and more importantly what we are actually capable of. We get so bogged down by the world and the challenges and labels associated with our daily lives that we forget to see our true path to better living and enlightenment. Perception really is reality, let’s make it a great one.