Inner work

Self-transformation

Would you like to save the world from the degradation
and destruction it seems destined for? Then step away
from shallow mass movements and quietly go to work on
your own self-awareness. If you want to awaken all of
humanity, then awaken all of yourself. If you want to
eliminate the suffering in the world, then eliminate
all that is dark and negative in yourself. Truly, the
greatest gift you have to give is that of your own self-
transformation.

Lao Tzu
Chinese philosopher, circa 6th century BC

As early as the 6th century BC philosophers and religionists were thinking and concerned about world “degradation and destruction” – and that thought alone invites me to a bit of silent reflection. It’s in the quieting of the mind, the “getting out of our heads”, the reaching deeper than our incessantly interrupting monkey thoughts, that we begin to have a sense of who we really are – awakening self-awareness, silently knowing our place within the great scheme of the Universe. Lao Tzu was keen that seekers after truth should “step away from shallow mass movements and quietly go to work …”

Day by day in the gym I’m intrigued by the sights and sounds of those hooked into the latest short-term health fads – readily identifiable because of the frowns on their faces, resentful grunting, and the hammer-driven eight minutes they “give up” for distracted “workouts”. And then there are the peaceful souls, there early each morning, who give no impression of being in a hurry. They’ll maybe spend an hour in their same familiar little routines of preference. Quiet smile, bright eyes and gentle pace suggest they’re not too pre-occupied with “degradation and destruction”, apparently seeing something of a higher order – outer AND inner workouts “saving” their work and their worlds.

Where the pot’s not

The uses of not

Thirty spokes
meet in the hub.
Where the wheel isn’t
is where it’s useful.

Hollowed out,
clay makes a pot.
Where the pot’s not
is where it’s useful.

Cut doors and windows
to make a room.
Where the room isn’t,
there’s room for you.

So the profit in what is
is in the use of what isn’t.

Lao Tzu

Ecology, economics, gender, politics, poverty, religion, sexuality. Walls keep getting in the way. So, wearily, we return to same old, same old, same old. Cycling round the same old certainties. And the pot’s become more important than the life it’s made to contain.

In the melting pot of our early 21st century societal debate it strikes me as absolutely true that

Where the pot’s not is where it’s useful. 

When and where we’re hollowed out we learn to hold water.