Monday, January 19, 2009

EIGHT (from Lao Tzu's The Art of Peace - a new reading by John Patterson)

Tomorrow, within hours of US President-Elect Barack Obama's inauguration, my youngest son will board a plane and fly North West from New Zealand to Hungary to embark on a semester's exchange at Corvinus University. 

Parenting has to be one of life's most extravagant gifts and, too, one of its fiercest and - at times - ache-inducing learning opportunities. Certainly, it's a call to practice over and over again, the paradoxical dance of full engagement and compassionate detachment. I wholeheartedly celebrate my son going off on this exciting adventure, and at the same time... well, frankly - pang!  

This evening, feeling somewhat tender-hearted, I came across the following translation of the eighth 'image' (I'm not sure what else to call it) from Lao Tzu's gentle Tao Te Ching - it covers a great deal of ground in its fourteen short lines, touching lightly on the ideal that we be as adaptable, unbinding and generous as possible in our affections. Also in there is the suggestion that straightforwardness and honesty in government are tantamount to goodness. In the same image multiple scenarios are addressed that might ordinarily be argued as being miles apart, their interchangeability making it seem perfectly normal to find them side-by-side.


The very best we can be is like water.
Reflect on the value of water:
It benefits all creatures, without competing,
It settles in places people dislike;
Yes, this is very close to the way.
Goodness in a house is its foundations,
Goodness in a mind is its depth,
Goodness in companions is their kindness,
Goodness in speaking is sincerity,
Goodness in government is straightforwardness,
Goodness in work is skill,
Goodness in movement is timing.
It is only by not competing 
that we can avoid going wrong.


  1. That's beautiful Claire. I know what you are going through ... being a mother is awe-full!! Thinking of you.

  2. Thanks Kay - I do want to say that I'm really appreciating the way blogging reinforces both personal & communal links. I had no idea just how much it would do it when I first started this - did you? Distance and absence don't have quite the same sting... thanks for being part of this community. Love to you, C x

  3. My favorite was always XI
    We put thirty spokes together and call it a wheel
    But it is the space where there is nothing that the usefullness of the wheel depends
    We turn clay to make a vessel
    But it is the space where there is nothing that the usefllness of the vessl depends
    we pierce doors and windows to make a house and it is on these spaces where there is nothing that the usefulness of the house depends
    therefore just as we take advantqage of what is we should
    recognize the usefulness of what is not.

  4. Hi Tango daddy - no XI is a beauty, too. I especially love the lines 'just as we take advantage of what is, we should recognize the usefulness of what is not.'

    The spaces between (i.e between notes in music, between marks in painting, between one place/medium/state of mind and another, etc... ) are particularly potent. I like to think it's these spaces that hold the clues to whatever occurs on either side of them. (The 'usefulness of what is not?')

  5. Tango daddy, the following quote was in today's A Word A Day email - thought I'd pop it in here since it links in with this conversation.

    Knowing what / Thou knowest not / Is in a sense / Omniscience. -Piet Hein, poet and scientist (1905-1996)