What cannot be seen is called evanescent;
What cannot be heard is called rarefied;
What cannot be touched is called minute.
These three cannot be fathomed
And so they are confused and looked upon as one.
The way is not a thing which cannot be seen, heard, or touched. Yet, neither is it something distinct and separate from everything else. We have such a need to nail experience down that we confuse what cannot be fathomed for God, or the way. The unknown makes us insecure and confused and we look upon it as one. The irony is that God, the way, (or whatever makeshift name we use) is omnipresent. This omnipresence makes it neither dazzling nor obscure. But, as there is no contrasting opposite, it cannot be named either.
The dark of night, like the unknown, makes us insecure which prompts us to conjure up ‘spirits’ to give what cannot be fathomed substance. We just can’t let what cannot be…. alone. This must stem from a survival instinct to be wary of, and give special attention to, the unknown.
When I take life for granted, much of its mundane moments become evanescent. They are confused and looked upon as one boring blend. This is when I begin to willfully innovate while ignorant of the constant [see ch. 16]. I begin looking for a little dazzle, and miss it.
Its upper part is not dazzling;
Its lower part is not obscure.
Dimly visible, it cannot be named
And returns to that which is without substance.
This is called the shape that has no shape,
The image that is without substance.
This is called indistinct and shadowy.
Go up to it and you will not see its head;
Follow behind it and you will not see its rear.
Dimly visible, it cannot be named is why I end up: Falling apart like thawing ice; Thick like the uncarved block; Vacant like a valley; Murky like muddy water [see ch. 15]. Often, though, this experience is discomforting. A strong instinct within me clamors to be ‘together, clear, and solid’. This is why I suspect we all KNOW true reality—which for me goes by the makeshift name of Tao; we just have powerful emotional / instinctual forces which don’t allow us to accept it.
The trick is to see the deeper value in returning to that which is without substance. As my faith in the indistinct and shadowy deepens, I’m able to appreciate the peace it offers. This helps override the challenge the shape that has no shape presents to my worldly interests.
Its upper part is not dazzling; Its lower part is not obscure points to the middle—mysterious sameness [see ch. 56]. Lower Yin and upper Yang help me simplify my experience and get a grip on my perceptions. But this verse helps pull my mind…oh… I can’t say it, without immediately contradicting myself. The shape that has no shape defies description. I love it. Consciousness (without thoughts) comes close to it—its not dazzling or obscure of itself.
Hold fast to the way of antiquity
In order to keep in control the realm of today.
The ability to know the beginning of antiquity
Is called the thread running through the way.
Keep in control the realm of today is the ability to cope. When I can’t cope, I feel out of control; then I begin to grasp for power in a vain attempt to regain a sense of control. Sure, it works a bit, but then I fall right back down, only to repeat the cycle. It’s the no-win way. Hold fast to the way of antiquity is more like a preventative measure; I can either remember this thread running through the way, or roll up and down on an emotional roller coaster. Of course, I’m at the mercy of my emotions in this, but knowing where to look for the constant helps. I also know what doesn’t work, which takes some of the wind out of my emotional sails.
I always look to the future for solutions to present circumstances. This is my fundamental folly. When I look with wisdom, I’m able to see the present as the precious culmination of the way of antiquity. Appreciation flows. The cup is half full and I can relax. Moreover, the future ceases to be a solution, but rather a culmination of this present. I feel connected: The thread of consciousness runs from past, through the present antiquity and on into eternity.
The desires of living always push forward, away from the way of antiquity. As a child, I gobbled life down, rushed on to the next stimulating event or project, and was quite oblivious to and disconnected from the past. Ah, youth. It’s as it should be; such circumstances bring us to maturity [see ch. 51].
When I hold fast to the way of antiquity patience comes much more easily. I contend less with circumstances, which makes them seem less chaotic. Order happens more naturally.
I hold fast to the way of antiquity by accepting and remembering my biology. Biological nature governs the worldly backdrop of my life. The surprising outcome of this mindfulness seems to be a decrease in the dominance of biology over my life. The realm of today ceases to be at the mercy of my instincts.
Observing how other life on this planet lives helps me know the beginning of antiquity. Learning the fundamentals of primate life puts my life in perspective. Issues around diet, education, socialization, exercise and such are easy to resolve. Knowing the thread running through the way liberates me from the cultural fads and psycho-babel that ebb and flow with the times.
Instead of trying to ‘transcend’ nature as civilization strives to do, I find it wiser to conform to nature. Nature is simple and clear, though its way may not fit my current desires. However, to battle nature to get what I want is futile. To conform to the way of antiquity—nature—is like returning home. Nothing has given me greater contentment.