It is widely accepted that each of us is born with a ‘God given gift’ — a talent of some sort. However, what may be less known is that such talent is not actually a gift at all – it is paid for in full at birth. I’ve come to know a few people extremely well, including my family. Each person, as far as I’ve seen, bears this out. I admit this is not much of an empirical sampling. Still, it makes sound philosophical sense.
Knowing myself best, I’ll be the example. Like everyone, I have acquired various skills over the years. My wife says I am a writer. Not really; I only developed that skill gradually as best I could to express my deeper ability to discover and give voice to what others may not discover or be able to put into words. You could say I’m an explorer at heart. But, am I? More telling may be considering what price we pay for our gifts. What shortcoming drove me to be the ‘explorer’ I am?
Disconnection, plain and simple drives me. I was never socially engaged in American culture as a youth from as early as I can remember. Somewhat oddly, I never felt bothered by the fact either. I never felt left out because I never wanted to belong. That said, looking back on the many years spent abroad were really a search for ’home’. ‘Home’ was not only emotional (i.e., tribal connection), but philosophical as well. My shear lack of cultural ties drove me to search for meaning in life. I had no choice; I was out in ‘a paradigm wilderness’ and needed to discover what mattered. Unable to buy the cultural story in which I was raised, or any other that I came across, I had to ‘reinvent the wheel’. Fortunately, The Tao Te Ching offers us useful stepping-stones without getting in the way!
It finally took having my own children to find my true ’emotional home’. That brought me to realize how essential social connection is for humans, and how fragmentary the connection has become since the Agricultural Revolution. Nothing replaces the social security of the tribal family bond, which has genuinely deteriorated ever since our hunter-gatherer days (1).
It also took me coming to my wits end with words to find a real ‘philosophical home’. I realized that the meaning of every thought I had hinged on the words with which I thought. It was a vicious circle. The basis for belief itself was melting away. There was no way out but to deal with the words themselves, i.e., to correlate them. (See Tools of Taoist Thought: Correlations.) This process loosened the grip words had on me, and alleviated some of the disease referred to in chapter 71: Realizing I don’t’ know is better; not knowing this knowing is disease (2).
In summary, the emptiness in my life drives everything I do. Emptiness, loss, failure, death, etc., drive me to do what I must to fill the ‘hole’ in life. (See Peeking in on Nature’s Hoodwink.)
This quid pro quo view of talents as being merely an upshot of emptiness, so to speak, may feel unpleasant. Chapter 40 paints a stark reality: In the opposite direction, of the way moves. Loss through death, of the way uses. This ‘opposite direction’ is the antithesis of what our personal and tribal ego wants to hear. It is easy to see why the Taoist worldview isn’t mainstream.
(1) We don’t realize how socially disconnected we are. You can’t miss what you’ve never had. It took the circumstances of our family life: home schooling, home music, home garden, home business, home yoga, home ‘taoism’ and such to open my eyes and heart. It also helped that I was in my mid 40’s when I started a family. (See A Tao of Parenting.)
(2) It is difficult for us to know how peaceful a cognition-less consciousness would be. Names and words obstruct the view and language dominates mind. As D.C. Lau put it in chapter 71, To think that one knows will lead to difficulty, and this difficulty has certainly faced us ever since we humans evolved the ability to think.