The best of all rulers is but a shadowy presence to his subjects.
Next comes the ruler they love and praise;
Next comes one they fear;
Next comes one with whom they take liberties.
This chapter points out the essentials for parenting. I could never follow its counsel if I did not know it too be true. If I’d had kids years ago, I’d never been able to parent this way, even if I’d agreed with it. My emotions would have taken over. Now, older and wiser, I can. And this chapter helps assure me that I’m on the right path. It makes it easier to ignore the popular trend of the day.
I think this has to do a lot with desire. For example, when I desire to be liked, it’s much easier for others to “take liberties” with me. If I were obsessed with being in control, people would “fear” what I would do to maintain that control. And, I suppose, people would “love and praise” me if I appear to embody the qualities they desire for themselves. The older I get, the more I seem to move up the ladder toward “shadowy presence”. The more secure I feel, the less I need; the less I need, the less impulsive and obvious my life. When I’m secure, I’m content. When I’m content, I don’t meddle and so can more easily be “a shadowy presence to my” surroundings.
As I get older, I’m becoming “a shadowy presence to” myself. In youth, there was a lot more interaction between my various sides as I struggled to know myself. I’d “praise” myself from an exaggerated sense of self worth. I’d take life for granted and decline into self indulgent “liberties”. I’d push myself forward from “fear” of failure. I’m slowly coming to know who I’m not, which leaves me in an ever deepening personal “shadowy presence”. The less I think I am, the less there is to lose, and thus, I suppose I’m preparing for death.
“The sage has no mind of his own. He takes as his own the mind of the people”. [see ch. 49]. When I’m content, I cease to have an agenda. I have a softer impact of my surroundings and thus become a “shadowy presence”. I can know things as they are rather than as a reflection of my own outstanding needs and desires.
Life is this vivid fleeting moment. I can trace everything I do in life back to my reaction to the rule of the “shadowy presence”. “Shadowy presence” is simply failure, loss and death if I’m clinging to life, or, eternity when I let go. Either way, it nudges me forward from behind into its waiting arms.
Meditation is my opportunity to ask myself who am I—really? But words always fail me. When my thoughts yield to simple mindfulness, the closest I come to is a sense of (my) “shadowy presence”. Episodes of healthy ego and self confidence give me a euphoric sense of self “love and praise”. My disciplinarian side takes charge through the “fear” of failure. And, when I’m oblivious to all but my own whim, I easily “take liberties” with life and overindulge—which happened more in my youth. As I age, the “shadowy presence” seems to deepen at the expense of the other “rulers”—thank God.
Neutrality and balance are signs of the “shadowy presence”. I’ve always sought this peaceful equanimity, but for years was under the impression that this peace would come only when “my task was accomplished”. I know now that the “shadowy presence” rules as long as I slow down and let it.
When there is not enough faith, there is lack of good faith.
“Faith” doesn’t have any halfway state. It’s like trust. When I feel trust, it’s complete. When my trust is shaken a bit, it crumbles. I guess “faith”, like trust, is a feeling of connection. The slightest crack in the connection brings disconnection, or “lack of good” connection.
I try to find a more definitive definition of “shadowy presence” when “faith” is insufficient. But, it’s that very “shadowy” nature that prevents detailed definition. “Faith” is what enables me to know, without a reliance on words, the “shadowy presence”. It’s an inner experience, like love, which doesn’t lend itself well to objective definition.
Hesitant, he does not utter words lightly.
When his task is accomplished and his work done
The people all say, ‘It happened to us naturally.’
One problem in parenting is knowing where to draw the line. “Hesitant, I do not utter words lightly” only occurs when I’m not being compelled by my emotions. I’m able to give myself time to “act from knowledge of the constant” [see ch. 16]. I can avoid getting caught up in micro managing life. When I do act, the action is much more likely to “lead to impartiality”. The more immature parents are, the harder it is to embody this path; alas, “circumstances bring them to maturity” [see ch. 51]. Thus, daily contact from more “mature” grand parents could offset the impulsive immaturity of youthful parents. The lack of extended families now makes it all the more important to wait until we are mature enough to raise children “naturally”.
It’s hard to imagine people saying “It happened to us naturally”. We are forever seeking to ascribe credit, either praise or blame, for what happens. Such attribution became more tenuous as I came to see how intimately interconnected everything is,… with a shared history that extends back to at least the big-bang. Every effect has its cause, which in turn is itself the effect of some deeper cause; where does it all end/begin? I suppose “naturally” is shorthand for: “I know not whose son it is, It images the forefather of God”.[see ch. 4].
Coming to accept myself as I am is to “say, it happened to me naturally”. But, there are often so many emotional forces, social and idealistic, that make this difficult—”Hesitant, he does not” even contemplate “lightly”.
People understand one another when they have shared experience; you’ve had to walk in each others’ shoes a bit. “Words” really only affirm this shared knowledge or expose what isn’t shared. What isn’t shared, isn’t understood, and so will likely be mis-understood. “Hesitant, he does not utter words lightly” will help avoid the trouble this causes.
Christian people would say “It happened to us naturally” through Christ. As a Taoist I can leave it as simply “it happened to us naturally”. It’s the same truth painted with different words.