Bowed down then preserved;
Bent then straight;
Hollow then full;
Worn then new;
A little then benefited;
A lot then perplexed.
Therefore the sage embraces the One and is a model for the empire.
He does not show himself, and so is conspicuous;
He does not consider himself right, and so is illustrious;
He does not brag, and so has merit;
He does not boast, and so endures.
It is because he does not contend that no one in the empire is in a position
to contend with him.
Bent then straight reminds me of space and matter. Matter is really energy (E=MC2) which is straight but exists within curved (“bent”) space. Both arose from singularity, i.e., pre-big bang.
When self preservation is at issue, my first instinct has always been to push forward… not to bow down. The problem with that approach doesn’t lie in applying effort, but rather with applying TOO much effort and forcing the issue. This is often self defeating in the end.
Hollow then full and so forth reminds me how these apparent opposites are in essence one. The more I idealize and strive for one side, the more keenly I’ll perceive the other (unwanted) side. Realizing this and, more importantly, remembering this, truly enables me to be preserved to the end; I’m much less likely to get caught up in a futile pursuit of the impossible, like having a lot and not ending up perplexed.
Evolution set us up to feel that if we got a lot, we would be benefited, but nature didn’t take into account the extremes that tool use (civilization, basically) makes possible. A lot becomes much more than it ever could be in the wild, and so I end up perplexed.
When I’m content with a little, I feel like I have a lot. When I can’t feel content with a little, I clamor for more. This eventually brings me a lot which leaves me feeling perplexed instead of benefited and content. Then I want to clean house and return to little and simple. It’s ironic.
Another translation has it: The sage holds onto unity and so serves as a shepherd for all under heaven. Thus, I can only deal with the diversity when my two feet are firmly planted in the ground of unity; lose that and I get scattered, confused and stressed.
Embraces the One and is a model for the empire calls me to keep to a simple center. When I’m grounded in simplicity I’m much more able to cope with the empire of the multitude. The sharp distinctions of difference blend into one another transforming an empire of complexity into a simple, if dimly visible reality. Darkly visible, it only seems as if it were there.[see ch. 4]. My growing sense of the relative nature of things keep me turning back to the One.
It’s precisely when I FEEL I’m NOT illustrious, meritorious , or enduring that I’m most likely to brag, boast and consider myself right. Emotional (counter-balancing) forces push to compensate for what I’m insecure about. This diminishes as I get older and more secure. However, it’s not that I feel especially illustrious now; it’s just that I don’t feel a LACK.
When I’m emotionally secure I can let myself be bowed down. When I feel vulnerable I need to make a show of force which easily escalates. It’s ironic—conflict, along with any ensuing destruction, arises out of vulnerability and fear.
The way the ancients had it, ‘Bowed down then preserved’ is no emplty saying.
Truly it enables one to be preserved to the end.