When the people lack a proper sense of awe, then some awful visitation will
descend upon them.
Proper is a very important qualifier. When I have a proper sense of awe, I sense enough wonder and mystery to feel respect. I’m then more tentative, as if fording a river in winter and more hesitant, as if in fear of his neighbors; [see ch. 15]. Balance though is very important. When I sense too much wonder and mystery, it becomes awful. Being filled with too much awe is as burdensome as to sense too little. This brings to mind the Bhagavad Gita, where Knishna gives Arjuna the power to see ALL, and it blows his mind!
I lose a sense of awe when I get self-centered and my perspective narrows down to little more than ideals and expectations. Without a sense of awe, I’m easily thrown off center by events that run counter to how I think things should be; life becomes a stressful awful visitation.
Do not constrict their living space; do not press down on their means of
livelihood. It is because you do not press down on them that they will not
weary of the burden.
This brings to mind the social and political extremes humanity falls into. The conservatives want to constrict their living space, while the liberals want to press down on their means of livelihood. The political right seeks to control our personal behavior while the political left wants to control economic behavior. The libertarian ideal seems to reflect this Taoist view of not pressing down on either. Alas, we are too insecure to trust ourselves enough with such freedom.
Hence the sage knows himself but does not display himself, loves himself but
does not exalt himself.
Therefore he discards the one and takes the other.
It is when I don’t know myself that I’m most inclined to display myself. This must account for the youthful display of showing off. I still do this, or at least I’m tempted to, when I lose the sense of who I am. I’m deluded into feeling that by having others know me (actually ‘know’ the image I’m displaying) I will gain security. I’m likewise validated when others agree with my opinion or adopt my beliefs—which accounts for my past days of proselytizing.
I exalt myself—brag and boast—in the desperate attempt to be somebody. This, like self display comes from attempting to counter-balance (make up for) a deep underlying insecurity and uncertainty of who I am. The more I have come to love and accept myself, the more humble I’ve become. They go hand in hand, as it seems do self-security and love.
Knowing and loving myself are gifts that maturity brings. They are certainly not something that I created through ‘self-growth’ practices of my youth. These were but vain attempts of displaying and exalting in order to be someone. Of course this brings me back to If you would have a thing weakened, You must first strengthen it; [see ch. 36]. In this case—the weakening of self-centeredness, isolation and insecurity.
People understand the sage in two seemingly very different ways. Some view the sage as a rare someone who they could go visit for advice, for example. I find this external rarity very un-satisfying. When I read the sage, I view this as telling me something about my deepest reality—a sage self which I share with all creation.