I discovered that I wanted to take the Tao Te Ching commentary more seriously than I could by simply working through the chapters in order on this blog. I was shifting into thinking about it as a whole, and I wanted to be able to move back and forth between chapters making additions and changes in light of what other chapters say–which is not really possible when blogging, because a chapter would go out on RSS in the 1st version only.

But the good news is it’s becoming a book!–maybe even by the end of 2011. If you would like to subscribe to this feed, I’ll be posting updates once in a while about the commentary’s progress, maybe an excerpt now and then–and I’ll let you know when the book is out.

Thanks for reading!

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chapter 15: a tentative sureness

by kye on September 18, 2010

The ancient sages let themselves be precisioned, moment by moment.

This is the surefootedness that crosses a river successfully in the winter, making each step with both confidence and also tentativeness. The confidence in each step comes from the body knowing it’s centered and its balance is solid. The tentativeness of each step is the willingness to be precisioned.

What about this rock: does it shift a bit? Is it slippery? Where, exactly, does the foot go? How does the body arrange itself to keep its balance in this step?

And more: our ‘next steps’ can be about more than just keeping our personal balance. They can also be about keeping the balance. We can choose to step with care and reverence, knowing that this world is precious and alive, enormous and beautiful, in ways we can only partially grasp.

Every moment, life is new in some ways; always something more than it was the moment before. If I lose sight of its newness and just feel my sureness, I’m lost. At some point I’ll step where the footing is slippery, and fall. I’ll treat familiar people as if they are as they ‘always’ were; and suddenly discover I’ve damaged them or our relationship.

I’ll act as if the way I’ve always done things needs no change. I’ll so identify with the shape I am used to taking, that I’ll feel as though if I give ‘that’ up I’d be giving up myself. I’ll try to keep from falling apart, and miss the chance for a new way.

If I have only my certainties I won’t feel the unresolved confusion which, if I slowed down and allowed room for it, could take me the first step toward a new understanding. Then new ways could arise, which make sense now.

long ago, there were sages,
deft in their doings
their subtle wisdom and mysterious power penetrating so deep
that it’s beyond ordinary understanding

truly, it’s beyond ordinary understanding!

so that in talking about them
all we can do is describe how they appeared:

tentative! as if walking over icy rocks in a winter stream
watchful! as if expecting danger from four sides
courteous! as if they were only guests
falling apart! like melting ice
unshaped! like an uncarved block of wood
open! like an empty cave
confused! like murky water

who can let murkiness, through quieting,
gradually come to clarity?
who can let stillness, through stirring,
gradually come to life?

holding to this path
you guard against being overfull

truly not full of yourself
you can lose yourself
and be newly made

— Kye Nelson: translation and commentary on Lao Tzu’s Tao Te Ching

Comments?  Burning questions? Leave them here

This post was written as part of the tao together project.  Would you like to join us?

©2010 Kye Nelson

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chapter 14: it’s only natural

August 20, 2010

Before my sons were even born I could feel that they had different natures. In the moments after their births I experienced those differences much more precisely. The oldest looked at the world with a hungry intensity.  His muscles were also held more tightly. The younger was softer in the way he held his body and also [...]

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chapter 13: what will ‘they’ think of this?

August 6, 2010

Concerns about ‘fitting in’, ‘honors’, ‘what others will think’ and so on, can do such damage! It’s especially insidious because dishonor can be mistaken for a loss of your own personal integrity, and not fitting in can be mistaken for not being part of the human community. But honors are external and are not real [...]

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chapter 12: but am I hungry?

July 30, 2010

In the last chapter we were focused on the kind of comings and goings which allow us to fulfill our own particular kind of being. This chapter makes it clear that not all comings and goings do this. Some can actually take us away from ourselves. There’s an easy way to tell the difference: I [...]

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chapter 11: a wheel doesn’t ‘do’ anything, and yet…

July 22, 2010

It is common to think of everything, even other people and our own selves, as a resource–that is, as something for ‘use’. Every time we take even a minute to pause, something in us says we are ‘wasting time’. The Taoist approach offers a corrective here. One example is the well-known story of a tree [...]

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chapter 10: can you begin right now?

July 14, 2010

This is maybe the most important chapter in the Tao Te Ching.  Approaching it, I’m nervous: can I do justice to it?  It’s so deep that I don’t really feel I can. In my nervousness, I’m not fully embracing the writing.  Something is holding back. But the text is asking me, ‘can you be undivided?’ [...]

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chapter 9: where is the stopping point?

June 27, 2010

A skilled archer knows when he’s pulled the bowstring back just enough, but not too much. He knows if he pulls it too far, he may injure himself or the bow–and the arrow will not fly as true. The practiced archer knows with ever greater precision where to stop, because he’s devoted to the art [...]

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chapter 8: there’s no such thing as uninterested devotion

June 19, 2010

The word devotion is sometimes misunderstood as meaning that you have to be less authentic in order to ‘be there’ for the other person. This chapter makes it clear that that is not what is meant. No, what we’re exploring here, is how one goes about living the most meaningful life possible. A meaningful life [...]

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chapter 7: selflessness and self-realization

June 4, 2010

Often the Tao Te Ching seems to be skipping around all over the place. Chapter 5 was the ‘straw dog’ chapter. There, heaven-and-earth are said to be ‘inhumane’. Then comes a detour to ‘valley spirit’ and ‘Great Mother’ in chapter 6, which is often translated so it seems the whole life-process turns on ‘emptiness’. In [...]

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