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Finding Your Own Power: Explore, Dream, Discover

26th January 2023

‘Mastering others is strength. Mastering yourself is true power’.

(Lao Tzu)

HOM: Responding with wonderment and awe/Finding humour

Last week was Chinese New Year and we entered the year of the rabbit, embodying power or energy, focusing on relaxation, quietness and contemplation. It seems fitting therefore that our quotation this week is selected from that great 6th century Chinese philosopher, Lao Tzu.

Little is truly known about Lao Tzu who is a guiding figure in Daoism (also translated as Taoism), a still popular spiritual practice. He is said to have been a record keeper in the court of the central Chinese Zhou Dynasty in the 6th century B.C., and an older contemporary of Confucius. This could be true, but he may also have been entirely mythical—much like Homer in Western culture. It is certainly very unlikely that (as some legends say) he was conceived when his mother saw a falling star, or was born an old man with very long earlobes – or lived 990 years! Such stories are best understood at emphasising the longevity of his wisdom and in what high esteem that it is held. What Lao Tzu wrote became the sacred text called the Tao Te Ching.

The Tao Te Ching gives instructions on how to live a good life. It discusses the “Dao,” or the “way” of the world, which is also the path to virtue, happiness, and harmony. It teaches the importance of developing power not through strength over others, but a personal power through mastering yourself.

First, we ought to take more time for stillness. “To the mind that is still,” Lao Tzu said, “the whole universe surrenders.” We need to let go of our schedules, worries and complex thoughts for a while and simply experience the world. We spend so much time rushing from one place to the next in life, but Lao Tzu reminds us “nature does not hurry, yet everything is accomplished.”

When we are still and patient we also need to be open. We need to be reminded to empty ourselves of frivolous thoughts so that we will observe what is really important. “The usefulness of a pot comes from its emptiness.” Lao Tzu said. “Empty yourself of everything, let your mind become still.” If we are too busy, too preoccupied with anxiety or ambition, we will miss a thousand moments of the human experience that are our natural inheritance. We need to be awake to the way light reflects off of ripples on a pond, the way other people look when they are laughing, the feeling of the wind playing with our hair. These experiences reconnect us to parts of ourselves.

This is another key point of Lao Tzu’s writing: we need to be in touch with our real selves. We spend a great deal of time worrying about who we ought to become, but we should instead take time to be who we already are at heart. We might rediscover a generous impulse, or a playful side we had forgotten, or simply an old affection for long walks. Our ego is often in the way of our true self, which must be found by being receptive to the outside world rather than focusing on some critical, too-ambitious internal image. “When I let go of what I am,” Lao Tzu wrote, “I become what I might be.”

So in this year of the rabbit, we should perhaps take time to tap into the energy gained from stillness and contemplation in order to know ourselves better. From this we might learn about our unique personal power and be better able to put it to good effect in the world around us.


Christine Crossley