Holding On To the Center
I am an equal opportunity worrier. In addition to my personal concerns, I worry about friends’ and family’s situations too. Quite a few folks I know are going through difficult transitions as I write this. I admit I’ve said to my husband more than few times lately: “What, is the world going crazy? Why is so much falling apart?” He’s a good listener.
I find it’s harder in many ways to stand by and watch those you care about going through great difficulties than it is going through stuff yourself.
An apocryphal wisdom-story with which many of us are familiar goes something like this: A boy tells his father he is miserable and doesn’t know what to do with himself. The man tears a map of the world into pieces and tells his son to put it back together. A few hours later the boy tells the father that try as he might, the world image won’t come together; there are too many pieces and jagged edges, and he is now more frustrated than ever.
The man instructs the boy to return to the sheaf of map-pieces, and turn them upside down. “On the other side of the map there was a picture of a man’s face. Put that together instead.” The child does this easily. His father tells him: “When the man is together, the world comes together. It's the only way, son.”
I suppose it’s true that the world is as your perspective reveals it to be. Every so often I meet a person whose life is at such loose ends for reasons beyond their control that I wonder how it is possible they cope. And yet - sometimes they do. A talented few reside peacefully at the center of the chaos, whereas, I would go nuts until I fixed things.
One person’s dreary walk in the rain is another’s gratitude that she is permitted to feel the rain her face for another day of living. So, no argument from me: the best way to handle life’s messiness is to get yourself together as best you can.
I also have to remind myself that not all of the problems out there are fixable by me. Doing what's possible is reasonable, and then letting go is smart. Job one truly is to keep myself from giving into the insanity of it all, and spending too much time with insanity’s partner, Despair.
I'm really not a depressive type, but I do hate seeing loved ones hurting.
I pick up my dog-eared, marked up copy of the Tao Te Ching for such guidance as can be had in my more agitated states. Especially in translator Stephen Mitchell’s hands, every year that I live, these words seem to reflect more of all I really need to know about life (as opposed to all I wish I knew…preferably in advance).
Following is Mitchell’s translation of meditation #13 of the Tao, which I have informally subtitled “Worrying is Really All About Yourself, so Cut it Out:”
Success is as dangerous as failure.
Hope is as hollow as fear.
What does it mean that success is a dangerous as failure?
Whether you go up the ladder or down it,
you position is shaky.
When you stand with your two feet on the ground,
you will always keep your balance.
What does it mean that hope is as hollow as fear?
Hope and fear are both phantoms
that arise from thinking of the self.
When we don't see the self as self,
what do we have to fear?
See the world as yourself.
Have faith in the way things are.
Love the world as yourself;
then you can care for all things.
By the way: sounds a lot like the perspective of the Jesuit Anthony DeMello I shared a few posts earlier. For more—and I recommend it—browse the book yourself. I found it free in its entirety here:
The Master does his job
and then stops.
He understands that the universe
is forever out of control,
and that trying to dominate events
goes against the current of the Tao.
Because he believes in himself,
he doesn't try to convince others.
Because he is content with himself,
he doesn't need others' approval.
Because he accepts himself,
the whole world accepts him.