The Text of the Month No 11

By Jos Slabbert

Do you understand?

The restless spirit,
immersed
in the rush of life,
will never find peace
but only distress.

The spirit frightened of life,
escaping
into emptiness,
will never find tranquility
but only despair.

Dwelling
in emptiness
yet living life to the full
is
true peace.

(The Way is Tao, 11)

Explanation and comment

The Way of Tao is one of balance. The first stanza of the poem describes the dilemma of so many people today.

They are totally "immersed" in following their own ambitions, or just surviving, and there is no place left in their lives for essential spiritual aspects. In this life of stress, their spirit suffers tremendously, and their restlessness is a symptom of this:

The spirit
asphyxiates
in the stress of worldly ambition
like a fish flung out of water
gasping and writhing
to death
on dry sand.

(The Way is Tao, 97)

If the first stanza describes an escapist lifestyle in the world, the second stanza describes the effort to escape into a spiritual refuge and to isolate oneself from the world. This is, likewise, doomed to failure. Not facing your commitments out there will only increase your stress and not decrease it. It can only end in despair. You might have experienced this yourself, or you might have witnessed people who try to escape the realities of life by immersing themselves in mysticism or spiritual retreats.

The third stanza brings the solution. It is "the middle way". It is where one finds harmony between spiritual and worldly needs. It is a balancing act where one deals with the stress of survival and simultaneously finds the tranquility that nourishes one’s spirit.

Trying to exclude either the spirit or the flesh is based on a terrible form of ignorance: the dualistic superstition that the spirit and the world are separate entities, which they aren’t.

They are in fact one and the same thing.