The ancient Masters were profound and subtle.
Their wisdom was unfathomable.
There is no way to describe it.
One can only describe them vaguely
by their appearance.
They were careful
as someone crossing a frozen stream in winter.
Alert as a warrior in enemy territory.
Courteous as a guest.
Yielding as melting ice.
Shapeable as a block of uncarved wood.
Receptive as a valley.
Amorphous as muddied water.
But the muddiest water clears
as it is stilled.
And out of that stillness
Do you have the patience to wait
till your mud settles and the water is clear?
Can you remain unmoving
till the right action arises by itself?
The Master doesn’t seek fulfilment.
Not seeking, not expecting,
she is present, and can welcome all things.
Lao Tzu here describes the “Masters of old”, those that lived their lives in constant alignment with the Tao.
He poetically depicts them as being like elements of nature and this is a central theme of the Tao Te Ching; that by observing and aligning with nature and the natural rhythms and flow, we reconnect with our deepest essence, that which might be described as the Tao.
The Master is awake, alert, kind, malleable and receptive. There is no element of self-seeking and, precisely because of this, the Master has an openness and can, as another translation of this verse states, “remain like a hidden sprout that does not rush to early ripening”.
Take some time to reflect on which of the characteristics spoken of by Lao Tzu you already possess, and which you can develop, cultivate or strengthen. Contrary to popular assumption, our our personality is not rigidly set in stone. In fact, it changes all the time, and with a little conscious effort can easily moulded and developed.
Lao Tzu makes reference to muddy water, which could represent our unconscious neuroses, fears, aversions, attachments and the assorted mind-stuff that continually churns around our head. How do we clear this muddy water? Do we get agitated and try to stir it up or boil away the mud? Such actions only serve to worsen it. Instead, Lao Tzu suggests retreating to that still place within, in which we are in constant connection with the Tao. He urges us to be rooted there; to wait patiently, allowing the mud to settle and allowing right action to spontaneously arise.
By letting go of our constant grasping and craving – and our never-ending quest for happiness and fulfilment – we can reach a place of peace, in which we are more in tune with life in the present moment; and in which all things begin to shine.