Imagine a small country with few people.
They enjoy the labour of their hands
and do not waste time inventing
Since they dearly love their homes,
they are not interested in travel.
Although they have boats and carriages,
they are rarely used.
Although there may be weapons,
nobody ever uses them.
They are content with healthy food,
pleased with simple clothing,
satisfied in snug homes.
People take pleasure in being with their families,
spending weekends working in their gardens
and delighting in the doings of the neighbourhood.
Although the next country is close enough
that they can hear their roosters crowing and dogs barking,
they are content to leave each other in peace.
Here Lao Tzu describes what might be considered a utopian existence; one that is rooted in simplicity, harmony and contentment with what is. The very word ‘utopia’ has a connotation of unattainable, rose-tinted idealism. However, we are each responsible for creating our own personal utopia and we do this through the choices that we make. It is the nature of life to present difficulties and challenges. Once we accept this, we can begin to transcend it. We can choose to live a life that is in harmony with the principles of the Tao.
Instead of constantly striving for more and more, we can be content with what we already possess – and, indeed, perhaps even give some of it away. The need to constantly attain and acquire is a terrible affliction, for there is no end to it and satisfaction is never achieved. Directing our attention to the present moment and appreciating the boundless riches around us, enables us to live more joyfully, more harmoniously and to let go of the pathological need to compete, struggle and strive, a mindset in which we live life as if it’s a kind of trench warfare.
It’s often the simplest things in life that bring us the greatest joy: the feel of sunlight on your skin, the moisture of fresh raindrops falling on your face, a simple cup of tea, the smile of a loved one, a glimpse of the sky at sunset. When our mind is continuously in the future, striving to acquire and achieve more, we are blinded to these simple joys – which are the essence of life itself.
Know when enough is enough. Become more aware of the present moment, and embrace simplicity. Be happy with what you are, where you are and what you have. Immediate and lasting happiness is guaranteed. This, I believe, is Lao Tzu’s message in this penultimate verse of the Tao Te Ching.