Home > Commentaries on TTC > The 21st amendment to the U$ Constitution ended prohibition. You will need a stiff drink to get through what is written below.

The 21st amendment to the U$ Constitution ended prohibition. You will need a stiff drink to get through what is written below.

"I can see him in the distance, Martin!" "Jeezus, Gerry, you could have worn a tie."

Thank you for the multitude of emails clamouring for a return to this blog. I was indisposed last Sunday and unable to post. The sheer weight of your emails downed my server and the ISP had to call upon the combined technology of NASA, the CIA and the Vatican to deliver the virtual postbags of mail pleading for a return. Rumours abounded that people in a number of cities throughout the world had hoisted themselves out of skyscrapers, thinking that it was all over. Clearly this blog is now a global institution (and thus merits some sort of lucrative deal from one of the publishing houses). Rest assured, to paraphrase Gerry Adams, I haven’t gone away, you know. And I can be bought for the price of a pint of the black stuff.

As we recover from the great shock of being told to abandon learning to lead a trouble-free life, Lao eases us into the next chapter with a reassuring, “The greatest virtue is to follow Tao and Tao alone.” In other words, leave behind all of the artificial constructs that you have surrounded yourself with and go with who you really are. Actually, that’s probably a bit of a misinterpretation because, from a Taoist perspective, we are nothing. At most, we are a reflection of what surrounds us (which, for a Taoist, is a reflection of what surrounds it…go figure!) But if we remain floating on the surface of meaning, following Tao means reflecting what is around us. As teachers, that sounds like a perfectly reasonable request: what we do should reflect what is happening in front of us and around us. I’m not a taoist and I’m not a religious person. But I do find something endearing in that Lao doesn’t proselytise; he just states that the greatest virtue is to walk on the path and he lets us know what he gets out of doing do. So, what does he get out of it? Unfortunately, it appears that he ate about half a kilo of psilocybin mushrooms before he went on. Hold on to your hats, ladies; it’s going to be a bumpy ride.

Lao goes on to label the tao “intangible and elusive”. Obviously that day, his inner thesaurus was on loan to someone else as he then says that it is “elusive and intangible.” A cunning ploy for all authors out there: when the words don’t flow, just reorganise the ones you’ve already used. Just reorganise the words you’ve already used when the words don’t flow. Flow the just when words don’t…oh. Right. Sorry.

What Lao is doing here is underlining that if you want to uncover the Way, you’re going to have a very difficult time. It is not the kind of thing that allows itself to be caught, chloroformed, pinned to a microscope slide and analysed. It is…errr….intangible and elusive! It is “dim and dark”. But, according to Lao, despite its slippiness and its poor illumination, deep in its shadows, he perceives that it has thought, substance, spirit and certainty. He acknowledges that this knowledge comes from “faith” and that this faith allows him to “know the ways of creation.” I am now going to have to get all metaphysical on yo’ass. Forgive me.

A rare glimpse of Tao, captured on Bodmin Moor.

Deep within the darkness of the way, like in the dramatisation of a Daphne Du Maurier novel, the silhouette of a person can be seen. The camera approaches closer and closer. Features can be made out; haughty cheekbones catch the ambient light; the moonlight slowly creeps up the shadow’s face, revealing that the hooded figure is in fact…YOU! Weird, eh? You’re staring at the screen wondering how the hell you managed to star in a film without being aware of it (or be paid for it, come to that). But there you are. Everyone else in the cinema is looking at it too. Everyone knows that what can be seen is real enough but that there is no point stretching out a hand to pull the hood off your head because you are also intangible.

I think that Lao is suggesting that the discovery of the way is an individual thing. He perceives a personlike shadow within its darkness and I think that the personlike shadow for Lao may have been Lao. The personlike shadow at the heart of a teacher’s tao is the teacher. And this perception allows us to “know the ways of creation.” Everything that is exists only in our minds. Good teaching exists only in our minds; good learners exist only in our minds; good coursebooks don’t exist in anyone’s minds. To break it down into the utterly banal, everything is subjective. And this subjectivity is the darkness and the mists that envelop Tao. It is difficult to shake subjectivity because subjectivity is our own personal response to the world and our own personal way of creating the world. One useful technique is to accept this as a fact. This means also accepting that everyone else has their own personal realities and their own personal reactions to them. This often has the same effect  as trying to pull the carpet out from under your own feet and will turn you into a stammering, stuttering mess. But you will plough on regardless and you will come to understand some of what YOUR world is predicated upon and this will bring more security. You see how The Matrix was a paean to Taoism?!

Subjectivity is a liberating force. Because if everything is subjective, there are no absolute truths by which you must abide. You must look within the deep, dark elusive intangibility and try to make out what you think is real and then you need to have the faith that what you are doing is worthwhile. And here, Good golly Miss Molly, is the secret of life. How many other blogs give you that? Sure – they give you worksheets and activities. This blog tells you the secret of life! I hope, very soon, to have my own TV channel in the U$A and I am going to preach it like it is, brothers and sisters. As I climb over your heads, I want you to reflect on how much this knowledge is worth and thank the Lord that you’re getting it for free. The secret of life is to live a life that is worth living. The secret of teaching is to teach in a way that is worth teaching…and you establish the criteria. HALLELUJAH!

Categories: Commentaries on TTC
  1. February 12, 2010 at 13:29

    Hallelujah indeed!

    As always, I leave your blog with a vague sense of unease and anxiety.

    Which is as it should be! Perhaps I am a seeker of the way but don’t know which way to go yet.

    Glad my emails to the governments of the world made a difference!


  2. February 14, 2010 at 00:58

    Teach in a way that is worth teaching… I guess it should also be worth it to the teacher – no point teaching in a way you dislike, eh? Great food for thought, and glad you’re back (though I didn’t know you had gone, I just assumed ‘work?’)

    Oh for the days when film trailers didn’t give away the WHOLE plot of a film!


  3. dfogarty
    February 15, 2010 at 07:03

    Marisa – the only Way worth seeking is your own way. Let ten thousand Ways be bulldozed throughout the World! Rather than be a seeker of The Way, I think you are probably a seeker of the way to make sure that the various ways can coexist. In fact, you are rather like an urban planner, and I would suggest that the only attitude that is right and fitting for an urban planner is a sense of unease and anxiety. Thank you for those emails – the governments of the world combined their efforts and were able to spring my release from the mountain hideout of a to-remain-anonymous blogger who felt threatened by my impending success.

    Mike – so right. It should ONLY be worth it to the teacher…errr…no…that came out wrong. What I mean is that it can be worth it to everyone and their dog, but the teacher should have as their prime motivation, “I am doing this because *I* believe in it and because it feels right to *me*.” I suspect that even a teacher who teaches in the most theoretically godawful fashion but who does so from a position of security and deep belief in what they are doing will be a success.

    Incidentally, as I sat down to write these comments, I reflected on the fact that were Lao alive today and wanted to come into the “U”K to study, he would be turned away at the city gates because his English was not good enough to study English. Such is the fear of Economic Migrants (TM)! Just before an election, the government moves to stop these dangerous leeches coming to “our” country to take “our” jobs and earn “our” peanuts. And, because we live in a democracy and not a dictatorship, we can use our vote to do something about this. What can we do? Well, we can vote for another party who believes we should take even firmer action (Economic Migrants to be given a badge to wear – geometry and colour depending upon their CEFR level). They can be forbidden from owning businesses or owning property and perhaps soon we will be able to keep them living together in camps where they will be put to work for the good of our national economy.

    Hmmm. I don’t know where that came from…time for cup of coffee #2, I suspect.

  4. February 18, 2010 at 17:14

    The xenophobia and racism pre-election well metaphored Diarmuid through your nazi imagery. The creation of hierarchies based upon passport always risk heading in that direction so the warning should be heeded and heeded seriously. Well embedded within the protectionist rhetoric that it is in the UK and beyond. Once again the English language plays a role that surely puts all teachers in serious need of thinking what their positions mean in this day and age. Thanks for your post. I didn’t know you’d been away, thought you were busy. But glad to have you back. Subjectivity yes – we are all trapped in our own versions of reality. But this is a little too post-modern for the anarchist in you surely? How do you relate the two to each other in your tao and how do you achieve the personal balance that Tao would recommend? I am not sure how you deal with all these voices? But would be interested in your thoughts.

  5. February 19, 2010 at 20:55

    Hi Sara
    Thanks for the support the insight and the chance to clamber aboard the soap box! Taoism has been called an early forerunner of anarchism. It can be interpreted as calling for people to take charge of their own lives and counsels that the world is a better place when rulers just leave well alone.

    Anarchists should never be the ones who make any sorts of rules about how others should behave. Hard as that might be to believe if you have ever heard anarchists defining what is and what isn’t anarchism! For me, anarchism is the belief in one’s right – and need- to run one’s own life…not forgetting the rights and needs of others. It is about subjectivity within a community. And if you don’t like what the community is doing you either hang around and argue your point or you up sticks and move out.

    We’re not just trapped in our versions of reality; we’re trapped in other people’s versions of reality too. We are not just who we think we are; we are the people that others think we are too. And it is this that means that we can’t just live as we see fit. We need to listen to others and communicate with them. This is the only way to build consensus. We will never shake our subjectivity, but, sez I, we need to know that our subjectivity is valid to us and us alone. We also need to be able to define where our subjectivity starts and stops and where our adoption of other people’s subjectivity takes over.

    Objectivity is, after all, just another word for a critical mass of subjectivities!

  6. February 19, 2010 at 20:58

    I suppose, as well, that the only time people are utterly dedicated to an idea(l) is when they perceive that that idea(l) comes from deep within them. Just an addendum before I collapse out of exhaustion.

  7. February 21, 2010 at 18:30

    I agree that the key component to understanding ourselves and the world around us is acknowledging our own subjectivity. When a person comes to understand there is nothing absolute — no entity that stands above creation — it changes how we interact with the forces that abound.

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