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