“Let the Tao be present in your life
and you will become genuine.
Let it be present in your family
And your family will flourish.
Let it be present in your country
And your country will be an example
To all countries in the world.
Let it be present in the universe
And the universe will sing.
How do I know this is true?
By looking inside myself.”
~ Stephen Mitchell (trans.), Tao Te Ching: A New English Version (New York: Harper Perennial), 2006.
This is one of the few chapters in the text that suggests in injunction to meditate, and that such meditation is the gateway to realizing—that is, knowing and manifesting—the Dao. It reflects the idea of “interbeing,” the commonplace notion that everything is interconnected, that we are a “single garment of destiny.” But talk about interconnection tends to focus on the external, macro-world. And this obscures something important.
Last week I was teaching Thomas Hobbes’ Leviathan, the Ur-text of modern political philosophy and, arguably, the godfather of classical liberalism. The original cover of the book pictures a Gulliver size king looming over a quaint little city, sword in one hand, scepter in the other. But if you look closely at him, you will notice something funny: his armor. Each link in his chain mail is a person. His armor—what protects him from challenges to his power, what enables him to freely wield the sword that protects the city—is composed of the people. Only through their unity and cooperation is there a leader, a state and, therefore, the possibility of a peaceful life—at all.
Nietzsche took this idea and applied it to the psyche. The individual is not, strictly speaking, an individual, but a chaotic collection of drives. It is a counterintuitive idea that even a little introspection shows to be undeniable. For Nietzsche, the whole game of being human was a creative project of finding out how to best organize, integrate, and channel the energies of our drives—our karmic inheritance—in concert with the forces outside of us. As scholar Graham Parkes puts it, hitting upon the existential essence of music, for Nietzsche the ultimate task was “composing the soul.”
You know when your soul is composed, or when you’re in the presence of someone whose is. You spontaneously attract, or are attracted to, anything or anyone that strays into your orbit. They obey the inverted gravity of your field. Chaos and entropy are gently conducted and incorporated into the ongoing song.
If you let your inner universe sing—if you look hard and long enough inside yourself—the outer universe will take care of itself.
New to the Dao Du Jour? Check out “Day 0.”