Chapter 42: Children of the Way
“The ten thousand things
carry the yin on their shoulders
and hold in their arms the yang,
whose interplay of energy
Orphans, widows, outcasts.
Yet that’s what kings and rulers call themselves.
Whatever you lose, youv’e won.
Whatever you win, you’ve lost.”
~ Tao Te Ching: A Book about the Way and the Power of the Way, trans. Ursula K. Leguin (Shambhala, Boulder: 2019)
Why is astrology so popular?
It is too easy to dismiss it as magical thinking, a constellation to hang onto in the face of cold black space. If you wade through the woo, you’ll find a there there. The word “horoscope” derives from Greek terms for “time” and “observation.” Think of it as a cosmic positioning system.
In his seminal work, Philosophy as a Way of Life, Pierre Hadot identifies three marks of wisdom in ancient Greek thought: peace of mind (ataraxia), inner freedom (autarkia), and cosmic consciousness. The latter, he writes, is “the consciousness that we are part of the cosmos, and the consequent dilation of our self through the infinity of nature.” In this sense, the existential thrust of astrology is not that everything happens for a reason, as though our fate were fixed by the stars, but that we are, as Carl Sagan put it, “made of star stuff,” and the meaning we make of the world must take the world as its guide.
Modernity is marked off from this cosmocentric mentality by what Bruno Latour calls the “partitioning” of culture and nature; we separate the two and attempt to purify the former from the mess of the latter. Similarly, Charles Taylor explain how the ancient and medieval blueprint—the individual is ordered by society and society is ordered by the cosmos—came to be abandoned: the “Great Disembedding” of the modern project turns us from “porous” selves–in touch with and attuned to the cosmic energies suffusing and surrounding us–into “buffered” selves standing apart from nature and manipulating it at will. Modernity, in short, yangs.
Today’s chapter is not merely offering us a version of Biblical moralism—to care for the marginalized—but a metaphysics, and not an academic metaphysics, but a practical one. Our natural tendency to partition and purify—the sacred and the profane, the noble and the base, the clean and the dirty—is at odds with the Way. Rather than “carry the yin on our shoulders”—embracing weakness, darkness, and loss—we resist the current of the cosmos.
What we really turn our back on, however, is the orphaned and outcast parts of ourselves. To be a king or queen—to attain “inner freedom” and self-rule—is precisely to carry your yin. For Carl Jung, this meant embracing the “shadow” self, the disowned and unconscious parts of the psyche. Guided by the alchemical adage—“In filth it will be found”—we must tarry with the negative, and in doing so come to realize that the “interplay of energies” working itself out in us is the same drama playing out in the ten thousand things.
The only way to the Way is through the woo.
New to the Dao Du Jour? Check out “Day 0.”