The Tao Te Ching

This week I’ve been house/dog sitting for a colleague of my parents’. Because house/dog sitting for her involves letting the dogs in, hanging out in the house for an hour, and letting them back out, I have taken to reading her books. I picked up one today called The Tao Te Ching for Couples and subtitled Ancient Advice for Modern Lovers.

This baffled me slightly, but I gave it a whirl. Despite being in possession of a copy of the Tao Te Ching, courtesy of Mr. Bird, I did not quite understand what it was. It is, I guess, a book of poetic observations on what the Tao is and the religion, Taoism, surrounding it.

So this guy in California named Bill Martin (which incidentally was Billy Joel’s stage name when he was doing the work that inspired the song “Piano Man”) decided he was going to take all 81 chapters of the Tao Te Ching and give them a love-advice twist.

Considering all the literature I’ve been taking in lately that deals with forgiveness – e.g., Madeleine L’Engle, Titus Andronicus, Much Ado About Nothing – I am not surprised that this book spoke to me as well, though it took a slightly different tack from the straight up “forgive your enemies before they start to kill you” that Shakespeare demands and the “Have you tried to erase, to annihilate?” approach that Madeleine takes.

And considering that tomorrow is my rendezvous with the ex-boyfriend who takes his place in the annals next to Vector Marketing and Harvard, and I expect to talk too much and say too little and generally attempt to explain to him that I am sorry for being so hateful, I needed the advice on how to deal with another person lovingly. Romantic commitment or no.

So here are some of the sound bites that I liked best.

“There is no hierarchy in a union of souls.”

“It is the empty space within that makes a bowl useful. Empty yourself of agendas for each other…create a space for each other free from ‘oughts’ and ‘shoulds’…is there space in your life for your beloved to blossom?”

“Relationship bliss does not sit on a mountaintop waiting for you to climb up to it. It sits on your shoulder waiting for you to notice it.”

“If you are feeling somewhat separate and distant from your beloved, do the things that stabilize you…when you return to your center you will find your beloved waiting.”

“The qualities of a lover do not depend on externals. They…grow as you attend to them.”

“Best of all is for your beloved to respond to you with freedom and with joy, to grow in confidence and strength, and to become capable of great accomplishments.” (This ties in with Madeleine L’Engle’s two questions.)

“You are not each other’s audience for the playing out of ego dreams.”

“It is a dance, not a contest or a performance.”

“When the soul of a relationship is lost, self-help books appear on the coffee table. When grace is not experienced behavior is scrutinized carefully. When harmony is missing the talk is about ‘my needs’ and ‘your needs.’ When the relationship is dying, loyalty and fidelity are demanded.”

“The bad news is that you cannot make each other happy. The good news is that happiness is as natural as breathing.”

“Maturity considers many directions.”

“Faithfulness…is not so much a product of willpower as of patience.”

“It is good to work for change, but always return to what is.” (emphasis mine)

“No solution ever emerges from love that creates a winner and a loser.”

“True blessing begins when needs are simple and few.”

“If you do not give this gift [of self], what is the use of giving any other?”

“If [issues] are exposed to the air they may flare up for a moment but will die from lack of fuel.”

“Your beloved’s life is precious, a natural wonder, a shining jewel. Don’t tamper with it. It does not need polishing, improving or correcting. Neither do you.”

“Delight in what you are right now and you will both have room to become everything that you can be.”

“Can you see each other at your very worst and still respond in love to what you see?”

“Living effortlessly is not easy.”

“If you create ‘rules for our relationship’ you will blame each other for breaking them…forget rules and you will naturally do what is best for your beloved.”

“Give each other the freedom to experience and to feel whatever comes.”

“In every mood or circumstance let your love be tender and constant.”

“You do not have to teach each other love. It will flourish because that is your nature. But you must be patient.” (When I wrote this down I wrote a HEY! in capital letters next to it because I have assumed that Matt does not know how to love, and that I failed to teach him. No. That is untrue. He knows how to love; it is in human nature. I was not patient enough.)

“Your relationship is not a war. You do not have to win.”

“You are together to celebrate and enjoy the absolute wonder of each other, to warm your nights and brighten your days, and to delight in each other’s differences.”

I wonder a lot if I am not ahead of myself in understanding this whole love shtick. And then things happen like I break up with an emotionally tortured drummer and I am quite sure I do not understand at all. I can only hope that when I reach that point in life where I am loving and being loved again, that I can use wisdom that I did not have the time before. After all, life is an enormous string of learning that whatever you did last time was wrong. Things you learn from your senior year.

Today my mom was cleaning out things, as was I, but she was cleaning out awesome old vinyl records, and I saw one by George Strait and thought of my successor as editor-in-chief, Emily. She loves George Strait. So I asked her if she’d like it, and she responded in the affirmative. Inspired by that success and by my mother’s emphatic wish to get rid of them all, I posted a general tweet saying that my parents were getting rid of some records and anybody who wanted some could ask me about them.

So Tanner texted me.

Tanner is the guy whom Hannah forgave, thereby inspiring me to forgive Matt. But, although I had realized that I was more angry at Tanner than at Matt when I posted the series of four-letter tweets about Matt’s offering Hannah a place to stay (got that?), I had not realized that even righteous anger which burns out still brooks forgiveness just as much as over-maintained hatred does. I have seen Tanner a couple times since he and Hannah split, and we have been comparatively civil and even friendly to each other each time. But I had neglected to remember that Tanner needs to be forgiven too, that Tanner has a self that needs to be given space too, that he is as he is and what he is just as much as Matt is, as I am, as Hannah and Derek are. And it gave me hope, just this simple conversation we had about which old records he might be interested in and when he’d like to come by to look through them, that maybe Tanner, although he will most likely fade from my life, does not need to be annihilated.

Of course, with him it’s much less difficult than with Matt, but I’ll have more to say about that tomorrow. We ride at dawn, and by dawn I mean not dawn at all but rather later. If anyone is reading this blog, which I sincerely doubt, pray for me, or send good vibes, or encourage the universe to be beneficent toward me, or whatever you do.

I hope to not need it. I hope that the little space, the house like a softly opening lotus in my heart, will have enough room for Matt to be himself, for Tanner to be his, and for everyone else I will ever love to have enough room, and also that the little space will be as big as all the world outside, or whatever that line is that I’m too lazy to reach over and look up even though I have A House Like A Lotus memorized.

I suppose tomorrow will be the culmination of a lot of what I have learned from Madeleine and Shakespeare and Lao Tzu and Hannah and God.

Interesting array of characters, that.


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