A Mediocre Mind

I have always been drawn to Taoist thought. The pathless path, the path of effortlessness, has always had a certain appeal (especially when I’ve tended to do the opposite).

Authors such as Ursula Le Guin and David Zindell attracted me for this reason, and I practice tai chi, based on Taoist principles. The Tao Chi Ching to me is the most profound book, starting with the immortal words The Tao that can be spoken is not the Tao, so clear that the biases of Ursula Le Guin, or Da Liu…., two version I have read, shine through when in their differing interpretations.

I read a tale today that Lao Tzu, the apparent author, was imprisoned and forced to write the book by one of his disciples, as the disciple felt he could not let Lao Tzu, on his way to the mountains to die, depart without leaving his followers a more permanent record of his wisdom. Lao Tzu circumvented the trap by putting the warning in the opening, telling us that as words, nothing that followed was the Tao, the Way, the Truth.

Being a pathless path, there’s nothing to follow, no dogma to ingest, just a reflection of our own clarity.

And that reflection is usually muddy. Trying to make sense of there is no technique, give up all technique, all effort, at the same time as of course, you can’t give up the technique until you have gone through it, is tricky, but it does make sense (really). Yet trying to use it as a guideline (or worse, a rule) is all but useless. Do we give up effort or not? Are we through the technique? Now we’re judging, dividing!

Ah, the mind is a wonderful trickster!

The principle of sung, which very loosely translates to relaxation, in tai chi, is critical. We can’t master even the bare basics if we aren’t calm, without tension.

And our tension ultimately comes from the mind. The same situation can be experienced by one with calm, and another with extreme stress. The only difference is between their minds.

And that’s the first opening for a technique. There are countless techniques to calm the mind. TM, playing a musical instrument, deep breathing, tai chi, Zen meditation, surfing, a walk on the mountain, sex, Wii.

Saying we can’t master tai chi, for example, until we are calm, but that we can’t practise tai chi without being calm, is not circular. It’s just frustrating, and teaches us patience!

Of the countless paths, only you can choose which to follow, and which seem effective for you. Remember though, easy is right, but easy is not lazy!

If you’ve got this far, and are confused about the title of this post, it comes from a term used by Lao Tzu when describing three types of people. When the highest type of people hear the Tao, they try hard to live in accordance with it. When the mediocre type hear the Tao, they seem to be aware yet unaware of it. When the lowest hear the Tao, they break into loud laughter – if it were not laughed at, it would not be Tao.

Related posts:


  1. Thanks for another bit of wonderfully simple, calm wisdom. Of course I have heard this sort of stuff before, but you say it in such a beautifully clear way, without showing off in any way, that the message really gets through – for me anyway. Thanks.

Comments are closed.