I love the TAO TE CHING and i love that walking routes are also known as “Ways” – makes combining philosophy, nature and exercise so easy – almost as if was meant to be!!.
Of course there are many walking “Ways” and i am an almost complete novice having only clocked up The Wicklow Way last summer, the Burren Way at the end of August this year and most of the Dublin Way – as a one-day hike for charity in the Spring – see my earlier blog WALKING THE DUBLIN WAY – BARRETSTOWN MOUNTAIN CHALLENGE. I began by questioning myself – a good way to start anything. “How much do i really like hiking?”, i asked myself and then, “could i walk for a day, or even for several days – a very reasonable question given my various health issues over the decades” . And so i concluded that there was only one way to find out, there it is again ‘one way’ and off i headed amidst many false starts and promises to myself. This year i walked The Burren Way and again, almost didn’t several times – i guess there are some people, maybe many people, out there who just ‘do’ stuff and don’t go through ‘nearly not doing stuff’ several times first, but i do not belong to their lofty sect.
I left my car in Corofin in County Clare and walked west – the trauma involved in leaving my car behind was my first philosophical lesson of the day. A car is a bit like a comfort blanket – it wraps around you and keep you warm and dry and you will never be hungry or thirsty because you can just drive to the nearest shop. If necessary, and if you are very tired, you can even sleep in it. I left it behind, hesitated, looked back, thought about driving a bit, walking a bit and how pleasant that would be and, then, finally turned the corner of the street and just walked.
And so i headed vaguely west along narrow winding roads with beautiful views across half-hidden lakes – headed west towards the Atlantic Ocean and the setting sun. Lets talk a little more about the Tao Te Ching before we hit the Burren proper and the famous karst topography. Like walking ways, there are many versions, translations, of the Tao. Two of my favorites are by Stephen Mitchell – who translates it poetically – and Red Pine – who has a knowledge of the Tao and of Chinese philosophy better than many.
I also love the translation by Ron Hogan – inspired, as he says himself, by the language of Quentin Tarantino – amongst others. Read it and know how a rapper inspired Lao would explain life and living to today’s world, “If you can talk about it, it ain’t Tao.” , compared with the poetic beauty of Mitchell’s, “The tao that can be told, is not the eternal tao”, and Red Pine’s, who uses the word ‘way’, “The way that becomes a way, is not the immortal way”.
Red Pine tells us that philosophers in Lao’s time were concerned with the relationship between names and reality. The conundrum is that we name everything but everything changes while the names do not. How then can reality be known through names – thus, “the name that can be named, is not the eternal Name” A Course in Miracles, written some two and a half thousand years later has the same approach to names and reality. It tells us, “Nothing real can be threatened, Nothing unreal exists, Herein lies the peace of God”.
If you remember, we looked at this issue before, in THE FALL OF APOLLO. Naming things affects them of course, ties them down, fixes them, but when you write down those names, that is when the real consolidation occurs. This consolidation has become more and more rigid as the centuries pass. We know that for many years, manuscripts were copied by hand and if the copier didn’t really like some part of what was being copied, then they just altered it. Reality changed with the times, but today, with our technology, reality is harder to smudge, the truth stands starker and clearer, history becomes more a record and less a ‘story’. Where that will eventually bring us is an exploration for another day.
Walking frees you, releases the binds of names and words, slowing down to a walking pace means that you see life as it really is, variable, changing. You experience life and because you also experience heat and cold, rain and wind, hunger, thirst and tiredness, experience them over time, you become more real. Becoming slower you become more real and the world also becomes more real. Imagine a person sitting on a bench at the side of the road, you pass in a car, all they know of you is a noisy blur, maybe a glimpse of a face behind the wheel. Pass on a bike and they see a little more of you, but pass walking and they watch you coming, learn a little about you in the way you hold yourself, the way you walk. You will probably exchange a few words, maybe stop for a chat, its not as if you are going anywhere fast, is it? And then they will watch you leave, it may take several minutes for you to pass out of sight. Such is reality, such is being real in this world. You talk to so many people when you are walking, what else would you do when you meet people?
Walking frees you – a contradiction worthy of Lao in a world where many relate freedom to speed. That was the next lesson i re-learnt as i walked the Burren Way. Part of it is like any holiday, when you leave your real life on hold for a week or two, but there is more to it than that.
Unlike last year on the Wicklow Way, i encountered rain on my walk, nothing strange about that in Ireland. Different experience, different lessons, poorer visibility outwards, greater clarity inwards. Sometimes nature helps you to focus. At the start of a walk, or on the first morning walking, i usually practice some meditation exercise, to help me quieten my mind and awake my slumbering spirit. After the first hour of two there is no need, my mind has adjusted to my pace. This year i recited the Rosary to myself using a One Decade Rosary beads i received as an heirloom, of sorts, from home after our parents both passed away. That, the Rosary, is also a topic we will have to leave for another day, lets just record that i used it as a meditative aid and remembered, as i walked, how we knelt as a family to say the Rosary when we were young and how we children would get a fit of laughing and my father would speed up his recitation before we giggled completely out of control. More recently, i remembered the decades we recited over first my mother’s and then my father’s graves and how my father never lost that speed of recitation.
Getting old involves giving up many things, voluntarily if you are lucky. I watched my father in his last few years loose interest in and attachment to, all the things that had stimulated him, current affairs, news, football, his pets, his car and even his home. It wasn’t entirely voluntary but it was slow enough not to cause too much anguish and he was always surrounded by his loved ones who, ultimately, were all that he cared about. For my mother, i didn’t witness that surrendering because the end was so abrupt but i know now that she had surrendered many things in the preceding years.
Wisdom, they tell us, involves the same type of giving up, of surrendering. Detachment is not that you don’t own stuff, as Ron Hogan’s Lao might say, but that stuff doesn’t own you. Or, to quote him exactly,
“Stop wanting stuff;
it keeps you from seeing what’s real.
When you want stuff,
all you see are things”.
How simple is that. If you’d like to hear it poetically,
“Free from desire, you realize the majesty,
Caught in desire, you see only the manifestations”
We’ve been told this before haven’t we – by Anthony deMello and others. Red Pine provides us with a number of commentaries from some of China’s greatest thinkers to help us understand the Tao. He tells us that no Chinese would read the Tao without consulting one or more of these commentaries at the same time. Wang Pi, one of the commentators says, “When we are free of desire, we can see the infinitesimal where things begin”. Such a promise, i’m sure many of you are like me, desiring to be free of desire.
The Way beckons,
until we meet again