Illuminating the Dao 悟道 — When Less Is More

[Illuminating the Dao 悟道]

 When Less Is More

by Michelle Wood

(First published in Qi Dao Newsletter September 25, 2009)

 I had the great pleasure of attending a birthday party a few weeks ago. The guest of honor was my friend’s beautiful little granddaughter who turned three that day.

There were lots of people, about eight children and as many adults, and there was food galore and fun things to do, a big inflatable jumping house, games and prizes, cake and ice-cream, and of course gifts! Lots and lots of gifts.

There was also a great deal of bewilderment on the face of the guest of honor. Most of the afternoon, she just couldn’t figure out what was going on. After the gifts were opened, she just stood there, so wanting to play with all the toys at once but unable to decide what to do first.

What a fitting metaphor for our lives! We become swept up in the tide of all the things swirling around us, accumulating things and things to do until we are suddenly overwhelmed with all the items and activities, but at the same time we become attached to each and every thing that comes into our lives whether we need it or not, and don’t seem to be able to let go of one or two or a dozen.

Calligraphy of "Dao" and the first sentence of Dao-de-jing

Calligraphy of “Dao” and the first sentence of Dao-de-jing

Here is the most amazing part of this process: it often happens without us being aware of it! When we do finally realize that we are swirling in chaos, we often shrug and say, “That’s just how life is these days.”

Wanting and enjoying things are a part of a healthy human life and can bring much enjoyment, but the things which overwhelm, the attachments to which we cling, can be destructive on many levels.

When you become a slave to your passions and collections, you worry about keeping what you have and getting more

When you desire to do so many things you don’t know where to start, you become confused and indecisive.

When you collect and play with your things to the exclusion of spending quality time with your friends and family, you lose sight of the true purpose of life.

When your entire focus is on keeping and getting more for the sake of quantity instead of quality, you have stepped off the Path, and have fallen out of harmony with Dao.

Falling out of harmony with Dao is like hopping onto an extended ride on an emotional roller-coaster with your eyes closed. On a roller-coaster, change occurs every moment, usually drastic change at that, but you never know which way the roller-coaster car is going to turn, or when it’s going to go crawling up or charging down, and that emotionally charged and draining wild ride leads to physical illness.

And yet. . . we accumulate and hang on to all those things because we think they will bring us happiness, overlooking the fact that true happiness comes only from being in harmony with Dao.

Here is the writing “Happiness” from page 138 of Everyday Tao by Deng Ming-Dao

“All abundance is provided by Tao.Picture2

If we appreciate that, we will see that we are surrounded by happiness.

“Like everything else in Tao, happiness comes from within. What minimal support we need from the outside – a bit of food, some shelter – can actually be very simple and plain and is readily available. Nevertheless, people are unhappy because they do not know moderation.

“ ‘All I need to be happy is to be rich,’ many say. But the newspapers are filled with stories of wealthy people who live in deep despair. In fact, the simple phrase, ‘All I need to be happy is to be rich’ – complete with your choice of substitutes for he word ‘rich’ – is am immediate indication of the source of our unhappiness: there is no end to what we want.

“Know when enough is enough. Some die from hunger, but many die from overeating.

“So to be happy, we have to control our desires. The ancients taught two ways to do this. Sometimes they used discipline to curb desire. Sometimes they satisfied their desires. This is the genius of Tao: Moderation. We do not need to cleave to the extremism of the ascetic. We do not need to lose ourselves in the indulgence of the hedonist. We follow Tao, the middle path.”

How do you complete the statement, “All I need to be happy is __________.” ?

Sometimes, though, our attachments are not to things, but to thoughts, ideas, and outcomes.

There may be something you want to do or to have happen, and you focus upon a particular method for the completion or manifestation of that thing. This makes you blind to other ways your dream may come to fruition. You simply don’t see them due to your focus in one direction instead of allowing them to come about in the way that is most harmonious with your mental, emotional, and spiritual environment.

Related to that, and another thing that not only stands in the way of happiness but also is the cause of many illnesses, is the attachment to a belief, often precipitated by a traumatic even from the past, that causes a negative emotional response in the present. The illnesses caused by these emotionally-damaging beliefs are the warning signals to you that there are internal conflicts, and the results of these continuing conflicts are distressing physical symptoms that continue to worsen as long as you do not examine and resolve the conflict.

I heard a phrase recently that sums up this damaging belief pattern rather concisely: “Some people would rather be right than happy.” They would rather hold on to those old, outworn, outdated, damaging ideas and beliefs instead of letting go and finding harmony, being happy, and getting healthy.

So, how do you know if you are attached to things – physical items, thoughts and ideas, or beliefs – that are better let go and left behind? Here is a very simple barometer to measure your attachment: Examine each item, idea, or belief and ask: “Can I live with out that _____?” If your answer is “No,” ask yourself, “Why not?” If you can’t come up with a life-affirming answer as to why you are hanging on to these things, your attachments may be interfering with your happiness and your health.

Daodejing verse 44, Steven Mitchell’s translation, gives us advice in how to recognize our attachments and help in letting them go:

Fame or integrity: which is more important?
Money or happiness: which is more valuable?
Success or failure: which is more destructive?

If you look to others for fulfillment,
you will never truly be fulfilled.
If your happiness depends on money,
you will never be happy with yourself.

Be content with what you have;
rejoice in the way things are.
When you realize there is nothing lacking,
the whole world belongs to you.

—  Chinese characters, Tao Te Ching, Chapter 44

Here is how the advice of this verse can lead to letting go of attachments and lead to harmony, happiness and health:

Fame or integrity: which is more important?

When you have Fame, you are more concerned with your public face and ego, not necessarily who you really are. When you strive for fame, you play the role that you believe will be admired by the most people. However, this is the very reason that most people experience only “15 minutes of fame;” admirers are looking for authenticity, and turn away in disappointment when they learn the object of their admiration is just a mask.

When you live with Integrity, you are in the state of being whole. You live as your true, authentic self without striving. When you live authentically, people admire you for being true to yourself. This is a far more honest and harmonious relationship, and fame is irrelevant.

Money or happiness: which is more valuable?

If you want to become a conscious human being, you already know that money won’t do that for you, not with all the books or equipment that can aid the process. Worth more than all of them combined, and of utmost value, is the harmony which bring happiness which creates health.

Success or failure: which is more destructive?

Personally, I think this is a bit of a trick question. It’s all about ego, perceptions, and self-judging. Success can go to your head, and failure can make you lose heart.

Success can bring a sense of satisfaction that makes you feel good, and that’s a good thing showing you have healthy self-esteem. The destructive forces arise when you pursue success to attain fame and fortune, or strive to satisfy others’ expectations instead of yourself. Success is not a substitute for self-esteem.

The best use of failures is as lessons that teach you what to avoid doing in the future. Failures taken as negative judgments on self-worth or self-esteem can be extremely unhealthy since those feelings are what ultimately influence your life and create your future.

As you see, Success and Failure can be equally destructive under the right circumstances. The most destructive of all is the ego that makes the judgment in the first place and bestows importance where none is needed. When you live as an authentic being, you see success and failure simply as two cycles among the many other cycles within which you live your life.

If you look to others for fulfillment,
you will never truly be fulfilled.

Fulfillment is just like happiness, sadness, anger, or any other state of being; it is totally dependent on your inner self. You choose to be happy, sad, or fulfilled by virtue of your reactions to your relationships, and by the resistance you put up when things don’t go your way. If you allow yourself to be filled with the harmony of each moment, you need never look anywhere but at yourself, where you will always find fulfillment.260310_118293611592689_117732484982135_169061_1223998_n

If your happiness depends on money,
you will never be happy with yourself.

Money is such a nebulous thing. Not only does it come and go, but the value of it fluctuates. Certainly more time is spent worrying about making money or keeping money. This seems to be one of life’s greatest frustrations for people not in harmony with Dao: no matter how much you have or what it’s worth, you will never be able to buy happiness with money.

Be content with what you have;
rejoice in the way things are.

To be content means to be without struggle. Struggle only causes distress and disease. If you can accept everything as being right for this moment and rejoice in that correctness, you will be in harmony. In harmony, you will find contentment, for who could possibly be discontent amidst harmony and correctness?

And to this final statement, there is nothing I can add except that it is a good affirmation to meditate upon, and upon understanding you will know why you need never be attached to anything:

When you realize there is nothing lacking,
the whole world belongs to you.



Michelle[Michelle Wood – Rev Michelle K. Wood holds a degree in Holistic Relaxation Therapy from Natural Health Institutes, is a student of the Yijing, and embraces the philosophies of both Daoism and A Course In Miracles. Since 2007, she’s taught qigong and meditation classes and workshops both privately and through Central Oregon Community College and St Charles Hospital in Bend, OR. Participation in Bhakti Yoga (kirtan), Indian devotional singing, led her to study the archetypal vibrations found in Sanskrit mantras and chants, culminating in a 74-day pilgrimage to the sacred sites and cities of India in 2012. Now in Boise, ID, she serves you through group counseling via a weekly grief-recovery and transitions group (Stepping Stones to Joy) as well as individual spiritual counseling. For more information, please visit: ]


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