Be Like Water (the strength of humility)
Chapter 8, 34
The power of humility is experienced when we become like water and seek the low places. What does this mean? To understand true strength and courage we undertake the cultivation of controlling the ego. Ego always seeking attention and self gratification abhors humility. In the Tao Te Ching we are called to “resemble water”. In the opening verses of Chapter 8, Lao Tzu teaches us with these words:
“The highest good resembles water
Water greatly benefits myriad things without contention
It stays in places that people dislike
Therefore it is similar to the Tao”
Those lower places that people dislike is where we find the Tao. It is the place of humility. For the ego cannot dwell in low places, because it is too concerned about it how it looks, what people think, and loss of status. Ego is concerned with “getting ahead” and it could care less about how it may trample upon others. Humility is the putting aside of ego and seeing, accepting reality as it is.
In Chapter 34, we see how getting beyond obstacles is smoothly accomplished by flowing around objects. When we free ourselves from the ego, and unify with life as the true self, we are not chained to the reactions of the ego. Flowing like water around obstacles is the true self accepting things as they are. In self awareness we can practice letting go and moving on, not get caught up or entangled in attachment and desire.
“The great Tao is like a flood
It can flow left or right”
An easy example of this is when someone says something to us that the ego takes offense at. The ego takes things personally and begins taking on a sense of contention and retribution. The Tao cultivator becomes like water. Not imprisoned by the reaction of ego, they move on and around the comment and do not become stuck. As we bump into the trivial obstacles in life, we can just let them and go and move around and onward within the flow of the Tao.
There was a story told recently about a Tao cultivator who was an author. For a moment his focus became caught up in desire of increasing sales of his book. He sought to improve his standing in both sales and appreciation by readers by getting more good reviews for his book. Then a Tao sage read his comments and showed him how his actions were not in accordance with the Tao. The author realized what was happening and released the grip of egoic desire and need. Rather than take offense, he accepted the truth of sages words. In humility he became free, or “unstuck” of this desire. If his ego has remained in control, he would have taken offense at the sages words and become stuck in the illusion that he must have the reviews to be successful. He could have become involved in distraction of being offended and the suffering that comes with it. Being like water, he assumed the low place (humility) that ego could not dwell in. In this way he allowed his wisdom mind to come forth and to become strong. The Taoist Sage gifted him with the truth, yet it was only accepted and understood through humility. There is strength is humility because ego has no purchase to root. It dies from lack of attention and pride. With ego removed wisdom and knowing take root like the blossom of the lotus flower, rising above and becoming at one with the great Tao.
We can recognize ego at work when we find ourselves unable to be humble. If you begin to sense that pride, arrogance and contention taking root, that is ego. If you cannot even for one moment practice humility and take the low place, that is ego. If you cannot move on from some perceived slight or offense that is ego. Humility is medicine, the cure, the antidote to the ego which is poison to the spirit. Free your self, return to your true self and experience the strength and courage of flowing like water.