By Mako Allen
Lao-tzu would never say such a hideous thing. But now that I’ve got your attention, he did have a lot to say about the way people strive to achieve happiness.
If you over esteem great men,
people become powerless.
If you overvalue possessions,
people begin to steal.
The Master leads
by emptying people’s minds
and filling their cores,
by weakening their ambition
and toughening their resolve.
He helps people lose everything
they know, everything they desire,
and creates confusion
in those who think that they know.
and everything will fall into place.
There’s an American slang term for the sort of behavior Lao-tzu is describing in this verse, “keeping up with the Joneses.” Vanilla or otherwise, people do this sort of thing all the time.
When you see your friend’s shiny new electronic gizmo, or hear about their recent trip to an exotic location you experience this complex rush of feelings: envy, because you want the same things, despair because you’re uncertain how, if ever you’ll get them and frustration that you can’t have them right now. There are probably dozens more feelings mixed up in that same unpleasant cocktail.
People have those same sorts of feelings for people, too. You might want to be skinny like someone you know, or have as powerful a job, or as easy access to money.
Taoism refers to this action of unfulfilled longing as “striving.” Striving is a waste of time. We’ve all certainly strived for things in the past and achieved some of them. But yet you always find yourself striving for more, or for something else.
Kinky people strive all the time, too. We just strive about some additional rather complicated things. I can remember a time in my life when I thought if I didn’t get spanked on a regular basis, I’d never be happy. Well, I do get spanked regularly now – and it didn’t stop me from fixating on getting peed on for a long time, too. It seems like there’s always something I’m yearning for, and by the time I get it, there’s always something else.
Chuang-tzu, the second most widely known Taoist sage, said, “Happiness is the absence of the striving for happiness.”
That’s an important concept to understand. Happiness isn’t something you do, it’s something you experience, while not striving to be happy. Instead of striving, what is it that you do instead?
There’s really no one answer to the question. Part of what Lao-tzu recommends is to empty your mind, to cast off your desires. When you do so, you can more fully experience your life. Instead of struggling to achieve what might be, you fully immerse yourself in what you are, have, and do.
This idea befuddled me for years. The Tao te Ching is filled with passages about the evolving, fluid nature of the Tao. It’s always moving, always changing. It’s not change that Lao-tzu cautions against – it’s against struggling with the fact of it. Things change how, when, and if they’re supposed to.
The ambition that this verse speaks of is the ambition for things to be a certain way. But nothing
stays the same. The resolve it speaks of is the ability to experience that change one single step at a time.
I’ve experienced that ambition myself. I remember back when I first began exploring BDSM and the scene. I couldn’t get enough of kink.
Every single weekend was the same. I’d leave work Friday, head down to the scene club, play until I was exhausted, go home, collapse into sleep, wake up, and do it again. Come Sunday night I was very sore, very happy, but crushed I’d have to wait a whole week to do it again. My entire life revolved around kink. I bemoaned that it took me that long to get into the scene, lamented passing over earlier opportunities to do so, too.
I came to see that part of why kink made me so deliriously happy was because of the long period of time I’d spent without it. As I grew in experience and comfort in the scene, that hot eagerness turned into the mellow satisfaction of living a more balanced life.
Nowadays, a very large portion of my life is kink, but not all of it. And I’m way more focused on helping and teaching others, than on living that constant weekend over and over. And I’m as happy now as I was then, living a fulfilling, but different life.
The simple truth is this – you don’t have to chase happiness. Just stop and you will see it all around you.
I have been … trying to… working on.. finding this balance. That’s the trouble, isn’t it? Struggling to get what I want. Striving for the things I wish to achieve. And there’s always more. I am happy with what I have, but I find it difficult to sit in that happiness and not want more. It is an interesting concept to ponder.
Heh, it’s frustrating, but “trying” is the very problem. When you have achieved such a balance, you won’t even care about it anymore, will forget that you needed it in the first place. We’re frail human creatures, and suffer under the burden of the illusion that there’s a magical plateau of being in perfect balance all the time. But it’s just not true.
The Tao is always moving, and so are we. I like to say that enlightenment isn’t something you achieve, or are – it’s something you do.