Finally Losing the Way

by Hugh M. Lewis


There are ways but the Way is uncharted;

There are names but not nature in words:

Nameless indeed is the source of creation

But things have a mother and she has a name.


The secret waits for the insight

Of eyes unclouded by longing;

Those who are bound by desire

See only the outward container.


These two come paired but distinct

By their names.

Of all things profound

Say that their pairing is deepest,

The gate to the root of the world.

(Lao Tzu--Tao Te Ching)



We have come to the end of our way, to discover that there are many different ways, but no one single "Way." There is not one way, even if for each of us, though for each of us there are many possible ways, any of which may be our way. Though many may suit us fine, we may not choose the way that suites us best. But we must choose our different ways, and the ways we choose must therefore be the best. No one else can choose our way for us, and though we have chosen it, we really can't choose it either. If others choose our way, it is not the correct way, nor is it the best possible way, for it will be incorrect. If we fail to choose our way, our ways will be chosen for us, but this will not be best either.

If we come to a crossing of our way, and we are not sure which way is best to follow, it is best not to worry, as either way will teach us the one that is correct. If, following our chosen path, we eventually come to conclude that we have chosen poorly, then we cannot worry so much that we fail to enjoy the scenery and fulfillment there is, and soon one will again find the way that seems correct. And if, journeying down our path, we come to a cul-de-sac, then all we've really learned is that the way is more than twice as long as we planned before.

When we believe we have reached our journey's end, then we are mistaken and have chosen the wrong way. And if we look closely, we will always see that our way turns down yet another path, as it never ends.

Ultimately, all the different ways lead back to the same place, but each only follows a different direction and each has different scenery to be experienced along the path. The place to which all ways lead is the way from which all paths follow. It is the way and not yet the way.

I like the metaphor of journeying along the way. It emphasizes the integration of our sense of time and our spatial perception into a single continual stream of consciousness that is simultaneously our "stream of experience" and our "stream of reality." And many such streams flow together to make a confluence that is our stream of culture and our tides of history.

Our entire lives are spent in endless journeying through space and time, and if we are always in quest of one destination after another, then our whole lives will be spent on getting to our ends rather than on the way spent while getting there.

We may measure the length of our journey by its duration, or we may measure its duration by the distance we've spanned, but either way, making the journey itself is what it's all about. What is lost is the sense of the all-importance of the destination.

Our lives are a journey, and our history is a greater journey along our way. Our evolution is as large a journey as is our earth in its travels through the universe. We journey to our individual destinations is within greater journeys. And this is still within the way.

I like the idea of tossing out the appointment and address books and of making our rendezvous and destinations as we simply come to them along the way. From a rationalist's perspective, this doesn't sound the least bit well organized or adaptive in a modern world built on speed, schedules, accuracy, clocks and maps.

It is though self-organizing within an ever adaptive natural world within a self-organizing universe. And if humankind can ever learn to follow the way of self-organization, however chaotic, then perhaps we will no longer need the kind of hierarchical organization that we depend upon to get to where we are going in time for what it is that is going to happen that's important enough to be there on time.

The way of self-organization always turns out to have much greater natural integrity than rational people could ever imagine. The difference is that following this way instead of that allows us to better fit in those interruptions and inconveniences that plague us at every bend in our pathway and turn our rational lives topsy-turvy. But we just don't know how to fit them into our life-plans, our schedule books or our pocket books.

We live now in a world that cannot be taken back to a pristine time before we came along and ruined it all. We cannot go backward to a time before all our evil plagues beset us. We can only move forward in better knowledge of who we are and what we have done. And we cannot make tomorrow in the image of today or today in the image of tomorrow, as tomorrow will bring all the surprises and problems we weren't counting on today.

Modern humankind and modern civilization has become a part of the natural landscape. The earth has a tremendous power of swallowing up and covering over human feats of engineering. Whether for better or worse, the natural landscape has changed irreversibly because of our efforts. The important point is not our moral judgment on the matter but the fact that it has changed and will continue to do so. And if we are naive enough to believe that we are wholly responsible or fully in control of this change then this is our own sad illusion. We are just part of the changing process, and we, too, must inevitably change. The way of nature is infinitely patient, and humankind is always impetuous like an adolescent.

In all our civilization and in all our scientific understanding, we are yet but one more manifestation of the infinite ways of nature. We are hers, she is not ours, and she will eventually claim us back.

We are children of the earth. As her children, we need to learn to see again as amateur naturalists, renegade Taoist aesthetes, and baby beginners the new nature of our earthbound environments, that we have unlearned to see while we've been busy transforming nature, and our own natures, into a civilized superorganic monstrosity.

Focusing upon the journey instead of upon the destination is just another way of unfocusing in a world that seems over focused. More unfocusing now is healthier than more focus. We have become too focused on the straight and narrow of science and have become blind to the peripheral regions of our natural environments. Some call it tunnel vision, others say it is living with blinders on. It keeps us in control. It keeps control over us. And we are afraid of unfocusing, because we are afraid of all the unreasons we might then discover for our unnatural existence.

Unfocusing is a way of loosening all the nuts and bolts, the cogs and the wheels that make up and turn our mechanized existence, of allowing us more free play between the gears of the system, the imaginary space-time for journeying, that we may learn to better see and relate to in our natural world.

We are not the way. We are but one of an infinite number of ways.

People mistakenly regard Taoism as a philosophy of spiritual and aesthetic enlightenment--this is so, but it is much more than this. Aesthetically, it derives from the unadulterated experience and expression of nature. Anything that is not natural, is not good, and anything that is not good, is not worth having. But Taoism is also a profound political and social philosophy. It instructs us about how power in the world is best managed such that it does not lead to interference with the ways of nature.

We now live in a world that has become a maze-way of corridors, walls, gates, windows, roads, intersections and of riddles, paradoxes, dilemmas, problems and questions without answers. Each of us are lost in this maze-way and we have no knowledge or instruction of how to escape, but escape it must be if we are to find the existential sense of being that we need to live well and with contentment. But even when we find our way out of our own maze, we discover that the outside world of nature is also a labyrinth of a different kind. Its walls and gates are the trees, boulders, streams, mountains, and oceans that seem to loom upon our pathway in every direction. No knowledge or experience we have gained in navigating successfully the interior maze-way of our modern existence gives us guidance in this natural labyrinth. It lacks straightness, angularity, predictability and the recognition of our interior halls and walls.

Yet as chaotic as it may all seem it also appears to have its own strange sense of natural order. It is one that is mysteriously appealing to our aesthetic sensibilities, even if revolting to our natural intellect. It is mysterious and frightening in our lack of familiarity, and yet appealing to our emotions, our sentiments, our instincts, our intuitions and our imagination.

We pay lip service to imagination and yet we prohibit it and punish it at every turn. We have hardly learned how to use it.

The only guide through the forest of nature is our previous experience of it, and the only way of gaining experience from it is by entering headlong into its entangling thicket.

To follow the way is to lead the way is to follow the way....until we've finally lost the way. And once having lost the way, maybe then we will have finally found it.


Once grasp the great Form without form,

And you roam where you will

With no evil to fear,

Calm, peace, at ease.


At music and viands

The wayfarer stops.

But the Way, when declared,

Seems so flavorless!


It is nothing to look at

And nothing to hear;

But used, it will prove


(Lao Tzu--Tao Te Ching)




Be still

Say no more

Words have been enough

Now let the silence guide us

Along this way we've lost

Listen to the sound of the rustling forest

Its trees sway and creak

Listing to the distant winds murmuring

To the waters flowing in the background

Streams of echoes spilling over the rocks

Planted firmly in the earth

Moody winds whispering strange warnings

Through the branches and leaves

Of the tall trees standing all around

Mysterious sprites singing

All finding their way

To the placid, still lake

Resting peacefully

At the center

Still being



Look upon the surface

Of the rippling water

Birds flying in blue water

Fish swimming in green skies

Two round faces peering up from the bottom's edge

Two round shadows looking down from above the bank

Between the ripples of the water

The bright flashing sun

Floating upon the surface



Where I shall go

You cannot follow

What's the point of turning back?

To go where we've already been

Things are never the same as before

We have come to a parting of our ways

We know it even without saying it

And our silence becomes the beginning distance

That shall forever come between us

Each shall follow a separate path

Each a path of separateness shall lead

Until we've come full circle

At our journeys end

To meet once again

On common ground

No need for final farewells

No need for tears

Or last minute celebrations

There is only the beginning silence

Of our new found distance

Our hands touching

Until they part



Life is full

Of unfinished ends

Unfulfilled hopes, forgotten dreams

Lost possibilities and wasted energies

Mistakes, frustrations and little time

Why speak now

Of the might of been

At the end of the journey

Why look back in forlorn regret

Or gaze sidewise in vicarious wishing

All the lost human potential

All the squandered talent

All the spent resources

All the wreckless motions

Let's only see what is

And make the best of it



Nothing is the word

We use when no other word fits

It is a label we use

To cover over all those little things

That clutters and makes a mess of our lives

Nothingness is the way of being nothing

Doing nothing, saying nothing

A grand emptiness without feeling

Without pain, without thought

It is a place where we go to hide from the world

The way that we take to get away from the world

Nothing is where we hide all our little mistakes

It is vast in its bottomlessness

Swallowing everything and anything we feed it

It is convenient because it takes no space

Nothing is either good or bad

It is simply neutral like negative space

Nothing exists because we exist

If follows us between our shadow and ourselves

Forever silent, empty and absent

Waiting for us

Along our way

It is the grand abyss of meaninglessness

From which we all came

To which we are all returning back again



Common clay

Under foot

Along our way

The mud of beneath our boot

Common soil

At the waters bottom

And around the grave

With which we mend

Broken rims

Have broken

Water cups

Wet mud

In which seed is set

From which lotus

And rice




The way is a distant mountain peak

Always hovering over our horizon

No matter how far we may travel

It never grows any larger

Or comes any closer


The way is a deep forest valley

Always lying between our path and our mountaintop

We cannot see its vastness from where we stand

But when we enter its thicket and become entangled

We can always look up and find the mountain


The way is the path we are walking

Upon solid middle ground

Turning between the mountain and the valley

It twists and turns and branches in all directions

And is not an easy path to take

For all the rough stones in the ground


The way is a deep still lake

At the foot of the place we are standing

When we come to the end of our path

All paths begin from its edge

All the streams of the mountain flow to its bottom

All the trees of the forest

Are reflected upon its surface



Between things

Between everything


States of Being


Between this and that

Between here and there

Betwixt and between

Neither this nor that

Both here and there

Between rocks and ground

Between wind and rain

Between trees in the forest

Between mountains in the valleys

Between time

Between being

Between names

Between games

Between living and dying

Between young and old

Between states

Of infinite balance

Between all extremes

Between wars

Between storms

The way between

The edges of the waters

The sides of the mountains

Always somewhere


Between being

Begin between breaths

Posing riddles

Between meaning

Between the lines

The words, the letters


Blanket Copyright, Hugh M. Lewis, 2005. Use of this text governed by fair use policy--permission to make copies of this text is granted for purposes of research and non-profit instruction only.

Last Updated: 03/14/05