MAN-MADE MAZES and MOUNTAIN PATHWAYS
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)
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
At the center
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
Along our way
The mud of beneath our boot
At the waters bottom
And around the grave
With which we mend
In which seed is set
From which lotus
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
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 living and dying
Between young and old
Of infinite balance
Between all extremes
The way between
The edges of the waters
The sides of the mountains
Begin between breaths
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