Can You Stay Serenely In Yourself?

Do you have the patience to wait

till your mud settles and the water is clear?

Can you remain unmoving

till the right action arises by itself?

The Master doesn’t seek fulfillment.

Not seeking, not expecting,

she is present, and can welcome all things.”

Lao Tzu, Tao Te Ching, Chapter 15

Stay home. Alone with ourselves and our households. Dinner outings, concerts, sporting events, and leisure travel taken away. Discomfort and disquiet resulted. Without fine tasting food prepared by others, music and sports played by bodies other than our own, or the sites of other homes and homelands, where were we to look? At ourselves. Within. Our own lives, decisions, and the world we built or accepted as a place to live. 

If you don’t realize the source,

you stumble in confusion and sorrow.

When you realize where you come from,

you naturally become tolerant,

disinterested, amused,

kindhearted as a grandmother,

dignified as a king.”

Lao Tzu, Tao Te Ching, Chapter 16

We were unbearably discontent. When made to stay within the walls of our home, we climbed them, scratching at the paint. When made to sit within our own skin, we crawled inside of it, uncomfortable with the fit. Too big, too small. Growing, shrinking. Desperately seeking the respite of externality, we screamed for the injustice and justice of the day.

Thus the Master travels all day

without leaving home.

However splendid the views,

she stays serenely in herself.

Why should the lord of the country

flit about like a fool?

If you let yourself be blown to and fro,

you lose touch with your root.

If you let restlessness move you,

you lose touch with who you are.”

Lao Tzu, Tao Te Ching, Chapter 26

It was not the outside world. It was not the system. It was not the screens. None of those things were the sources of our perturbation. It was being forced to look within and not liking the view. Of sitting with ourselves and not liking the company. Deep in the well, we scraped at the walls to reach out. Will we keep reaching?

If a country is governed wisely,

its inhabitants will be content.

They enjoy the labor of their hands

and don’t waste time inventing

labor-saving machines.

Since they dearly love their homes,

they aren’t interested in travel.

There may be a few wagons and boats,

but these don’t go anywhere.

There may be an arsenal of weapons,

but nobody ever uses them.

People enjoy their food,

take pleasure in being with their families,

spend weekends working in their gardens,

delight in the doings of the neighborhood.

And even though the next country is so close

that people can hear its roosters crowing and its dogs barking,

they are content to die of old age

without ever having gone to see it.”

Lao Tzu, Tao Te Ching, Chapter 80

Looking out my dark window, the wind blows and the snow falls. The plows clear the road and the walks are salted to enable travel outside. Must we go outside? It has been cold.

Be In Your Life, Don’t Travel To It

If a country is governed wisely,
its inhabitants will be content.
They enjoy the labor of their hand
sand don’t waste time inventing
labor-saving machines.
Since they dearly love their homes,
they aren’t interested in travel.
There may be a few wagons and boats,
but these don’t go anywhere.
There may be an arsenal of weapons,
but nobody ever uses them.
People enjoy their food,
take pleasure in being with their families,
spend weekends working in their gardens,
delight in the doings of the neighborhood.
And even though the next country is so close
that people can hear its roosters crowing and its dogs barking,
they are content to die of old age
without ever having gone to see it.

“Tao Te Ching” Verse 80, Lao Tzu, Translated by Stephen Mitchell

The facts of your life should not be a reality you are trying to escape.

When I left my job in higher education administration, I had twenty two vacation days a year. This was in addition to all the imaginable holidays and a week between Christmas and New Years. When I became a fitness coach, when I was finally salaried again, I had ten vacation days a year. I worked weekends, mornings, and nights. I have moved up in this world to become a head coach and head of a facility. This gives me more control of my time, but I run a business that is open seven days a week. I still have less vacation time compared to my office job days. Yet, where as I woke up each day as an administrator wanting to escape my world, on Mondays now I’m itching to get back into the gym and work with people. I no longer want to escape my life, I revel in my daily practices.

I don’t want to be a person who discourages travel. I certainly want to expand my life experience through new places, cuisines, and cultures. For me to deride the practice of travel would be hypocritical. Likewise, I understand the necessity of some form of vacation. An escape from our daily routines and work habits can help us return with refreshed vigor and enthusiasm. I’m sure that these loose justifications for travel and vacation are uncontroversial.

Perhaps controversially, I do think that too many people look to their frequency of travel or vacation as a sign that their life is going well. If you are able to post pictures on Instagram of your excesses at foreign restaurants, you have a refined and enlightened sense of taste; if you can share the picture of your view from the top of a far off mountain you climbed, your vigor and physical robustness is worldly indeed; the sunset over the edge of an exotic beach displays your keen sense of calm and serenity. Of course, these are only a thin slice of your life experience. A highlight of a particular moment. If your exotic vacation lasts two weeks, how are you spending the remaining fifty weeks of the year? Is it eating foods that you will later regret? Do you opt to take an Uber whenever an inconvenient walk is a possibility? Is your brain so scrambled at the end of the day that you can only binge watch a show on Netflix?

No matter how robust your time spent on vacation and travel is, you are spending the majority of your life at home and going to work. Over the course of a lifetime, you may remember the highlights you posted on instagram, but the majority of days you wake up facing an average day, not a highlight. 

What I would suggest is making that daily average better than it currently is. Having the majority of your life spent in activity you seek to escape is unacceptable. Travel and vacation should enhance your life, but they should not be the thing that gets you out of bed in the morning. If that is the case, what is getting you out of bed is the fantasy of living a life you love at some far off point. What drives true life satisfaction is getting out of bed each morning and looking forward to the day to day practices of life. Construct the life you want on a daily basis. If you don’t love your life, change it. Not by seeking escape through vacation, but by changing your daily endeavors to practices you find engaging and meaningful.