Lao Tzu, Tao Te Ching (56:1).
This is food for thought for those of us who write blogs, like to talk, have been told that they write well, or who simply and serenely write (is that an oxymoron?).
According to Lao Tzu’s intuitive and deflating logic, our willingness to speak, frequently and publicly on the Internet, turns on flashing neon signs which suggests to others that, “This person does not know what they are talking about!!” [blink, blink, blink]. Some, unfortunately not small, part of me winces and my narcissistic hackles rise.
There are wise people I know that carry the tiny Tao Te Ching with them wherever they travel, reading a verse at random or reading one verse each morning, to great effect. I myself have memorized stanzas. They are chewy. This is one of my favorites, relevant to the current U.S. president: “Governing a large country is like frying a small fish. You spoil it with too much poking.” A Twitter poke here, a Twitter poke there, every day a Twitter poke.
It would be easy talk at length about the wisdom of the Tao Te Ching, or more accurately talk around it. But as Lao Tzu says, it would be pointless.
But what does Lao Tzu say that is specifically uplifting and useful for those of us who choose to talk publicly? Not just in a beautiful, abstract-chinese-landscape-philosophical way but also in common sense, nuts and bolts fashion?
And what would Lao Tzu say about writing about bipolar disorder? Because I know a lot about bipolar disorder. I have a width and breadth of experience that is apparently intimidating that can render me mute. I frequently have a “what’s the use” reaction to writing about it. What would it have been helpful for me to know when I was 15 years old and just starting out on this bipolar journey? Most of what I have to say that bipolar baby would not have wanted to hear. Perhaps advisedly so, because the reality of bipolar I disorder is difficult for anyone to hear, let alone understand.
I remember clearly, with the best of intentions, giving my sister-in-law-to-be a book about bipolar disorder written for family members. Her husband, my half-brother, has a whopping case of bipolar I disorder, as do I. She was dismissive about it as only an early twenty-something can be. She could handle it, there was love, no problem. I was being a downer. She came back to me later to say that she had come to understand what I was trying my best to tactfully convey, and that she had been clueless. Hearing about it, reading about it, knowing that it was an issue — none of that prepared her for the reality of a husband whose first manic episode played itself out over four states and three hospitalizations in two months. He kept talking his way out after 72 hour holds.
Should should I have simply shut up? Refrained from trying to give her a bare bipolar education so that she would recognize what was happening? Maybe just shut up and smiled? Maybe that was the wisest option. We oftentimes learn more from people by what they do not say, by what they convey in their being and attitude. My being is currently limited by finances and disability to a very small bailiwick. Certainly that radiates outward in some mystical, Mother Gaia planetary way to benefit others with my tamed mind?
One of Lao Tzu’s lessons that can be applied to writing on the Internet is that “less is more” (he only wrote 64 short verses). I have attempted to incorporate this wisdom as best I can. Unfortunately I am not naturally succinct, and the thought of editing and chopping makes me grimace. But I did decide to publish only once a week. Writing once a week is a good limit. How many people are there on this earth whose wisdom is worth reading more than once a week? Certainly not mine. It seems to me to be an opportunity for my words and my ego to become inflated, for the content to become puffery, and for the whole thing to become self-aggrandizing. Many times I think that writing only once/month would be much better, but then you apparently lose an audience. (Note to self: Why do I need an audience?)
And yet I continue to write. One consequence for me of bipolar disorder is that I do not have children. Writing a blog and passing down any wisdom that I have gained from this experience for the benefit of everyone else’s children seems like a potentially helpful legacy.
Or maybe I am not content with my current level of foolishness. Maybe I unconsciously aspire to increase my foolishness by making it public knowledge.
Here is more from Lao Tzu’s stanza, from Feng’s translation:
Keep your mouth closed.
Guard your senses.
Temper your sharpness.
Simplify your problems.
Mask your brightness.
Be at one with the dust of the Earth.
I have tried very hard to temper my sharpness, enough to know that if I don’t allow it to have an escape valve I’m likely to explode, particularly when I am irritable. This experience has sharpened my sarcasm, barbed my wit, and honed my despair. But I recognize that Lao Tzu is correct. This wit needs to be tempered, the sharpness dulled. Oscar Wilde is the only true wit that I appreciate, and where did his sharp tongue land him?
Mask your brightness? For someone who believed that they were God in a particularly obnoxious psychotic state? Mask your brilliance? For someone who almost flamed out in mania? (You can indeed die from the intensity of a manic episode, heart failure is the cause that I remember). Yet again Lao Tzu’s answer is yes, sorry, but tone it down. Don’t talk in hyperboles, even about an experience which is almost the epitome of hyperbolic. Take the drugs, dull the blade, don’t whet it any further.
Be at one with the dust of the Earth is OK by me though. Having been severely clinically depressed acquaints you with the dust. It’s not a bad place to hang out, anonymous and plain, so long as you know that you are not dust.
But wait! Fortunately there are more stanzas to the Tao Te Ching. Lao Tzu shows us a way out of this dilemma, a way to come to peace with this Möbius strip dilemma.
There is nothing better than to know that you don’t know.
Not knowing, yet thinking you know – this is sickness.
Only when you are sick of being sick can you be cured.
Tao Te Ching, 71:1
Instead of viewing myself as an ignoramus, pontificating in the great void, I can view myself as someone who is exploring questions and does not yet know the answers, inviting other perspectives and insight on the question. That would be a success to be proud of, more than a bazillion views.