Wisdom from Lao Tzu

”Natural persons are attracted to substance rather than form, to the nutritious fruit rather than the enticing flower, to that which dwells deeply within, rather than to that which clings superficially to the surface.”

– Lao Tzu, Tao Te Ching, 38.

In this beautiful verse, I love that Lao Tzu talks about the sort of person who isn’t charmed by the glitz and glitter, but who can see past that glitter and see whether or not anything of substance is beneath it. Sometimes, underneath the glitter is something equally beautiful, though perhaps not quite as sparkly. And sometimes, maybe even most of the time, people and things and ideas that are so glitzy and glittery seem that way on the surface for a purpose – like a flower, they’re meant to draw you in for their own purposes. (In the flowers’ case, it’s trying to attract pollinators, so don’t wave away those bees.) And those things that are so glitzy and glittery on the surface have nothing beneath to offer you – maybe like flowers they’re not fully developed yet. Or maybe (to switch metaphors on you), like a cheap print in an extensive and expensive frame, they are there to distract you. Beautiful artwork is self-evident without a seven inch wide frame to attract you, and an apple blossom, as nice as it is and as nice as it smells, is best left to develop into an apple before you pick it.

But a thing I love about this portion of the longer verse is the way Lao Tzu talks about the sort of person who knows this. He doesn’t call that person super insightful, or deeply wise. He calls them Natural. As if he is saying, ‘this is the right way to look at the world and interact with it, and it’s something we’re all capable of doing. It’s what we’re meant to do, and not a super human act of observation or awareness. This is the most natural way we can be, to gravitate toward the deeper substance and just smile at the flowers and glitter as we pass them by.’

I love that.

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