Enemies and Gifts

There are days when I seek words to quiet the emotions, bring clarity and focus to the mind which, like the Delphic charioteer, reigns in the emotions (how few victors restrain their joy at winning). There are words that establish the relations between the passions into a pantheon of so many shards. Those are the shards often left by people who drill through life to get their own way. It may seem that one has enemies, people who are the opposite of friends: looking to consume, not cultivate their neighbours.
"A slave curses enemies, for he does not understand. But a son blesses them, for he understands. For a son knows that his enemies cannot touch his life. Therefore he freely steps among them". These are words that can quiet the emotions, bringing focus back to the mind. In the Crito, Plato writes, "Anytus and Melitus may kill me, but hurt me they cannot."
Where, exactly, is that reservoir of respite? It is one thing to name it, but another to be given suggestions on how to get there. It is selfish or supercilious to pontificate about the destination without at least suggesting a possible route to get there. I expect pedagogy to show the way if a learner is expected to arrive.
If enemies are "cruel friends," it may be that they help us manage our judgements and desires. True mastery, according to the Tao Te Ching, is in letting things go their own way, sometimes even to flame up before dying down, and not interfering. The thoughts one entertains of a person or an impending event are not always accurate, judgement may interfere with reality, so it is advisable to become wary of judgement, even of opinions held of oneself. If there are shards, there are also eggshells to be walked among.
Lao Tzu writes that the ancients were, "careful as someone crossing an iced-over stream. Alert as a warrior in enemy territory. Courteous as a guest. Shapable as a block of wood. Clear as a glass of water. 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?" (15)
I am not that person, and sometimes I feel the stress of plastering over things with how I want or expect them to be, which is quite a mad activity, when I think about it. But I have had that experience where I longed so much for something, and didn't get my wish, only to understand later on that everything turned out for the best. "Stop thinking, and end your problems. What difference between yes and no? What difference between success and failure?" (20)




In a soft, recycled-paper magazine, printed for a small local audience, was the story of a teacher transferred to a remote village which, due to her family obligations, she commuted to daily by bus - she spoke condescendingly, at first, of the "idyll" she had to reach. But then, on a school excursion she discovered the joys of hiking, and began to explore the village environs, sometimes standing before a tree-covered bend in a stream, forgetting to catch her evening bus home.
The hardest physical exercise may be readjusting one's balance to the changing currents of each new day, or each new phase. I do not think that we write these phases, but that circumstance works to reveal our true colours, unless we live in the hell of bending life and others to fit our vision - which is never enough. "If your happiness depends on money, you will never be happy with yourself." (44) A long time ago, I realised that I would always have "enough" if I would just calm down and figure out what resources I did have. That's called "character building."
But despite that kind of knowledge, it can still be hard to roll with the punches. Judgement. Desire. I put them on the doorstep. I am so tired of that feeling of being a victim to trend and situation, of doubting myself. To see through fear is to be safe; by its nature, the universe is perfect, free, acting without expecting - "That is why every being spontaneously honours the Tao". (51)
There's a Rumi verse where he describes the scorpion pit as being miraculously reversed into an object of desire - first explaining, "this invisible ocean has given you such abundance, / but still you call it 'death' / that which provides your sustenance and work." That verse is almost identical to Lao Tzu's, "What is a bad man but a good man's job?" (27)
Which is not to say that when faced with the 'enemy' one will know what to make of the situation right away; rather, one may know that there will be meaning. If there may be deflection without force, I see no harm in that, but if that is not possible, the adventure begins of discovering the gift in that ugly mess of newspaper and sellotape characteristic of pass-the-parcel. One man's trinket becomes another man's treasure.



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