Frog in the Well
May I introduce you, dear reader, to my two new friends? A cedar and a pine tree living in a secluded corner of the thick rain forest, in a magical grove behind my home. On a recent morning walk, I found them in an intimate embrace with such good strong healing qì that they drew me in and convinced me to pause for a moment and listen to their wisdom. It was much-needed balm for my troubled heart and spirit so I decided to share it. I also got the strange sense that they wanted me to pass this on. Here’s what they had to share with me.
Oh you dear little short-lived human! Wipe those tears off your cheek and that frown off your forehead. Your human life, especially, is much too short for you to become mired in such heaviness. Slow down, stop those silly little stick legs of yours from moving for a few years, grow some roots and thicker bark, and share our mycelium. Don’t you purport to be a lover of Zhuangzi? Let us remind you of some of your favorite lines from one of your favorite chapters, Autumn Floods 秋水, from the Zhuangzi:
Ruò, God of the Northern Sea, said [to the River God]: “The reason why you cannot speak to a frog in a well about the ocean is that it is restrained by its hole. The reason why you cannot speak to a summer bug about ice is because it is confined by its season. The reason why you cannot speak to a pedantic scholar about the Dào is that he is bound by his teachings. Now that you have emerged from the narrow banks of your cliffs and looked out over the great sea, you finally are aware of your own lack of glamor. It is only now that we can speak of the Great Principle! …
Those who know the Dào invariably apprehend the underlying principle. Those who apprehend the underlying principle invariably have clarity on the scale of things (lit. ‘understands steelyard weights’). Those who have clarity on the scale of things do not allow things to harm them. Speaking of those who have reached the consummate Dé (state of potency derived from acting in alignment with the Dào), fire is not able to burn them, water is unable to drown them, cold and summer-heat are unable to harm them, and the birds and beasts are unable to injure them.
This is not to say that they regard [these dangers above] as minor. It means that they are observant about safety and risk, calm in the face of good or bad fortune, and cautious about distancing themselves from or engaging with something. That is why nothing is able to harm them!
Therefore we say: ‘What is heavenly is internal, what is human is external.’ And Dé (the potency derived from acting in alignment with the Dào) is located in heaven. Know the movements of heaven and humanity, base yourself in heaven, and position yourself in Dé potency. Advance and retreat, bend and stretch, return to the crux of things and speak of the farthest pole.”
Now that we have given you a little bit of perspective, you croaky frog in the well down there at the bottom of our trunk, how can we ancient interconnected ones help you a bit? You tiny little short-lived human have recently been concerned a lot about unity and diversity and racism and divisiveness and hatred that seems to be stirring in your world these days. We’re watching you, looking out for you, sending good qì to you from high up above, if only you stop long enough to receive it. So thank you for doing so today. See, your dogs are rolling in bliss about it too! While you worry about white and black, male and female, Jewish and Christian, Democrat and Republican, left and right, good and bad, native and non-native, and a never-ending list of other labels, look at where this sort of thinking gets you! Remember the very first thing Laozi told you:
A Dào that can be used as a Dào is not a Dào that endures. A name that can be used as a name is not a name that endures.
That which has no name is the beginning of Heaven and Earth; that which possesses a name is the mother of the ten thousand things.
Hence an enduring absence of wants allows us to observe its subtlety; an enduring presence of wants allows us to observe its perimeter.
These two! They share the same origin yet differ in name. Their sameness is what we call “mystery.” The deeper mystery within this mystery… the gateway to all subtleties!
You humans should pay much more attention to this beautiful expression “share the same origin yet differ in name.” Your tendency to name things and thereby to classify them as this or that, put them into neat little boxes, and attach value to them, this is what makes your world so complicated. Don’t you remember:
“Not placing paragons of virtue on a pedestal keeps the common people from arguing. Not placing a value on goods that are difficult to obtain keeps the common people from becoming thieves. Not putting desirable things on display keeps their hearts from being disordered…. When you act through non-action, there is nothing that is not in perfect order.”(Dào Dé Jīng, chapter 3)
So… sit on that for a few lifetimes, and then maybe we’ll be ready to share some more wisdom with you. And by the way that famous phrase of Laozi’s, “share the same origin,” that doesn’t just apply to humans, or even to you and your beloved goats and dogs. We really need you humans to understand that we are all in this together, including us giant trees and the tiny bugs in our mycelium. It is not for nothing that the ancient Chinese call it “Under Heaven” or the “ten thousand things”! You fast-moving youngster, you have so much to learn from those ancient sages! Look at what you learned just today, by detouring from your regular path to meander through the rain forest. And by the way, did you notice those oyster mushrooms over there? Eat those for breakfast, and maybe you’ll feel the oneness of all of us more easily, inside and out.
We the trees the weeds the berries the mosses the fungi the elk the worms the eagle the clouds the volcanoes, every little rain drop and snow flake, we love you and hold you and embrace you, and we are all in this together. So when things feel like they are too much, just come back for a visit and we'll make things right. We are not going anywhere, at least not while you’re around.