Tuesday, 15 July 2008


At times, it seems to me that we are living a lie. No, I'll rephrase that. I think we are existing a lie. What's the difference between living and existing? I suppose it depends on your point of view. To me, existing is being alive on the most basest of levels: having just enough of the basics to sustain you, and without the opportunity for growth, each day the same as the one before with little chance of things changing. In other words, being static: the opposite of Tao.

Living, on the other hand, is the opposite of that. Living means having purpose, where the basics of life are readily available in abundance, and there is opportuni
ty for growth in every direction. Living is being able to express yourself naturally, and not going against your true nature. Living is being in Tao.

I feel that most of us just exist. We get up every morning, go to work, whether we want to or not; often we go in ill but feel some pressure to soldier on, that the job is more important than we are. By the time we get home, too tired to play with our children or make any effort in our relationships with our loved ones, we simply want to relax, to lose ourselves in in some sort of escape, be it television, computers, drink, drugs or whatever it is that blots out the meaninglessness of our lives. And we do this, week in, week out, for the majority of our lives. Occasionally we get a break from this tedium. We change jobs or even careers, we get promoted or move into a new part of the country or even emigrate. But the fact is, to feel that we are a part of society, to enable us to buy the things we think we need so we can forget the hours we spend at work, to reward ourselves for putting up with the responsibility of our jobs, to feel like our lives have any meaning, we trudge onwards and (we think) upwards, hour after hour, day after day, week after week, month after month and year after year. This is not living.

So what is the lie? Simple. The lie is that which we tell ourselves to justify what we do. That what we do everyday for someone else (i.e., our employers) is important. That we are bettering ourselves. That we are making our lives easier because we can afford to do the things we want to do. The lie is that we think we are living when in reality we are just existing, because we don't grow in any meaningful way as people or as human beings.

As I was getting ready for work this morning, I thought of Philip Larkins' famous poem, Toads:

Why should I let the toad work
Squat on my life?
Can't I use my wit as a pitchfork
And drive the brute off?

Six days of the week it soils
With its sickening poison -

Just for paying a few bills!
That's out of proportion

Lots of folk live on their wits:
Lecturers, lispers,
Losels, loblolly-men, louts-
They don't end as paupers;

Lots of folk live up lanes
With fires in a bucket,
Eat windfalls and tinned sardines-
they seem to like it.

Their nippers have got bare feet,
Their unspeakable wives
Are skinny as whippets - and yet
No one actually starves.

Ah, were I courageous enough
To shout Stuff your pension!
But I know, all too well, that's the stuff
That dreams are made on:

For something sufficiently toad-like
Squats in me, too;
Its hunkers are heavy as hard luck,
And cold as snow,

And will never allow me to blarney
My way of getting

The fame and the girl and the money
All at one sitting.

I don't say, one bodies the other
One's spiritual truth;
But I do say it's hard to lose either,
When you have both.

I think Larkin really struck a chord with this poem. I think that the reason that the poem is so popular is because most of us can relate to what Larkin was feeling when he wrote these words, that (to paraphrase) "something sufficiently toad-like squats in them too".

So how can we get out of this lie? Simply giving up our job, our responsibilities, our ties with each other is too radical a step to take: the easiest way to destroy something is to take it to its' extreme. Besides, to just give up our commitments to those we love would be selfish. But by acknowledging that it is a lie, and therefore trying to seek reality; by realising that we can "live" whilst going about the routine of our lives; by living in the truth of our own inner nature, then we will be taking the first tentative steps along the Way.

Your name or your person.
Which is dearer?
Your person or your goods,
Which is worth more?
Gain or loss,
Which is a greater bane?
That is why excessive meanness
Is sure to lead to great expense;
Too much store
Is sure to end in immense loss.
Know contentment
And you will suffer no disgrace;
Know when to stop
And you will meet with no danger.
You can then endure.

Tao Te Ching, Section 44.
Translation: D.C. Lau, Penguin Classics.

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