Tao Te King
William Martin, 1999
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81 WAYS TO DIVE
For many years, we have studied great-love relationships. The Couple's Tao Te Ching powerfully presents a truth that we also have noticed: Couples who reach the second honeymoon stage—the one that doesn't go away—are not splendid human beings. Nor do they somehow possess great powers or talents. The difference, perhaps the sole difference, is that these couples have finally grown to accept each other deeply. They see one another clearly and no longer feel the need to pressure each other to change.
This open-eyed acceptance works the same miracle in relationship after relationship—the short-comings and imperfections of your partner become part of what you love about this person. Obviously, such transformation is not possible when one or both partners is deeply disturbed and acts destructively toward the other. But if hurtfulness and damage are at the core of a relationship, there is no relationship—because the actual relationship has never been experienced. This is why Bill Martin's work is valuable even to couples with profound, chronic issues. Seldom can a relationship book be applied to all stages of a couples' growth, but The Couple's Tao Te Ching, being rich in spiritual truth, is a text that can be. Whether opened for quick inspiration or studied for long-term gains, its mystical and poetic nature make it more a living advisor than a book of rigid concepts. Like a loving friend, it gently draws forth our spiritual perception.
Many couples simply are not aware of the oneness that lies quietly in their hearts. As a first step, they must see what they have chosen in its place. This is not necessarily fun. As Bill puts it, ''Rather than finding better ways to fight, might you be able to find the roots of your conflicts? This is certainly a difficult task, filled with emotion and fear. But if your goal is discovery instead of defense, deep peace is just ahead."
Mastering techniques on how to manipulate your partner—which is what most relationship books offer—will get you long-term war. Deep awareness of each other and yourself leads to peace. But as Bill points out, looking at yourself and listening to your partner's insights is not always pleasant. Many couples avoid this process, to the doom of their relationship.
You have great insight into your partner. During an argument, you know exactly what to say to make this person furious, depressed, embarrassed, or scared. So the problem is not insight. The problem is how you habitually use insight. Times of honest looking are not times to trade grudges or criticize what you don't like. They are not even times to shame yourself and accept guilt. They are periods of love and tenderness—because you are picking the thorns from each other's feet. And although this isn't palatable, it sure beats the alternative.
Once the process of helping each other is learned, you are ready for what The Couple's Tao Te Ching has for you next. Open it up—and no matter what the page—you have an experience. The experience touches your heart. And soon your relationship is more relaxed, more enjoyable.
This approach is more natural than trying to understand someone's version of ''the five steps" or "the ten rules"; then trying to execute the rules correctly; then trying to analyze and judge the results. Bill is saying we simply don't need to go to the Home Depot relationship aisle to fix what we think is wrong. All we need is to dive into the shimmering lake of our relationship. He even gives us 81 ways to dive!
Lao Tzu taught that the truth is true and the truth is now. Bill shows how this applies to our partnerships and marriages. Relationship already exists—even if you just set eyes on the person for the first time, it already exists. It doesn't have to be pieced together, because it's part of what is natural, real, and always present. Your connection with another person is in your heart, and ''getting the relationship you want" is not something you ever need worry about. In fact, it isn't even relevant.
Relationship is more like a bud that contains within it an entire blossom than like a box of assorted parts with no manual. We feed and water the roots and stem that hold the bud high. We protect it against the elements. We keep the ground from which it grows well weeded. Yet as the bud begins to unfold, we want nothing more than to enjoy it. We watch in hushed acceptance as each new stage of beauty is revealed—always nourishing, always protecting, always weeding—but never pushing at the petals to go the direction we think best or squeezing the bud to unfold more quickly.
This approach is so fundamental to happy, healthy relationships that we recommend you do as we ourselves are doing: keep this book near, and drink from it often.
—HUGH AND GAYLE PRATHER
PARENTS, MINISTERS, AND AUTHORS OF
SPIRITUAL PARENTING, I WILL NEVER LEAVE YOU,
AND SPIRITUAL NOTES TO MYSELF
The longer I work with the Tao Te Ching the more I become convinced that its gentle wisdom and penetrating insight may be applied to all arenas of modern life. Written in the Sixth Century B.C.E., and directed to cultural and political leaders, this series of 81 brief poetic meditations has become the most published book in the world, next to the Bible. It has appeared in countless versions and translations and its themes have been the subjects of countless other books. It is a book of practical observations of the way the natural world seems to work. The word, ''Tao" may be translated as "The Way," or, "The Way of Life." I sometimes like to think of it as "The Way Things Naturally Work."
It has been my companion as I have taken the most important journeys of my life: being a parent to my children and being a lover to my spouse. Its great themes of flexibility, patience, compassion, simplicity, and natural virtue have informed all areas of my life. I wrote of these themes and their influence on the parent-child relationship in my earlier book, The Parent's Tao Te Ching. I wrote this book, The Couple's Tao Te Ching, for any two people in a committed love relationship. I have attempted first to digest each of the 81 chapters of the Tao Te Ching; then to express the essence of each as it applies to a couple; and finally to add a few lines of practical advice for consideration.
The love relationship between two people can be the most rewarding and enlightening adventure possible. It can also be the most painful and disappointing of all experiences. The difference between these two extremes can sometimes be a subtle shift in understanding and perception. The ability to love and be loved in natural and satisfying ways lies within each of us. But modern society has overlaid this natural ability with layer upon layer of rules, expectations, and myths until our relationships have become merely one more of the myriad things we have to ''do right" in our complex lives. The natural and gentle principles revealed in the Tao Te Ching have become lost in the fog. I believe the recovery of these principles is of utmost importance for lovers in our world.
I cannot write words about love without acknowledging my own Beloved Nancy. She is my dear spouse and my soul's mate. She has looked into my soul and discovered there the wonder and beauty I have attempted to avoid and deny. She has revealed to me the essence of the Tao and the mystery of her person. I know the themes of this book are true because I have discovered them in the wonder of our love together. We are not unique. It is worth reiterating: The ability to love each other in natural and fulfilling ways is written into the very nature of each person on earth. I hope that this book will contribute in some small way to the rediscovery of that ability within you. My blessings to you and to your beloved.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
William Martin, husband and father of two grown children, has been a student of the Tao for 10 years. A graduate of the University of California, Berkeley, and Western Theological Seminary, he has worked as a research scientist for the Department of the Navy, a clergyman, and a college instructor in counseling, communications, and the humanities. Today, he and his wife Nancy operate The Still Point, an educational and consulting center. He conducts workshops and seminars on subjects including tai chi chuan, Zen, stages of spiritual development, mediation, and religious burnout. He and his wife live in Chico, California. He can be reached by e-mail at Stlpnt@aol.com.
If you could speak but fifty words
each day to your beloved,
only that and no more,
what would be your words today?
When this evening comes,
lie down in each other's arms.
Let the day slip away.
And enjoy the heaven of the moment.
Consider the things you have accumulated.
Do they enhance your love
and increase your intimacy?
Or have they siphoned energy
from the things you once knew to be important;
walks, talks, leisurely love-making, laughter, and play?
You don't need,
"Ten Tidy Tips to Tantalize Your Mate."
You need to look deeply into each other's eyes
for fifteen minutes,
Don't be afraid.
What do you see?
Can you merely notice the things you like or dislike,
without attaching importance to them
or altering the nature of your openness and acceptance?
What will be your first words
when next you meet your beloved?
Will they speak of spacious welcoming?
What is your beloved birthing?
What are you birthing?
What is your relationship birthing?
What sort of prenatal care is needed?
What are the labor pains like?
Are there newborn fruits of your love?
What care do they need?
How can you help?
Can you speak to each other of daily life
without fear of criticism?
Criticism is the cancer of relationships.
It feeds on healthy love
and turns it to self-absorption.
Find it early
and cut it out!
Is there a sense of flow to your life together,
or is there a sense of strain and effort?
Are you competing instead of nourishing?
How will you nourish your beloved today?
There was a time when you knew,
that if you could just wake up
next to this person
nothing else would matter.
When I am worried and fretful
I protect myself by withdrawing.
I retreat into my fearful thoughts
as if by imagining the worst
I somehow prepare for it.
Everyone is left outside,
including my beloved,
waiting for me to regain my senses.
Is there space in your life
for your beloved to blossom?
Is your physical environment cluttered with stuff?
Is your body contaminated with tensions and toxins?
Is your mind full of noise?
The energy needed
to maintain an image of yourself
while molding another one for your beloved
would light a small city.
Let go and discover your hearts and souls
behind the masks.
Are you together right now?
Stop whatever you are doing.
Put on a piece of music that pleases you.
Come to each other's arms
and dance for five minutes.
Then return to your activities.
What are you waiting for?
If you are feeling somewhat separate
and distant from your beloved,
do the things that stabilize you.
Walk, dance, paint, meditate,
write, build, play, or sing.
When you return to your center
you will find your beloved waiting.
Be patient with yourself.
The qualities of a lover
do not depend on externals.
They take root in your own soul
and grow as you attend to them.
They all lie within you.
Fear often appears either
as a lashing out
or as withdrawal.
The next time you do either of these
"What am I afraid of?"
This is the real issue.
When this issue is shared,
Of course we enjoy each other's praise.
It can be part of a healthy joyous relationship.
But be careful of behaving in ways
that are calculated to generate
praise or dependence.
You are not each other's audience
for the playing out of ego dreams.
You are each other's beloved.
"Working on a relationship"
can be an illusion.
Trying to carve your relationship
into an idealized image
will damage you both.
The real thing lives
within each of you.
It can't be forced,
only allowed to emerge.
Can you see it?
The bad news is that
you cannot make each other happy.
The good news is that
happiness is as natural as breathing.
Trust its presence in your hearts
and give it room to grow.
Do not judge your relationship
on the basis of image.
The deepest soul relationships
are very private matters.
Honor the privacy of yours.
Sit in silence and look attentively
at each other this evening.
Do you see the light?
Paradoxes cannot be solved
as problems are solved.
They can only be accepted
Are the current issues in your relationship
By acknowledging and revealing your feelings
in honest non-hurtful ways,
you give a gift of wholeness
to both you and your beloved.
Are you restricting your relationship
by repressing either joy or sorrow?
Is hidden anger turning to resentment?
Who are you trying to fool?
Work a modest number of hours,
then go home.
At home there is no need for pushing,
no need for striving.
Here at home your love finds its full expression.
The wonder of your life together
is not due to your effort.
It is a natural unfolding of the Tao.
You can trust it.
You can rest on it.
You are not generating it
by the power of your will.
Let yourself enjoy this day,
watching the various threads
add their contribution to the tapestry of your life.
Faithfulness in a relationship
is not so much a product of willpower,
as of patience.
Patiently let the storms of your mind
blow past without uprooting you.
Your thoughts will always return to your beloved.
Sadly, we all learn the power of our intuition
by experiencing the consequences
of ignoring it.
I ignored mine for many years
and paid a heavy price.
But, when it truly counted,
I followed it to my own heart's mate.
to that which brings you life:
forgiving and accepting.
The yin and yang of life
are obvious in our changing moods.
The less you worry about them
the freer they will be to play their proper role,
and the freer you each will be
to live in joy.
No solution ever emerges from love
that creates a winner and a loser.
Love always finds a way,
with patience, effort, and compassion,
to meet the needs of both.
Books on ''fighting fair"
give me pause.
Rather than finding better ways to fight,
might you be able to find
the roots of your conflicts?
This is certainly a difficult task,
filled with emotion and fear.
But if your goal is discovery
instead of defense,
deep peace is just ahead.
Shortly after our last move
I developed a massive case of poison oak.
In my misery I became vulnerable
to old feelings of shame and regret.
For several evenings my beloved Nancy sat with me,
as I talked, cried, ranted and raved,
safe enough at last
to be afraid.
The first time my beloved and I held hands
we were walking across a grassy park.
We were shy and cautious
and the only intimacy we shared that day
was the intertwining of our fingers.
It was enough.
I have met many people
who love their important causes
but treat those closest to them
If you wish to live lives of service
learn to cherish each other fully.
This will lead not to self-absorption
but to greater compassion for all.
What is more important,
finding each day a bit more truth
about each other;
or striving another day
to maintain an illusion?
How are you spending this day?
Don't be afraid of discussing problems,
or expressing fears.
Just do it tenderly and without judgment.
This gives each of you the chance
to accept, to nurture, and to trust.
It may be helpful to talk some evening
about what you truly want.
Happiness?—How will you know?
Success?—How do you measure it?
Possessions?—What and why?
How is your relationship affected
by each of these desires?
Which emerge from your center
and which are imposed from without?
Force of will can be a virtue.
It can carry you through some dry and barren times.
But it cannot substitute for the deeper springs
of energy, passion and joy
that first brought you together.
Keep these springs alive!
Know how to find your way back to them
when you wander away.
Drink always from them.
Don't bring yourselves the misery
of, ''If only he'd . . ."
or, "She needs to . . ."
or, "Why don't I . . ."
Delight in what you are right now
and you will both have room to become
everything that you can be.
Some call it meditation.
Some call it relaxation.
Some call it prayer.
Whatever you call it,
It is the center
from which the rest of your life emerges.
your relationship is a carefully acted play.
The Tao gives a slightly different slant
on the truths of your relationship.
No rules or easy steps.
Just a look into the heart of things.
Create your own steps to live it out.
Sexual pleasure has many moods and forms,
but it is always a dance.
Who plays the role of leader
and who of follower,
changes from encounter to encounter
and moment to moment.
But remember it is a dance,
not a contest or a performance.
Martial artists know this truth.
A soft flexible body survives
the hardest of attacks
with balance and poise.
A rigid body is easily broken.
Look to your gentleness,
practice your flexibility.
At the same time maintain
your balance and your self hood.
Conversation is one of the central arts of love.
It requires attention, effort and skill.
It demands open minds and compassionate hearts.
How many of your conversations
reflect discontentment with life as it is,
or with each other as you are?
Can you begin to turn them
to expressions of delight and hope,
of encouragement, learning and healing?
What is, is.
Each of you are what you are.
That's the way it is.
If you can learn to take delight
in what seems flawed and wrong in each other,
you create the atmosphere that enables
growth and change.
My spouse and I are furthest apart
when we are the most afraid.
But when the fears are spoken and faced,
our intimacy is not only restored
Ask yourselves the question,
"Of what are we afraid?"
Honest answers, mindfully spoken
and courageously heard,
will set you free.
My spouse and I have a small altar
in the corner of our bedroom.
A budding branch, some candles, water, earth
and other tokens of our lives rest there.
Before it we have talked, meditated,
laughed and cried.
In this space we have danced
and joined in sacred passion.
Where is your space?
The question, ''What do I need
in order to be happy?" is difficult to answer.
Careers are good, children are a gift,
money is useful, health is a blessing,
but what is essential?
Talk with each other about it.
Perhaps less than you think.
Can you see each other at your very worst
and respond in love to what you see?
Can you see the lost and lonely child,
hiding behind the unpleasant behavior?
Can you hear the pleas for tenderness?
Withholding comes from fear of loss.
We hesitate and resist,
trying to insulate ourselves from pain.
Don't be afraid.
Look for ways to open up
and trust each other a bit more fully.
Feel how it eases the tension
in your body and in your mind.
The acceptance and generosity of the Tao
is difficult to understand and to accept.
Not possessive, demanding, judging or pushing.
Yet full of creativity and power.
Remember that this is your own nature.
It is what you are really like
underneath the scars and behind the masks.
Become yourself and you will become like the Tao.
The real issues are seldom what they appear to be.
Look deeply into your conflicts.
What little seed,
planted long ago,
is coming into bloom?
When you find the origins
do not recriminate each other
or worry about who sowed the seed.
Pull out the roots.
Living effortlessly is not easy.
It requires great attention
to the simple nurturing activities
that we would rather avoid.
It requires listening and holding.
It requires much time spent in reading love poems
and taking leisurely walks by moonlight.
It requires devoting whole days to the art of love.
When you begin doing these things
you will see how effortless they become.
The world will never know love, respect,
kindness and tolerance
until you experience them
in the safety of your love.
When you do,
You have seen couples
for whom despair and frustration
have become a way of life.
They sleep-walk through their days
blaming, complaining, and dying.
You have also seen those
whose aging life together
has brought softness, gentleness and wisdom.
Which are the two of you becoming?
Spend a whole day with your beloved
Do not read, listen to radio or watch television.
Just be with each other and notice how you feel,
even when it seems strange.
Discover who you are
without all of these things.
Express your essence to each other
Goals, plans and efforts
are not necessarily bad.
But remember that you already
have everything you need.
Let a touch, a kiss, and an embrace
be your reminders.
Give each other the freedom
to experience and to feel whatever comes.
If your beloved is sad, or angry, or afraid
don't be threatened by those feelings.
Let them just be there,
part of the reality of the moment.
If your beloved errs or fails, accept these things as well.
In every mood or circumstance
let your love be tender and constant.
When you promise each other
to be there ''in sickness and in health"
you cooperate with the energy of love
which uses all circumstances
for its own good purposes.
Don't be discouraged by trials you now face.
Burn them in the furnace of your heart
and turn them into life's own energy.
Scrutinizing every detail of your relationship
searching for hidden motives and meanings
will drive you both crazy.
Remember the many things that bring balance
to your life together:
the touches, caresses, smiles and kindnesses.
Share simple intimate meals.
And wash each other's hair
in the bath by candlelight.
These will keep your perspective clear.
Your relationship becomes itself
by considering the questions,
"What do we truly like to do?
How do we really feel about that?
What actually brings us peace and joy?"
Forget for a moment what others say.
Forget what couples are supposed to do.
If there were no "supposed to's"
what would you do?
There are surely habits and mutual needs
that are part of your life together.
But remember the deeper reasons,
the intangible mysteries,
the seeming magic of your love.
Weave the fabric of your life
with these threads.
If you are annoyed
or bothered by something.
Don't be afraid to face it honestly.
You may see that it is trivial
and dismiss it without mention.
Or you may need to bring it up
in the safety of your love.
Either way it becomes a tool
of growth and maturity
instead of a stumbling stone.
Be patient as the seeds of your love
grow and mature.
It does not have to happen all at once.
Each day, each moment,
adds one more small element
to the magnificent pattern.
We are all too quick to turn to ''experts"
instead of turning to ourselves.
We end up trying to construct our relationships
in line with the models they prescribe.
Listen and read with an open mind,
but let your own experience of each other
be your final guide.
Do not try to ''tweak" or modify
the dreams of your beloved.
These are deeply personal
and must be treated with great respect.
Giving help and encouragement to each other
in the following of dreams
is good and proper.
But the dreams themselves are sacred
and must be given great respect.
Instead of the morning news,
a walk together hand-in-hand;
Instead of a power lunch,
some warm bread, cheese,
and the love poetry of Rumi;
Instead of The Tonight Show,
tender love by candlelight.
Our culture has filled play
with effort, expense, and intensity.
Simplify your play.
You don't need expensive toys.
You don't need advanced technology.
You don't need athletic skill.
You only need each other.
Disagreement is natural,
conflict is part of human life.
But your relationship is not a war.
You do not have to win.
What you have to do is learn,
about your beloved,
and about yourself.
This is the primary purpose of conflict.
Touch more—gentle touches, passionate touches,
and comforting touches.
Kiss more—soft kisses, demanding kisses, and healing kisses.
Hear more—sounds of books read aloud, sounds of heartbeats,
and sounds of sharing.
See more—sparkle of eyes, texture of skin, and subtle movements.
Smell more—aromas of meals, fragrance of flowers,
and the familiar scent of each other's skin.
Dancing is a wonderful metaphor
for a life of love together.
Shifting your pace from fast to slow,
from free-form to patterned,
from joyous to melancholy,
is the secret of success.
Sometimes you will dance alone
to different rhythms,
but never too far away.
Spirituality touches the deepest feelings of the heart.
Do not seek to convert or enlighten one another.
Seek only to understand and cherish
the uniqueness of each other's soul.
Treating each other with acceptance and grace
is the religion of your heart.
When your life together seems dry and dusty,
imagine yourself a well-digger.
Not far beneath the surface
is the water that will refresh and renew.
Imagine how it will feel when you find it.
Dig for it.
Trust that it will be there.
Committing your life to another person
is a great change,
filled with both loss and gain.
You lose some independence
You gain a world of love.
Gaining a world of love,
you fear its loss.
But you need not be afraid.
The Tao contains all loss and gain
and contains each of you as well.
Pressure can be applied in many ways—
stony silence and withdrawal until the other apologizes,
criticism until they learn,
withholding or giving sexual pleasure
depending on their behavior.
This is no way to live.
Let go of expectations, release the pressure,
and enjoy each other.
Why else are you together?
There was a time when dreams and plans took wings.
Your beloved's eyes contained the cosmos,
inviting you to travel to distant worlds.
Why have you narrowed your vision?
Circumstances have changed
and life has dealt you blows.
But the cosmos still waits in those eyes.
Opposite energies each have their place.
Too much attention can be smothering.
Too little may feel like abandonment.
Is it time for physical passion,
or gentle conversation?
Time to be together, or to be alone?
You must learn to sense these rhythms
and allow them to have their time.
Which is needed at this moment in your life?
Sexual love is not an athletic performance.
It is the supreme form of yin and yang,
active and receptive energies,
dancing to their eternal music.
Let your love express a wide array of moods.
Let it be passionate and ecstatic.
Let it be long and leisurely.
Let it be brief and intense.
Let it be funny and playful.
Let it be romantic.
Let it be pure pleasure.
Let it be healing and comforting.
There is a saying in Japanese business,
"Fix the problem, not the blame."
There will be times when your beloved
will truly disappoint you
and you will be greatly tempted
to assign guilt and blame.
If instead you work together
with creativity and imagination,
and together solve the problem,
your love will be unbounded.
Contentment in your relationship
is not a naive expectation.
The ups and downs of life
and the swing of changing moods
do not have to destroy you.
Can you see the happiness
that lies within your reach?
I know the great mystery of love
and the overarching Tao
can be trusted.
I know this not because of any words.
I know it because I touched it
when I first touched Nancy's hand.
No matter what happens,
trust the power of your love.
All will be well.