How To See Beauty In The Mundane

And, it seems, they are able to reconcile the great trials and hardships of life, finding in them acts of love, compassion, and self-sacrifice.
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How wondrously supernatural and miraculous! I draw water and I carry wood!
P'ang Chu-Shih

We think of wisdom as something belonging to the learned and elderly, yet wise women and men have always exemplified a childlike curiosity, enthusiasm and wonder that seems both charmingly innocent and a bit out of place. A bit irritating, even. As if they are not taking our everyday concerns seriously.

The most beautiful experience we can have is the mysterious. It is the fundamental emotion which stands at the cradle of true art and true science. Whosoever does not know it and can no loner wonder, no longer marvel, is as good as dead, and his eyes are dimmed. --Albert Einstein

It seems, in fact, that either they are pulling the wool over our eyes or they are somehow seeing deeper into the nature of everyday life than we are. They appear to find something truly extraordinary and beautiful and awe-inspiring in the most ordinary and mundane and commonplace events. And, it seems, they are able to reconcile the great trials and hardships of life, finding in them acts of love, compassion, and self-sacrifice.

They are touched by the world, certainly. But they are not wounded by it.

What kind of sensitivity do wise men and women have that allows them to enjoy life so fully, appreciating even the difficult parts? What kind of viewpoint do they have that allows them to benefit others without needing to be benefited by others? What kind of understanding do they offer us to make our everyday life more successful and fulfilling?

Here is one of the clearest and most succinct answers to such questions. It is Chapter eight of the Tao Te Ching, written by Lao Tzu some 2,500 years ago:

The highest good is like water.
Water gives life to the ten thousand things without seeking for itself.
It flows into low places men reject and so is like the Way Itself.
In dwelling, be close to the land.
In meditation, go deep in the heart.
In dealing with others, be gentle and kind.
In speech, be true.
In ruling, be just.
In daily life, be competent.
In action, be aware of the time and the season.
No strife: No blame.

What makes this such an exceptional piece of advice is its range: it treats subjects high and low as equally deserving of wise consideration. It capsulizes the hard-won lessons of many generations in the arenas of spirituality, philosophy, nature, society, politics, and good fortune into bite-sized bits of wisdom.

That the world is, is the mystical. --Ludwig Wittgenstein

In a previous post, I asked for contributions to this subject of real-world wisdom and was rewarded with many thoughtful and heartfelt replies. Although space doesn't permit me to include all of those, I'd like to integrate some of them into the lessons of the quote from the Tao Te Ching above.

The highest good is like water.
Water gives life to the ten thousand things without seeking for itself.
It flows into low places men reject and so is like the Way Itself.

"onenvrnos" wrote: "Wisdom is the realization that the world does not evolve solely around you. You have only to step into the galaxy to see significance being insignificance and vice-versa, one and the same, a form of ever-changing energy, a yin and yang counterbalancing one another."

This aspect of wisdom that is both personal and impersonal at the same time seems to be one we are most reluctant to accept. We know the world doesn't revolve around us but we are loathe to give up our central place in our life-story, perhaps because we fear that if we don't look out for ourselves, no one will. Behaving like water, the wisdom saying advises, means that we stop seeking for ourselves and simply nurture others. This places us in a position that most other people around us reject but because we are fulfilling an unmet need, we actually make ourselves indispensable and, as the time changes in unforeseeable ways, we find unimagined success. This strategy of "filling up the low places" is a time-honored open secret of success.

In meditation, go deep in the heart.
In dealing with others, be gentle and kind.

HP bloggers Ed and Deb Shapiro addressed this directly and forcefully, writing: "Wisdom is awakened when the heart is as open as the Universe. When your heart is as open as the Universe, everything in it is your friend! Wisdom is at the depth of your being. When you let go of your mind then you can open to wisdom. Love is the key to it all. Wisdom plus Love plus Compassion equals freedom ... liberation ... awakening."

It's hard to imagine a clearer and more direct expression of this universal message. Without meditation, our attention is constantly drawn out onto external events by our five senses. We may gain knowledge that way, but there is too much to know to ever master knowledge. It becomes predictably easy to lose ourselves in an attempt to find ourselves in relation to all the other parts of the universe. But by quieting the mind and body, and by looking inwards for the source of awareness, we come to find the very heart of creation that is common to everything. And finding this heart within ourselves, we immediately awaken to the loving-kindness of water, which pours out of our heart to nourish all.

"tapeatsbill" brought the practice of real-world wisdom into sharp focus: "My wife had left our marriage of 20 years suddenly and it rocked me badly. I began regular meditation just to find some relief from anxiety. During one meditation with my mind quieted down, it suddenly hit me with full understanding of how much pain my wife had been in and I FELT compassion instead of anger. I FELT forgiveness instead of revenge. And because of these real FEELINGS, I felt empowered instead of victimized. For me that is wisdom."

Here we see the by-product of meditation: we gain a perspective based on multiple points-of-view. Instead of just seeing everything from our own standpoint, we begin to actually stand in others' shoes, seeing things from their viewpoint. This allows us to authentically step back and open our hearts even to those we felt had wronged us--allowing us to go deep into our heart and treat others with gentleness and kindness.

In speech, be true.

"Lisa Ryder" wrote: "Reason can be used to lie, wisdom cannot lie." Clever arguments convince no one, because everyone knows that words are just words. We all resonate to the true speech of the authentic self.

And "Arithrianos" wrote: "One of the ways to evaluate wisdom is if it raises your energy thinking about it--any wisdom has humor and lightness." Indeed. Inscribed over the door to Nietzsche's house is: I live in my own place, have never copied anybody even half, and at any master who lacks the grace to laugh at himself--I laugh.

In daily life, be competent.

Yinka Daniel-Elebute wrote eloquently: "The wise ones are those who can discern its usefulness and 'presence' in any given situation no matter how degenerated it is and come out still smiling. Wisdom is very friendly if you make it your personal companion always and you can be sure of claiming victory every time it is put into operation. As for 'victory', it relates to superior achievements or accomplishments in respect of issues of complex nature which otherwise would have gotten worse or degenerated if Wisdom had not intervened to save the situation." In this, I find a common thread running through numerous wisdom traditions: what we are calling "wisdom" is the transpersonal mind, which is always accessible to us.

HP blogger Anne Naylor summed up her personal experience like this: "Wisdom is speaking all the time. I need to listen!" A sentiment echoed by "bthechangeyouseek" who wrote: "I know it's wisdom speaking when it comes through the heart, when the mind is quiet and at peace."

"Micki Pacific" addressed real-world competency in this way: "If our intellectual analysis creates a prison, it may inhibit our ability to respond to the deeper calling of the soul towards wholeness. Perhaps a part of wisdom might be keeping one's Self free to follow that calling towards growth ... my 'practical' approach is to accept 'reality' as an extension of dreaming. That helps free me from preconceptions and quiets the 'chattering monkey of ego' so I can do the heart work." It has long been said that self-transformation requires no special knowledge or training--just unrelenting sincerity.

"willowranch" had this to say: "As a scientist and a poet I often find these two ways of knowing the world to be incompatible. In other words I have to turn one of them off to turn the other on but sometimes they work together and I get a poem with scientific allusions or some science that is more imaginative than usual. What I find disturbing is that so many worship reason with all the rigor and judgment directed towards those who don't that one can find in the most extreme tent preacher. As Einstein said Imagination is more important than knowledge." Which brings to mind the quote by Colin Wilson: The left brain is the scientist, the right is an artist. And the wonderful thought of Isadore Duncan: If I could tell you what it meant, there would be no point in dancing it.

I want to thank all those who contributed so generously to this conversation and convey my regrets to those very worthwhile replies I simply couldn't fit into the constraints of this post. Thank you all for sharing your own hard-won wisdom!

Those paying close attention may have noticed that several points in the quote from the Tao Te Ching weren't covered here. One in particular interests me: In ruling, be just.

Too bad that all the people who really know how to run the country are busy driving taxi cabs and cutting hair. --George Burns

For those willing to continue this conversation, I would invite your thoughts on this subject: What would wise government look like in these times?

Looking Forward,


The Toltec I Ching, by Martha Ramirez-Oropeza and William Douglas Horden has just been released by Larson Publications. It recasts the I Ching in the symbology of the Native Americans of ancient Mexico and includes original illustrations interpreting each of the hexagrams. Its subtitle, 64 Keys to Inspired Action in the New World hints at its focus on the ethics of the emerging world culture.

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