Photo: B. Fertman
Holidays do not always bring joy and good cheer.
Visiting relatives we can’t relate to, whose values conflict with ours. Not having relatives to visit. Missing people who were once in our lives, parents or grandparents, former spouses, kids who have grown up and moved on.
Some of us are single. We are bombarded with commercials, with images of happy families, people who are married, people with children, people living in big, beautiful homes.
Holidays can be overwhelming, unnerving. Unresolved conflicts emerge, old wounds resurface, arguments ensue. Pressures mount around money and gift buying. People running around. Lots of drinking. Accidents happen, and not just to other people.
Some of us face the new year full of hope, others of us, with dread.
Who hasn’t, at one time or another, felt lonely and depressed, deserted and desolate during the holidays?
Like all of us, Lao Tzu’s been there too. He doesn’t try to hide it from us. He wants us to know that he knows how hard it can get, how painful it can become. He’s telling us that even saints and sages suffer. He’s telling us that these feelings of isolation that beset us are part of the human drama, not indications that we are broken.
Without a broken heart, how could anyone be whole?
Accepted or Rejected.
Included or Excluded.
Sanctioned or Censored.
Which is a compliment, which an insult?
Ultimately, does it really matter?
Don’t be afraid of what people think of you.
How do you think about yourself?
That’s what counts!
I know what I say is true,
Still, sometimes, I feel utterly alone.
I watch and listen to people around me.
They are together – eating, talking, laughing,
Enjoying one another, as if life were one big party.
I don’t feel like eating. I don’t talk. I don’t smile.
I’m exhausted. I can hardly move.
I’m downhearted and depressed.
I have a house but no home.
I am a homeless person.
People around me go about living their lives.
I feel like I have no life.
I’m just an old man sitting and writing in the dark.
What’s wrong with me?
Why am I so confused, so flooded in doubt?
Everyone seems full of purpose. They are clear.
They know what they have to do, and they do it.
I drift aimlessly, blown this way and that, like a cloud.
I possess no solidity, no stability, no security.
Yes, it is true. I am a stubborn man.
Nothing but the Tao sustains me.
From Her alone I receive sustenance.
I am like a baby peacefully sucking at his mother’s breast.
Where This Path Begins by Bruce Fertman
For whoever decided to leave this passage in the Tao Te Ching, I am grateful, just as I am grateful to whoever decided to leave Ecclesiastes in the Torah. When we mystify, mythologize, and deify our leaders, we belittle ourselves.
Near the end of his life, Carl Jung strongly identified with this exact passage in the Tao Te Ching. He writes:
“I am astonished, disappointed, pleased with myself. I am distressed, depressed, rapturous. I am all these things at once, and cannot add up the sum. I am incapable of determining ultimate worth or worthlessness; I have no judgment about myself and my life. There is nothing I am quite sure about…
When Lao-tzu says: ‘All are clear, I alone am clouded,’ he expresses how I now feel. Yet there is so much that fills me: plants, animals, clouds, day and night, essences of people. The more uncertain I have grown about myself, the more there has grown up in me a feeling of kinship with all things. In fact it seems to me as if that alienation which so long separated me from the world has become transferred into my own inner world, and has revealed to me an unexpected unfamiliarity with myself.”