The Tao Te Ching: Verse Twenty-One


The appearance of great virtue
Follows only the Tao
The Tao, as a thing
Seems indistinct, seems unclear

So unclear, so indistinct
Within it there is image
So indistinct, so unclear
Within it there is substance
So deep, so profound
Within it there is essence

Its essence is supremely real
Within it there is faith
From ancient times to the present
Its name never departs
To observe the source of all things
How do I know the nature of the source?
With this

                                                      Lao Tzu

The Tao is the essence of all things. It is the Essential Universal Energy. It is unseen, formless and unimaginable.  It cannot be created or destroyed. However, as sentient beings, we are blessed with the ability to be conscience of its presence.

We take on a physical form (body) when we incarnate into this world so that we can live within this reality and walk our Path. However, our nature is also energy (Chi), formless and unseen. To resonate with this Essential Universal Energy means to remove or at least limit any blockages to our ability to receive the energetic vibrations coming from the Universe. This then allows us to flow and feel aligned and a part of the Great Oneness.

We are slowly beginning to realize that Western approaches to staying healthy and managing the potential for disease only addresses our physical bodies and therefore, falls short of having all the answers in a very fundamental way. It does not acknowledge thereby, it does not provide any remedies for issues with our energetic selves.

I have practiced nursing for 34 years and I am far from ready to turn my back on all my education and training in Western healthcare. However, I am more than ready to say that focusing solely on the physical body is akin to doing a physical assessment on someone while the person is fully clothed. You are bound to overlook some vital findings rendering your plan of care incomplete and inadequate.

The message from the twenty-first verse of the Tao to professional and family caregivers is to be as mindful of our wondrous Energetic Nature. Embrace that human beings are far more than what is just seen (body). A human being’s unseen (energetic) nature must be kept in synchronized vibration (healthy) with the Universe if any approach to wellness is going to be truly effective.

Western practitioners often hesitate to endorse these methods for a variety of professional, ethical and legal reasons. However, I assure you that no right thinking Energetic practitioner would encourage anyone to go have acupuncture rather than take Insulin for the treatment of diabetes or do yoga rather than take antihypertensive medication. Being mindful of the energetic qualities of a human being means supplementing conventional methods with Complimentary methods which result in treating body, mind, and spirit (energy).

While it is tempting to start to attend programs to learn how to incorporate Energetic Healing methods into what you are currently doing; I implore you to go slow. Explore Feng Shui and all that balancing your Chakras can offer. Study Reiki and learn how to blend Bach Remedies but dearest caregiver; let yourself be cared for first. Feel the benefit of including Eastern approached to wellness into your daily life. Get stronger and more settled into the Flow of things before you try to offer these gifts to others. You will find yourself more ground and therefore more available to be therapeutic.

The Tao Te Ching: Verse Twenty

Cease learning, no more worries
Respectful response and scornful response
How much is the difference?
Goodness and evil
How much do they differ?
What the people fear, I cannot be unafraid

So desolate! How limitless it is!
The people are excited
As if enjoying a great feast
As if climbing up to the terrace in spring
I alone am quiet and uninvolved
Like an infant not yet smiling
So weary, like having no place to return
The people all have surplus
While I alone seem lacking
I have the heart of a fool indeed – so ignorant!
Ordinary people are bright
I alone am muddled
Ordinary people are scrutinizing
I alone am obtuse
Such tranquility, like the ocean
Such high wind, as if without limits

The people all have goals
And I alone am stubborn and lowly
I alone am different from them
And value the nourishing mother

                                                                          Lao Tzu

The Divine Feminine is a goddess common to most religious and spiritual traditions. It is thought that the original concept represents primal Mother Earth and symbolizes balance, healing, renewal and restoration. The Tao is called the Great Mother (Verse Six). The reason that it is called the Great Mother is to communicate the Tao’s all-embracing nature of receptivity and flow.

The Divine Feminine, Mother Earth and Great Mother references are not intended to be confused with Yin (feminine) energy or Yang (masculine) energy. The Tao is a concept that expands far beyond the dualistic nature of masculine and feminine. It is the unimaginable, non-dualistic  oneness of everything and everyone in the Universe. It embraces everyone and everything. It does not polarize; it unifies.

The promise held within the Tao is a Path, or a Way to harmonizing your dualistic nature and the energies of Yin/Yang. The message contained with this verse of the Tao is to work to harmonize our inner world of mind and spirit with the outer world of our daily actions and interactions (life). Try to balance and harmonize your thinking self with your feeling self. Adopt a daily spiritual practice that will ultimately create a balance of inner strength and outer will, determination, or ambition.

The Great Mother (The Oneness) is always with us. It is only when you choose to judge and assign a dualistic label to people and things that you turn your back on it. You step away from the sense of harmony and flow and you feel separate and alone. This is not to say you should sit around and do nothing but rather; accept that an academic degree(s), a powerful corporate title, or your place in the world’s pecking order does not hold a guarantee of joy and contentment.

Live a conventional life or walk the road less traveled. However, while you are developing your knowledge base and pursuing worldly success; do not neglect the development of your emotional intelligence and spirit. Live mindfully and let each moment reaffirm that you have already arrived.

“Human beings are of such nature that they should have not only material facilities but spiritual sustenance as well. Without spiritual sustenance, it is difficult to get and maintain peace of mind.”   

His Holiness the Dalai Lama





The Tao Te Ching: Verse Nineteen

End sagacity; abandon knowledge
The people benefit a hundred times

End benevolence; abandon righteousness
The people return to piety and charity

End cunning; discard profit
Bandits and thieves no longer exist

These three things are superficial and insufficient
Thus this teaching has its place:
Show plainness; hold simplicity
Reduce selfishness; decrease desires

                                                                Lao Tzu

In this nineteenth verse of the Tao, Lao Tzu is trying to make us more aware that the level of stress we experience in our lives is directly related to the strength of our Ego’s attachment to the stuff (prestige, status, symbols of importance) we have in our lives and our ego driven need for approval and recognition from outside sources.

The Ego is that part of the soul which resonates to the illusions of the material and external world. It is vital to understand that the Ego’s needs are fear based needs. It constantly torments you with the words, what if… What if I lose this? What if I can’t make this happen? What if he/she is not pleased? It mutates the goal of being in harmony with the Great Oneness and feeling a sense of connection with all things into the need for acquiring more status and being better than others so that you will be seen as worthy of love and inclusion.

Once you equate being loved as being admired for your achievements you will constantly be on the defensive and you will always experience a sense of lacking in some way. You will be fueled by a need for more; so you’ll drive yourself harder. Your Ego will never be satisfied. It can never know contentment or wholeness. It cannot connect to the Great Oneness. Its only reality is an overwhelming sense of separateness and of being alone.

Acknowledging that your Ego is at work is the first step to re-establishing balance and connectedness.  The technique is similar to realizing that your mind has wandered and you are now caught up in thought while you are trying to mediate. When you are meditating and find yourself thinking we are taught to simply acknowledge the moment as Thinking and gently, with some sense of humor toward your own humanness, return to the meditative process.

This is exactly what you need to do when you find yourself being dominated by fear-based thinking coming from your Ego. When you feel the fear and all that it stirs up inside you pause, acknowledge the fear as your Ego trying to take over. Then stop the what if story line. Gently, with the same loving kindness toward yourself that you would show any other person in distress breathe, smile at yourself and let go.

This will take practice. Remember, all our Ego based fears are deeply rooted. Do not sabotage yourself by thinking you can master this technique quickly. Just have patience and the faith that you will be stronger with time. Support this effort with other energetic approaches. Massage, reflexology, yoga, Bach Remedies whatever it takes.

As you feel stronger you will begin to be able to peel back the layers of why you feel the sense of attachment you do to all things Ego based. This is where the path to true personal growth begins. Walk slowly down that path without judgment or retribution. It is an adventure toward living authentically.

The Tao Te Ching: Verse Eighteen

The great Tao fades away
There is benevolence and justice
Intelligence comes forth
There is great deception

The six relations are not harmonious
There is filial piety and kind affection
The country is in confused chaos
There are loyal ministers

                                                                                                    Lao Tzu

Image a world where nurses and other members of the Interdisciplinary healthcare team actually supported each other and collaborated well. I can hear the groans and cynical replies such as: are you crazy, not in my lifetime as I type these words.  Countless articles and books have been written on this subject. New terms have entered our professional vernacular such a nurse-to-nurse hostility and horizontal violence. We can protest the insinuation but the reality still lingers; many professional caregivers have a tendency to eat their young and often anyone else who comes close.

There is no clear cut answer as to why this is. It has gone on for a long time; therefore it is fair to say that the root cause is anchored deep under many layers accumulated over many years. The price that is paid by the object of the aggression and by the aggressor is immeasurable.  Just reflect a moment on our overall state of physical health. Obesity, joint pain, heart disease, endocrine issues, back and neck pain, depression, migraine; we are slowly killing each other. Blame it on the stress of the “job” if you want but I want to propose an alternative reason. Is it possible that we are all suffering from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder?

The years of disconnect from the reason why we went into human services, how were learned to practice in school and the inevitable reality shock of what it takes to render care in any healthcare venue have taken its toll. I am beginning to believe that the years of staffing issues, overtime, downsizing, rightsizing, DOH surveys, the Joint Commission accreditation processes, Magnet designation status, get a degree, get another degree, where’s you clinical certification and the subtle but sustained message that no matter what you do; it just isn’t good enough have left us all shell shocked.

Google anything on post-traumatic stress disorder and see if the symptoms don’t sound alarmingly familiar. Interventions to workplace aggression, no matter how well intended, are often too little and too late. So what is the answer? The answer lies in awareness and recognition. Post-traumatic stress disorder is not a diagnosis reserved for the veterans of war; it also applies to warriors who battle within the healthcare industry trying to make a difference one patient/resident/client at a time.

The common denominator for individuals with PTSD is a sense of helplessness. When a professional feels helpless to influence their circumstances, anger soon follows. How we express this anger and who is the object of our anger is what I am beginning to believe is at the heart of our aggression toward each other. I encourage each of us to consider this possibility.

If these thoughts resonate with you then you must take action to help yourself. Work with a mentor, coach or if necessary, seek appropriate therapy. I implore you to resist seeing the issue in everyone else and find the courage to deal with yourself. We are all guilty. Even if your response to co-worker aggression is to turn a blind eye, you are involved. You may not be able to change the mindset of a profession but you can certainly change yourself. With faith, courage and loving kindness directed inward; you can heal yourself.

As you take solid steps toward wellness keep in mind the time honored message that Lao Tzu is sharing in this verse of the Tao; treats the other as you wish to be treated. If the other treats you unjustly, responding with aggression only feeds the darkness so respond with (Light) compassion.

The most important ethical principle in Taoism is the concept of Wu-Wei, which is defined as either acting naturally or as non-action (Renard, 2002, p. 377). Wu Wei is not laziness or indifference; it is being in the flow with the Great Oneness. The ethical belief underlying Wu Wei, is the principle that people are to act for the greater good at all times.

Act without struggling or trying to force events to occur. By conducting yourself in this way, you are not reacting to a negative workplace culture or unofficial rules established by bullies and cliques. You are maintaining your standards of ethics and inner moral code without allowing outside influences to affect them. Then, you need to try to forgive; remembering that forgiveness does not require that you to forget an event. It does require that you let go of the pain that is associated with that event. Forgiveness does not absolve the other person. It frees you.


The Tao Te Ching: Verse Seventeen

The highest rulers, people do not know they have them
The next level, people love them and praise them
The next level, people fear them
The next level, people despise them
If the rulers’ trust is insufficient
Have no trust in them

Proceeding calmly, valuing their words
Task accomplished, matter settled
The people all say, “We did it naturally”

                                                                                                    Lao Tzu

When compassionate leadership, guidance or support is offered to another the intended outcome should be to empower the other person, not fix something for them. Shifting from fixing to empowerment helps the professional or family caregiver to let go of a responsibility that was never yours. It sends the message that the person you are trying to assist is already whole and capable and that you, as the caregiver; are there to support them as they stand up but you are not there to hold them up.

No matter how well intentioned your motives are when you enable dependence rather than responsibility and accountability; you will doom the relationship to be filled with overt or hidden resentment toward you. This is a fact that we must accept at the beginning of the relationship not learn at the end when we are resentful and confused over what went wrong.

Caregivers must relentlessly work to stay in touch with their intrinsic motives. No degree of education or experience gives us the ability to really know what is best for another. All we are really capable of doing is presenting the risks, benefits and possible alternatives to various choices. Then, it is time to step back and let the other person exercise their Right to make their own decision.

When you are able to offer your heart felt self unconditionally and find peace in the decision made with faith and trust that the individual is indeed walking their Path; you will have reached a higher level of the true caring experience then you have ever reached before.



The Tao Te Ching: Verse Sixteen

Attain the ultimate emptiness
Hold on to the truest tranquility
The myriad things are all active
I therefore watch their return

Everything flourishes; each returns to its root
Returning to the root is called tranquility
Tranquility is called returning to one’s nature
Returning to one’s nature is called constancy
Knowing constancy is called clarity

Not knowing constancy, one recklessly causes trouble
Knowing constancy is acceptance
Acceptance is impartiality
Impartiality is sovereign
Sovereign is Heaven
Heaven is Tao
Tao is eternal
The self is no more, without danger  

                                                                                                      Lao Tzu

The Greek philosopher Heraclitus came to the conclusion after many years of study that Change is a fundamental force at the core of the Universe. He shared, “Everything flows and nothing abides, everything gives way and nothing stays fixed.”  Now if you are someone who usually sees the glass as half full, this insight offers a view filled with possibility. It is encouragement to be mindful because, you will not pass this way again. It also encourages you to have courage and patience because, this too shall pass. However, if you find yourself often trying to cling to things, hoping against hope that things will stay the way they are or the way you want; you are indeed inviting a huge amount of self-imposed suffering into your world.

One of the paths to contentment is to truly try to wrap your mind and eventually your heart around the concept of Impermanence so that you can make your peace with the fact that Change is the only thing that is constant and certain. Easy enough said, very difficult to do. It is almost goes against all that a professional or family caregiver strives for. We are determined to fixing things and then ensure that things stay fixed. Which of course they won’t.

Here is where we tend to swim in dangerous waters. Professional and family caregivers want so much to aide and assist. We are incapable of really saying no to anyone who needs our help. We take on more and more. We dedicate a huge amount of energy to achieving something that cannot be achieved because our compassion outweighs our wisdom.

The frustration that builds slowly chips away at our endurance; and we begin to de-compensate until one day, we look into the mirror at a stranger. The questions begin to echo in our heads. Why am I so tired and angry all the time? Why can’t I sleep? How did this happen; all I do is yell?

We move through our personal and professional life attaching to things, wanting them to remain solid and last forever. We experience anxiety, envy, anger and even become verbally violent with others because of our need to cling to a false perception of permanence. Resisting Impermanence blinds us to the need to adapt and find a footing in the new reality so we can thrive. It is nearly impossible for caregivers to acknowledge that they must let go. However, it is in the letting go that we can find a reprieve from alienating friends, colleagues and loved ones.

Finding the peace of mind that so often eludes caregivers starts with the caregiver getting in touch with his/her Need to Fix things back to the way they were. When we have sat quietly and mustered up the courage to do the introspective work needed to explore this trait in an open and honest manner, we will have taken a huge step to resetting our energies in a more realistic and positive direction.

But it is vital that we approach this introspective work with the same loving kindness for ourselves that we would offer to another. There is nothing to be served by gutting yourself up the middle, dissecting each element of your personality and analyzing things to death. Just start slowly by asking what was my honest motivation to do something and what was I honestly trying to achieve. Gently…slowly; acknowledging that you are indeed a good person every step of the way. Offering yourself the greatest of gifts; unconditional love and acceptance.