The Tao Te Ching: Verse Seventy-One

To know that you do not know is highest
To not know but think you know is flawed

Only when one recognizes the fault as a fault
can one be without fault

The sages are without fault
Because they recognize the fault as a fault
That is why they are without fault

                                                                           Lao Tzu

The words of wisdom encourage you to do all you can to stay open to the wonders of this Universe. Pay attention. Walk through your day awake and aware. Notice the synergy. Be mindful of the linkages; the subtle undertones that weave us all together. Celebrate that there are no coincidences; just an unfathomable plan unfolding. Let go of your neurotic self and acknowledge the infinite greatness all around you. Strive to know what you do not know.

The Tao Te Ching: Verse Seventy

My words are easy to understand, easy to practice
The world cannot understand, cannot practice
My words have basis
My actions have principle
People do not understand this
Therefore they do not understand me
Those who understand me are few
Thus I am highly valued
Therefore the sage wears plain clothes but holds jade

                                                                                       Lao Tzu

The guidance shared by Lao Tzu in this seventieth verse of the Tao Te Ching is to try not to over complicate things. When you find yourself adding needless layers to an event, situation or relationship, stop. Reassess. Acknowledge the attachments and motives that are driving your actions. Slow down and Simplify.

Simplifying your life is another way to rid yourself of energy draining Clutter. Keep in mind that Clutter is our subconscious mind trying to distract us from issues we have yet to find the strength to address.

If you find yourself insisting that your present course is only way and that scaling back would be likened to a defeat or setback; then you have uncovered a personal issue ripe for facing. It is a signal that it is time to lay down some of the baggage you have been carrying, bless it for how it has served you up to this point, then turn and walk away. This is a gift hidden in a sorrow that will start you toward contentment. Simplify.


The Tao Te Ching: Verse Sixty-Nine

In using the military, there is a saying:
I dare not be the host, but prefer to be the guest
I dare not advance an inch, but prefer to withdraw a foot

This is called marching in formation without formation
Raising arms without arms
Grappling enemies without enemies
Holding weapons without weapons
There is no greater disaster than to underestimate the enemy
Underestimating the enemy almost made me lose my treasures

So when evenly matched armies meet
The side that is compassionate shall win

                                                                                         Lao Tzu

One of the most disruptive emotions one can experience is the feeling of hatred toward another. While it is difficult to admit that one actually feels hatred; each of us has certainly had a close encounter with its more subtle symptoms: dislike, anger, passive aggressiveness, overt hostility, sabotage and so on.  In this sixty-ninth verse of the Tao Te Ching, Lao Tzu speaks about how armies should meet and treat the enemy. I believe his message here to professional caregivers is a suggestion on how to deal with the enemy within which is, our potential for anger toward each other. His guidance is simple and clear, only compassion (non-aggression) shall win.

Much has been written in the literature about creating a healthy work environment. We point to the impact of staffing, systems, accessibility to equipment and products as issues that negatively affect a work day, our stamina and patient safety. While I believe important gains have been made in these areas; more could be done to address our tendency to judge, undermine and mistreat each other in subtle or overt ways.

Showing my anger, regardless of how justified I tell myself I am, has never made me more peaceful or content. I may succeed in sending the object of my anger a strong message and even upset them but my anger has never served to remedy a situation. Anger only serves to complicate the issue and leave you with an ugly residual sense of restlessness, irritability and sadness.

One of the biggest outcomes hoped for in the study and practice of Eastern Philosophies is the letting go of habitual behaviors. Staying caught up in addressing people and situations in the same manner even though those approaches no longer or never worked for you is what the famed Buddhist Nun; Pema Chodron refers to as, Being Hooked.

It is time to let go of being our own worst enemies. Let us be open to the idea that what is often chewing away at us is perception antagonized by fatigue rather than fact. Make a choice to channel potential negative energy in a more positive, results oriented outcome. Nothing is to be gained by horizontal violence and much is being lost every day. Let us have the strength to resist habitual judgmental reactions, let us focus on the good work being done by everyone, let us be compassionate with ourselves and commit to maintaining a balance in our personal and professional lives that will afford us the ability to connect and stay united.

“What you are now is what you have been, what you will be is what you do now.” -Buddha



The Tao Te Ching: Verse Sixty-Eight

The great generals are not warlike
The great warriors do not get angry
Those who are good at defeating enemies do not engage them
Those who are good at managing people lower themselves
It is called the virtue of non-contention
It is called the power of managing people
It is called being harmonious with Heaven
The ultimate principle of the ancients

                                                                                        Lao Tzu

In his landmark work The Sacred Path of the Warrior Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche laid down a guideline for anyone wanting to reject violence and aggression for living in and interacting with the world through gentleness, courage, and self-knowledge. He teaches that it is possible to discover the basic goodness of human life and radiate that goodness out into the world for the peace and sanity of others. However, that decision to work for a peaceful coexistence requires relentless fearlessness thus accounting for his term Warrior.

Rinpoche wrote “The essence of Warriorship, or the essence of human bravery, is refusing to give up on anyone or anything. We can never say that we are simply falling to pieces or that anyone else is, and we can never say that about the world either.”

The sixty-eighth verse of the Tao Te Ching is rich with the same incredible wisdom. The greatest leaders/warriors choose to build coalitions not dynasties. Their bravery is measured in their ability to let go of the illusion of control and embrace interdependence, team work and collaboration. They do not ask others to compromise but search for the Win-Win solution through the art of negotiation. They are unshakeable in their belief that what happens to one happens to us all.

This is not an easy option. One walks this Path knowing that it will be littered with setbacks and failures. This choice was never intended to be easy rather it is intended to shape your character. Search deep within yourself and find the courage to make this choice and never look back.

The Tao Te Ching: Verse Sixty-Seven

Everyone in the world calls my Tao great
As if it is beyond compare
It is only because of its greatness
That it seems beyond compare
If it can be compared
It would already be insignificant long ago!

I have three treasures
I hold on to them and protect them
The first is called compassion
The second is called conservation
The third is called not daring to be ahead in the world
Compassionate, thus able to have courage
Conserving, thus able to reach widely
Not daring to be ahead in the world
Thus able to assume leadership
Now if one has courage but discards compassion
Reaches widely but discards conservation
Goes ahead but discards being behind
Then death!
If one fights with compassion, then victory
With defense, then security
Heaven shall save them
And with compassion guard them

                                                                             Lao Tzu

In verse sixty-seven, Lao Tzu shares that to live in harmony with the Tao one needs to practice patience (conservation), humility (not daring) and compassion; with the greatest of these three treasures being compassion. This is oddly reminiscent of Corinthians 13:4-13 “…now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.”

Compassion is the ability to feel empathy for another. But where does the ability to feel empathy come from? That answer is difficult to put into words because it does not emanate from the intellect (the mind). Your ability to feel compassion is directly related to your ability to connect with another on a heart-felt level. True compassion rises from touching that place within yourself, your own frailties, accepting your imperfections and offering yourself the love and support necessary to find the courage to begin to address each shortcoming. Having empathy for another is impossible unless you have learned to not only accept all your own challenges but actually love (forgive) yourself despite those disappointing facts.

Without that vital connection with yourself, you will be able to connect on a knowing level; that is your head will tell you how challenging or heartbreaking something is for another but you never would be able to truly relate to that person’s experience. You would lack authenticity and the interaction would be superficial at best. Having loving kindness toward oneself does let you off the responsibility or accountability hook. It is owning and acknowledging your humanity. In that moment of acceptance, you anchor your citizenship in the community of souls, you find it impossible to be isolated and your heart opens like a lotus of compassion.

Siddhartha Gautama (The Buddha) taught,“You yourself, as much as anybody in the entire Universe, deserve your love and affection.” These simple yet profound words need to be heard and held close by every professional and family caregiver. They serve as ancient instructions for keeping your Compassionate Spirit intact and available to others.

The Tao Te Ching: Verse Sixty-Six

Rivers and oceans can be the kings of a hundred valleys
Because of their goodness in staying low
So they can be the kings of a hundred valleys
Thus if sages wish to be over people
They must speak humbly to them
If they wish to be in front of people
They must place themselves behind them
Thus the sages are positioned above
But the people do not feel burdened
They are positioned in front
But the people do not feel harmed
Thus the world is glad to push them forward without resentment
Because they do not contend
So the world cannot contend with them

                                                                                  Lao Tzu

It is not uncommon for family caregivers to find themselves forced into in a take charge role with little or no warning. This unexpected responsibility usually comes on the heels of a crisis. As a professional caregiver, I am always relieved to see a family member step up and be present for my patient. It takes a lot to be the go-to-person, to advocate, to find time, and rearrange your life. So many of my patients literally have no one or have no one who is willing to be that generous and compassionate. Being a good family caregiver is very much like being a good leader and while the words of Lao Tzu in this sixty-sixth verse of the Tao were intended to be contemplated by those in a formal leadership role; I believe that they have profound value for family caregivers as well. Those led should not feel burdened by the one leading.

So often I speak to a family caregiver who is in the primary caregiver role and listen as they explain how they manage. I ask how they are personally doing and I hear rhetorical answers such as, I just do it, It all works out, I’m fine, It’s not that I don’t want help, the help just isn’t there, If I don’t do it, it won’t get done, yes I have family but really it is just me and so on. In many, far too many instances this is indeed the reality of the situation. However, in many other cases, this sense of isolation is a perception that is not necessarily true; or perhaps more to the point, there is an underlying need for it to be the truth. How can one know the difference? The difference is measured in the caregiver’s willingness to accept help, delegate responsibility and share the care.

Family dynamics can be a thick veneer to strip away. The layers are sticky and seem to go on forever. It is painful to watch as members faceoff. One essentially says, you can’t do what I do and the response that follows is, but you won’t let me do anything. This is where the Leadership, as outline in the words of the Tao, needs to come in. My next words may sound harsh but they are offered with concern and respect.

The primary caregiver needs to take some quiet time to soul search their motivation for stepping into this role. They must be self-aware enough to see through the need to advocate and their own personal need for control or perhaps distraction from their own issues. They need to be respectful of their troops, team or in this case family. Not everyone possesses the same knowledge base or skill set but everyone can learn. Not everyone can do hands-on care but that does not mean that cannot contribute in a manner that is no less important. Leaders do not get caught up in the how (the process) but in the results (the outcome). The caregiving process can be an opportunity to foster/anchor relationships. It does not need to be the fuel that turns family ties into ashes.

Care-leaders find a way for everyone to contribute without being judgmental of that contribution but grateful for that expression of caring. Care-leaders accept people where they are at, support them as they try, empower others and never, ever let themselves become so fatigued that they confuse caring with fixing and allow resentment to set in. Thus the world is glad to push them forward (be grateful for their leadership) without resentment.

Share the Care:

How to Organize a Group to Share the Care of Someone Who is Seriously Ill

The Tao Te Ching: Verse Sixty-Five

Those of ancient times who were adept at the Tao
Used it not to make people brighter
But to keep them simple
The difficulty in governing people
Is due their excessive cleverness
Therefore, using cleverness to govern the state
Is being a thief of the state
Not using cleverness to govern the state
Is being a blessing of the state

Know that these two are both standards
Always knowing these standards
Is called Mystic Virtue
Mystic Virtue: Profound! Far-reaching!
It goes opposite to material things
Then it reaches great congruence

                                                                            Lao Tzu

The warning to anyone in any leadership position contained within this sixty-fifth verse of the Tao Te Ching is, the minute you think you are the smartest person in the room or meeting; you separate and isolate yourself from those you have committed to serve and your effectiveness as a leader will suffer.

Lao Tzu sets the bar high. He challenges those who hold leadership positions to embrace the qualities and values of a Virtuous Leader. That Core set of competencies include: integrity, humility, discernment, courage, self-control and strong sense of social justice, passion for the role of leader and identification with and compassion for those served.

It may seem that these assets should also come with a super person costume and cape however, it is possible to anchor these characteristics as a leader if you are committed to lifelong learning, personal transformation and the attainment of self-fulfillment. Leadership is and should be one of the toughest, most challenging roles anyone ever aspires to hold.

Virtuous Leaders in healthcare (there are many) are the product of an evolutionary process that no longer supports power but nurtures relationships. They have been chosen through natural selection to promote patient-centered care and care delivery through respectful, honest partnership with the employees within their organization. They innately understand that the end product of quality patient care is a direct byproduct of how professional caregivers respect and work with each other.

A Virtuous Leader resists imposing his/her beliefs and supports others as they find their way. It would be a mistake to see these courageous individuals as weak or rooted in a need to please. Rather, they are confident enough to set the standard high for everyone and promote individual responsibility, accountability and interdependence.

“Leadership is about achieving greatness by bringing out the greatness in others.”

                                                                                             Alex Harvard



The Tao Te Ching: Verse Sixty-Four

When it is peaceful, it is easy to maintain
When it shows no signs, it is easy to plan
When it is fragile, it is easy to break
When it is small, it is easy to scatter
Act on it when it has not yet begun
Treat it when it is not yet chaotic
A tree thick enough to embrace
Grows from the tiny sapling
A tower of nine levels
Starts from the dirt heap
A journey of a thousand miles
Begins beneath the feet

The one who meddles will fail
The one who grasps will lose
Therefore, sages do not meddle and thus do not fail
They do not grasp and thus do not lose

People, in handling affairs
Often come close to completion and fail
If they are as careful in the end as the beginning
Then they would have no failure

Therefore, sages desire not to desire
They do not value goods that are hard to acquire
They learn to unlearn
To redeem the fault of the people
To assist the nature of all things
Without daring to meddle

                                                                                    Lao Tzu

There is a quote from an anonymous source that I keep close to my desk, What Would You Attempt If You Knew You Could Not Fail?” This simple question serves to keep me connected to the great truth that, all things are possible. This is also the message contained within the sixty-fourth verse of the Tao Te Ching. The only barriers standing in our path are those that we place there ourselves or allow others to place before us.

It takes more than courage to risk failure. It takes an internal confidence and conviction that your intuition about the action you are considering is on point even though prudent judgment and common sense counsel otherwise. But how can you reliably access that sixth sense? The answer is through silence and practice.

Gifting yourself the time to meditate provides the silence. It is difficult, perhaps impossible to connect with your intuition when you are battling the noise in your head. Should I? Shouldn’t I? What if? If only? Not now, this is not the right time. It’s too late! I really don’t need to. I’m OK! Let’s be practical… OMG! Eastern philosophical teachings call this noise in your head, monkey mind. The term is meant to describe the random, jumping, chaotic thought process that can occur when you have not yet learned to discipline your mind.

Meditation helps you get out of your own way by quieting the noise, providing much needed space between each thought and with practice; the ability to listen to your heart’s voice (your intuition). Once you are able to make that connection with your heart there is a knowing that settles over you. You just know you are on the right course.

So crave the quiet moments and don’t rationalize being content without making that time for yourself. Avoid the company of those who can only connect with the reasons why something cannot be done, especially if that person(s) is smiling and offering that advice for your own good. Never give away your power to another. Muster your courage, have faith and take that first step on that journey of a thousand miles.



The Tao Te Ching: Verse Sixty-Three

Act without action
Manage without meddling
Taste without tasting
Great, small, many, few
Respond to hatred with virtue

Plan difficult tasks through the simplest tasks
Achieve large tasks through the smallest tasks
The difficult tasks of the world
Must be handled through the simple tasks
The large tasks of the world
Must be handled through the small tasks
Therefore, sages never attempt great deeds all through life
Thus they can achieve greatness

One who makes promises lightly must deserve little trust
One who sees many easy tasks must encounter much difficulty
Therefore, sages regard things as difficult
So they never encounter difficulties all through life

                                                                                            Lao Tzu

These words from the sixty-third verse of the Tao serve as a whispered reminder that we make life much harder than it needs to be. We consistently get in our own way of being content by forgetting that the vehicle used to arrive at contentment is fueled by heart energy and not our intellect.

How often have you had to acknowledge that something was not as hard as you thought it would be? We put ourselves through this superstitious ritual fearful that if we did not sufficiently torment ourselves the outcome would be undesirable. We lose sight of the fact an outcome not necessarily aligned with our desires may be the best thing to ever happen to us.

What if we embrace our challenges as interesting landmarks on the road of life? Drive up to them, be mindful and fully engaged in the experience, learn the lesson and then be on your way. We could then act without action (over-reaction). We would intuitively understand that the best approach to addressing a daunting task is to break it up into manageable parts. We would not hesitate to ask for help or refuse it when generously offered. We could breathe.

The Tao Te Ching: Verse Sixty-Two

The Tao is the wonder of all things
The treasure of the kind person
The protection of the unkind person

Admirable words can win the public’s respect
Admirable actions can improve people
Those who are unkind
How can they be abandoned?

Therefore, when crowning the Emperor
And installing the three ministers
Although there is the offering of jade before four horses
None of it can compare to being seated in this Tao

Why did the ancients value this Tao so much?
Is it not said that those who seek will find,
And those with guilt will not be faulted?
Therefore, it is the greatest value in the world

                                                                                         Lao Tzu

One of the fundamental principles taught in the Shambhala Lineage of Tibetan Buddhism is the belief in our own innate Basic Goodness. The term basic in Basic Goodness is a concept that often makes me smile because it is so simple yet so difficult for us to accept about ourselves. We are so preoccupied with focusing on our personal shortcomings and challenges to actualizing all of our potential that we lose sight of all that is Good within each of us right now.

When that pastime becomes taxing, we add to the mix by starting to put the shortcomings of everyone else under a microscope. It makes for quite a soup. We can switch up that energy by maintaining our prospective on what makes things wrong from what make things different; and not confusing style with substance.

Take the hand of your neighbor and focus on all that you share in common; your Basic Goodness, love of family, a need to do meaningful work. Then while holding tight, slowly move to the place where you can respect divergent thinking and approaches to life even when you cannot agree.

Clearly, there is much that threatens mankind in the world today but when we look at the world and focus on the darkness that it contains it is a huge distraction from the Light that dominates and sustains us. Lao Tzu reminds us the greatest strength of the Light is the plain fact that we are all part of a Great Oneness and interdependent upon one another. When individuals or groups forget this fact, the Evil that is created can threaten us all. However, we can embrace this fact without losing our faith. Our defense against that Evil is and always will be the strength and power of our collective Basic Goodness and the Awakened Heart we share.