Darkness within Darkness

Reflections on The Tao te Ching – Chapter 1:


The tao that can be told

is not the eternal Tao.

The name that can be named

is not the eternal Name.


The unnamable is the eternally real.

Naming is the origin

of all particular things.


Free from desire, you realize the mystery.

Caught in desire, you see only the manifestations.


Yet mystery and manifestations

arise from the same source.

This source is called darkness.


Darkness within darkness.

The gateway to all understanding.




I searched for a picture of Darkness and found the photo shared above. I love it more than I can say because when thinking of darkness, I think of being scared of the dark. I think of the boogie-man and scary things jumping out at me. I do not think of playing fearlessly, of running, and skipping, and dancing in front of a fountain. Those things are done in daylight. But fearlessness happens no matter what time of day. Someone who is absorbed in play doesn’t realize when the sun is setting.

While I will not pretend to understand these lines from The Tao, I am mystified and excited by them. My friend, Amy, over at Tao te Ching Daily, has written essays on every chapter of the Tao – through a series called Tao Tuesday. She is on to other adventures now, but I feel the need once again to be grounded in the mysteries and sink down into these words and find what they are saying to me here and today. I want to find time each week to study and reflect on these chapters. As per usual, I am not organized enough to be doing this on a Tuesday – no matter. As I can, within my schedule, I will attempt to get through the entire book.

Today, the idea of mystery versus manifestation struck me. Free from desire, you realize the mystery. Caught in desire, you see only the manifestations. I will relate this to mothering/parenting, as that is what consumes me currently.

If I am able to sit back and watch my children unfold and blossom into the people they are becoming, I am transfixed by the great and powerful mystery that is the nuance of each child, each dream for their future developing, each radiant light coming from their eyes. There is a rich, lush beauty to the burgeoning of character.

When I forget to be truly present with rapt attention as they grow, when I am filled with desire – and I don’t mean good wants, but worries and heartaches over what ifs – I stop seeing them as poetry, and see only the manifestations – the outward indications, the evidence or symptoms of growth (or lack thereof), the exhibition, display, substantiation. Suddenly, I am a scientist and they are experiments, and I am needing them to display far more proof of my skills as a mother. Their behavior should reflect better on me. And I have lost the battle.

Yet mystery and manifestations arise from the same source. And my being present or being caught up in worry arise from the same source as well. It is this thing called life. “Electric word, Life, and it means forever, and that’s a mighty long time.” ~ Prince…


If mystery and manifestations are from the same source, and worry is a misuse of imagination, it seems there is always a choice in every moment how to respond to life. I can be floored by the mystery, or caught up in the details of manifestations. I can be tightly wound with delusions and worry, or I can plunge into joyous imaginative spirals. I wonder why I tend to gravitate to the anxious rather than the laid-back and relaxed?

If I could grasp the concept that they both come from the same place, and that I can decide to find joy and wonder and delicious in each moment, or always be a stress case, then I could change the trajectory of my whole outlook. I think I am happy for the most part, and find ways to always look at the bright side in my adult life, in my own and my husband’s world. For some reason, I am worried sick over kids half the time. They are practically 7 and 11, and they seem to be doing just fine. I think I could kick my worry to the wayside and start relishing more of the adventure.

Darkness within Darkness. The gateway to all understanding. That is creepy and simultaneously scrumptious, isn’t it? It conjures up the idea of unknowing, which, to me is probably the scariest thing. But it is what all of life is, really. We know nothing about what tomorrow will bring. We have only right now in this moment. We have zero assurances of how our lives will turn out or how our children’s will – and so we get to walk in darkness a lot, or we can skip and play in the fountains of darkness, and learn to embrace the unknowing without fear. Perhaps that is the gateway to understanding – the letting go of wanting to have it all figured out, the relaxing into what is and what will be. I think this is much harder than it sounds, and also probably much easier than I am imagining. They both arise from the same source. And that is where the AHA comes in.

2 thoughts on “Darkness within Darkness

  1. Beautiful, beautiful Liesl,

    I love the Tao, love your writing, love your thoughts. Thank you for this deep dark welcome into so many delicious ideas.

    We do love the mystery, don’t we. Love the dark even as we don’t fully understand it.

    An odd but persistent joy. 🙂

    So much love and light to you, dear one, always,


    1. Thank you, Allison. In the midst of so much busy-ness in life, it is good to sink into that dark now and then, right? And drift, and swim or dance. I love it.

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