XXXIII – “He who lives out his days…”

He who knows others is clever;

He who knows himself has discernment.

He who overcomes others has force;

He who overcomes himself is strong.

He who knows contentment is rich;

He who perseveres is a man of purpose;

He who does not lose his station will endure;

He who lives out his days has had a long life.


A quick wit can judge another and a prize fighter can knock another out.

And you can retire, rich and content, holding yourself above the others – but then you are no longer living. Your life will have no longevity – nor will it have breadth, nor depth.

Instead, think about the strength to carry weights with good posture. Persevere in the long task. Train endurance, and do not hold yourself above the others.

You know yourself by way of observation; you overcome yourself by way of pliability. Such is your practise: there is no knock-out punch.


XXXII – “The way is forever nameless”

The way is forever nameless.

Though the uncarved block is small

No one in the world dare claim its allegiance.

Should lords and princes be able to hold fast to it

The myriad creatures will submit of their own accord,

Heaven and earth will unite and sweet dew will fall,

And the people will be equitable, though no one so decrees.

Only when it is cut are there names

One ought to know that it is time to stop.

Knowing when to stop one can be free from danger.

The way is to the world as the River and the Sea are to rivulets and streams.


Regularly, a clear idea, which I cannot fault, occurs to me: that really my task is to say nothing on these matters. Perhaps then the tumult in my mind will come to a rest, I think. Because I cannot calm this tumult with words, seemingly, I cannot find words which smooth the way. No: my words conjure new dangers. But if I wait and observe, I wonder, these matters might pass by into peace, de-escalating from the outside in like a southern hurricane going north over the plains of America.

Lao Tzu said

When Confucius went to Chou to ask to be instructed in the rites by him, Lao Tzu said, “What you are talking about concerns merely the words left by people who have rotted along with their bones. Furthermore, when a gentleman is in sympathy with the times he goes out in a carriage, but drifts with the wind when the times are against him. I have heard it said that a good merchant hides his store in a safe place and appears to be devoid of possessions, while a gentleman, though endowed with great virtue, wears a foolish countenance. Rid yourself of your arrogance and your lustfulness, your ingratiating manners and your excessive ambition. These are all detrimental to your person. This is all I have to say to you.”

From the Shih chi (first century BC)

Or (again): don’t wander around like a pompous sod.

It is a hard teaching.


Work hymn

“Lucky you, you didn’t have to work today.”

“What were you doing all day?”


Phillip Larkin called it a toad at first

He wanted to drive it off with a pitch fork

But he loved it in the end.

I can’t get used to weekends.

It’s wrong not to earn a living.

For Adam work meant redemption

i.e. punishment. A day off today.

Remembering holidays makes it worse.

If it wasn’t for shit bosses it’d be OK,

If you could work peacefully,

I say. I’d like to write a book

And never work again, but walk instead.

But what if there’s nothing without work?

And is that what’s worse, Phillip Larkin?

Food and shelter is my purpose

And I smile sometimes too.




XXX – “A creature in his prime”

One who assists the ruler of men by means of the way does not intimidate the empire by a show of arms.

This is something that is liable to rebound.

Where troops have encamped

There will brambles grow;

In the wake of a mighty army

Bad harvests will follow without fail.

One who is good aims only at bringing his campaign to an end and dare not thereby intimidate. Bring it to a conclusion but do not boast; bring it to a conclusion but do not brag; bring it to a conclusion but do not be arrogant; bring it to a conclusion but only when there is no choice; bring it to a conclusion but do not intimidate.

A creature in its prime doing harm to the old

Is known as going against the way.

That which goes against the way will come to an early end.


Who attacks the elderly?

Who attacks the older generation? 1789-1968, including 1933. We who invent a new way, we who shake off the supposed yoke of our ancestry.

The beginning of respect is respect for parents and parenting is the way.


Past senses

The Andover Estate is situated at the crossing of Hornsey Road and Seven Sisters Road. I lived there when I was seven years old. I attended Montem Primary School on Hornsey Road next to “Hornsey Swimming Pool and Laundry” with the illuminated figure of a diving woman, which I vividly remember.

On this sunny afternoon the estate looked idyllic. It’s red-brick buildings are neat; the estate is laid out in cul-de-sacs and little clusters of flats/maisonettes/terraces called “walks”, with plenty of small playgrounds, trees and little squares. It is light, quiet, clean and well cared for – one bloc, or island, of flats was in the process of being renovated. Some kids were playing on the enclosed football pitch on which I once played, a car was being fixed in one of the cul-de-sacs, there was some dog and toddler walking, a little corner shop….

I went up to the raised walkway on which our flat was located. Walking past my flat I was struck, out of the blue, by an exact and unique odour from over 30 years ago. I always thought it was cat piss. Today I thought it might be old cooking oil. But that’s not relevant here. The thing is, I only smelt that smell as I walked past my flatnot along the rest of the walkway, nor anywhere else on the estate.

The usual insight is that odour arouses the memory of the other senses; but unusually in this case the other senses had aroused odour.




Enlightenment at Kew Gardens

It was two days into the Summer holidays, a mild and sunny day with big soft clouds and tumbling breezes.

We visited the Palm House first and then explored the quiter paths behind it, where the gardens become more wooded. I asked which tree we should sit under for our picnic.

“That one.”

She had picked a small tree which stood not quite in the middle of the lawn, but rather just inside the line of large trees which gave the opening its space. It seemed too small to me and its branches began low to the ground so we could not really sit under it. We sat next to it then, on the side to which it cast shade, towards the centre of the lawn and away from the path, which partially concealed us from the path and gave us a small sense of privacy and the freedom of the lawn.

Conscientiously, and lazily, I looked at the tree’s label – being at Kew – skitted over the name, noting only that it was Japanese. It was a funny tree: fine, small, low to the ground; a dark-silvery bark; its foliage was neither sparse nor dense, each leaf was distinct, neither petit nor rough, its green neither vibrant light nor swarthy dark.

After having our snack, she began to practise cartwheels. I lay back, rested my eyes and listened to her chattering to herself, to the breeze in the trees, and to other voices strumming cheerfully in the distance.