An Indescribable Foundation for Everything

The supreme good is like water,
which nourishes all things without trying to.
It is content with the low places that people disdain.
Thus it is like the Tao.

    ~ Lao Tzu ~

Lao Tzu, in the Tao Te Ching, explains that the Tao is not a name for a thing, but is the underlying natural order of the Universe, whose ultimate essence is difficult to define because it is essentially inexplicable yet evident in the simple fact that one is alive. The Tao is not a concept, Lao Tzu asserts, but an underlying reality upon which everything is grounded. At least that’s my understanding of Lao Tzu’s assertion.

I have a CT scan scheduled for early this morning in Little Rock.  I’ll leave around 6:00 and drive the “back roads” to Little Rock, avoiding Interstate 30 and spending only a few minutes on 430 and 630 when I get to the city. I’ve grown increasingly tired of interstate highway traffic and local freeways designed to accommodate commuters rushing to their jobs. My tolerance levels for scurrying crowds focused on getting to work is much higher when high density public transportation is involved. It’s harder for me to achieve a Zen-like serenity when high-speed cars and trucks and road rage (others’ or my own) are involved.

Maybe it’s old age; but I think it’s something else, something deeper. Something within me; a foundation of wisdom attained from time and experience. We rush too much. We focus too intently on personal convenience and satisfaction, essentially ignoring what is best for the community of which we are a part.  We speed toward objectives that need not insist on immediacy. Yet we demand immediacy, even when immediacy runs counter to our sense of contentment and happiness. Public transportation—buses, trains, light-rail, van-pools, etc.—nourishes our collective social engagement and our acknowledgement that “we’re all in this together.” But, alas, it seems we’re not. We have honed our sense of self-centeredness to the point that we value selfishness over benevolence.


I’m in a philosophical mood as I write this. I suspect that mood has arisen from my thoughts about Ukraine and war and refugees and hypocrisy. Hypocrisy in that so many among us curse the refugees on our southern border who are fleeing from crime and oppression and crumbling societies—but express compassion for people who look more like us, people who  often have light skin, blue eyes, and blonde hair. I wonder whether conservatives feel compassion for Ukrainians fleeing the horrors of war; if they do, why do they treat with such contempt the refugees attempting to cross our southern borders to escape the horrors of a different kind of war? Are conservatives so transparently bigoted?

But what about the rest of us, the ones who feel compassion for Ukrainians as well as Hondurans and Guatemalans and Mexicans and Ecuadorians, et al? We feel compassion, but do we invite them into our homes? Do we confront immigration authorities, saying, “these people are our friends and they are welcome to visit me in my home” in order to protect them? I think the skeptical Republicans who ask that kind of question may have a point; that we claim to be compassionate, but our compassion often is two-dimensional and is not shored up with a commitment to action. It should embarrass us. It embarrasses me to think I am all talk and no action. Oh, “I would take in Ukrainians, but how could I get them here…blah, blah, blah.” How convenient it is to rely on the excuse of inconvenience.


I spent most of yesterday at the new house, painting. I accomplished quite a lot. As a consequence, my muscles and joints feel like I ran back-to-back marathons. Ugh! Still, I’m glad I spent the day being productive. And I watched others being equally as productive: a plumber and his helper removed what may have been one hundred pounds of copper from behind what had been the walls of the shower. They replaced the old copper with new copper and PEX (cross-linked polyethylene pipe). And, later, a couple of guys began building the new shower pan and walls. They will continue that work today while I sit lazily in medical offices in Little Rock. I hope to see considerable progress when I get back to the house this afternoon. And I expect to produce considerable more progress tomorrow and Sunday. And on Monday I expect to meet the flooring company representative to show him flaws in his product. And one day before too much time passes, I hope to begin moving into a freshly painted house with new floors, a new shower, and great potential.


And now, some quotations from people whose words give me reason to think deeply and wonder whether humans  will ever reach our full potential as compassionate beings:

When someone steals another’s clothes, we call them a thief. Should we not give the same name to one who could clothe the naked and does not? The bread in your cupboard belongs to the hungry; the coat unused in your closet belongs to the one who needs it; the shoes rotting in your closet belong to the one who has no shoes; the money which you hoard up belongs to the poor.

    ~ Basil the Great ~

When plunder becomes a way of life for a group of men in a society, over the course of time they create for themselves a legal system that authorizes it and a moral code that glorifies it.

    ~ Frédéric Bastiat ~

Human beings are born with different capacities. If they are free, they are not equal. And if they are equal, they are not free.

    ~ Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn ~


About John Swinburn

"Love not what you are but what you may become."― Miguel de Cervantes
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2 Responses to An Indescribable Foundation for Everything

  1. John says:

    Deanna, thanks for your comment. I think all of us get numbed to the world around us when it is so constant in its barrage of pain.

  2. Deanna says:

    Thank you for your thoughts about the others who are suffering, other than Ukrainians. I admit I had not considered the very obvious fact that there are others suffering all over the world and why are we not feeling their pain like we are with those dealing with Putin’s insanity. Most of us likely did, but time has numbed us to their plight. I also appreciate the quotes you included. Much food for thought. But very little action, I’m embarrassed to admit.

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