From Lao Tzu’s Tao Te Ching, passage 11:Thirty spokes converge upon a single hub; It is on the hole in the center that the use of the cart hinges. We make a vessel from a lump of clay; It is the empty space within the vessel that makes it useful. We make doors and windows for a room; But it is these empty spaces that make the room livable Thus, while the tangible has advantages It is the intangible that makes it useful
This is one of my favourite passages of the Tao Te Ching, and usually the first passage I open to if I find a new translation. This one comes from my most enjoyed translation so far, by John C. H. Wu. I love this one because it artfully, simply, and explicitly makes us aware of the ‘negative’ or ‘empty space’ of things, and helps us consider the importance of opposites in our everyday life.
The coincidence of opposites is that opposites can only exist in relation to each other; you can only recognize you are warm because at one point you were cold. It is this contrast that we must experience to understand anything, and we understand that the contrast actually holds opposites together, for without the sour, the sweet wouldn’t be.
Understand that sometimes the worst or hardest situations happen in our lives in order to create the depth of the beauty and love we can experience. We need to experience the hardships in order to prime ourselves and open up the possibility of our perception to brighter and better things. It is only because of hard times we can recognize when things are going good for us, and we soon learn not to separate these conditions so much, much like the Farmer and his Horse. We can derive joy even in moments of pain because we know the pain doesn’t exist independently, and naturally suggests a state of wellbeing. This play of back and forth is the very essence of being alive.