The Tao Te Ching by Lao-tzu was written more than 2,500 years ago and is the most widely published book in the world next to the Bible. Stephen Mitchell has done a sturdy and pensive translation of this ancient text that is just brimming with wisdom. Now Byron Katie, Mitchell's wife, has taken this classic and used it as a launch pad for her own musings on the experience of being human in our times. Her first two books were bestsellers about a process she calls self-inquiry or The Work, in which she uses four questions to open up a transformational process. A Thousand Names for Joy offers her idiosyncratic and thought-provoking commentary on the chapters of the Tao Te Ching and its wonderful blend of practical tips and paradoxes.
Katie mirrors the openness that is characteristic of Lao-tzu's vision of reality. She writes:
"I am content doing the thing in front of me, since my mind doesn't conflict with what I do. It has no reason to; there are no beliefs that would get in the way. Because the world is internal, I don't search for anything outside. Everything outside is inside. I have no need to meet anyone other than the people who enter my life, so my life is a continual invitation. I invite everyone and everything to come and go as they wish; all experiences are welcome here. There is never anything alien to the mind at peace with itself. It is its own joyous community."
Try to imagine what your life would be like if you saw it in this way. Things come and go. You don't clutch or get attached to things. You recognize that everything is provisional and ephemeral. There is no need to divide the world into good things and bad things or to separate yourself from others. The metaphor here is a perpetual open house for people, ideas, experiences, and adventures.
"When you become a lover of what is," writes Katie, "the war is over." Instead of fear, joy reigns. That is why the author can praise a hotel room for all the simple pleasures that lie at her touch. That is why she can let go of her favorite purse after realizing she left it in a restaurant in New York. Letting go brings great freedom: "It's exciting to give a total stranger what you have, and to know that giving is equal to having, and that giving is also a kind of having. (This doesn't mean that I didn't cancel my credit cards.) But it was clear that the purse was supposed to belong to someone else. How did I know that she needed it? She had it. There are no accidents in my world. When you're a lover of what is, your suffering is over."
This Taoist attitude toward possessions goes against all that is usually taught in Western culture yet it opens doors to a new way of being. A lover of what is also discards the illusion of control, especially the idea that we can make things go our way. Freedom is an elixir that comes with unbounded joy: "Where there's no story, no past or future, nothing to worry about, nothing to do, nowhere to go, no one to be, it's all good."