Walking the Way

81 Zen Encounters with the Tao Te Ching

Names and Virtue

Names always create concepts, but (as Gregory Bateson pointed out) concepts are of a higher level logical type than the fluid realities they attempt to capture. Take depression as an example. People think you can treat depression, but this is an illusion. Despite 30 years of practice as a psychotherapist, I don’t know how to treat “depression” -- but I know a little about how to help people who have problems sleeping, or feel sad, have low energy and lost interest in life. When I first began working as a therapist I thought I’d learn what depression is: instead I learned depression had a different flavor and means something slightly different to each person.

I remember one client I saw who had struggle with “depression” all her life. Over the years, and with the help of a meditation practice, she had learned how to cope with her occasional spells of lassitude and despair. One day she came in to a session saying she had been caught by one of those spells: she was staying in bed a long time, having troubles getting out of the house, having suicidal thoughts (but no inclination to act on them). I commented that I certainly could hear that she was experiencing all these unpleasant problems, but I was struck by how matter-of-fact she described them, without either any obvious angst nor any flat dullness. I’ve always remembered her reply:

“Just because I’m depressed -- why should I be miserable?”

Excellent! The same can be applied to the concept of virtue. When you do good, why should you feel pride? It’s nice to enjoy doing something generous or take pleasure in being able to help someone else out (it’s an excellent antidote for depression). That does not, though, make you superior or give you a license to arbitrate what others “should” be doing. For that matter, having a license is not guarantee of good behavior. Remember the story of the farmer who found a horse: good, bad -- who knows?

Just natural is enough. Any
thing more is extra.
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