The Unity of Contrast – Verse Two of the Tao Te Ching

Verse Two of the Tao Te Ching explores how we create contrast with our thoughts and words. This contrast encourages strong opinions – many of which don’t benefit us. But if we could appreciate duality without judgment, we might discover a sense of peace instead.

Verse Two of the Tao Te Ching:

Excerpt from Wayne Dyer, “Change Your Thoughts Change Your Life”:

“Under heaven, all can see beauty as beauty,
only because there is ugliness.
All can know good as good only because there is evil.

Being and nonbeing produce each other.
The difficult is born in the easy.
Long is defined by short, the high by the low.
Before and after go along with each other.

So the sage lives openly with apparent duality
and paradoxical unity.
The sage can act without effort
and teach without words.
Nurturing things without possessing them,
he works, but not for rewards;
he competes, but not for results.

When the work is done, it is forgotten.
That is why it lasts forever.”

Verse Two of the Tao Te Ching explores the idea of contrast in a new way.

Contrast underlies so many of our thoughts and opinions. This person is loud, that person is shy. This color is ugly, that color is amazing. Contrast exists in so many areas of our lives.

I try to use nature as my guide when trying to understand this. One example I experienced recently is the contrast of the natural look and feel of the east and west coasts.

My husband and I regularly travel back and forth between the Boston area and LA. After spending an entire summer in Massachusetts, we returned to our LA home in late August. As we drove up the winding Chautauqua Blvd, to our house in the hills, I noticed the brownish, golden landscape and thought, “This is ugly. It feels like it’s dying.”

In my mind, I was comparing it to the lush, green landscape of coastal Massachusetts – with its rich green grass and massive flowering shrubs. In comparison, the California coastline felt desolate and sad.

However, the next day my husband and I went for a hike up into the mountains behind our house. I looked over at a tall cactus with a pearly white bloom standing in front of a vast, light blue sky and thought, “This is stunning!” It was as if, for a moment, my mind suspended judgment, and I was seeing these colors for the first time.

Initially, my judgments prevented me from seeing the beauty in everything around me.

Our opinions block us from experiencing communion with what is.

“As the sage lives openly with apparent duality, he synthesizes the origin with the manifestations without forming an opinion about it. Living without judgment and in perfect oneness is what Lao-tzu invites his readers to do.” – Wayne Dyer.

My chatterbox mind is talking all day. It’s saying things like, “Why am I stuck here in traffic?” Or, “Why does it have to rain today? I’ve been planning this outdoor party for two months!” Attempting to see a world that is perfect exactly as it is would be well worth the effort.

Instead, I could say, “This traffic is giving me a chance to listen to that podcast I’ve been meaning to listen to” And, “Look – it’s raining! This will make it a party to remember!”  If I’m able to align myself and accept that things are the way they are, I win.

Our judgments prevent us from seeing the goodness of the big picture.

“If you believe that anyone’s action is bad, how can you see the good in it? How can you see the good that comes out of it, maybe years later?” – Byron Katie 

How many people can relate to this? The loudest (used to be screaming) example of this was my divorce so many years ago. Yes, of course, I had a lot to grieve. But did I have to place so much judgment upon it?

Looking back, it was, without a doubt, a wonderful thing that happened to me. It opened the door to opportunities I could never have foreseen. I moved near my parents and was able to mend relationships that needed healing. Also, I was able to explore my biggest dream of buying a practice in a city and raising my daughter in Boston. I would never have lived this life of my dreams if I were still in that marriage. That divorce was a gift.

So many of our stories come from societal expectations. We hear about someone going through a divorce and are conditioned to say, “Oh no! I’m so sorry!” But, what if this person is happy, even relieved, to be going through a divorce? What if that divorce will open doors to healing? What if it’s the best thing that could happen?

Verse Two encourages us to step back from ourselves and our judgments and to attempt to see the goodness in the whole picture.

What if we were to see things with fresh eyes – and without judgment?

Maybe we would feel more happiness and contentment. We might still instinctively react to things happening in our world – yet we’d have the ability to embrace them with more ease.

I know this is challenging! It seems we’re hardwired to try to control and manage things through our thoughts and judgments. We might believe that’s what we need to do to feel safe. Maybe it’s all a defense mechanism. If we can try to embrace Verse Two, and experience things as they are, we might feel free. And we’d be able to move into a happy place of peace and acceptance.

“Step back. Allow things to unfold. There’s a beauty to be found in letting things be.” – Tamara Levitt.

Do you have any thoughts about Verse Two? Please share below! I’d love to hear!


Ps: You can read about Verse One of the Tao Te Ching here.

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