The Tao Te Ching, Chapter 13, reads:
Accept disgrace willingly.
Accept misfortune as the human condition.
What do you mean by “Accept disgrace willingly”?
Accept being unimportant.
Do not be concerned with loss and gain.
This is called “accepting disgrace willingly.”
What do you mean by “Accept misfortune as the human condition”?
Misfortune comes from having a body.
Without a body, how could there be misfortune?
Surrender yourself humbly; then you can be trusted to care for all things.
Love the world as your own self; then you can truly care for all things. (translation by Gia-fu Feng and Jane English)
Disgrace and misfortune are anathema to the ego-driven culture of the West. We do whatever it takes at all costs to ensure the ego remains enthroned upon a the seat of pride and good fortune. The New Age consumerist mindset views spirituality and health as measures to prevent the disgrace of the ego and the misfortune of the body, rather than dedicated practices to bring the body and mind into harmony with the soul. You can transcend your limitations to “become the best you” with ancient alchemical secrets of mind control and achieve optimum wellness via long-forgotten nutritional wisdom of the cavemen.
But it’s all a repackaging of the basic transcendent mode of thought that has predominated Western consciousness for millennia—the idea that the material world is a prison and that there is a promised land beyond mundane reality. The belief that there is a better reality than this one has been the source of numerous religious wars, cultural oppression, and environmental devastation for centuries. It leads us to not care for ourselves, the planet and each other because whatever happens “is all part of God’s plan.” This belief has manifested in our modern materialist and consumerist culture in the form of corporate plutocracy, dogmatic scientism, and the oversaturation of digital media in our daily lives. Wherever we turn we are haunted by a Big Other in the form of advertisements demanding our pleasure, experts demanding our trust and governments demanding our obeisance.
Returning to these simple words outlined by Lao Tzu in the thirteenth chapter of the Tao Te Ching, it is evident that our modern culture has fallen grossly out of balance with the Tao. Our world is run by politicians who cannot be said to surrender themselves humbly nor that they love the world as they do themselves. They are motivated by ego worship and contempt for the world, and they stay in power because their subjects are driven by the same base desires.
We are motivated by competition rather than self-overcoming, and vanity rather than health and vitality. Modern culture has made it clear that we cannot accept being unimportant or the misfortunes of having a body (ultimately resulting in physical mortality), and thus concoct outlandish myths about transcending the restrictions of the body to unlock the limitless potential of the egoic mind, or simply give up working at all because “it’s all in God’s hands.”
We cannot simply let the egoic mind take over while the body perishes; nor can we allow vain worship of flesh to dominate our spiritual quest. In order to overcome the mind and make strong the body, we must meet our limitations by being content with our insignificance in the world and the impermanence of all things. Friendships will perish as friends drift away and find you unimportant, yet it is our duty to cultivate and care for the relationships with loved ones. The body will eventually die and rot, but we are beholden to its care and wellness. And the sun will eventually combust, swallowing the Earth in the process—and yet it remains our responsibility to treasure the planet as its stewards and caregivers. After all, we would not dream of prematurely burying a dying loved one just because their time with us is short.
Just as winter comes and makes barren the earth and the spring heralds a season of regeneration, we must keep our soil—be it our corpse in the ground or the stardust of a immolated solar system—fertile for the seeds of renewal. This is accomplished, as Lao Tzu outlines in chapter thirteen of the Tao Te Ching, by accepting disgrace willingly and accepting misfortune as the human condition.