Misfortune is what fortune depends upon
Fortune is where misfortune hides beneath
Who knows their ultimate end?
They have no determined outcome
Verses 5 – 7, Chapter 58, Tao Te Ching
Just before our Tao class studied this Chapter, I received some unwelcome news from some blood tests that I had received. I must admit that it shook me hard to realize that once again I was facing my mortality before I was ready. I was already cautious with the pandemic in full swing. So, I was kind of depressed when I sat down for Sunday’s Tao lecture. When we got to the verses above and our instructor (Derek Lin) begins to explain to us how the Tao cultivator looks at Misfortune and Fortune, I listened intently. 1
You may notice that when you see or hear the word Misfortune, there may be a subtle stigma associated with it. Probably because no one likes to get misfortunate news or experience something misfortunate. And it can just as easy to see how the opposite response is apparent when someone reads or hears the word fortune. No dark stigma here, everyone wants to have some good fortune. Yet there is another perspective for those who seek a deeper insight into both. That deeper insight can be realized when one can look for both fortune and misfortune in many situations.
The Tao lesson begins with the understanding that all things, including misfortune and fortune, follow the yin–yang pattern. Look at the Yin Yang symbol (below) where you can see the two “fish”. White is the yang, and black is the yin. In this, complementary duality, you can observe that within the black fish there is a small circle of white. This represents a small rising yang. On the White Yang fish, there is a small circle of black representing the rising yin. The White fish (Yang) has a small black circle (Yin) diminishing. Each fish holds the seed of the opposite duality. Each moving toward the other seeking balance. In life’s situations, misfortune and fortune follow the same pattern.
Misfortune and fortune can be seen in either role, depending on the perspective of every individual. Relatively speaking, one person’s fortune is another person’s misfortune. Either way, there is the appearance of one being good, the other not good. A Tao cultivator will look for both. Hence the verses above: “Misfortune is what fortune depends upon”. With the realization of something probably unfortunate is happening or has already occurred, look for the fortunate circumstance from which misfortune came from. Then also look for the potential fortune that misfortune might give rise to. Specifically, look for the potential within the dire situation. I know that it is hard to do. This is a practice and discipline to cultivate through training.
Things may seem impossible but look for them anyway, if for no other reason than to find clarity within the chaos. But what you may also discover is hope. When I got the results from several lab tests that I “probably have” cancer, all I could think of was the worst-case scenario, the end. When I was listening to this lesson, I immediately thought of the situation I was in. Along with a burst of hope, there was also the other mind (ego) saying what’s the point, it’s all going to end. And these don’t work, woe is me. Yet somehow, I was able to dismiss the ego’s doom and gloom and began to look for the seed of fortune that was promising that fortune was hiding within.
There is a part two to this lesson (of course because everything follows the yin/yang). Part two is of course looking for the misfortune in the fortune. In this perspective, the Tao cultivator is experiencing fortunate times and circumstances. Life is great, and everything is going well, so why worry yourself over what might go wrong, right? Not so fast. The Tao cultivator knows very well that nothing stays the same, including fortune and misfortune. So, things might be great right now but the potential for disaster is hiding within. Thus, the Sage knows to be vigilant in watching out not to make poor choices that will invite misfortune to rise. This is specific to guarding your Sovereignty. That is, be mindful of ego and the emotional traps and costly mistakes that can lead to disaster. In this way, you can avoid misfortune and continue the cycle longer in fortune.
How powerful and important is cultivating Sovereignty?
“When there is nothing that one cannot overcome
One’s limits are unknown
The limitation being unknown, one can possess sovereignty
With this mother principle of power, one can be everlasting
This is called deep roots and firm foundation
The Tao of Longevity and lasting vision
Verses 8 – 11, Chapter 59, Tao Te Ching
Then the last verse above is where hope awaits. It says, “They have no determined outcome”. It means that your destiny can be affected by the choices you make now. This is where hope creates the motivation for action. In either case, misfortune or fortune you know that you are crafting your future and act accordingly.
This practice is what helps me from hitting the panic button when things are going wrong. When things go right, I try to “ride the wave” paying close attention to my ego-mind so as not to stray off the path.
In the case of my unfortunate lab results, I found fortune by using the fear of cancer to improve my fitness through self-care protocols and Qigong. Now that the lab reports a return to a normal level, I am in good health once again, and my longevity looks promising. If I had not heard this lesson, I may never have found the path to recovery, especially if I had given up.
The misfortune is that I first realized the deadly disease in my body that presented a clear and present danger to my longevity, hid the fortune of learning how to heal, and bring my fitness to a whole new level. I can say without exaggeration that I feel better now than I have in many years. The ‘misfortune’ news made me wake up and take charge of my life. Now I can pay attention and make sure my lifestyle choices do not contribute to the return of heart disease and cancer growth. The misfortune of the unwelcome news was a sign that I was negatively affecting my longevity. Now that I have a bit of fortune, I plan to take care of keeping myself healthy for as long as possible. I keep reminding myself that I must be ever vigilant in being Sovereign (ruling my ego) and to always be on the lookout for the seeds of misfortune as they will inevitably approach.2
You can get started in several ways. Step one is to work on your ‘self’ first which means your Sovereignty. This means learning to control your ‘self’ through spiritual self-discipline. Your true self is the boss of the ego and only uses it when it needs to. Your true self is the Sovereign over your life. Cultivate the awakening from ego to spirit so you can choose the way to success.
Step Two: I recommend in your next meditation, try a contemplative meditation, and focus on past, present, and future events. If you are not meditating and cultivating mindfulness you risk getting lost on the side paths and making costly mistakes. When you can focus your mind and contemplate your life without losing your thoughts in distraction you create the potential for managing your destiny.
When contemplating the past, perhaps you can see from the present the fortune and misfortune that you failed to notice. Try to learn from it. Then consider your present circumstances, and find the misfortune, and fortune perspectives. With this clarity, you can determine how you should proceed. Contemplating the present moment and the choices you are about to make will automatically connect to your longevity destiny. While considering the fortunate/unfortunate of the present, consider how they will play out in the future, especially with how they will affect longevity.
But don’t forget the other side of the coin. “Fortune is where misfortune hides beneath“
When you are riding high with fortune don’t become blind to the misfortune hiding in bad choices or choices that can change good fortune into bad. The ego is always ready to sneak in through the doors of vice. Ego, greed and vices are poisons that can quickly change fate and take fortune away. So, take heed and not fall into the traps of arrogance.
Look for the potential for fortune in the current misfortune. When you see fortune, look for the potential for the misfortune that is hiding for you like an ego trap baited and waiting. If you can avoid an unnecessary, not-wise choice, you may be able to keep fortune working for you a while longer. Look where you are, where you are heading, and ride the longevity wave as far as it will take you. This is the Tao of Longevity, staying on the path for the long haul. Don’t stray from it and get lost on the side paths and you may be successful in keeping your life going.
Look for the potential of misfortune within the fortune you are experiencing. When you notice yourself about to stray, take a breath, become present and detach from the lure of the bad choice. Remember that there is probably a trap door waiting to open and swallow you up into misfortune again.
1. I encourage you to watch the lecture here on YouTube
2. For more on Sovereignty, please consider my book: Sovereignty – The Tao Principle of Spiritual Discipline