Stand Up or Stand Out?

Yesterday I posted a comment on Rosemary’s message from The Divine Feminine about living into the greater vision the Universe has in mind for us. And I challenged you and me to “stand up” and live that bigger vision, no matter how scary it might be!

Then I came across a story in an old favorite little book by Thomas Merton, The Way of Chuang Tzu, that I’m re-reading to refresh my mind and spirit about the Way, the Tao that Chuang Tzu so eloquently and deeply explored. Here is that story, The Man with One Foot and the Marsh Pheasant. I believe it speaks loudly to this theme of living into a greater vision of ourselves:

Kung Wen Hsien saw a maimed official
Whose left foot had been cut off–
A penalty in the political game!

“What kind of man,” he cried, “is this one-footed oddity?
How did he get that way? Shall we say
Man did this, or heaven?”

“Heaven,” he said, “this comes from
Heaven, not from man.
When heaven gave this man life, it willed
He should stand out from others
And sent him into politics
To get himself distinguished.
See! One foot! This man is

The little marsh pheasant
Must hop ten times
To get a bite of grain.

She must run a hundred steps
Before she takes a sip of water.
Yet she does not ask
To be kept in a hen run
Though she might have all she desired
Set before her.

She would rather run
And seek her own little living

As is so often the case with these stories from Taoism or Zen Buddhism, there is no clear cut moral to the story! On the surface we seem to hear that the Man with One Foot lived up to his charge from heaven – to “stand out.” But perhaps he over-reached his destiny, the “vision the Universe had in mind for him”! (Maybe this is a simple commentary on the “political game” as it was played then—a more dangerous one than today’s!).

Then there is the comparative lesson of the little marsh pheasant who sought her “little living uncaged.” I can presume that she is living in accordance with heaven’s will, nature’s choice. So often these Taoist stories urge a natural way of life, to go with the flow of the Tao.

For me the point of this story is not at all contradictory with the message from The Divine Feminine. The Universe (heaven) has big plans for us. We are standing on the backs of several thousand generations of human ancestry not to live small, to live caged, to live unnaturally with one foot. We are to stand up, not out. And yet, even if we are to lose a foot to the greater cause of living into our vision, is that too much?

There is a polarity to this story that seems to call for balance. We are called to stand up, but not out. We are called to live free as nature intended. And yet we are “called” by the Universe to live big. The story presents us with contrasts, the duality we so often face in daily routine. There is no right or wrong in this story of opposites. The story presents both sides. This complimentary nature of the Tao is a favorite theme of Chuang Tzu. And as Lao Tzu says in the Taoteching, Chapter 2:

All the world knows good
But if that becomes good
This becomes bad.

Follow your nature. And follow the Universe’s call. Stand up and be counted. And yes, there will be both good and bad consequences when you do. The “free” choice is yours!

What do you make of Chuang Tzu’s story?


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