Tao Te Ching 22: Let yourself be broken


– 22 –

 Let yourself be broken

and you will be whole.

Let yourself be crooked

and you will be straight.

Let yourself be empty

and you will be full.

Let yourself grow old

and you will be renewed.

Give up everything

and you will be given everything.


The Sage embraces the Tao and

sets an example for the world to follow.

Because she isn’t self-centred,

people can see the light in her.

Because she is not boastful,

she becomes a shining example.

Because she has nothing to prove,

people can trust her words.

Because she does not who who she is,

people recognise themselves in her.

Because she does not compete with anyone,

no one competes with her.


Only in being lived by the Tao

can you truly be yourself.



This verse contains more of the existential paradoxes Lao Tzu was so fond of. He tells us that if we want to be whole, we must first allow ourselves to be broken. If we want to be given everything, we must willingly give up everything. This includes all definitions of who we think we are, what we think our life is about and whatever aims, goals and desires we’re clinging to. Most of us carry way too much baggage in our heads. How can we expect to attain anything in life without first clearing the decks, letting go of the extraneous and creating the necessary space to receive? Water can only be poured into an empty jug.

This is far easier said than done, for our society has no appreciation of space or emptiness; it’s totally object-oriented and is all about fullness, grasping and accumulating.

Many people harbour the unfortunate delusion that life somehow owes them. In reality, nothing could be further from the truth. Life owes us nothing —  but we owe life everything. We’re indebted to life for everything that we have, and everything that we are — and that’s a huge, huge debt.

Life doesn’t really care what we want. The field is one of neutrality, completely unmoved by the petty likes, dislikes and whims of our egos. It doesn’t — and can’t — give us what we want, it can only give us what we need and what we are. So if all we ever do is take from life, then life is most likely going to mirror this and take from us. The sages tell us that if we shift our modus operandi from taking to giving, we’ll not only be far happier, but we may also see a qualitative change in terms of just how much comes our way in life.

The essence of this verse is perhaps contained in the sentence: “only in being lived by the Tao can you truly be yourself”. This implies that whatever notion you already have about yourself may not be the full picture. Many people become imprisoned by a limiting and ultimately illusory self-concept and self-image, an abstraction that exists only in their heads. Surrendering to the Tao means simply letting go of the conceptual, shaking free of habits of mind and thought and coming into alignment with the natural rhythms of life, allowing the Tao to guide our actions naturally, spontaneously and gracefully. This verse gives a perfect example of someone who lives in such a way, with simplicity, selflessness, ease and without a rigid definition of who she thinks she is.

10 thoughts on “Tao Te Ching 22: Let yourself be broken

  1. SO where I am at right now…i have felt the emptying and was ok with it for the first few days, then became frustrated – thinking that i ‘should’ be DOING something or setting a goal to get out of the empty feeling…to get moving again. I was reminded yesterday by a good friend of that very thing…’only by being empty can you be filled’, and so I relaxed again. Interestingly enough I had a dream last night that the world ended – via nuclear bomb – and as I saw my end coming, my heart went out to those I loved, knowing I wouldn’t see them or hold them, but I was calm – ready. empty of fear maybe…oh the journey… xo

    1. The ’empty’ place can be so uncomfortable for us because we’re conditioned to resist it like there’s no tomorrow! We should be doing! We should be productive! Successful! Busy! Life should be all peaks and no valleys!! But in reality that’s all nonsense 😛

      I kind of enjoy the empty space now. My life is very simple and I actually relish the s p a c e and miss it when things get busy. It’s still so easy to let that jug get filled to the brim though…every so often I have to consciously empty it again.

      Funny I had a dream about the end of the world the other month! I was on a helicopter with two deranged women who were like office workers and one of them triggered a nuclear detonation and then killed the other woman. And I was left flying above a nuclear wasteland in a helicopter…I’m sure there was a lot of meaning in that. In dreams they say everything represents aspects of us…the world might be our psyche, or ego or old life structures or something….hmmm

      Thanks for sharing Kim! I will defo email soon 🙂 Hugs

  2. Great passage and thoughts. It’s definitely a challenge to move from a routine of attainment to one of relinquishing. As you say, we’re so conditioned to try to fill our lives with things, hobbies, clubs, interests and ideas that it takes some effort to stop and start letting go.

    I love selling and getting rid of things I no longer use in order to see what new things will come into my life, and the same should apply to thoughts and behaviors 🙂

    Thanks for sharing and keeping us thinking!


    1. Hey Rohan! Yeah I used to be a terrible hoarder, and I still tend to hold onto sentimental things (Especially old creative things I’ve done) but generally now I try to let go as much as possible. I just need the space and want to travel light upon the world.

      Once we start the letting go (it can initially take courage) it can be very liberating. Every breath is a kind of letting go, every sleep a kind of death and rebirth. It’s an amazing dance of life. It gets constricted when we try to hold onto things when we should be loosening our grip.

      Thanks for your cool comment, I have fallen behind with my blogging…I’m long overdue a visit to the 7 Things! But first I gotta sleep. Speak soon buddy 🙂

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