Updated: Jun 8, 2019
We name the ten thousand things and are part of the ten thousand things.
When I was a child a rare treat was a slice of bread and butter sprinkled with highly coloured sugary balls called hundreds and thousands.
Hundreds and thousands is an apt name for these tiny bits of heaven. I’d try to count them but there were so many my eyes would blur and I’d give up. Then I’d take a bite and live in the land of sweet, crunchy, buttery bliss for several minutes. The final act of this ritual was to lick a finger in order to catch a couple that had escaped and were rolling around the plate, wondering, as I did so, how long it would be before I got to enjoy this delightful snack again. Knowing my mother’s strict rules about self-indulgence, it would be a very long time.
The legendary Chinese philosopher and religious figure Lao Tzu penned a term that is translated into English as ten thousand things. Whenever I come across this expression it reminds me of my childhood hundreds and thousands. Both refer to seemingly countless objects.
In his famous text Tao Te Ching, Lao Tzu wrote about the unnamed and the named. The unnamed is hidden; a mystery; unknowable; oneness. The named are the ten thousand things that surround us – the myriad, uncountable objects we see and label, like universe, atom, me, you.
We name the ten thousand things, and we are a part of the ten thousand things.
My body is composed of ten thousand things. I have at least ten thousand thoughts a day. If scientists are to be believed I have more than ten thousand invisible bugs crawling on and in my body – webbing, nesting, digging, mating, flourishing. And when I die ten thousand different things will step in to ensure each bit of me gets reduced to invisible energy, from which another ten thousand things will come . . .
Now that I’m all grown up I no longer crave a thick sprinkling of hundreds and thousands atop a slice of buttered bread. Nor do I tend to focus exclusively on the ten thousand things. Instead, Lao Tzu’s references to the hidden, unknowable, encompassing, unnamed oneness calls to me.
Although named, we come from the unnamed, dwell within the unnamed, and become the unnamed again. We are never not the unnamed.
I am – you are – the named and the unnamed.
With love, Marlane