The heart-mind of the sage does not allow the external to disturb its internal stillness. Instead, the external world is reflected by the mind as if by still water. The stillness is a consequence of this mirroring and the mirroring is a consequence of this stillness.
This much has always seemed clear enough to me, but how it determines one's relationship with the world itself has remained unclear. Ames helps to clarify.
One quality of this mirroring is non-judgmental acceptance, as seen "in the capacity of water to mirror the world as it is manifest, without imposing presuppositions and values upon it." The mirror takes the world as it comes and does not impose its own likes and dislikes upon it. "It is because the mirror and water do not, in anticipation, equip themselves with cleverness, that the shapes they come into contact with cannot but show themselves as they are." (Huainanzi 1) The sage does not pass judgment on the world, affirming and rejecting, but accepts what she encounters with equanimity.
This requires that she not have a storehouse of prejudices against things based on past experiences: The sage "responds to everything without storing things up." (Huainanzi 6). "Having stored past experience and organized it in the process," writes Ames, "we then recall, participate in, and anticipate a world patterned by these discriminations. The sage, however, mirrors the world at each moment in a way that is undetermined by the shape of the world passed by, or by anticipation of a world yet to come." For the mirroring mind, the world is forever new and fresh.
I can only speak for myself, but such a vision of sagacity serves to demonstrate how altogether different and transcendent is the way of the sage from the 'normal' way of relating to the world. We are typically oppositional in our relation to the world. On the one hand, we believe ourselves to be vulnerable; we have something which we must protect, and our defense is best facilitated by anticipating the negative based on past experience. That we are the ones who, out of fear, have created the category of the 'negative' escapes us entirely.
On the other hand, it is only in opposition to the 'other' that self is confirmed in its own reality. Not only am I not you, but I am confirmed in my 'me-ness' by my 'rightness' in contrast to your 'wrongness'. Thus, in giving up our storehouse of prejudices, and simply mirroring the world as it is in each moment, we are not insulating ourselves from the world, as the concept of mirroring might suggest, but opening ourselves to it.
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