Too much light blinds the eye,
Too much sound deafens the ear,
Too much spice blunts the taste,
Too much excitement maddens the mind,
Too much desire compromises the character.
That is why the sage puts his inner needs first,
By moderating the external distractions of the senses.
Without learning how to moderate our desire for sensory stimulation, a phenomenon known as “diminishing returns” is prone to set in. That is, in order to enjoy the same amount of stimulation, we will require ever-greater levels of stimulus. Of course, this can’t go on forever. Eventually something has to give, and real damage can be done to our well-being. Addiction, depression and even a bad case of nihilism can take hold of our lives.
Note that there once was a time when the brassiere section of the Sears’ store catalog drove young men to furtive distraction. In a world where hardcore porn is just a click away, it’s no wonder that catalog is no longer in print. This is not to suggest that Taoism disapproves of porn per se, but rather that it is wary of its power. There’s no point in pushing the envelopes of pleasure when the pushing will only result in greater pulls further down the line.
Again, here we see the Tao alluding to the power of empty space. By turning inwards, we can return to a more natural, unprovoked state of equilibrium, and reacquaint ourselves the subtle beauties and satisfactions which the world has so thoughtfully placed around us, and inside us, to enjoy.