Do You Know What Is Awesome?

When they lose their sense of awe,
people turn to religion.
When they no longer trust themselves,
they begin to depend on authority.

Therefore the Master steps back,
so that people won’t be confused.
He teaches without a teaching,
so that people will have nothing to learn.

-Lao Tzu-
(Tao Te Ching, chapter 72, translation by Stephen Mitchell)

With all the talk in the last couple of chapters about the need to know that we don’t know, you might begin to think that we shouldn’t be trusting our own selves. But that would be missing Lao Tzu’s point entirely. Lao Tzu most definitely wants us to trust ourselves. He wants us looking inside ourselves for answers; instead of looking outside of ourselves. The point of knowing that we don’t know hasn’t been for us to seek out a teacher, so much as it has been for us to take the necessary step of approaching our own inner selves with humility. You can’t really know what you are going to find in there. Knowing that I don’t know, means being humble enough to look deeply inside my own heart; and experiencing first hand, the awe of discovering what is inside my own heart.

In our day and age, people like to throw that word “awe” around in a way that has sorely cheapened it. When I think of all the things I have heard called awesome, and yes, I have been just as guilty as anyone else, I begin to think that just about everything is awesome. But, if everything is awesome, then nothing is awesome.

And that is the point of what Lao Tzu is addressing today. People have lost their sense of awe. For the record, let’s just remember what that word “awe” means. It is a strong feeling of fear, dread, even terror; it invokes respect, veneration, and wonder. This could be inspired by authority; or by the sacred or sublime.

Awe, as you can see, should be a very powerful word. And if we have any sense, we understand that. That is why the exclamation, “That ice cream was awesome,” just doesn’t make any sense at all. There are things that we should approach with fear, dread, and wonder. If that ice cream makes you feel that way, perhaps it isn’t really safe for your consumption.

When you have lost your sense of awe, religion seems an obvious place to turn for the awe-inspiring. That is certainly how Lao Tzu saw it. We are not knocking religion here, so please don’t get your panties in a twist. What we are talking about is people who have lost their sense of awe. And, because they don’t have the sense to understand that the answers are inside themselves, they are going to start looking outside themselves. Religion offers us that. I am not saying it doesn’t offer other things as well, many of which are beneficial. But, we aren’t talking about those other things today; so, stay focused.

We are talking about having sense, or not having sense, when it comes to awe. The real problem is that people are no longer trusting themselves. That is what causes people to start looking outside themselves. That is why people begin to depend on some outside authority.

And, that is why Lao Tzu says that the Master takes a step back. He doesn’t want there to be any confusion. Because confusion is exactly what we are suffering from, when we no longer trust ourselves. The Master doesn’t want the people to be confused. So, he takes a step back.

I do this all the time with the little girl that I tutor. We have been moving along at a brisk pace and things seem to be going along just fine. Until, all of a sudden, I see it. That look of wonder in her eyes. Oh, who am I kidding? That isn’t wonder. That is confusion. It is time to take a step back. We need to go back. Something hadn’t “clicked.” I missed that moment somewhere along the way. Oh well, we will just retrace our steps back, and I take a different approach. That means I am going to teach it in a different way from the way I was teaching it, since the way I was teaching it had just led to her present confusion. Or, maybe it was that awesome ice cream she was eating a little while ago. Either way, I retrace my steps and show her a new way to look at it. There really wasn’t anything new to learn. Just the same old thing. We are just reenforcing what she already knew. Okay. Yes. That’s better. Now her eyes have changed expressions. Now, she is comprehending.

You Know Nothing

Not-knowing is true knowledge.
Presuming to know is a disease.
First, realize that you are sick;
then you can move toward health.

The Master is her own physician.
She has healed herself of all knowing.
Thus, she is truly whole.

-Lao Tzu-
(Tao Te Ching, chapter 71, translation by Stephen Mitchell)

Lao Tzu has been explaining to us how to put his teachings into practice. Yesterday, he told us that means we have to quit trying to practice them. Instead of trying, or doing, we simply need to be. As if that wasn’t challenging enough, he told us that we need to quit thinking that we can possibly know or understand the meaning of his teachings. Once again, he recommended, not-knowing knowing. And, by that, he means knowing that we don’t know. In today’s chapter, Lao Tzu continues on this theme of not-knowing.

“I know, I know…” These were the words that I uttered to my father anytime he was trying to teach or show me how to do something. I frustrated my father greatly with my presuming to know anything he wanted to teach me. Why would he get frustrated? Because, by uttering those words, and by believing they were true, I short-circuited any possibility that I would learn. How could I learn? I already knew.

I did, in fact learn a variety of lessons from my father. But only later in life. While I was still young, I was, pretty much, a hopeless cause. But, late in my father’s life, I came to appreciate what was probably the most valuable lesson he had taught me: My presuming to know was a disease. I was sick, beyond belief. I wish I could say I learned the lesson much earlier. I sometimes bang myself on my head, wishing I had never uttered the words, “I know, I know,” to my father.

If you want to know the most profound and helpful words you will ever utter to someone who is trying to teach you, they are “I don’t know.” There it is. Yesterday, I called that our launching point. That is why, in today’s chapter, Lao Tzu begins by saying not-knowing is true knowledge. Knowing that we don’t know. Get that settled first. Then you can proceed to learn.

The Master gets this. That is why she has healed herself of all that presumption, all that thinking she already knows. She is her own physician. And, you and I, too, can be our own physician here. We need to start practicing saying, “I don’t know.” Go ahead, say it, “I don’t know.” That, my friends, is the wisdom that we will need, if we are ever going to put into practice Lao Tzu’s teachings. If we are going to learn the art of simplicity, patience, and compassion, we will simply have to begin with a big heaping portion of humility. Otherwise, we are going to be sick for many years still to come.

Matters Of The Heart

My teachings are easy to understand
and easy to put into practice.
Yet your intellect will never grasp them,
and if you try to practice them, you’ll fail.

My teachings are older than the world.
How can you grasp their meaning?

If you want to know me, look inside your heart.

-Lao Tzu-
(Tao Te Ching, chapter 70, translation by Stephen Mitchell)

Back a few chapters, Lao Tzu told us that it took looking inside ourselves for his teaching to make sense. And, that when we put his teachings into practice, we would find their roots go deep. It was in that chapter that he said he had only three things to teach: simplicity, patience and compassion. These, he said, were our three greatest treasures.

Yesterday, he warned us about the danger of destroying those treasures. Today, he explains how easy it is understand and put into practice these teachings. But he offers us a few caveats.

They are easy to understand. But you aren’t going to grasp them with your intellect.

They are easy to put into practice. But if you try to practice them, you are going to fail.

Wait, Lao Tzu. This isn’t sounding so easy.

All that education I have filled my mind with isn’t going to help me with this? Maybe the ancient Masters were onto something when they didn’t try to educate the people, but kindly taught them to not-know. And Lao Tzu further warns us that his teachings are older than the world. How could we expect to grasp their meaning?

If I am going to understand the art of simplicity, patience, and compassion, I have to practice not-knowing knowing. Which means, instead of relying on my knowledge, I need to know that I don’t know. That is the launching point.

As for my efforts at putting these teachings into practice, he has the perfect solution when all my efforts are only going to fail. That is, practice not-doing doing. This is the effortless action that he has talked about so much. It isn’t doing at all. It is simply, being. Don’t do. Just be.

Easy, right? Well, as easy as we let it be. Our problem, excuse me, my problem, is that my intellect gets in the way. That, and my own stubborn will to try. Those are the only reasons it is so hard. Because I make it so hard. I can know the essence of Lao Tzu’s teachings. But I am going to have to look inside my own heart to find it.

How To Not Underestimate Your Enemies

The generals have a saying;
‘Rather than make the first move
it is better to wait and see.
Rather than advance an inch
it is better to retreat a yard.’

This is called going forward without advancing,
pushing back without using weapons.

There is no greater misfortune
than underestimating your enemy.
Underestimating your enemy
means thinking he is evil.
Thus, you destroy your three treasures
and become an enemy yourself.

When two great forces oppose each other,
the victory will go to the one that knows how to yield.

-Lao Tzu-
(Tao Te Ching, chapter 69, translation by Stephen Mitchell)

Yesterday, we were talking about the virtue of non-competition. I called that non-competing competing. And Lao Tzu called it child’s play. He talked, then, of the best general getting into the mind of his enemy. I said, then, that in today’s chapter we were going to get into military strategy from a Taoist perspective. Lao Tzu was not a pacifist. He certainly believed in self-defense; and he understood that there would be times when armies would clash. So it is, that he has spoken before of what libertarians today refer to as the non-initiation of force. That is the point of today’s chapter.

When Lao Tzu begins by talking about the generals and their sayings, he is talking about not being the initiator of force. Never be the first to strike. Never make the first move. Always wait and see what your supposed enemy is thinking. Let them make the first move. For Lao Tzu, it is always better to retreat a yard than to advance an inch.

I think that is what has always bothered me about my own country’s first strike capabilities. Far too often, we have shown our intent to initiate aggression. And, to paraphrase Howard Zinn, “There isn’t a flag big enough to cover the shame of killing the innocent in our wars of aggression.”

This is a great misfortune. For Lao Tzu, there was no greater. And it is our own misfortune. We fail to get into the mind of our enemy. That is when we underestimate them. That is when we think of them as something less than human. Something less than us. That is when we think they are evil and we are good. But it is we, who have become evil. We have destroyed our three greatest treasures. The ones Lao Tzu was talking about a couple chapters ago.

We should have been simple in our actions and our thoughts. We should have been patient with both our friends and our enemies. We should have been compassionate toward our own selves. That is the only way to reconcile all beings in the world.

But, instead of nurturing our three treasures, we have destroyed them. Your waving flags mean nothing to me. The shame is far too great.

Lao Tzu tells us how to achieve victory in accord with the Tao. He says that when two great forces oppose each other, the victory will go to the one that knows how to yield.

When will we learn? Will we ever learn? If we never learn to yield, we never will know how to yield. And all we will ever have to show for all our acts of aggression is hollowness and shame.

The Virtue Of Playing Like Children

The best athlete wants his opponent at his best.
The best general enters the mind of his enemy.
The best businessman serves the communal good.
The best leader follows the will of the people.

All of them embody the virtue of non-competition.
Not that they don’t love to compete,
but they do it in the spirit of play.
In this, they are like children
and in harmony with the Tao.

-Lao Tzu-
(Tao Te Ching, chapter 68, translation by Stephen Mitchell)

A couple chapters ago, Lao Tzu was speaking of the Master. And he said of her, “She competes with no one and no one can compete with her.” That was our introduction to what Lao Tzu, in today’s chapter, calls the virtue of non-competition.

Before we extol this virtue, I’d like to remind my readers that Lao Tzu likes to use plays on words that are unfamiliar to our western minds. Like when he says not-doing. He doesn’t mean doing nothing, he means not-doing doing. Also known as, effortless action. And when he says not-knowing. He doesn’t mean that we know nothing, he means not-knowing knowing. This is knowing that we don’t know. The humble position to take to receive all knowledge. Not-competing is, likewise, not-competing competing. Which Lao Tzu says is playing at it, like children.

Lao Tzu likes to invoke images of children at play; because he sees in their innocence, in their youthful exuberance, in their unencumbered imaginations, a primal harmony with the Tao; that is what he wants us adults to practice, each and every day.

Always, he points at children, saying, “Look over there. They do naturally; what you, as an adult, have long ago forgotten.” That is the heart of what Lao Tzu is saying to us today.

For we all love to compete. From the youngest of us to the oldest. We love to compete; and truth be told, we want to win. We just need to follow the example of children. When we compete, we need to do it in the spirit of play. That places us smack dab in the middle of harmony with the Tao.

Consider for a moment, the best athlete in the world. They want their opponent at their very best. To best an opponent that wasn’t at their best wouldn’t provide any where near the satisfaction of having them at their best.

In the same way, the best general gets into the mind of his enemy. You want to know exactly what they are thinking. Like a good game of chess, you want to try and figure out, ahead of time, what moves they are going to be making, before they make their move. We will talk more in tomorrow’s chapter about the military strategy of generals, so I won’t go into more detail, today.

Because I am a market anarchist, I believe very strongly in the virtue of free-market competition, unencumbered by State regulation or subsidies. So, the example of the best businessman is of particular interest to me. A businessman will never be at their best as long as the State is favoring a few at the expense of others. It is good for the community that businessmen are competing to be their very best. So, what can we expect from a businessman at their best? Lao Tzu tells us that we should expect them to serve the good of the community. They understand that what is good for the whole community is good for them. They, too, engage in competition with the express purpose of winning. But don’t think for a minute, that the best in business would ever sacrifice the good of the community in order to achieve their win. Any businessman that does that, isn’t competing in harmony with the Tao. And, out of harmony with the Tao, they aren’t at their best.

Finally, Lao Tzu, comes back to leaders. He has been spending a great deal of time here in the preceding chapters. He has told us in many different ways how to be a great leader. But this, I think, is the first time that he has said how to be the very best. Still, it is very familiar to those of us that have been paying attention. If you want to be the very best leader, then follow the will of the people. Leading by following. Placing yourself below. Content to serve as an example. Not desiring to use force; or otherwise, manipulate and control.

Yeah, I like this being in harmony with the Tao. It is playing, like we are children, again.

Just Three Things To Teach

Some say that my teaching is nonsense.
Others call it lofty but impractical.
But to those who have looked inside themselves,
this nonsense makes perfect sense.
And to those who put it into practice,
this loftiness has roots that go deep.

I have just three things to teach:
Simplicity, Patience, Compassion.
These three are your greatest treasures.
Simple in actions and in thoughts,
you return to the source of being.
Patient with both friends and enemies,
you accord with the way things are.
Compassionate toward yourself,
you reconcile all beings in the world.

-Lao Tzu-
(Tao Te Ching, chapter 67, translation by Stephen Mitchell)

If Lao Tzu were alive in the world today, I wonder what he would think of the way things seem to be. The way things seem to be, this present darkness; which is the way I describe our present system of oppression and manipulation of great masses of people. The way our world seems to operate; running counter in every way to the way of the Tao, that Lao Tzu teaches about in the Tao Te Ching. I think, if Lao Tzu were alive in the world today, he’d look at me and shake his head before saying, “The more things change, the more they stay the same.” If I told him that a lot of people are suffering from mental illnesses today, I think he would tell me that is because we are running counter to the Tao. That the only truly insane ones, are the ones that think they are sane.

Many of us look out at the world and we can just sense that there is something wrong with the world. Maybe we can’t quite put a finger on the exact problem, but something is definitely wrong. Others seem to behave like the world as it appears is the only reality. They don’t think anything is wrong. And those that disagree must be the crazy ones.

For me, Lao Tzu’s teachings are timeless. No matter how much things have changed since he was alive and writing about the Tao, things are pretty much the same. Our rulers may have become more sophisticated; but their methods haven’t changed.

But, after years of indoctrination in the way things appear to be, is it any wonder that some people will say that Lao Tzu’s teaching is nonsense. I have heard that very criticism before. Others call it lofty but impractical. That is, by far, the majority opinion. Lao Tzu was idealistic. You can’t seriously expect to put his teachings into practice in your daily life.

My heart literally aches for people like these. So brainwashed. So inured in the system. They can’t begin to dream or imagine a reality other than the dystopia they presently endure. Sometimes I wonder if people even dream or imagine anything anymore. They behave like mindless automatons, performing their necessary daily functions, oblivious to the death that awaits them. No, wait. They aren’t oblivious to it. They are numb to it. And they welcome it. It is their only ticket to freedom. They have no freedom, now, to live, to dream, to imagine that the world could be so very different than the way it has always seemed to be.

These are people seemingly incapable of looking inside themselves. And that is what makes me the saddest. For, it is only in looking inside yourself that you can see that all of this nonsense makes perfect sense. That is really the first and most crucial step. As long as we are always ever looking outside ourselves, we will never see the truth, the eternal reality behind the illusion.

We have to begin with that first step; then, we can begin to put Lao Tzu’s teachings into practice. For once we start to do that, we will see this loftiness, this idealism, has roots that go deep.

Lao Tzu calls the things he teaches our three greatest treasures. Look inside yourself, you’ll see that too.

Be simple in your actions and in your thoughts. When you do that, you will find yourself returning to the source of your being.

Be patient with your friends and your enemies. This is the only way to accord with the way things actually are in the Universe. This one has always tickled me, because I know that it takes a whole lot more patience on their part, to put up with the likes of me.

Be compassionate toward your own self. This may be the greatest treasure of them all. For when you do this, when you treat yourself with compassion, then you can begin the reconciliation of all beings in the world. How is that possible? Look inside yourself. It is all in there. The reconciliation of every being in the world is inside of you. That is why you need to be compassionate toward yourself.

Simplicity. Patience. Compassion. Put these teachings, these treasures, into practice in your own daily life. You can do this. And as you do, you will find that your world has changed into a much better place.

Feeling Oppressed And Manipulated?

All streams flow to the sea
because it is lower than they are.
Humility gives it its power.

If you want to govern the people,
you must place yourself below them.
If you want to lead the people,
you must learn to follow them.

The Master is above the people,
and no one feels oppressed.
She goes ahead of the people,
and no one feels manipulated.
The whole world is grateful to her.

Because she competes with no one,
no one can compete with her.

-Lao Tzu- (Tao Te Ching, chapter 66, translation by Stephen Mitchell)

Yesterday, I said that the reason Lao Tzu said the ancient Masters taught the people to not-know was not because they wanted simple, ignorant and compliant people. It was because humility was key, if people were going to be governed well. And, that the more powerful you are, the more humility you needed to practice.

Today, we are continuing this theme of humility. Lao Tzu begins with the familiar metaphor of streams flowing into the sea. Humility is what gives the sea its power. Notice, the sea doesn’t compete with the streams. It simply follows the streams. Wherever there are streams, if you follow them long enough, there you will find the sea. And streams, naturally, flow to the sea, giving it all of their power.

Once again, Lao Tzu is talking about governing. It has been a subject we have devoted a lot of time to over the last several days. If you want to govern people, you must place yourself below them. If you want to lead people, you must learn to follow them.

I have been going through the Tao Te Ching for long enough that this doesn’t sound strange to me any longer. But I know that for some of my newer followers this might sound very strange indeed. Our rulers certainly don’t put themselves below the people. And they don’t have any intention of following us, either. They just want compliance. And, they are ever ready to respond with force if we don’t comply. Leading by following is not the way that things are done in the world. Yet, Lao Tzu insists that is the only way to effectively lead.

If Lao Tzu is right, and I think he is, I think it explains a lot about why our world is plagued with wars and rumors of wars; and, why we have a great divide between the haves and the have nots. Those in the political class just don’t follow Lao Tzu’s sage advice regarding governing. That is why there is so much suffering in our world, today.

That is in contrast with the Master, who, though she is above the people, no one feels oppressed. And though she goes ahead of the people, no one feels manipulated. She understands the need for humility.

The people know they are oppressed and manipulated. That is the way of things in the world right now. And I don’t have any easy answers for how to change things. I do know that the political class can only oppress and manipulate for so long. Then their house of cards will come crashing down around them. My intent with this blog is to help raise up new leaders. People who will understand the need to practice humility. People that are content to serve as an example; rather than always resorting to the use of force, oppression, manipulation, and control. I want leaders the whole world will be grateful for. I want leaders that aren’t competing with anyone. Once you stop competing, no one can compete with you.


What You Need To Know

The ancient Masters didn’t
try to educate the people,
but kindly taught them to not-know.

When they think that they know the answers,
people are difficult to guide.
When they know that they don’t know,
people can find their own way.

If you want to learn how to govern,
avoid being clever or rich.
The simplest pattern is the clearest.
Content with an ordinary life,
you can show all people the way
back to their own nature.

-Lao Tzu-
(Tao Te Ching, chapter 65, translation by Stephen Mitchell)

Yesterday, I don’t know whether you noticed it, there was a segue from not-doing to not-knowing. Really, the two go hand in hand. Lao Tzu was talking about the example of the Master, who has nothing to lose and therefore loses nothing. All his desires are non-desire. What he has learned is to unlearn. I say this is an example; because, by his practice of not-doing doing, or effortless action, he reminds people of who they have always been.

From there, we spring into today’s chapter. With our great emphasis on education, today’s chapter may sound strange indeed. Because Lao Tzu looks way back, to the ancient Masters. What can we learn from them? Well, one thing we might learn is that education tends to puff us up.

Now, I am going to stop right there and affirm that I think education is a good thing. I am college educated. And, I home-schooled my own children. Not for religious reasons, like so many people were doing back when I was home-schooling. But, because I believed strongly enough in educating my children, that I didn’t believe it could be entrusted to the State. My children are adults now, and they are products of my strong beliefs in education. And, I take pride in that. Notice how puffed up I can get over education? Even today, I am working in education as a private tutor. For me, there is nothing so rewarding, as seeing light bulbs go on, as once difficult concepts are mastered by my students.

Having established that I am all for education. And, admitting it with pride. I want to continue discussing why the ancient Masters didn’t try to educate the people. As we read through this chapter, it seems like Lao Tzu is promoting having simple, compliant people to govern. If that raises any red flags for you, good. Just remember that the way things seem to be are not always the way they are.

Let’s look a little closer. The ancient Masters kindly taught the people to not-know. Is this really wanting them to remain in a state of ignorance? Is that what Lao Tzu is meaning? I don’t think so.

Far from promoting ignorance, I think Lao Tzu is promoting humility. Remember what I said earlier. Education tends to puff us up. That word, tends, is a very important one. That is why I am using it. You probably remember the often misquoted line of Lord Acton, “All power tends to corrupt…” Tends means it has a tendency. And tendency means it is likely to happen. And this means that it can be avoided, if we are careful. But how to be careful? First, by being aware of the tendency. Second, by avoiding it, if we can. Getting back to education, which tends to puff us up, we need to be careful that we don’t let our education puff us up.

That is the danger the ancient Masters are avoiding. They understood that when people are puffed up, thinking they already know the answers, people can be difficult to guide. But the converse is also true. When people know that they don’t know, they can find their own way.

That doesn’t sound like simple and compliant people to me. That sounds like people that have knowledge but aren’t puffed up. They know that they don’t know. And because they aren’t full of pride, they aren’t doing stupid things.

Speaking of prideful and stupid things. Today’s lesson isn’t really just for the masses of people. It is for those who want to learn how to govern. Lao Tzu tells us that those who govern us err when, full of pride, they do stupid things. That is why anyone, who is wanting to govern well, must not rely on their own cleverness and riches. The need for humility is most important the more powerful you become.

Our rulers, full of pride and, dare I say it, stupidity, just don’t get it. The simplest pattern is the clearest. But they can’t see it. Because they have made things so very complicated. Attempting to manage more and more of our everyday lives. Centrally planning things that they can’t possibly keep up with. That, of course, never stops them.

Learn to be content with an ordinary life. That isn’t just advice for the rest of us. If only our so-called leaders would learn to be content with the ordinary, instead of always trying to achieve the extraordinary. Reaching for greatness, they just make a complete mess of everything. But if they were content with the simple and ordinary, they would then be an example to the people. Which, (ahem), is what leaders are supposed to be. Showing people the way back to their own nature. Of how to be content with your simple and ordinary life.

Of Pine Trees And Long Journeys

What is rooted is easy to nourish.
What is recent is easy to correct.
What is brittle is easy to break.
What is small is easy to scatter.

Prevent trouble before it arises.
Put things in order before they exist.
The giant pine tree grows from a tiny sprout.
The journey of a thousand miles
starts beneath your feet.

Rushing into action, you fail.
Trying to grasp things, you lose them.
Forcing project to completion,
you ruin what was almost ripe.

Therefore, the Master takes action
by letting things take their course.
He remains calm at the end
as at the beginning.
He has nothing,
thus has nothing to lose.
What he desires is non-desire;
what he learns is to unlearn.
He simply reminds people
of who they have always been.
He cares for nothing but the Tao.
Thus, he can care for all things.

-Lao Tzu-
(Tao Te Ching, chapter 64, translation by Stephen Mitchell)

Today’s chapter is a continuation of the theme of yesterday’s chapter. It is a chapter filled with both encouragement and caution. What Lao Tzu is really trying to help us with is making all our actions, effortless.

How effortless? Well, how easy is it to nourish something that is already rooted? How easy is it to correct a mistake that was made only recently? How easily can you break something that is brittle? How easy is it to scatter something that is small?

We can, through learning from experience, come to understand how to prevent trouble before it even arises. That will take a certain wisdom that we gain through our experiences. But through careful planning, understanding that the way things are is the way things are, we can put things in order, before they exist.

That is why Lao Tzu invokes the familiar metaphor of the giant pine tree and the journey of a thousand miles. Even those who have never heard of Lao Tzu, or philosophical Taoism have heard these proverbs. That giant pine tree had to begin as something very small. Just a tiny sprout. And that long journey before you? It begins with the ground beneath your feet. So, don’t despise your small beginning. And don’t get overwhelmed at the enormity of the journey. Just take that first step. Then take the next.

But, like I said before, we need to understand the way things are. Rushing into action is a sure fire way to fail. And grasping at things is a great way to lose them. Sometimes, we don’t take things slow in the beginning. Feel things out. See the direction the current is actually going. Don’t rush. You’ll find yourself grasping.

Sometimes, we start out well enough, but then we get anxious to get things done before it is time. We’ll try to force some project to completion and ruin it when it was almost ripe. If only we had waited. If only we hadn’t rushed and forced. Rushing and forcing is needless effort. Remember we are seeking effortless action.

That is why the example of the Master is the best example for us today. How does the Master conduct himself, not only at the beginning, but all the way through to the end? By letting things take their course. Everything has its course. Tiny sprouts grow into giant pine trees. We must only be patient with them. Is it rooted? Good. Give it time. It will grow.

We need to remain calm, from beginning to end. That is the Master’s way. The Master considers himself to have nothing. That is important. For, far too often we are so focused on something. That something, we grasp at, afraid we will lose it. And guess what? We often do. That is why it is better to start with nothing. Then, you have nothing to lose. All those desires we have? They only prevent us from living life in the present moment. Desires are only about things we want, not what we already have in this present moment. But living life in the present moment is living without desire. You don’t desire what you already have.

I understand if some of this sounds strange to you. You may have never considered that desires are grasping for things that aren’t there. But go ahead and look up the definition of the word, desire, if you need to. You may say that you desire something in the present moment that you don’t have. But that is just my point. If you don’t have it in the present moment then it isn’t in your present moment. I think we all have plenty of things to unlearn.

That is what Lao Tzu intends for us to learn from the Master. He is simply there to remind us of who we have always been. You don’t like the way you have always been? Then quit focusing on your past or worrying about your future. And live in the present moment. Use what you have. You’ll find it is all that you need. Accept that the way things are is the way things are. That means putting your past behind you. And, accepting the present for what it is. It means caring about nothing but the Tao; that which is eternally true, about you, and about the world that you live in. Then, you can care for all things.

Try This Labor-Saving Device

Act without doing; work without effort.
Think of the small as large and the few as many.
Confront the difficult while it is still easy.
Accomplish the great task by a series of small acts.

The Master never reaches for the great;
thus, she achieves greatness.
When she runs into a difficulty,
she stops and gives herself to it.
She doesn’t cling to her own comfort;
thus, problems are no problem for her.

-Lao Tzu-
(Tao Te Ching, chapter 63, translation by Stephen Mitchell)

We have spent the last several days talking about the art of governing. Today, we are going to take a break from that; as Lao Tzu, once again, talks about the practice of wu-wei. Wu-wei, for those of my newer followers, is not-doing doing. What that means is letting your actions be without effort. Here is the literal translation of the first few lines of today’s chapter: “Act without acting, manage without managing, taste without tasting.” So, how do we put this into practice?

I have said before that this effortless action can best be observed in nature. Or, if you want to see humans exemplifying it, watch martial artists. The fluidity of their moves. The effortlessness of their every action.

But those are only metaphors for something that can be put into practice in our own everyday lives. What Lao Tzu seems to really be getting at in this chapter is how to make great tasks, small; and the difficult, easy. How do we do that? We do that by thinking of the small as large and the few as many. What does that mean? Think of a specific problem in your life that you are dealing with, right now. Now, be honest. Why is this problem so big to you right now? Is it because you didn’t deal with it, while it was still small?

Lao Tzu is trying to save us a whole lot of effort in the future. Don’t wait for the problem to be great before you tackle it. While it is still small, it is easier to handle. Think of it as great, while it is still small. Things get out of hand quickly, if we don’t deal with the few little problems, while they are still few and little. All too soon, they become many and great. Then, we can become overwhelmed.

If you want to save yourself a whole lot of difficulty, confront the difficulty while it is still easy. Break down that great task into smaller tasks. What we are doing here is making the small, great; and the great, small. That is what wu-wei is all about.

How does the Master achieve greatness? It isn’t because she tries to achieve greatness. She just breaks the great down into manageable smaller tasks. And gets them all done, overcoming one small difficulty at a time. Wu-wei is giving yourself to whatever the moment happens to bring you. Whatever difficulty that might be. In the practice of wu-wei, problems are no problem, because you aren’t clinging to your own comfort. Instead you are simply going with the flow and letting things come and go, effortlessly.