If you realize that all things change,
there is nothing you will try to hold on to.
If you aren’t afraid of dying,
there is nothing you can’t achieve.
Trying to control the future
is like trying to take the master carpenter’s place.
When you handle the master carpenter’s tools,
chances are that you’ll cut your hand.
(Tao Te Ching, chapter 74, translation by Stephen Mitchell)
Yesterday, we began talking about the key to living a life of ease. It is in mastering the withouts. In today’s chapter, Lao Tzu teaches us some things we must live without, if we want to live a life of ease.
It begins with realizing that all things change. This is one of those things that we think we already know. But the proof of the pudding is in the eating. Are you still trying to hold on to things? If you realized, truly realized, that all things change, there would be nothing you would still try to hold on to. Holding on to things is something we need to live without, if we want to live a life of ease.
The next one is our fear of dying. Dying is a scary thing for the great majority of us. It isn’t just a fear of death. We have latched on to articles of faith to assure ourselves that things will be sweet in the by and by. But the process of dying is not something we want to talk about, let alone think about.
I remember, well, the last six months of my own dad’s life. We didn’t know the exact day and hour of his impending release from his suffering. But, his last six months, when he had one foot in, and one foot out, of the grave were horrendous. And, my mother suffered for years with Alzheimer’s disease before finally succumbing to its ravages.
We know it is destined for each one of us to die. But, that process of dying is something of which we are afraid. Can’t we just die peacefully in our sleep, having gone to bed perfectly healthy, just never waking up from our slumber? Or, at the very least, can’t it be quick and painless? Yet, if we could overcome our fear of dying, there would be nothing we couldn’t achieve. This fear we are holding on to, is holding us back. It, too, is something we need to live without, if we want to live a life of ease.
Finally, is our knack for trying to control the future. If we want to live a life of ease we must leave the past in the past, and not worry about the future. Live life fully in the present moment. All things change. Let things come and go as they will. Let events take their own course. Just shape things as they come.
Instead, we try to do something way above our pay grade. Lao Tzu calls it trying to take the master carpenter’s place. This metaphor really speaks to me, because I should know better. I am not a very handy fellow. In fact, I am a rather clumsy fellow, when it comes to using tools. Still, I find the need to pick them up from time to time, to use them. And, inevitably, I have the scars to show for it.
But, what I try to do with tools cannot really compare with trying to control the future.
All we have is this present moment. Why worry about the future? Why try to control what the next moment will bring? Is it because we want more moments just like this one? Or, are we hoping against all hope that the future will be better than this present moment? But, these aren’t something we can control. So, stop trying to control. Let it be. Be at ease.