Why Something So Easy Is So Difficult

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 own heart.

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

How is it that something so very easy can be so very difficult?

It was just a few chapters ago where Lao Tzu told us that if we look inside ourselves we will find that “the nonsense” he is teaching will make perfect sense. He also said that when we put these teachings into practice we will find their roots go deep. Today’s chapter is about putting his teachings into practice and looking inside your own heart. Don’t forget what his teachings are. He said they are our three greatest treasures. Simplicity, patience, and compassion. Those very treasures are the ones we can so easily destroy. We talked about that yesterday.

But today, Lao Tzu helps us to understand how easy it is to put these teachings into practice. Easy, that is, unless we make it difficult. As we often do.

How can something so easy be so difficult?

What makes it difficult are two things: knowing and trying. As long as we are relying on our own intellect to grasp their meaning, as long as we are trying to practice them, we are going to fail. You are neither old enough nor wise enough to be able to grasp this. You can’t do it. It is impossible.

This was my problem for longer than I care to admit. I tried and tried and tried and tried to understand them and put them into practice. The more I tried, the more frustratingly difficult it became. I knew it was supposed to be easy. That is what made my continued failure all the more frustrating.

If we are going to be able to practice being simple in our actions and our thoughts, if we are going to be able to be patient with both friends and enemies, if we are going to be able to be compassionate with ourselves, we are going to have to stop trying to know them and stop trying to practice them.

We have talked about this before. It is philosophical Taoism 101. We need to practice knowing not-knowing and doing not-doing. Our three treasures can only be ours as we intuitively and effortlessly practice them. Look inside your own heart. That is where you will find the Tao. Let it flow in you and out of you. Don’t interfere with it by trying to help it along or anticipate what it is going to do next and get a jump on things. Just go with the flow. It isn’t difficult. It is easy.

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