If you want to shrink something,
you must first allow it to expand.
If you want to get rid of something,
you must first allow it to flourish.
If you want to take something,
you must first allow it to be given.
This is called the subtle perception
of the way things are.
The soft overcomes the hard.
The slow overcomes the fast.
Let your workings remain a mystery.
Just show people the results.
(Tao Te Ching, chapter 36, translation by Stephen Mitchell)
Yesterday, we were talking about how to perceive the universal harmony; that is, the eternal reality before and beyond whatever is going on around us in our world. Lao Tzu had already said that the Tao is not something we can perceive with our senses. So, perceiving the universal harmony, words that point to the Tao, is going to seem monotonous and without flavor to us. It can’t be perceived by looking or listening outside of ourselves. When you look for it, there is nothing to see. When you listen for it, there is nothing to hear. However, one who is centered in the Tao can perceive the universal harmony, by looking inside their own heart. There, they can find peace. A peace that is there, regardless of the pain and suffering that is going on around them. That peace is inexhaustible.
Today, Lao Tzu continues talking about this; but he renames it. Now, he calls it the subtle perception of the way things are. Because I am always getting new followers, this gives me an opportunity to explain what Lao Tzu means by “the way things are”. Often, we mistakenly think the way things are is what is going on in the world around us. What do we see all around us? There is joy. I wanted to start off with something positive, because there is a whole lot of positive things going on in our world. Lots of joy. But, there is also pain and suffering. To some extent, all the negative things help us to appreciate all the blessings we experience. But for some, it seems like all there is, is pain and suffering. I am thinking of the countless wars, the refugees, the poverty, the hunger. I am so blessed, I don’t experience all those horrible things, first hand.
Perhaps, because I don’t experience all those negative things, I have no business talking of them. And, I probably wouldn’t, if I wasn’t residing in a country whose government is so directly and indirectly responsible for a lot of the negative things going on in the world. I am not suggesting the U.S. government is solely responsible for all the pain and suffering in the world. So, please don’t misunderstand. But, I do think that taking advantage of my right to free speech, is a good way to point out the misdeeds of this government.
But all of that is talking about things that are external to myself. And all of that, both the joy, and the suffering, are not the way things are. At least, not “the way things are” that Lao Tzu is talking about. When Lao Tzu talks about the way things are, he is referring to the eternal reality before and beyond all of the joy and sorrow we experience in our world.
So, what is the relationship of the way things are with the way things seem to be? They are coexisting simultaneously. But how do they relate to each other? That is an interesting question. Because it relates to how we can experience peace in our own hearts, even in the midst of great pain.
The way things are is before and beyond the way things seem to be. The one is eternal, while the other is temporal. The one is infinite, while the other is finite. The way things seem to be is a direct consequence of how we accept the way things are. If we were centered in the Tao, the world would be a paradise.
If you don’t like what you see in the world around you, be assured, the problem isn’t out there, it is inside of your self, and countless other selves. The world is your self. That is how Lao Tzu is wanting us to see things. All other beings are an extension of our selves. Take care of your self, and the world will take care of itself.
That is important for us to understand; because as we look around at our world, and we perceive pain, suffering, and misery, we naturally want to do some shrinking of that. Or better yet, let’s just get rid of it, entirely. I say “naturally” because I do believe we, humans, have an innate desire to improve on the way things seem to be. Many are convinced that if we just were to get the right people in power, then we could start to shrink, or get rid of all the awful things that are occurring. That is a compelling desire. I get it. But, sadly, it isn’t based in reality. That just isn’t the way things are.
Today, Lao Tzu tells us the way things are. And the sooner we accept this, the better it will be. If you want to shrink something, you simply can’t set about to try and shrink it. If you want to get rid of something, you can’t simply set about to try and get rid of it. There are laws at work here. Universal laws. It is the law of yin and yang, which governs our Universe. If you want to shrink something, you must first allow it to expand. Expansion always precedes contraction. If you want to get rid of something, you must first allow it to flourish.
Well, I don’t like that, not one little bit. But, I don’t have to like it. It is the way things are. When I try to interfere with that, I only make things that much worse. I can’t just take something, without first allowing it to be given. This is the way things are, the eternal reality before and beyond the way things seem to be. Stay in the center of the circle. Don’t interfere. Let things come and go. Only shape events as they come. Not before. And not after.
Putting this into practice, when all around you people are clamoring that something must be done, isn’t exactly easy. Because you have to adopt a certain disinterest in what is going on around you. I don’t know any other way not to go mad. That disinterest is your path to find that peace in your heart we were talking about yesterday. You can’t let what is going on around you, move you.
No, you need to wait for your mud to settle. Wait for the right action to arise all by itself. You know what overcomes the hard. And it isn’t more hard. You know what overcome the fast. And it isn’t more fast. You are going to have to be soft and slow, to overcome the hard and fast. And when people around you, especially your friends and family, are complaining about your disinterest, your indifference to their pain and suffering, you are going to have to be content to let your workings remain a mystery. They won’t be, but you have to be. Just show people the results.