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, Lao Tzu promised us that the Tao would prove to be inexhaustible when it was put to use. He even went so far as to say that when you are centered in the Tao you can go wherever you wish, without danger. That is quite the claim. And it is one that I simply ignored yesterday as I wrote my commentary on the chapter.
But I can’t let a claim like that simply go ignored. He was talking about perceiving the universal harmony even in the midst of great pain, because you have found peace in your heart. It is as if he means that peace in our hearts will manifest itself everywhere we go.
I was talking yesterday about using the Tao to relieve the pain and suffering that we encounter in the world around us. And today, I want to expand on that. How do we go about using the Tao to relieve suffering? Is it really possible that the peace we have found in our own hearts can manifest itself everywhere we go?
I hinted at the answer yesterday when I said that we can use the Tao to see, truly see, the way things are. In today’s chapter, Lao Tzu talks about what he calls the subtle perception of the way things are. And when you are wanting to use the Tao to relieve pain and suffering, it is a good idea to start with both understanding and accepting that the way things are is the way things are.
I know I have been over this before, but for my newer followers, I think it is important to explain this concept. When I say that the way things are is the way things are, I am talking about the eternal reality. I don’t want anyone to think that we should just ignore all the bad that is going on in the world; because “the way things are is just the way things are.” And there isn’t anything that can be done about it. That isn’t what Lao Tzu is saying at all. What he is saying is that if we want to shrink something or get rid of it entirely, we have to understand the eternal reality behind it. You can’t just take something. You must first allow it to be given.
We want to work with the Tao, rather than at cross purposes with it. If we are pushing when it is pulling we won’t accomplish the good we aim to do. There are laws of nature at work in the Universe. If we want to succeed, we best understand and accept them. For they continue to operate whether or not we do.
And I know this all seems paradoxical: If you want to shrink something, first let it expand. If you want to get rid of something, first allow it to flourish. If you want to take something, first let it be given. The soft overcomes the hard. The slow overcomes the fast.
Yes, it all seems paradoxical. And I have covered this before, as well. Whenever we encounter paradox, know that we are encountering the difference between the eternal reality and illusion.
Please, let no one say that I am saying we need to let pain and suffering expand and flourish if we want to be rid of it. Because I am not saying that at all. What I am saying is that if we want to relieve pain and suffering, and I know that we do; then we need to understand that when we encounter the hard and the fast, we can best overcome it, not by being harder and faster, but by being soft and slow.
The Tao is mysterious. And the Tao works in mysterious ways. Does that sound like a cop out? I hope not. It is simply truth. And just like the Tao, our workings need to remain a mystery. But, oh the results you will have to show.