True perfection seems imperfect,
yet it is perfectly itself.
True fullness seems empty,
yet it is fully present.
True straightness seems crooked.
True wisdom seems foolish.
True art seems artless.
The Master allows things to happen.
She shapes events as they come.
She steps out of the way
and lets the Tao speak for itself.
(Tao Te Ching, chapter 45, translation by Stephen Mitchell)
We have been talking about realizing the eternal reality, the way things are, which is before and beyond the way things seem to be, what is only an illusion. In my commentary on chapter forty-one, I said the tell-tale sign which sets apart the way things are from the way things seem to be, the eternal reality from the illusion, is that the illusion tries too hard. Because we focus on outward appearances, we miss out on true contentment. Lao Tzu said it quite well, yesterday. True fulfillment and true happiness will never come from something outside of ourselves. We can’t depend on something so fleeting. If you want to be truly content, you must choose to be content with what you have, and rejoice in the way things are. That is looking deep within ourselves to the core of our being. There, we will find there is nothing lacking. Once we realize that, the whole world is ours for the enjoying.
In today’s chapter, Lao Tzu is once again pointing out how the way things seem to be is far from the eternal reality.
True perfection seems imperfect. And as long as we focus on that seeming imperfection, we will never see the truth. We need to see before and beyond what appears to be imperfect, to not fall for the illusion. True fullness seems empty. How ridiculous, we would think, the person that keeps pouring more and more into an already filled cup. But to them, it still appears empty. So, they just keep filling and filling and filling.
The seeming imperfection is true perfection. Why? Because it is perfectly itself. Let’s be real clear, here. Warts and all, if you are perfectly yourself, you are perfect. “Oh, but all I can see is my imperfections, my flaws. I need to work on those.” No! Actually, you need to leave what you will become to the Tao, and just be who and what you are right now. There is nothing lacking. Say it again with me. There is nothing lacking. The seeming emptiness is true fullness. Why? Because it is fully present. Once again, there is nothing lacking. Yesterday’s regrets and tomorrow’s worries require unnecessary effort. Be completely present. Be fully present. Just be.
True straightness seems crooked. True wisdom seems foolish. True art seems artless. Just look at the way the illusion demands ceaseless effort from you. But, you will never be more perfect than when you are perfectly yourself. You will never experience more fullness than when you are fully present.
Be yourself, be present, be like the Master. Allow things to happen. Those four words are powerful. There is so much power in letting. “I don’t know, that seems weak.” But we already covered that in an earlier chapter. Weakness is the way of the Tao. That is what makes it so powerful. Let whatever happens, happen. Don’t fight it. Don’t resist it. Don’t try to interfere with it. Don’t try to control it. Allow things to happen. Now, remember, you are being perfectly yourself. You are being fully present. And now, in the present, you can shape events as they come. Not beforehand. Not after. You merely go with the flow of the Tao, and act effortlessly. Then, there is one more thing.
Know, when it is time to step out of the way. You have shaped events. You did your work. Don’t cling to it; let it go. Step out of the way. Take that step back. It is time to let the Tao speak for itself. Let it.