He who stands on tiptoe
doesn’t stand firm.
He who rushes ahead
doesn’t go far.
He who tries to shine
dims his own light.
He who defines himself
can’t know who he really is.
He who has power over others
can’t empower himself.
He who clings to his work
will create nothing that endures.
If you want to accord with the Tao,
just do your job, then let go.
(Tao Te Ching, chapter 24, translation by Stephen Mitchell)
Yesterday was all about doing what comes naturally to you. How many times has he told us these things, before? Be content to be who and what you are. Even if you see yourself as partial, crooked, and empty. Be content to be what you are, and be lived by the Tao, to become your true, whole self. And, Lao Tzu went further with that concept, yesterday; saying, express yourself completely. Don’t do it in a partial way. You have to open yourself completely, to the Tao, to insight, and, yes, even to loss.
In my commentary, yesterday, I devoted my time to knowing when to stop; admitting, I talk too much. But, of course, talking is only one way to express yourself. And, I kind of missed Lao Tzu’s point about making sure you do it completely. Only, then, is it time to keep quiet. Lao Tzu’s real point was for us to be like the forces of nature; and, having opened ourselves to the Tao, to trust our natural responses. That is when everything will fall into place.
Having covered doing things naturally, yesterday; today, Lao Tzu turns to contrasting being unnatural in our responses.
These are areas where we can laugh out loud at our own folly. I remember growing up as a child. I was the oldest, and I had a brother, just two years younger than me. He ended up out-growing me. I remember so many family portraits, where I would be standing on tiptoe in order to appear taller in those photos. I know just the ones where I was doing it. My own face betrays how unnaturally I was responding to having our portrait taken.
Go ahead and laugh with me. It’s alright. I wouldn’t have shared that story, if I didn’t see my own folly. I suppose I could also share stories of the times I rushed ahead of everyone else, only to have to wait; because, in spite of my hurry, you just can’t get ahead in that way. I used to like to have the spotlight on me, trying to outshine everyone around me. But, that always seemed to produce the opposite effect, when all my efforts to define myself were thwarted by own inability to know and understand myself. I have learned some things along the way. Just because you have power over others, doesn’t mean you have any real power over yourself. And, if you want your work to endure, don’t cling to it so much.
I wish, in yesterday’s commentary, I had spent my time talking about how far we need to go to express ourselves completely, rather than worrying about excessively doing what should have come naturally to me. For it is in today’s chapter, where we need to know when to stop. Stop being unnatural, now, and once you have done your job; because, that is the time to let it go. This is the only way to accord with the Tao.