Act without doing;
work without effort.
Think of the small as large
and the few as many.
Confront the difficult
while it is still easy;
accomplish the great task
by a series of small acts.
The Master never reaches for the great;
thus she achieves greatness.
When she runs into a difficulty,
she stops and gives herself to it.
She doesn’t cling to her own comfort;
thus problems are no problem for her.
(Tao Te Ching, chapter 63, translation by Stephen Mitchell)
After talking for the last six days on the art of governing, today, we will give it a rest. Let’s not lose sight of the fundamental teachings, which we all, leaders and followers, alike, must be practicing, if we want to be content. This isn’t the art of governing; it is the art of living.
So, Lao Tzu comes back to the fundamental tenet of philosophical Taoism, Wei Wu Wei, doing without doing. “Act without doing; work without effort.” If we are going to put this into practice in our lives, it begins with how we think.
Small and large. Few and many. Difficult and easy. These are yin and yang concepts. And, we always seem to be thinking about them all wrong. We do this, because the only reality our minds can perceive is the one we perceive with our senses. That is the finite and temporal reality. But, Lao Tzu’s message to all of us is that there is a whole other reality we can be experiencing, the infinite and eternal reality. This is the Tao.
If we are going to experience this reality, we will need to change how we perceive things. Somewhere along in here, knowing without knowing will come in. For now, don’t think of the small as small. Think of it as large. And, don’t think of the few as few. Think of them as many.
Say what? Why would I want to think of the small as large and the few as many? Why? Because, the way we think of things creates our reality. When I see small things as small, and few things as few, I limit myself to a finite and temporal reality. When I think of them as large and many, I open myself up to a whole new reality. One that is expansive. Infinite. Eternal.
I know this is a challenge to our way of thinking. That is the whole point. “But, but, they ARE small, and few.” Let me ask you a couple of questions about your life. Is your life full of difficulties, or is it one of ease? If your life is difficult, why do you think that is? Is it possible, the reason you think your life is difficult is because of your thinking about things? “Yes, but how is thinking of the small as large and the few as many, going to help with that. I often feel quite overwhelmed. Wouldn’t that just be making a mountain out of a molehill?”
Good, I have you thinking. Now, understand this: The mountains of difficulty in your life ARE just molehills. But those molehills have become mountains to you, because you didn’t confront the difficult while it was still easy. If you had thought of the small as large and the few as many, you would have confronted the difficult while it was still easy. You would have accomplished the great task, now before you, by a series of small acts.
Do you remember, a few chapters back, when Lao Tzu asked, “Do you want to be a great leader?” Here is the Master’s secret: “The Master never reaches for the great;” That is how they achieve greatness. When they run into difficulty, they don’t run and hide. They stop, and give themselves to it. They don’t cling to their own comfort; thus, problems are no problem for them.
This isn’t just good advice for would-be leaders. This is good advice for all of us. Don’t try to be great. Don’t reach for greatness. Be content with the simple and ordinary. Master that, and you will become great. By thinking of the small as large, and the few as many, we aren’t limiting ourselves to the small and few. We are realizing the large and many.
Here is another question for you. Are you often bored? It is hard to be content, when you are bored. There has to be something more out there for me. But why isn’t there more? Once again, it is because you keep thinking of the small as small and the few as few.
Think of the small as large and the few as many, and you will always have more with which to be content.
Whether your life is filled with difficulties, or filled with boredom, Lao Tzu’s teaching is the same. Stop limiting your reality to the finite and temporal. There is a whole other, infinite and eternal, reality you could be experiencing, each and every day. And, you can begin to realize this reality, as you change the way you perceive things.