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)
How to Put It into Practice
Yesterday, I said being one with the Tao isn’t something we have to achieve, or ever could achieve. We already are one with the Tao. It is our birthright, as children of the Tao. But, that still leaves us with the question of how do we put this into practice in our lives. Today’s chapter is the answer.
Act without doing. That is the practice of the Tao. It is the ancient Chinese practice of Wei Wu Wei, doing without doing. And, we have talked about this many times before. Here, Lao Tzu is talking about effortless action: Work without effort.
And, he tells us how to work without effort. It begins with how we think about things. Think of the small as large, and the few as many. Lao Tzu is telling us not to underestimate the task before us. Even the smallest of tasks, and no matter how few they may be, don’t think of them in that light. If you want your actions to be without effort, you want to confront what is difficult while it is still easy. So, think of the little as big. Then, you can break it down into little steps. By doing so, you will be able to accomplish a great task, by a series of small acts.
Those who are wise never reach for the great. Yes, I know that defies the conventional wisdom. But the “actually” wise never subscribed to the conventional wisdom. They understood, if we are reaching, we are trying to exceed our limits; and doing so, we will fail. We are talking about being one with the Tao, here. The wise achieve greatness, not by reaching for it, but by breaking down the great task into a series of small acts.
So, what happens when you run into a difficulty? How do you deal with it? Here is another way we will often fail. This isn’t the time for throwing yourself a pity party. But, even those who have stronger constitutions than that, still may fail, right here. Repeatedly running up against that wall, insisting on doing the same things over and over again. Stop it!
Be like the wise. When you run into a difficulty, stop, and give yourself to it. What does that mean? First of all, taking a break is definitely in order. You want to be at the top of your game, not worn out, not frustrated. This is a productive break. You are looking at things from a different perspective, pulled a bit away from the task at hand. Get others’ suggestions. Yes, you need to be humble enough to admit you need help. And, don’t be afraid to accept that you probably didn’t break this great task down into enough small acts, in the first place.
If you don’t cling to your own comfort, here – in other words, be willing to admit your failings, and do whatever it takes to correct those failings – problems will be no problem for you. Then, you can re-approach the difficulty, fresh; and, one small act at a time, get the job done.