How to Achieve Greatness

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.

-Lao Tzu-
(Tao Te Ching, chapter 63, translation by Stephen Mitchell)

How to Achieve Greatness

After spending several days in a row on the art of governing an entire country, today, Lao Tzu turns his attention back to the art of governing ourselves.

I was having tea with a friend, earlier; and, being an avid reader of my blog, he asked me for my thoughts on some of Trump’s picks for cabinet positions. I answered him, honestly. “I haven’t been paying a whole lot of attention to it.” I am, actually, quite convinced that if we spent less time worrying about how our leaders were conspiring to disrupt our lives, and more time practicing the art of self-governing-on how we govern our own lives-who Trump picks, and the things he does, wouldn’t matter very much.

To that end, take a look at today’s chapter, where Lao Tzu explains how those who are wise and virtuous have always been able to achieve greatness. Hint: It isn’t because they set out to achieve greatness. It isn’t because they tried to be great, or tried to do great things.

Quite the opposite, in fact.

And, I know this flies in the face of conventional wisdom. But, I would just like to point out, conventional wisdom is often the furthest thing from wise.

The wise and virtuous approach to the art of living is in keeping with the Tao-which does nothing, remember. Therefore, the wise and virtuous-masters at being in harmony with the Tao-act without doing, and work without effort. They think of the small as large, and the few as many. They have learned that the best time to confront the difficult is while it is still easy. So, when they have a great task to accomplish, they break it up into a series of small acts.

Never reach for the great! Don’t try to be great. Don’t try to do great things. Then, surprise everyone, maybe even yourself, when you achieve greatness.

When you run into a difficulty, stop. Stop? But, but….

No, stopping is exactly the right thing to do when you run into a difficulty. Don’t keep running, for heaven’s sake. Stop. Give yourself to this particular difficulty. What does Lao Tzu mean by this? He means that there is a reason you have encountered this particular difficulty; and you need to stop and consider exactly what that may be. Did I fail to break the great task down into enough small acts? Did I bite off more than I could chew? Giving yourself to the difficulty is accepting your own responsibility. So, don’t cling to your own comfort, here, and try to blame something, or somebody, else.

If you will do this, if you will be truly wise, problems will be no problem for you.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *