Lessons on the Art of Living

What is rooted is easy to nourish.
What is recent is easy to correct.
What is brittle is easy to break.
What is small is easy to scatter.

Prevent trouble before it arises.
Put things in order before they exist.
The giant pine tree
grows from a tiny sprout.
The journey of a thousand miles
starts from beneath your feet.

Rushing into action, you fail.
Trying to grasp things, you lose them.
Forcing a project to completion,
you ruin what was almost ripe.

Therefore the Master takes action
by letting things take their course.
He remains as calm
at the end as at the beginning.
He has nothing,
thus has nothing to lose.
What he desires is non-desire;
what he learns is to unlearn.
He simply reminds people
of who they have always been.
He cares about nothing but the Tao.
Thus he can care for all things.

-Lao Tzu-
(Tao Te Ching, chapter 64, translation by Stephen Mitchell)

Lessons on the Art of Living

Yesterday, Lao Tzu talked about something the wise and virtuous have long known, the best time to confront the difficult is while it is still easy. And that sounds, well, a bit obvious. But, we may well be thinking to ourselves, “Yeah, but what do I do now that I have procrastinated, or whatever, and it is no longer easy?” Lao Tzu talked, yesterday, about breaking the large task into a series of small acts. Today, he tells us how to achieve this, how to make the now difficult, easy again.

If you want to nourish something, it will be easy if you first get it rooted. If you want to correct something, get on it sooner rather than later, because the more recent it is, the easier it will be to correct. If you want to break something, first make it brittle; but if it is already brittle, be careful if you don’t want to break it. And, small things are easily scattered. Once again, this is either a strategy for how best to scatter things, or a warning to be careful with things you don’t want to scatter.

Lao Tzu’s whole point is to prevent trouble before it arises. Don’t let it get difficult, or even more difficult, if you can at all prevent it. Put things in order before they exist. Take to heart the lesson of the giant pine tree. It didn’t start out as a giant pine tree. It grew from a tiny sprout. Even the journey of a thousand miles begins at the ground beneath your feet. Those first few steps is where it all begins.

If you rush into action, you are bound to fail. If you try to grasp things, you will lose them. Forcing a project to completion, before its time, you end up ruining what was almost ripe.

What was almost ripe… What a sad commentary for any project!

Yesterday, Lao Tzu said to act without doing; today, he tells us to take action by letting things take their own course. It means the same thing! Don’t force things. Don’t try to control. Calm yourself. Remain calm; from the beginning of your project, all the way through to the end.

The reason we find it so difficult to calm ourselves is because we have vested so much interest in this. But, what if you had nothing? Then, you would have nothing to lose. What if all you desired was non-desire? Then, you would be free from desire. What if you learned to unlearn? Then, you would know you don’t know. And, oh, how liberating that would be to the advancement of your understanding. Remember who you have always been, who you were from the beginning, when you cared about nothing but the Tao. Thus, you were able to care for all things.

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