Fill your bowl to the brim
and it will spill.
Keep sharpening your knife
and it will blunt.
Chase after money and security
and your heart will never unclench.
Care about people’s approval
and you will be their prisoner.
Do your work, then step back.
The only path to serenity.
(Tao Te Ching, chapter 9, translation by Stephen Mitchell)
When Enough is Enough
Today’s chapter is really just a continuation of what we were talking about in yesterday’s chapter. How to practice the supreme good.
We covered the basics, yesterday. Lao Tzu ended yesterday’s chapter just beginning to get into the nitty gritty of it: Be content to simply be yourself. Don’t compare or compete, everybody will respect you.
Today he continues that thought, with the need to know when enough is enough, and how caring about what others think of you makes you their prisoner.
Just consider how silly we are acting, when we insist on filling our bowl to the brim. Just wanting to make sure we get everything we can get. But, of course, that always backfires. We end up spilling it. What a waste!
And, can we ever get ready, enough? Why keep sharpening that knife? It will soon be blunt, anyway. Just use it, already!
We chase, how we chase, after money and security. Postponing happiness until we get something more, something just around the corner, but always just out of reach. And, we wonder why heart disease is the number one killer among us, when we never give our hearts even a moment to unclench.
It all comes back to that comparing and competing with others. The keeping up with the Joneses I was talking about yesterday. Why, exactly, do we crave others’ approval so much? That prison cell we have built for ourselves, with its walls ever-closing-in on us. Lao Tzu is offering us so much better. Freedom!
There is really only one path to take for that, my friends: Do your work, then step back. Know when to stop. Know when enough is enough. Step back, and be content with it. Enjoy!