He who stands on tiptoe
doesn’t stand firm.
He who rushes ahead
doesn’t go far.
He who tries to shine
dims his own light.
He who defines himself
can’t know who he really is.
He who has power over others
can’t empower himself.
He who clings to his work
will create nothing that endures.
If you want to accord with the Tao,
just do your job, then let go.
(Tao Te Ching, chapter 24, translation by Stephen Mitchell)
How You Don’t Do It
Yesterday, we talked about how you do it. How do you open yourself to the Tao. How do you let yourself be lived by the Tao: accepting loss, accepting being less, being partial, being incomplete. Because it is only by being lived by the Tao that you can become your true self: more, full, complete. And, Lao Tzu said that when we open ourselves to the Tao, we can trust our natural responses, and everything will fall into place.
Being what comes naturally to us. It seems easy. Well, maybe it seems easier said than done.
But, it really is easy. And, it is far easier than trying to force it.
In today’s chapter, Lao Tzu uses a series of examples of people who try to force what should happen naturally. What should just fall into place. I like how I have seen it summed up in other translations, like Robert Brookes’, “These things are like having too much to eat, and are avoided by those who follow the Tao.” Maybe, because obesity seems to be such a problem in the West, we don’t avoid overeating like we should. But, the point is, we need to stop forcing, to let nature do its thing.
I have been guilty of doing all of these things. Like I said, yesterday, I don’t hold myself up as some paragon of virtue, here. I remember well, back in my childhood, when I wasn’t satisfied with my stature. My little brother wasn’t littler than me. And, that just wasn’t acceptable to me. Whenever we had family portraits taken, and that happened quite a lot, being as my dad was a photographer, I would find someway to stand on tiptoe for the pictures. Anyway that I could try to appear to be taller, but it sure wasn’t natural. And, looking back at old family portraits you can see how forced it was. I tried so hard. Go ahead and laugh. Hey, I was a late bloomer. I was only 4’ 6” when I got my drivers’ license at age 16. I didn’t think I was ever going to make it to 5 feet tall. Nature wasn’t in near the hurry that I was. But, you know what? It did happen, naturally. It just took longer than I wanted to wait for it to happen. I am now full grown. And, while maybe 5’ 8” isn’t tall enough for some, it suits me just fine.
But, like I said, I have been guilty of all of these things. I have tried to rush ahead, to outshine, to define myself, to have power over others, and I have clung to my work. It should go without saying what I reaped for what I sowed: I didn’t go far, I dimmed my own light, I didn’t know who I really was, I couldn’t empower myself, and I created nothing that endured.
I could waste time wallowing in self-pity because of my past foolishness. Instead, I choose to see those poor life choices as lessons learned. I know better, now. If you want to accord with the Tao, just do your job, then let go.