Nothing in the world
is as soft and yielding as water.
Yet, for dissolving the hard and inflexible,
nothing can surpass it.
The soft overcomes the hard;
the gentle overcomes the rigid.
Everyone knows this is true,
but few can put it into practice.
Therefore, the Master remains serene
in the midst of sorrow.
Evil cannot enter his heart.
Because he has given up helping,
he is people’s greatest help.
True words seem paradoxical.
(Tao Te Ching, chapter 78, translation by Stephen Mitchell)
Two chapters ago, Lao Tzu called the soft and yielding, disciples of life. And, he referred to the hard and inflexible as disciples of death. In yesterday’s chapter, Lao Tzu encouraged us not to interfere with nature’s way. In today’s chapter, he is honing in on how nature deals with the hard and inflexible.
Everywhere we turn, it seems we meet with disciples of death. Lao Tzu wants us to choose life. To be soft and yielding like water. If we want to dissolve the hard and inflexible, nothing beats it. And, we know this.
Everyone knows that the soft overcomes the hard and the gentle overcomes the rigid. Everyone knows it, or gives mental assent to the truth of it; but, few seem to be able to put it into practice. How can I be like water? When I am butting up against something that is hard and inflexible, how can I put these teachings into practice and overcome the hard and rigid?
For the last week or so, I have been having this struggle. And, once again, I have been reminded how far from where I want to be, I am. The Master remains serene in the midst of sorrow. I have not mastered myself. I have not been serene. In the midst of sorrow, I have let evil enter my own heart. I haven’t been able to let go of my desire to help. And, I haven’t been of any real help to anyone that I have encountered.
Once again, I am encountering the paradox. The way things are vs. the way things seem to be. I want to help. And Lao Tzu gently tells me that to be the people’s greatest help, I must give up trying to help. Serenity, even in the midst of great suffering. Why do you elude me?
Oh, I know why. But that knowledge doesn’t help me. And, my stomach is tied up in knots. I must let go.