If you want to shrink something,
you must first allow it to expand.
If you want to get rid of something,
you must first allow it to flourish.
If you want to take something,
you must first allow it to be given.
This is called the subtle perception
of the way things are.
The soft overcomes the hard.
The slow overcomes the fast.
Let your workings remain a mystery.
Just show people the results.
(Tao Te Ching, chapter 36, translation by Stephen Mitchell)
Yesterday, we were talking about perceiving the universal harmony and finding peace in our hearts. And I said then, what that means is perceiving the way things are. Today, Lao Tzu calls it a subtle perception. That word subtle is important. It means that it is so slight as to be difficult to detect or describe. Yes, that is precisely the difficulty we were talking about yesterday. Your senses are of no use to you in this quest. Words pointing to it seem monotonous and without flavor. It is elusive.
But what exactly do we mean when we talk about the subtle perception of the way things are? It involves seeming paradoxes. Like yin and yang. In today’s chapter, Lao Tzu talks about shrinking and expanding, getting rid of something and allowing it to flourish, taking and giving, soft and hard, slow and fast. And, we almost can’t help but think of these as opposites. But they aren’t opposites. They are complements. And I finally came up with a way to perfectly illustrate the relationship of yin and yang.
Think of it as breathing. There is breathing in and breathing out. Inhalation and Exhalation. There is no half way point. You are either inhaling breath or exhaling breath. To stop inhaling and exhaling is to stop breathing. And then you die. But we aren’t talking about death. We are among the living. And that means breathing in, followed by breathing out, followed by breathing in, and so on, endlessly repeating the process.
That is how it is with yin and yang. Night and day follow each other. And so, when we talk about wanting to shrink something, we need to first allow it to expand. When we talk about wanting to get rid of something, we must first allow it to flourish. If we are talking about wanting to take something, we must first allow it to be given.
Expansion first, then it can shrink. Flourishing first, then you can get rid of it. This give and take is the subtle perception of the way things are. And, sometimes we won’t necessarily like that. Waiting on nature to take its course tries our patience. But, you know what’s worse than waiting on nature? Trying to resist nature. The way things are is the way things are. The sooner we get on board with that, the better for us.
Sure, it is so very subtle. So very subtle that we can hardly believe it sometimes. But we still know it is true. The soft does overcome the hard. And the slow does overcome the fast. We know it is true, even though it is largely a mystery, why it is true. Why is it true? It is just the way things are. Like that is an explanation. But Lao Tzu tells us not to be concerned with the mystery of the workings. Just look at the results.