If you realize that all things change,
there is nothing you will try to hold on to.
If you aren’t afraid of dying,
there is nothing you can’t achieve.
Trying to control the future is like trying
to take the master carpenter’s place.
When you handle the master carpenter’s tools,
chances are that you’ll cut your hand.
(Tao Te Ching, chapter 74, translation by Stephen Mitchell)
Yesterday, we were talking about how being at ease in your own life is a natural consequence of the Tao always being at ease. This ease comes as we, like the Tao, practice not-competing competing. As Lao Tzu has explained before, this non-competing competing is best portrayed by children at play. This is the way of the Universe, the way things are. Lao Tzu portrays this all-encompassing Law at work as a giant net spread over the whole Universe. Nothing escapes the breadth of that net.
Today, Lao Tzu follows up with another Law of the Universe: That all things change. Things are in a constant state of flux. Hence, we will often talk about going with the flow. It isn’t enough just to acknowledge that all things change, however. We all know that all things change. But that knowledge alone doesn’t seem to be making much of a difference in our lives. We have to go one step further. We must realize this Law is always in effect in our Universe, and over every aspect of our lives. So, if there is a difference between knowing and realizing, how do I know when I am realizing?
Quite simply, you move from merely knowing to realizing, when it is making a difference in your life. Lao Tzu explains that when you realize this, there is nothing you will try to hold on to. As long as we are still trying to hold on to things, we are still only giving mental assent to this Law; and, instead of going with the flow, allowing things to come and go, we are working against the current of the Tao.
The most extreme example of this working against the current of the Tao is our fear of dying. Death. That would be the ultimate change. And we fear it. We desperately try to postpone it. The Tao gives us subtle reminders each and every day that death is inevitable. We see it in nature. We experience the reality of it most profoundly when we suffer the death of a loved one. Death is a natural part of the life cycle. And, we need not fear it, because death is not the end. Why do fear death? I think it is just proof that we haven’t yet realized the truth. Oh, we know it. We know that we are going to die. But until we go that extra step and come to realize it, we don’t really know anything.
And, just like realizing that all things change, liberates us to let go of everything that would hold us back; no longer being afraid of dying, means that there will be nothing we can’t achieve. That sounds appealing, doesn’t it?
So, let go of this need you think you have to be in control. You are safely encompassed within the net of the Tao. There is nothing to fear. You won’t slip away. Just go with the flow. Stop resisting this natural law. Lao Tzu likens our attempts at controlling outcomes to taking the master carpenter’s place. The master carpenter knows what they are doing. You, on the other hand, don’t. If you keep trying to wield those tools, you are only going to end up hurting yourself.