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)
For today’s commentary, I think it would be helpful to remind my readers of what Lao Tzu said, way back in chapter one: The eternal Tao is not something that can be told. The eternally real is unnameable. It is a mystery. And we cannot begin to realize the mystery as long as we are caught in desire. We have to be free of desire in order to realize the mystery. Caught in desire, we can only see the manifestations. Obviously, we would prefer to be free from desire; but there is good news for those of us, including myself, still caught in desire. Both the mystery and the manifestations arise from the same Source. And that means that we can trace the manifestations back to the Source. That has been the point of our journey, all along.
What we have been doing is tracing back the manifestations. Remember, the eternal Tao, itself, is imperceptible. Our focus is on the manifestations. Those, we can perceive. And so, over the last several days, we have been talking about what we can perceive. Yesterday, we were reminded that this isn’t about what we can perceive with our senses. Our sense of sight, hearing, smell, taste, and touch, aren’t of any use to us. At least as far as perceiving the manifestations of the Tao are concerned.
Yesterday, Lao Tzu said that we can perceive the universal harmony, even amid great pain. But only after we have found peace in our hearts. There is turmoil all around us. There is pain. There is suffering. And, as long as our focus is on that pain and suffering, on trying to do something about that pain and suffering, because who doesn’t want to do something to ease that pain and suffering, to shrink it, to get rid of it entirely, we will never find that peace in our hearts. We won’t be centered in the Tao. There will always be danger all around us, and we will always be in danger.
However, if we can maintain disinterest, I know that sounds cold and heartless but bear with me, if we can, like the stoics, be unmoved by that pain and suffering, we can avoid danger. We can go where we wish without danger. And I promise you, The pain and suffering, the turmoil, will be taken care of.
Now, I know that this is not an easy thing to read. And, even less easy to put into practice. Who wants to stand around and do nothing? We want to do something. We want to interfere. Every fiber of our being cries out for justice. Lao Tzu’s words are hard, cruel.
Where is the universal harmony in the midst of pain and suffering? My friends, pain and suffering are not the manifestation of universal harmony. They are evidence that things are completely out of balance. The mysterious, eternal Tao is working to bring about balance and harmony in the Universe. And things will return to a state of balance and harmony, but we have to stop interfering. We have to give up our need to be in control. Our interest in helping. We have to let the Tao do its work in us, as well in all beings. Even in the midst of that pain and suffering, the universal harmony can be perceived, if we will only be at peace with the Tao. That is really so much better than being at war with it. Because it is that state of war that has gotten us all, in the mess we are in.
Perceiving the universal harmony is not easy. It is downright impossible if we won’t quiet our hearts and minds. But we can perceive it. Though it is subtle. Oh, so subtle. Remember, it isn’t something you can pick up on with your senses. But, if you are quiet, you can perceive it. It is perceived in the way things are. That the soft overcomes the hard. That the slow overcomes the fast. We don’t understand how this can be. We just know it is true. We know it intuitively. But it remains a mystery.
So, when we want to shrink something, we must first allow it to expand. When we want to get rid of something, we must first allow it to flourish. Oh, how we rebel at this. But this is how things are. This is how the Tao works. First, it expands; then, it shrinks. First, it flourishes; then, we are rid of it. We have to let it expand first. We have to let it flourish first. We must wait on the Tao. We can’t take anything, without first allowing it to be given.
Does that make you want to scream out in frustration? I know I have done my own share of screaming out in frustration. Nature is terribly slow; especially when we are wanting to rush it. But we must find a way to work with nature, rather than against it. The soft does overcome the hard. The slow does overcome the fast.
And people will look at you and accuse you of not caring about all the pain and suffering. Why aren’t you doing something? Don’t you care? How can you maintain this disinterest? People are suffering. Do something? Why won’t you do something?
Can we be satisfied to let our workings remain a mystery, and just show people the results? Must we satisfy their craving to see what we are doing? Will it ease our own conscience?
This is tough, my friends. I deal with this all of the time in my own life. You can’t be in this world and not be tempted to be moved by the suffering. You see it all around you. And it comes close to home, as well. Your parents, your siblings, your spouse, your children. They don’t understand you. It is one thing to ignore the suffering of those at a distance from you; but how could you ignore the plight of your own dear loved ones? How, indeed?
I am not ignoring, by the way. But what I am doing to ease your suffering isn’t something that you can perceive with your senses. And I know, for you, that is as much as doing nothing to relieve your pain. But I know the way things are. And I know that your suffering is drawing to a conclusion. You can’t see that, I know. It seems to be only getting worse. But that just means that it will soon be over. How do I know this? I don’t know. It remains a mystery to me. Just as it is for you. But I can’t ease your suffering any other way than to allow it to take its course.
Ouch! But that is the reason you think I don’t care. It is because I can’t.