True perfection seems imperfect,
yet it is perfectly itself.
True fullness seems empty,
yet it is fully present.
True straightness seems crooked.
True wisdom seems foolish.
True art seems artless.
The Master allows things to happen.
She shapes events as they come.
She steps out of the way
and lets the Tao speak for itself.
(Tao Te Ching, chapter 45, translation by Stephen Mitchell)
Yesterday, we were talking about what Lao Tzu is always talking about, you already have everything you need. Be content with who you are and what you have. We waste a whole lot of our lives, looking to others for fulfillment. And happiness will elude us, as long as we think it depends on money. Instead of focusing on something outside of ourselves, we need to look deep inside our own selves. For it is there, that true happiness and true fulfillment is to be found.
That, of course, is easier said than done. What makes it not as easily done, as said, is that we are our own worst critics. Just turning our focus inwards isn’t going to be enough, if we are going to insist on believing the lies we tell ourselves about ourselves. Oh, we don’t think we are lying to ourselves. We think we are giving an all too honest appraisal of just how imperfect and empty we appear, as we look within.
Look, I know what Lao Tzu has been saying, and I want to believe it is true. But when I look at me, I don’t see perfection. That is the problem, isn’t it? How can I be content with imperfection?
Most of my readers are quite a bit younger than me. This is something that makes my day, each and every day. Because I love working with young people. I can be a mentor of sorts, and I benefit from your youth and enthusiasm. It’s a win-win. I do hope you don’t mind getting a few words of wisdom from this older guy.
And here they are: You are more perfect than you seem to be. Oh, you don’t see it. And, you probably never will. You are always going to judge yourself by an impossible standard. Your greatest perfection is going to seem imperfect to you. You never are going to quite measure up to your exacting standards.
We all live a kind of double life. We are so concerned with appearances. So, we try to appear to have it all together; while, to our own selves, we appear to be a complete wreck. While we hope we can fool others, we know we can never fool ourselves. And, regardless of what Lao Tzu tells us, well, if he knew the truth about ourselves, he wouldn’t make it all sound so very simple.
But Lao Tzu does understand. That is why he says that the truest perfection is always going to seem imperfect. The truest fullness is always going to seem empty.
Perhaps it would help for us to simply follow Lao Tzu’s instructions instead of interrupting with our objections.
Could it be that we are measuring things differently than we should be? Instead of worrying about not being perfect enough, why not just be yourself, completely? Forget about other people’s standards of perfection for a moment. And just let yourself be free to be you. Now, try to ignore your own inner voices as they point out all the ways you don’t have it together. And just be you. Is this supposed to be easy? No! But it is necessary.
Lao Tzu has been talking about being truly fulfilled. And, we can’t get past how empty we feel. How can he keep saying that I have everything I need? That there is nothing lacking? I am so empty! Okay. Work with me here. So, you seem empty to you. I get it. But is that the final verdict? Can you do one thing for me? Just be filled in this one present moment. Forget about later today, or tomorrow, or next week. And don’t be thinking about all the ways you failed yesterday. Just be present with me in this moment. Fully present.
True straightness is going to seem crooked to you. True wisdom is going to seem like folly. True art is going to seem completely lacking in art. You are always going to be your worst critic. But just stop that for this present moment. You can go back to feeling like a failure later. For now, be what Lao Tzu insists that you are.
Are you with me? Here, in this present moment? Good. Now, things are getting ready to happen. Don’t freak out on me, but things are going to happen. Don’t let that shake you up. You are here in this present moment. Don’t worry about things that are going to happen. Just let them happen. Don’t fight it. Don’t resist it. Just relax. Enjoy this present moment.
As events transpire, breathe. Always breathe. Now, begin to shape those events as they come. You are in the present moment. You aren’t thinking about what happened yesterday. You aren’t thinking about tomorrow. You are right here, right now. And as events are happening, you are shaping them.
Now, step out of the way. That’s right. Step out of the way. I didn’t say, “Jump!” I didn’t say, “Look out!” I simply said, “Step out of the way.” You are living in the present moment. Conscious of every breath. And, now, the Tao can speak for itself: “You are perfectly yourself. You are fully present.”