The Tao is always at ease.
It overcomes without competing,
answers without speaking a word,
arrives without being summoned,
accomplishes without a plan.
Its net covers the whole universe.
And though its meshes are wide,
it doesn’t let a thing slip through.
(Tao Te Ching, chapter 73, translation by Stephen Mitchell)
Today’s chapter may be the most comforting chapter in all the Tao Te Ching. Lao Tzu has told us again and again, in a variety of ways, how to be at ease in our own lives. Unlike the way that is offered to us by the “powers that be” in our world, which promise us that we can only have a life of ease after many years of hard work and saving for our retirement, Lao Tzu tells us that life of ease can be ours now. It isn’t conditioned on being born in the right family or the right country. It isn’t based on our ethnicity or our gender. And it isn’t based on having earned it. It is unconditional. Lao Tzu tells us that his teachings, simplicity, patience, and compassion, are the key to this life of ease. We only need to put these into practice (it is easy to do so), and the life of ease is ours for the enjoying, right now.
Have I oversimplified things? Does it sound too good to be true? Is it really that easy? Well, it isn’t some get rich quick scheme. Since I have put Lao Tzu’s teachings into practice, I have learned how to be content with a simple and ordinary life. Maybe simple and ordinary doesn’t sound very appealing to you. Maybe that is why we fight so hard to have a complicated, yet hopefully extraordinary life. I just got tired of striving. That is what made it easy for me. When you give up struggling, it isn’t a struggle any longer. I tried, I really did try to play by the rules that the “powers that be” have established. But I came to realize that the system is rigged. And I am not going to come out on top. I could continue striving to work within the system; only to find when I got to the end of my life, it had all been for naught. Or, I could dare to be different.
It surprised me, at first, how being different came so naturally to me. Conforming should have been the easier road. That is what I thought. That is what I had been taught. So, I was pleasantly surprised. The road I have chosen is much easier. Conforming required much too much effort. And I make no apologies for choosing the easier path. Even though I thought it would be harder when I chose it.
Why is it so easy? It is because the Tao is always at ease. When you look inside yourself, and find the Tao, and start following it, going with the flow of it, you just can’t help being at ease. Just like the Tao. The Tao overcomes without competing. We tend to find ourselves always competing, without ever managing to overcome. But the Tao shows us the way. A way where all our actions are effortless. It answers without speaking a word. It arrives without being summoned. It accomplishes everything without any plan.
This is crazy. Crazy! What about setting goals for yourself? Where do you want to be next year, in five years, ten? What are you going to do with your life? All of that is just thinking about some future that may or may not come to pass. And what if it does? So what? Are you going to postpone your happiness until then? And that isn’t even pausing to consider the what ifs for all of life’s unexpected twists and turns. Where am I going to be next year? Five years from now? Ten? I haven’t the foggiest notion. And why does that matter?
I was talking to a friend today about the joys of paying into social security, through my self employment taxes. As if that money is going to be waiting for me in the sweet by and by of retirement. No, I can’t be making plans like that. Instead, I will keep going with the flow of the Tao, until the day I complete my life’s transit.
Am I worried? Just a tad concerned that things are going to somehow go awry? No. I trust the Tao. Its net covers the whole universe. Yes, its meshes are wide. But, it doesn’t let a thing slip through. And that includes me. That, my friends, is comforting.