Working without Doing
Today we talk about what it means to work without doing.
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Today's reading is from chapter 63 of Lao Tzu's Tao Te Ching from the translation of Gia fu Feng and Jane English:
Work without doing.
Taste the tasteless.
Magnify the small, increase the few, reward bitterness with care.
See simplicity in the complicated.
Achieve greatness in small things.
In the universe the difficult things are done as though they were easy.
In the universe, great acts are made up of small deeds.
The wise do not attempt anything very big, and thus achieve greatness.
Easy promises make for little trust.
Taking things lightly results in great difficulty.
Because the wise always confront difficulties, they never experience them.
Doing without doing, practicing non-action, are ideas that may sound strange and even laughable to our Western ears when we first hear them. But this is one of the central concepts of Taoism.
One way we can make it a little more approachable is by likening it to what psychology in the West has come to call the Flow state. If you've done sports, created art, or work at a job that requires creativity or physical activity, you've probably experienced flow. When you're in flow, everything just seems to happen naturally. You're not consciously acting, the action happens through you, and time flies by. Everyone who drives a car has probably experienced flow at some point, where you show up to where you are going and realize you got there without a single thought to the activity of driving itself. But obviously, you made your turns and lane changes just as you would when you are normally , or else you'd have gotten pulled over or in an accident.
I think a lot of people hear this verse and think practicing non-action means sitting on a cushion meditating. Maybe sometimes it does, but we don't live in a world where we get to sit around all day. Lao Tzu is advocating that we bring the same ease and attentiveness we can find on the meditation cushion throughout our activities. That when we go through our daily lives, our actions happen naturally because we're working with the grain of reality.
This doesn't mean that everything's always going to be easy. Life is full of ups and down, of pleasure and discomfort. The Taoist meets discomfort the same way they meet pleasure, with a knowing, expectant smile. They don't hold on to the discomfort or make up stories about it. They simply confront it when it's there, and let it go when it's time. Thus, the wise confront difficulties but don't experience them.
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Quote of the Day
“May what I do flow from me like a river, no forcing and no holding back, the way it is with children.”
― Rainer Maria Rilke