Friday, May 20, 2016

Thoughts on the Tao Te Ching 63

Poem 63

Act without doing;
work without effort.

Think of the small as large
and the few as many.
Confront the difficult
while it is still easy;
accomplish the great task
by a series of small acts.

The Master never reaches for the great;
thus she achieves greatness.
When she runs into a difficulty,
she stops and gives herself to it.
She doesn't cling to her own comfort;
thus problems are no problem for her.

Our graduating Sixth Years:  May they learn to go with the flow and stay in the zone!! 


Once again, our Taoist poet and philosopher uses the balance of polar opposites to put across both the mystery and complexity of life on the one hand and the depth or height of spiritual wisdom on the other.  In a certain sense, we can appreciate the above poem if we let go of our rigidity, especially the rigidity associated with linear logic.  We have to learn to think outside the box, to go beyond the rigid linearity associated with intellectual knowledge or logic and allow the reasons of the heart to attract us to action.  As Pascal tells us, "le coeur a ses raisons que la raison ne connait point" - "the heart has its reasons which reason itself can never comprehend."  In this sense, it may be said that we can "act without doing."  In a similar way we can "work without effort."  Moreover, we can stand things on their head by treating the large as small and vice versa.  In a way, what our poet is suggesting is that there is as much a universe in the atom as there is in the expanse of space.  Lines from the "Auguries of Innocence" by the wonderful pre-Romantic poet William Blake come to my mind:

To see a World in a Grain of Sand 
And a Heaven in a Wild Flower 
Hold Infinity in the palm of your hand 
And Eternity in an hour

Trees in Newbridge House, Summer 2014

Yet again, another associated thought that comes to mind is that of the psychological concept of flow as proposed by the Hungarian psychologist Mihály Csikszentmihályi.  Flow is a central concept in positive psychology, and it is also known as the zone.  Children can far more readily enter this zone than we adults because they are closer to their hearts and to their intuition that we adults are.  We adults are far more likely to be locked in the world of logic and intellect.  Flow or the zone is the mental state or that state of being where the person doing some action or activity is fully immersed in his/her experience of the moment, and is fully energized and well focused on the task at hand.  Flow is characterized by complete absorption in what is being experienced.  

It is, then, in this sense, that we can agree with our Taoist poet that we should confront the difficult while it is easy and achieve great tasks by doing small ones.  By not intending to reach for greatness the Master achieves it effortlessly.  Moreover, when she runs into difficulty she does not struggle with it or face it head on in pointless opposition - oh, no.  In fact she surrenders herself to it and swims with its tide.  And finally, like any true Taoist or Buddhist, or even Christ-like believer she never clings to her own comforts.

In this way, she never encounters problems.  As the philosopher Gabriel Marcel and the theologian Eugene Joly aver she rather embraces the total mystery of life.

Namaste, my friends.

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