Hands Off

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

Most of the time we take a hands-on approach to life— why wouldn’t we? We’re told success, happiness, prosperity, and fame are all out there for the taking, if only we work hard enough and apply ourselves. What does it mean to ‘apply yourself’? Does this not imply that your highest purpose is to become the glue holding two other things together? Are you some sort of solvent that will change a thing by dissolving into it? I don’t know about you, but I don’t have an interest in that. That sounds like kamikaze logic.

The more time we allow ourselves to cultivate intellect, virtue and self-awareness, the more fully-formed we become. Obviously there are limits— if you spend all your life inside reading and meditating you will only become esoterically wise. Monks and hermits aren’t very versatile. We know to balance book smarts with street smarts. But reflective consciousness is the way to keep this balance at all times, whether we’re working, contemplating or loafing around.

‘True perfection seems perfect, yet it is imperfectly itself’. What we perceive as perfection is a myth, a complete illusion. When something is truly perfect it ceases to exist. And so if we wish to admire perfection we must do so with the knowledge that human perfection is always imperfect. That’s what makes it interesting. Otherwise we’re just hyper-intelligent automatons, and nobody likes an automaton.

Think of how many people fill their workdays with unnecessary busy work. When I worked full-time in media in New York  people would find ways to take longer to do their work than necessary, just to fill time, then spend the rest of the beautiful day inside reading other half-assed articles by other people stuck inside at their media jobs a few blocks away. When you live in a simulation, it’s hard to recognize that it isn’t reality. This is why it’s so important to step back. Let the constant flow of information cease, and reality begins to reemerge. Stop clinging to half truths if you want to find full truths.

When we let the Tao speak for itself, we uncover this sort of true wisdom. In meditation, this means not letting thoughts distract you. It means hearing the echoes in the void without responding. It means patience, diligence, an open ear. This is easier said than done, but the reward is profound. Imagine if someone told you the greatest joy and peace existent in the world is available to you if you just listen calmly to yourself— this makes doing so less difficult. All we have to do is step back, let go, breathe.

Find ways to accomplish more by doing less. Find ways to learn more by regulating your flow of information more intelligently. Find ways to appreciate life by simplifying it rather than adding unnecessary nonsense into the mix. Every time we make easy work difficult, simple ideas complex or quiet moments noisey, we waste precious energy.


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