Thursday, May 24, 2018
Tao Te Ching – Chapter 43
This short chapter highlights a theme that runs through the Tao Te Ching.
What is most soft
Overcomes what is most hard
Two characters are used for “overcome,” literally meaning to gallop on horseback. Having grown up riding horses, I have wonderful memories of galloping bareback across meadows, hands entwined in flowing mane, hanging on as my horse ran free. It was exhilarating and powerful.
The horse’s strength came from being supple, its speed from finding its rhythm. This is the image I have of softness overcoming rigidity.
The next line uses a different image.
What is without form or substance can enter the impenetrable
While not exactly on point, I am distracted by a memory of being inadvertently caught in a revolution in another country. With just minutes of warning, I and some fellow travelers crowded into a hotel room as chaos erupted in the streets below. When we saw the tear gas canisters exploding, we began stuffing wet towels around the windows, hoping to seal them. But within moments, our eyes were stinging red and watery as we looked at each other helplessly.
Flipping to the other side of the concept, much of what I practice in martial arts is about not being stiff or forceful. As one teacher says, “I know you, but you don’t know me.” He means that he can sense where our resistance is, where his advantage is, while we are unable to find any vulnerability on his part. If I push, I meet nothing and suddenly my own effort is my defeat.
“I’m trying...,” I begin. “That is your problem,” he laughs in response.
Just like in life. I’ve learned with my grandchildren something I never mastered with my strong-willed children. Don’t meet force with force, but rather yield and overcome. Deflect and redirect!
I’m reminded of the fable about the wind and the sun arguing about who is stronger. They agree to decide the question by competing to see which one can remove the coat of a person walking along the road. The wind blows as hard as it can, but the person grips her coat and wraps it tightly around her body. The sun shines gently and soon the person removes her coat to bask in the sun’s warmth.
The chapter ends with a lament that few people understand this principle. So true, isn’t it? We exhaust ourselves with our force and resistance, trying to make the present moment something other than what it is. But each new moment gives us another opportunity to mount up and go for the galloping ride.