Increase is the way of learning
Decrease is the way of Tao
The opening lines of this chapter perfectly capture my current perspective. This year presented several opportunities for me to learn something that I was very drawn to – a new sword form, a new style of tai chi, advancing my study of Chinese language, playing the piano.
In each instance I was initially very motivated. I eagerly sought instruction and diligently practiced. But my energy soon flagged and I realized, with some frustration and disappointment, that my heart just wasn’t in it. I finally admitted to a friend that “I just don’t want to learn anything right now.”
A remarkable confession from a person who has always loved learning. I was the nerd who loved school, at least until my rebellious days of high school. I thrived in law school. As a professor I had the luxury of getting paid to learn and to share what excited me about my chosen subjects. As a martial artist I reveled in increased skill and knowledge.
So why couldn’t I summon the energy and excitement to pursue these opportunities? There may not be a single explanation, but on some deep level my spirit seeks to rest quietly. And while resting, to allow a shedding, a falling away.
My canary Henry is molting, as he does every late summer and early fall. He doesn’t have to do anything. He just sits there and allows his old feathers to release, covering the cage and the surrounding floor with downy softness and small quills. He quits singing during this period. He is less active. He rests and waits. Like me.
The rest of the chapter returns to a theme throughout the Tao Te Ching – that of wu wei, or non-action.
Decrease until non-action is reached
Not acting allows all to be done
Without interference everything is accomplished
With interference there is never enough
The Tao Te Ching envisions a universe that is self regulating, with a rhythm and harmony that is inherent in existence. This is opposite from a perspective that suggests we can and should improve on nature. In our over-scheduled, never enough time, always behind world, it seems crazy to think that doing less will actually accomplish more. Perhaps we simply discover that less really needs to be accomplished in the first place. Either way, life seems more spacious, more delightful, more serene when we are not battling against it all the time.
For peace of mind, resign as general manager of the universe. ~Larry Eisenberg