Better to stop short than fill to the brim.
Oversharpen the blade, and the edge will soon blunt.
Amass a store of gold and jade, and no one can protect it.
Claim wealth and titles, and disaster will follow.
Retire when the work is done.
This is the way of heaven.
Balance and moderation are key concepts in Taoism. Overindulgence in anything — physical or mental — leads to disaster, whereas taking all things in moderation leads to satisfaction and flexibility. Fill to the brim, and you have no more room. The slightest jostle will cause a spill. Sharpen a blade too much and the keen edge will be so thin that it cannot endure use. Sharpening just enough gives you a longer-lasting tool. Hoard wealth or power, and your enemies multiply. Sure, having more of a good thing can feel like a good deal in the short term, but it often means having a shorter time to enjoy it. Having enough and knowing it is a wonderful feeling, and it leads to longer satisfaction and enjoyment.
I struggle with balance in my own life. I overindulge in foods that are bad for me and do not get enough exercise. This causes me to be less healthy and less happy. I am trying to change that, though. I also find that I struggle to live by balanced beliefs, to not let certain belief systems monopolize my life. For many years I was straightedge, abstaining from drinking alcohol, smoking tobacco or doing drugs. These were not choices about moderating my intake, but eliminating it altogether. For the many reasons I had at the time, I thought that total abstinence was the best route to take. In truth, though, I was living my life out of balance. Despite my efforts to make these things personal choices, they affected my relationships and at times even caused unnecessary disharmony. In trying to stick to rigid codes of behavior that were not at the base right for me, I sometimes externalized my negative feelings toward others who did not live by those same rules.
Eventually I decided to live a more balanced life. I wanted to stop depriving myself of some of life’s simple pleasures — the complex taste of rich stout for one — for the sake of adhering to some arbitrary code of conduct. Now, I might drink a beer or two once every couple of weeks, but I never get buzzed, much less drunk. I have yet to smoke a pipe or a cigar, but I would like to try it, at least. If I like it, it will be a rare indulgence. I still choose to avoid drugs, because I am not interested in dulling my senses in that way, but I understand it when certain friends decide to get tight. I reserve the judgments I may have cast in previous years. I’ve tried to get more in line with the idea of life being for living. When I am on my deathbed, I will not think back and be happy about all of the things that I deprived myself of in life. It’s much more likely that I will think about the things I did or did not yet get to do.
Still, I have much to work on when it comes to balance and moderation. I am trying to get to know and cherish that feeling of enough. It is hard, especially for an American. Here, even in midst of a grinding recession, the idea of over-consumption is still king. Here, too, the idea of moral absolutes and inflexible rules of living are encountered every day. It can be difficult, but simplicity, balance, and moderation are the virtues to which I aspire.