Carrying body and soul and embracing the one,
Can you avoid separation?
Attending fully and becoming supple,
Can you be as a newborn babe?
Washing and cleansing the primal vision,
Can you be without stain?
Loving all men and ruling the country,
Can you be without cleverness?
Opening and closing the gates of heaven,
Can you play the role of woman?
Understanding and being open to all things,
Are you able to do nothing?
Giving birth and nourishing,
Bearing yet not possessing,
Working yet not taking credit,
Leading yet not dominating,
This is the Primal Virtue.
When I read this chapter of the Tao Te Ching, I think again on water, detachment and emptiness. I discussed before my thoughts on what it means to live like water, but there is yet another way not described there in which water is like the Tao: the tighter one tries to grasp it, the less one finds oneself holding in the end. Likewise, the harder one strives to cling to the Tao in concept, the further one finds oneself from it. Like water, we should find equilibrium naturally, rather than trying to force it.
When we try to make ourselves balanced, we ultimately run the risk of unbalancing ourselves by putting rules and codes into place for our lives. Rather, we should look instead to what gives us the deepest, most sustainable happiness and call that our balance. When trying to make ourselves malleable, we ultimately lose site of the fact that it is the newborn’s lack of experience that makes it so supple. When we focus on trying to bring structure to the ineffable Tao, we ultimately cloud our vision, distract our thoughts.
Instead, we should let go of our preconceived notions, let go of our limited perspective. The goal is effortless action, doing without doing. Rather than forcing our balance, we should let it coalesce naturally by seeking contentment. Rather than try to define the Tao, we should experience it by virtue of our simply being. We should lead not through cunning and deceit by through example of action. We must embrace the emptiness to be filled, embrace the valley spirit to give birth to and nourish good works in our lives.
This goes back to the concept of detachment, of removing oneself from one’s things, both physical and mental. This also extends to our works. The most successful work is done not in search of credit, and removing ourselves from the work allows it to be done completely and correctly. It lets the work stand on its own. In the end, it is enough that something is done without having to say “I did this.” Likewise, the most successful leadership is virtually invisible and ends with the team saying to one another, “Look what we’ve accomplished” without thought of being lead to the goal.