To a newcomer like me, one of the most mysterious themes in the Tao Te Ching is acting by not acting. For example, take Chapter 37:
The Tao is constant in non-action
Yet there is nothing it does not do
If the sovereign can hold on to this
All things shall transform themselves
Transformed, yet wishing to achieve
I shall restrain them with the simplicity of the nameless
The simplicity of the nameless
They shall be without desire
Without desire, using stillness
The world shall steady itself.
A Type-A personality like me reads that and asks, “How can non-action leave nothing undone? How can the world steady itself unless I make it steady?”
I may have inched a little closer to understanding this last night. I dreamed that I wanted to take a shower, but people kept coming into the bathroom. (Yes, it was one of those what-if-they-see-me-naked dreams.) I kept getting angrier and angrier. The last group was an electrician and his entourage. They wanted to ask questions about the wiring or something, but they just would not get it through their heads that I wanted some privacy. I finally grabbed one of them by the neck and shouted, “Get out of my bathroom right now!” At that point I woke up.
Often, we dream solutions to our waking-life problems, but this time it was the reverse. When I awoke, I had the solution to the problem in my dream.
I realized that all I had to do was leave the bathroom, wait for everyone to follow me out, politely answer a few questions and then explain that I would answer any further questions once I had had my shower. I had the sense that they would not have followed me back in.
By working with people’s nature (letting them follow me out and being courteous) rather than against it (grabbing them by the neck and shouting), I would have been in the spirit of Chapter 17:
The highest rulers, people do not know they have them
The next level, people love them and praise them
The next level, people fear them
The next level, people despise them
If the rulers’ trust is insufficient
Have no trust in them
Proceeding calmly, valuing their words
Task accomplished, matter settled
The people all say, “We did it naturally”
Experts in the Tao, what do you think? Am I starting to understand?