For most of my life I felt that there were horrible things in the world that we should work to control and change. I spent all of my time forming an opinion and arguing, assured that I was right and there were, obviously, bad things about the world.
It really didn’t take long to find some of the evil that existed and some of the horrible things that mankind has done or the times when bad things happened. The more I looked the more examples that I found.
But then I read the Tao Te Ching by Lao-tzu and started to change my perspective. In fact, the 29th verse was the final straw that shifted my thinking. The 29th verse in the Tao says:
“Do you think you can take over the universe and improve it?
I do not believe it can be done.
Everything under heaven is a sacred vessel and cannot be controlled,
Trying to control leads to ruin.
Trying to grasp, we lose.
Allow your life to unfold naturally.
Know that it too is a vessel of perfection.
Just as you breathe in and breathe out,
There is a time for being ahead
And a time for being behind;
A time for being in motion
And a time for being at rest;
A time for being vigorous
And a time for being exhausted;
A time for being safe
And a time for being in danger.
To the sage
All of life is a movement toward perfection,
So what need has he
For the excessive, the extravagant, or the extreme?”
This is a very popular verse and seems to contradict everything our society claims. Instead of saying we have control and should fight for that control and use it to make the world better, it instead urges us to realize that the world represents perfection. It might not be perfection from an individual standpoint but it certainly is perfection from the overall system standpoint.
This changes how we view things. Instead of seeing injustice and desiring an extreme response, it tries to see the full picture. Once we can see the full picture we can then fully understand the factors instead of arguing one side or the other.
While there may be acts that are evil and unpleasant, the reality is that the system is perfect. Because good and bad cannot exist without their counterpart, we have to accept the bad to embrace the good. And if we only look for the evil we will certainly find it. But if we realize that both exist we can start to make sense of the world and see positive things that come from events judged as solely wrong; the victim that overcomes and achieves great things and helps others, the poor person who overcame poverty and improved the community, or the patriotism and togetherness that emerges from an attack on a country.
Any evil that has occurred throughout history has had positive elements in it. Sometimes this occurs from people responding to the evil to make sure it never happens again and sometimes is a lesson that we learn.
I really enjoyed reading Simon Sinek’s book, Leaders Eat Last. In it he states “If we do not find ways to correct the imbalance ourselves, the laws of nature will always balance it for us.”
By us trying to control everything and create abundance, we don’t realize that this goes against the law of nature. It goes against the Tao. When the stock market gets too over valued it crashes. When home prices soar because of new laws creating more people able to buy houses, eventually there has to be a correction.
Yes there are bad things around but we have to realize that there is also perfection. They can exist together and the more we try to control and live in the extremes and with excess the more we will experience both sides of the extreme.
In fact, the best approach that I have found is to follow Lao-tzu quite literally and avoid “excessive, the extravagant, or the extreme?” By inviting excess you create an imbalance that will be corrected. It may not be deliberate but the system is set up to maintain balance. It may not even be that the excessive creates the negative aspect for you, but it may be that excess in our country creates poverty in another. While it may be worth it for us, the system shows that there is always a negative aspect, which shows that good and bad can’t exist alone. The broader perspective reveals this balance.
By understanding this principle one can start to find contentment in the subtle. Instead of looking for extremes, we can start to appreciate the good that we have. We can start to see the world as an outside observer, simply admiring how perfect the system really is.