“The universe is sacred. You cannot improve it. If you try to change it, you will ruin it. If you try to hold it, you will lose it.”
-Tao Te Ching, 29
I met with a friend yesterday who seemed a bit stressed out about some of the things she is facing as an expecting mother. She and one of her boyfriend’s more aggressive family members don’t exactly see eye to eye, she has worries about delivery day, money and insurance, and even feels a little tense about the baby shower that she feels she has had no say in. I’m sure that these are all normal concerns for a new mother, and although I have never experienced these things I tried to assure her – as best as I could – of the normalcy of her situation and of the fact that everything will work out the way it should. She then mentioned something about trying too hard to control and manipulate everything, which reminded me of this verse from the Tao Te Ching:
“Do you think you can take over the universe and improve it?
I do not believe it can be done.
The universe is sacred. You cannot improve it. If you try to change it, you will ruin it. If you try to hold it, you will lose it.
So sometimes, things are ahead and sometimes they are behind; Sometimes breathing is hard, sometimes it comes easily; Sometimes there is strength and sometimes weakness; Sometimes one is up and sometimes down.
Therefore the sage avoids extremes, excesses, and complacency.”
One of the things that I love about Taoism is its commitment to the idea that we are not in control. That doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t take steps to better our lives and to better the lives of those around us, but when we get caught up trying to manipulate and scheme every little detail – we lose. We end up with more stress, more fears, and more worries than if we would have just let everything play out as it does. Furthermore, we shouldn’t be afraid of stress, fear, or worry. They are natural parts of human life and just as there is a time for them, there will also be a time for happiness, joy, and peace. Neither set of emotions exists without the other.
I took this picture a few weeks ago in my neighborhood. We’d just had our first big snow of the season and as I passed these clusters of snow-laden branches, I thought of how tempted I would have been – as a child – to grab some of the snow off of the branches. In all honestly, I was still kind of tempted to shake the branches and watch all the snow fall off! But I could only experience the beauty of the moment by leaving it just as it is. If I were to try to change it, I would ruin it. And if I were to grasp it – it would melt into my gloves, and I would lose it.
Obviously, there are times that call for change. And I’m not in any way endorsing the idea that we sit back and do absolutely nothing.
But sometimes, the real beauty in life comes by leaving things just as they are.