Clear as a Glass of Water

8th December 2020

The ancient Masters were profound and subtle.
Their wisdom was unfathomable.
There is no way to describe it;
all we can describe is their appearance.
They were careful as someone
crossing an iced-over stream.
Alert as a warrior in enemy territory.
Courteous as a guest.
Fluid as melting ice.
Shapeable as a block of wood.
Receptive as a valley.
Clear as a glass of water.
Do you have the patience
to wait till your mud settles
and the water is clear?
Can you remain unmoving
till the right action arises by itself?
The Master doesn’t seek fulfillment.
Not seeking, not expecting,
she is present, and can welcome all things.
-Lao Tzu-
(Tao Te Ching, chapter 15, translation by Stephen Mitchell)
Situations exist.

Springing out of the void they come at us from all directions, pushing our buttons in quick succession, relentlessly demanding that we do something, anything to make them go away.
And so with our emotions at full charge, we furrow our brows, tighten our jaws and make determined faces as we roll up our sleeves and respond. We are tough, we are action-oriented problem solvers.
We got this.
But then the situations return. Dressed in new clothes, and wearing fresh makeup, they taunt us into action. And we oblige.
Like puppets jerkily performing a tired old dance for a master who is never satisfied.
It is so hard to not immediately fix issues, take care of business, solve dramas, seize opportunities, fire off emails, honk at slow moving cars, argue with strangers on social media, change the opinions of the unenlightened.
It is so unfamiliar to pause, breathe, sort through the confusion and haze, and unpack the panoply of patterns that hypnotize us into misdirected action.
The above passage from the Tao Te Ching gives us some clues about how we may be able to get out of this trap. We must be patient, it says, and wait till ‘our mud settles’, till our ‘water is clear’. We should remain unmoving but open, cut out external noise and be aware.
So that the right action can emerge. At the right time.
It’s not telling us to ignore the situation or hide our heads in the sand. It’s not telling us to ‘take it on the chin’ or to ‘let it go’.
Rather, it is telling us to not be owned or controlled by whatever our issue is at that moment and not give it permission to move us into mindless action, flailing and kicking against the current.
A patient crashes, a building is on fire or we’re being physically attacked. The response must be rapid and effective. And since we’ve been lucid and alert without tension, receptive and sensitive to the present moment, there is no noise, no panic. We are able to take quick and spontaneous action.
And then there are the other situations. Ones that are not actually life and death, but our egos manage to convince us that they are. We feel threatened and fearful, hurt and indignant. We want to execute swift judgment and push back with serious action and righteous anger. We need to prove something. We need to demonstrate that we know more, that we can make it better once we’re involved. We need to be right.
These are the kind of responses that unmake us, guaranteeing that the very issues we’re trying to rid become chronic.
Applying wisdom again from the above passage, we try to remain shapeable as a block of wood, not seeking not expecting. We observe and learn to become fluent in the language of reality, skillful in the art of reading situations, so that we are able to respond with love, understanding and compassion.
‘The Master does not seek fulfillment, She expects nothing so can be present and welcome all things’.

Yes, it is achingly frustrating to wait, to keep a clear head when being punched on the nose, to wait calmly until the right action presents itself. Yet learning this skill is absolutely worth it, because while there is some satisfaction in acting out impulsively, the pattern absolutely ensures that we lose ourselves and become unconscious in our day-to-day lives.
Not a very happy way to be.

Situations exist.
How will you ‘handle’ them?

Metta Visions team