Planning for the future and the Tao Te Ching: Verse 57

This morning as I woke up, I acknowledged that today was an “empty day”: no appointments, no set plans, nothing in particular to do from morning until night. A little part of me took pleasure in the emptiness, free from constraint and fertile with possibility. But a big part of me started revising the to-do lists in my head, the dozens of activities I’ve been putting off until I find “a little free time”. It quickly became maddening and overwhelming, as it always does, and so I decided to focus on the present moment and just get on with my morning ritual.

Only twice or thrice did I manage to return my attention mindfully to my breakfast. During taiji, I lost my place in the form several times and had to start over as I got the sequence confused. My mind kept wandering and I kept getting distracted by errant and unhelpful thoughts about the past and extrapolated futures. During the meditation I kept going off on trails of thought and worry about what to do next, and in the end it became so frustrating that I declared “I am sick of planning. Only misery comes from making plans, because you either stick to them and then wonder what else you could have done, or you don’t stick to them and you get frustrated that you didn’t get as much done as you wanted.” I resolved, then, to stop planning ahead and to live more spontaneously, doing whatever I felt like rather than what I “should” (a foul and evil word). I decided that it didn’t matter what I did next, as long as I put my whole heart into it. That meaning is wholly subjective, and it was entirely up to me whether I thought I was wasting my time or spending it “well”.

As I opened the Tao Te Ching, I was surprised and humbled to find the first paragraph instructing me to “let go of fixed plans and concepts and the world will govern itself”. There is also some strange synchronicity that last night my friend and I were discussing the limitations of law and punishment in reducing crime. How strange the world works, to deliver the lessons that we need at the moment that we need them. (Or, perhaps, that we recognise the lessons that have always been there when we are ready to understand them.)

Verse 57 [my interpretation]

If you want to be a great leader,
learn to follow the Way.
Stop trying to control.
Let go of plans so that things can unfold naturally,
free from your interference.

It is the nature of the world that:
the more prohibitions there are,
the more people are impoverished;
the more powerful the weapons,
the more violent the people;
the more complex the plan,
the more unexpected the outcome;
the more authoritarian the laws,
the more outlaws appear.

Therefore the sage does nothing,
yet people become peaceful, honest and rich.
When a ruler does not impose himself upon people,
people are free to become themselves.
[And all people are inherently Tao-centred, with innate Buddha-nature.
As all seeds will grow in the right condition, so too are people.]

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One thought on “Planning for the future and the Tao Te Ching: Verse 57

  1. jen says:

    this is a great post Xin. I love it.Just what I was ”wanting” ;-)
    “I am sick of planning”.. “I am sick of planning. Only misery comes from making plans, because you either stick to them and then wonder what else you could have done, or you don’t stick to them and you get frustrated that you didn’t get as much done as you wanted.”
    I so feel the same.

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