More volunteering, and the Tao Te Ching: Verse 76

This morning I travelled into the city to see my dentist for perhaps the sixth time this year (mainly for my bashed in face, but also for general check up/cleaning. I really don’t think I need to see her every six months, but I can never say no to her because she’s just so darn cute). After the appointment, I had about an hour to spare before I needed to head off for another appointment. I contemplated doing some shopping, but I decided I’d go to PAWS and do some casual volunteer work instead. I got there about an hour and a half before opening time, but they let me in anyway. The only people that were there were the dedicated/employed staff who were setting up for the day- there were no other volunteers yet. I helped out by folding some tea towels, making a green juice (Bethwyn would be so proud) and decorating a raw pizza. It all took a surprisingly large amount of time, but it was fun work with great company. I think Hadley, the manager, is getting more used to me being around, and he didn’t seem to mind that I was helping Carly prepare the food behind the counter. I hope that maybe he’d be okay if I helped prepare and serve food more often- I think there’s more joy in that than washing dishes (though they’re both important tasks).

I talked to Carly about the sort of people that volunteer at PAWS. From her observations, many of them were court-ordered into some voluntary community service, or needed to work in order to receive welfare payments. Most of those people tended to be unhappy, hanging around the back, trying to do as little as possible and still get away with it. It was really unpleasant being around such people, but working with Carly and Hadley in the kitchen felt great! It was so wonderful to open my heart and embrace the work, given out of love of service to others. Plus, I got some free cake to go with it! I’ve decided that, despite how delicious and vegan PAWS cake is, it really does make my stomach hurt. I’m just not used to eating so much processed sugar, so a few bites is plenty for me. I look forward to more early mornings and late evenings, when the company will be more enjoyable.

 

Now, onto the verse I’m sure you’ve all been waiting for. This verse reminds me of waves crashing upon the rocks; in order to survive, they disperse their momentum and dissolve into mist. If they tried to solidify like chunks of ice, they would be shattered. Instead, their momentum allows them to withdraw with the waning moon and try again eternally. In a very basic martial sense, there is a notable difference between meeting an attack head on, and melting out of the way at the moment where it would impact you. For instance, if I was soft and yielding as someone punched me in the arm, the impact would be negligible and the effect would be like trying to punch leaves off a tree (as opposed to being rooted and solid like the trunk). In a philosophical sense, I see little point in being argumentative, obstinate or dominant. So many of life’s problems can be weathered by bending like grass in a storm, without giving up what we believe in. How senseless it is to try and be a hard ass!

 

Verse 76 [my interpretation]

Humans are born soft and gentle,
and when they die they are hard and stiff.
All things in nature are soft and pliable in life,
and dry and brittle in death.

Thus it might be said that stubbornness and rigidity lead to death,
where flexibility and adaptability lead to life.

An army that cannot yield will be defeated.
A tree that cannot bend will crack in the wind or be uprooted.
The hard and inflexible will be broken;
the soft and yielding will prevail.

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