The bold in daring will be killed
The bold in not daring will survive
Of these two, one may benefit, the other may harm
The one hated by heaven? – who knows the reason?
Even the sages still find this difficult
The Tao of Heaven
Does not contend and yet excels in winning
Does not speak and yet excels in responding
Is not summoned and yet comes on its own
Is unhurried and yet excels in planning
The heavenly net is vast
Loose, and yet does not let anything slip through
In the chapter on Wu Wei, we learned the meaning of action without striving. It becomes relevant to understand the nature of striving and how the Tao of success follows a different approach. One meaning of to strive is to work vigorously towards some goal. Or it can mean to struggle or contend in an effort to gain or achieve some result. For many people this is just the only way known to realize accomplishment or achievement.
Working against the natural order of change creates friction. Moving against the flow of underlying reality is contentious. The ego is contending that the external conditions along the path should not change and refuses to change with the situation. Going against the current of life creates friction and strive. The ego is belligerent and clings to its agenda in a bullish sense of pushing through obstacles. Even when common sense or instinct would guide one to use caution and consider alternative, the ego swells with pride and daring and tosses away wisdom as if it were a hindrance. In Chapter 13 we can read
“Favor and disgrace make one fearful
The greatest misfortune is the self (ego)
What does “favor and disgrace make one fearful” mean?
Favor is high and disgrace is low
Having it makes one fearful
Losing it makes one fearful
This is “favor and disgrace make one fearful”
This seeking favor and becoming fearful of disgrace will cause the person realize misfortune. This sets up the ego for striving. Because ego is fearful it contends with life and strives to avoid at all costs the loss of face, to look bad. Following this course of striving leads to resistance to the flow of life. The striving creates stress and tension.
Another root of striving is found in stubborness. This ego trait should not be confused with resoluteness. Stubbornness is ego refusing to consider any alternative because it must be seen as being “right”. Ego will not change course, change its mind, or consider alternatives because it fears being seen as “wrong”. This is a classic setup for striving. Not being will to change even when it makes sense, is being stubborn. Stubbornness leads to striving.
Tao cultivators achieve successful results without striving because like water they flow around obstacles. They find alternative when life changes around them. Tao cultivators pay attention to ego and let go of feelings of needing to refuse help or ideas from others. Tao cultivators do not fall victim to the need to “hurry up” when things change, they merge with the rhythm of the underlying reality, and the flow of life.
It is very easy to get caught up in the ignorant whims of ego. It requires the practice of mindfulness or paying attention to what we are thinking, feeling and “doing”. Being in a state of distraction, one is captivated by the desires and feelings typical of ego behavior. We must practice self awareness so that we do not get mired down and become lost from our path. This is not necessarily easy to do yet with practice we can learn to realize when we are striving and to return to the Tao.
From an energy standpoint, stiving is a very inefficient use of resources. The resistance created in striving, in going against the flow, creates stress. In chapter 6 we are informed that the Tao “flows continuously and is barely perceptible”.
In distraction we are ignorant of the flow and cannot perceive it. So at the end of a day of striving we feel exhausted. We have used all of our energy up in pushing through life and its perceived obstacles rather than moving around them. In chapter 76 we are informed that it is more efficient to be yielding and flexible. In chapter 8 we can begin to see that “goodness resembles water, water benefits myriad of things without contention, it stays in the places that people dislike”. This place that people dislike is humility, and that aspect of people that cannot abide humility is ego. In humility we can let go of ego traits that cause resistance.
In chapter 22 the Tao Te Ching further tells us that in yielding there is strength. Yielding is the opposite of striving. “Yield and remain whole, bend and remain straight”. When we refuse to yield to life as it happens, we wear ourselves down and become depleted. Constant striving against the flow will bend us over with an unsustainable pressure. When we quit the stubborn and clinging behavior behavior we begin to unify with the source again. Humble we become “low and become filled”, letting go of ego “we might be “worn out and become renewed. Striving is the refusal of becoming humble, yielding, and become like water, flowing and seeking the low places.
Balance and harmony Striving is the action that leads us away from balance and harmony. Chapter 46 states: “the satisfaction of content is the lasting satisfaction”. Striving is the pursuit of ego agenda. Wu Wei is the action without striving which brings about balance and harmony. Opposite of striving is allowing, bending, being flexible and open to other perspectives.
When we encounter the inevitable changes along the path, the ego will define these changes as “problems”. Sometimes the problems may seem insurmountable. If we allow emotion and ego to dominate we will be able to hear the subtle nuding of the Tao in the form of hope. In hope we can find courage. With courage we can let go of ego and seek guidance of the eternal source. When we are unified with the underlying reality we are once again moving with the flow of life and most importantly we are not striving. Move with the Tao, resistance begins to fade away, It is in these moments that hope turns into inspiration. That is we move from ego into spirit,and follow our spiritual true guidance. This is the path of the true self.