Rather than fill it to the brim by keeping it upright
Better to have stopped in time;
Hammer it to a point
And the sharpness cannot be preserved for ever;
There may be gold and jade to fill a hall
But there is none who can keep them.
To be overbearing when one has wealth and position
Is to bring calamity upon oneself.
To retire when the task is accomplished
Is the way of heaven.
There may be gold and jade to fill a hall… or as Jesus said, ‘Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth, where moth and rust doth corrupt, …’ It’s odd how easily I can get attached to material things, even when I know this. Although, the more deeply I really believe and accept this truth, the less I seem to cling to earthly matters.
Of course wealth and position are relative. The real calamity for me is having desire for more wealth and position, or even clinging to the wealth and position I have. This just means that I have missed out on the joy of appreciation—and that is a waste of life.
The modern era gives most everyone wealth and position. Flip a switch and my electrical slaves do my bidding. It’s easy to become spoiled and be overbearing. Modern circumstance also enables me to fill it to the brim. The few times I’ve had to really deal with nature on its terms, I had no energy left over to hammer (anything) to a point. Simple survival was sufficient.
What is my task? If nothing else, I suppose it is being alive. To retire when this task is accomplished is a pleasant way of regarding death.
Knowing when the task is accomplished (when to stop) is the art of living. This brings all action to the level of art. Needless to say, it’s the most important aspect of the various formal ‘arts’ as well.
One way or the other, all things come to an end. Knowing when to stop is retiring gracefully. When I don’t know when to let go, nature forces me to exhaustion.
Filling it to the brim by keeping it upright is the futile pursuit of perfection. Even if I achieve the brim, then what? The sharpness cannot be preserved for ever, so, soon I’m back where I started. I know this sounds like a defeatist attitude. But, its not saying don’t fill it at all, but just have the wisdom to know when to stop in time. Knowing this helps keeps me from wasting life energy.
Remembering the natural cycle—that filling evolves into emptying which in turn revolves back to filling—counters my illusions of permanence and perfection. Of course this leaves me with a less concrete reality to hold on to, which makes me plunge deeper to find purpose and meaning.
I’ve traded the motto, ‘practice make perfect’ for ‘practice makes better’. I find greater peace in being content with better, instead of expecting perfect.
I don’t know what my task is. But as the years go by, I discover what it isn’t! Knowing what it isn’t simplifies my life. My task isn’t any particular action at all; it lies much closer to how I approach life. It’s not what I do, it’s how I do it that determines my true happiness. Finding this integrity demands a much deeper degree of self honesty.
A journey of a thousand miles starts from beneath one’s feet. [see ch. 64]. My life’stask is not a destination, it’s the process—the steps beneath my feet. When I forget that, I get stressed out and then depressed. Hope follows despair follows hope…