I’ve spent a lot of the last 14 chapters trying to explain how Taoism isn’t some lay down in the dirt, do nothing, don’t try sort of principle, but a passiveness with an innate, more natural drive – wei wu wei, action arising from stillness. It’s hard to find the words to articulate it, which is why when I came to this stanza in chapter 15, I was inwardly shouting YES and pointing emphatically.
Do you have the patience to wait
til your mud settles and the water is clear?
Can you remain unmoving
til the right action arises by itself?
So, there ya go! It isn’t about doing nothing, it’s about doing nothing until it’s time to do the right thing. In Taoist circles, we joke about Taoist Problem Solving i.e. do nothing and see if the problem resolves itself. This strategy often makes other people nuts when they’re thinking: there’s a problem ohmyGod do SOMETHING! More often than not, when the mud settles, turns out things aren’t such a problem after all. At the very least, you get a clearer idea of what actually still needs to be done.
I was talking to a friend the other day, she’d inadvertently stumbled upon this sort of problem solving simply by being too busy and flooded with emails. As a crucial part of a non-profit, a huge part of her limited time was being consumed with email traffic needing her to sort all manner of troubles and issues. When she decided she couldn’t handle looking at this every time she opened her email to get something else done, she set a filter, dropped all these emails in a separate folder. When she had the time to actually dedicate some brain she’d open the folder to see what needed doing.
To her great relief she found most of the pressing email issues resolved themselves without her intervention (or heck, at that moment, even her knowledge), and when she finally opened the email she could see what hadn’t resolved and indeed required action from her. Simply pressed for time, she accidentally generated a self-solving problem system and filter to help her prioritize. This folder allows all that mud to settle; when she opens it things are clear and from there the right action arises itself.
Pretty clever, eh? Ancient Taoist principles helping you with your email.