“The Tao does nothing and nothing is left undone”, is a pearl of ancient Chinese wisdom inspired by the Tao Te Ching written by Lao Tsu. This is not an admonishment to be lazy and do nothing, but rather, this is a call to exercise Wu Wei, non-striving, natural and effortless action, following and surrendering to natural law. It means to live with an understanding of the Tao, the natural flow and rhythm of life, to live in alignment with its wisdom and not fight against its principles. Lao Tsu says, by not striving after power, a man becomes powerful, if straining and reaching for power, he never has enough. If we are always trying to do and force things to go our way, we lose sight of their true nature and soon discover that our overzealous endeavors only get in the way, and nothing is accomplished, or it leaves even more to be done. To “do nothing” means to allow the world to unfold as it will, without seeking to manipulate or control its dawning emergence. It is to allow the Tao to move naturally through us, seeing ourselves as the witness, the observer, the vessel or receiver, but not as the main actor or doer.
Author and spiritual teacher, Ram Dass, says about this quote, “the Tao does nothing and nothing is left undone”,
“This mystical injunction points to one of the key components of the path of action: non-identification with being the actor. I had always assumed that I had to identify with a role while performing in order to do it well. But each of us performs hundreds of acts each day – walking, blinking, driving, or knitting ( breathing, heart beats, circulating blood, releasing hormones and chemical messengers, etc.) – to which we pay little, if any, conscious attention, yet we usually perform them quite well. It is now clear to me what very complex and creative acts often take place without our experiencing ourselves as actors. I think once again of the Bhagavad Gita, in which Krishna, who represents higher wisdom, reminds the seeker after freedom not to be caught up in thinking of himself as the doer. He says, “Only the fool whose mind is deluded by egoism considers himself to be the doer.””
Reading this I think of labor and childbirth. In the moment we conceived and became pregnant, was it we ourself who did the creating, or Life who entered into a willing vessel? As our child began to grow in our womb, were we the conscious driver of this process, or was life force energy stirring miraculously, deep within? As we enter into labor, do we set a timer, and deliberately prompt our uterus to contract, and our labor to progress? Are we the center stage actor, the star of the show from whom the action is arising, and the one who brings the story to vivid fruition? Is labor and the act of bringing forth life something we are choosing to deliberately and intentionally do, or is it sacred Oneness sweeping, surging, and taking form through us? Are we the actor, the doer, in the flowering transition of life, or are we an instrument of the Tao, through which its urgent, natural rhythm is aligning and flowing?
If we are not the actor, not the driver of this miraculous force, it would seem that, taking center stage then, trying to direct the process would actually be getting in the way, and hindering the fluid and tranquil unfolding of the play. I think of how fruitless are all our efforts at dominating this process of labor and birth, turning, twisting, and seeking to squeeze it into our idea of just so, acceptable form, and I can hear Walt Whitman proclaiming that, in spite of our vigorous and vain strivings, “the Powerful Play goes on, and you (are merely the one who has the honor of being used in service of) contributing a verse”. Kahlil Gibran too affirming that our children are “Life’s longing for itself”, and that “they come through you, but not from you.”
Perhaps our place in the drama then, is to thoughtfully stand aside, calming and composing the fearful and controlling mind to allow the true performer to consummate the journey, as musical instruments one by one quietly stand aside allowing each to share their contribution, and in so doing, bring forth the magnificent fullness of the entire symphony. If we are simply the vessel, and not the actor, not the act, not the creator of the act, then it is for us to unreservedly fashion an opening through which Life might more easily pour itself, bursting joyously forth into being. Let go then, surrender and allow this vital, ardorous Verse, this precious, sentient Poem, to be writ large and freely upon the vast and welcoming sky of creation. Yield center stage, lovingly receive, and do not stand authoring direction and critique in the midst of the Powerful Play that is already miraculously and perfectly scripted, and needs no guidance or assistance. All your strivings will only create tension, friction, resistance, where Life Force simply needs an accepting opening, a yielding space, and a delighted and grateful welcome.
Where then will you stand in the midst of the actions and process of labor and birth? Will you allow fear to cause you to direct what needs no direction, and thus block and impede the gentle arriving of this epic sonnet into life? Or will you remember that “one does nothing and nothing is left undone”, as you take your place in the quiet center of present moment awareness, at peace, allowing the miraculous to flow through you?