It is easier to carry an empty cup
than one that is filled to the brim.
The sharper the blade
the easier it is to dull.
The more wealth you possess
the more insecurity it brings.
The more you care about other people’s approval
the more you become their prisoner.
Do your work, then step back.
This is the only path to serenity.
“Less is more” is clearly the message of this verse of the Tao Te Ching. Again, it is a notion that runs counter to the pervading values of our society, in which most people are obsessed with getting more: more wealth and security, more possessions and more esteem in the eyes of others. It’s very easy for us to fall into this trap, because it’s the way we’ve been conditioned and socialised since we were children.
But perhaps it runs counter to our true nature and certainly, as Lao Tzu points out, it can create more problems and suffering than it does satisfaction and fulfilment. The more we have, the more we have to lose. Even when we make it in the world, our satisfaction tends to be fleeting because we then become terrified of losing it. And, such being the nature of life, at some point we inevitably will lose it. Any attempt to grasp at things and create lasting security and permanence is ultimately futile, because life is characterised by impermanence and it is the nature of things to be fleeting.
Yet Lao Tzu isn’t suggesting that we abandon all doing. Instead, he advises that we do our work – which might mean whatever is in front of us, or whatever we love or feel drawn to do – and then step back, being unattached to the fruits of our labour.
With this detachment, life becomes a joyous dance in which we are no longer engaged in the stressful grasping that characterises so many people’s existence. We can be at peace and enjoy whatever comes our way without continually trying to force things to be different.