29 Aug When Everything Falls Into Place
THERE’S A SUBTLE SHIFT in the air after the dog days of summer. In July and August, we enjoy the essence of the season — days are hot, dry, humid, rainy, stormy, alive.
As we transition into fall, the weight in the air begins to change. The world glows differently; a cool gust reminds us of changing nature. The Pacific Ocean, while cold, remains welcomed and invigorating before the bigger, colder waves arrive.
The earth itself stops holding on to an expectation of summer. It releases — the crowds lessen, the winds vary, the sun sheds its golden light late into the evening. Perhaps the excitement of summer fades; we look towards fall seeking colder days and a change of pace. We ask ourselves what life might become as kids go back to school; perhaps our reality seems different. We plan for the upcoming year.
But the earth tells us to wait. This moment hasn’t passed. It’s precisely when we stop looking for something that it’s presented to us.
When we ask for the sun, we’re given rain; when all we want are dark and somber days to appreciate, we’re given endless, crisp blue skies. When we simply stop asking, we’re given what we truly need. Even if it makes little sense at the time, we’re given what we need.
Not-doing, a lesson from the Tao Te Ching
“Practice not-doing, and everything will fall into place,” says the ancient scripture, the Tao Te Ching. I’ve been pondering what this means, and my interpretation has fluctuated as I apply the teaching to different situations.
Does not-doing mean, literally, do nothing? As in, take no action, and stop physically doing anything? Maybe it does, but maybe it doesn’t. I believe it’s more like non-forcing.
Yesterday, as I sauntered through my neighborhood on the way home from an evening at the beach, an answer came. Not a word — not an answer to my question — but a feeling.
Practice not-doing; stop searching, and be where you are.
Be what you are in the waning summer glow, cast by the orange sun. Listen to the birds communicate and sing their songs of love, for there’s nothing as pure that settles the heart like the sound of chirping birds.
Embrace how you are in this fleeting moment, and see it for what it is. Everything. This moment is everything; it’s not an expectation for the future, or a hope that things will change. The cold air brings with it a new perspective.
As I feel the cold evening breeze, I turn around and once again face the sun. As it falls behind the horizon, its colors become more poignant, as if they’re telling me to stop and receive this gift. What a gift it is. I love this time — when what we expect to happen may, or may not; but what we don’t expect comes and changes us, like a cool wind, a rainy night, an orange moon that holds onto the fading color in the sky.
To do what we love, what we might not love, and to rest
I have everything I need to be happy; beautiful surroundings and so much love; opportunities and relationships I didn’t expect. There’s a notion that to be happy, to make it in this world, we must attain or at least strive for traditional success. To make it, we have to sacrifice what might give us more meaning than anything — be it art, travel, creating, relationships — because these things don’t fit into the success-driven paradigm. They may not make us money, the determinant of success.
But what if we could do the things which make us truly happy without worrying about the rest? Is it wrong to give ourselves to something completely and without regret? Something that simply brings us joy, like falling into the open arms of nature more often than we do, or creating something meaningful and personal to give to the world?
What are we here to do, if not to find what gives our life the deepest sense of meaning? Perhaps, there must be a give and take; as day gives way to night, the sun sets — the traditional workday comes to a close. This is when I usually work on what I love — in the off-time, the moments of reflection.
Yet these moments often mean the most. Perhaps it’s important to do what we don’t want, if only to make us appreciate what we do want. One without the other, like the day without the night, would lead to stagnation and discontent. We must strive to find what gives us meaning — even if it’s in the small hours of the morning as we toss and turn, thinking about life.
Fill your bowl to the brim
and it will spill.
Keep sharpening your knife
and it will blunt.
Chase after money and security
and your heart will never unclench.
Care about people's approval
and you will be their prisoner.
Do your work, then step back.
The only path to serenity.
- Ch 9 of the Tao Te Ching
Our version of success
Perhaps to achieve success, we must simply stop seeking it. Then, success may come; not just the traditional notion of success, but our version of success, the only one that matters. Fulfillment in our heart and soul.
Austrian psychologist and Holocaust survivor Viktor Frankl writes in his book Man’s Search for Meaning:
Again and again, I therefore admonish my students both in Europe and in America: Don't aim at success - the more you aim at it and make it a target, the more you are going to miss it.
For success, like happiness, cannot be pursued; it must ensue, and it only does so as the unintended side-effect of one's dedication to a cause greater than oneself or as the by-product of one's surrender to a person other than oneself. Happiness must happen, and the same holds for success: you have to let it happen by not caring about it. I want you to listen to what your conscience commands you to do and go on to carry it out to the best of your knowledge. Then you will live to see that in the long run - in the long run, I say! - success will follow you precisely because you had forgotten to think of it.
What is success, really? It means something different to every individual; but I wonder. Is it achieving material wealth, or is it something that can’t be described? Is success attained from within, or from the approval of the world?
When we’re with somebody we love, sharing in the gift of being alive, nothing else seems to matter. When we’re consumed by what genuinely interests us, which for me is primarily travel, how the world works, reading, writing, and studying philosophy and history, our spirit attains an uncontainable energy and flow.
We’re gripped by the mere fact that we’re alive in this incomprehensible mode of existence. The petty trivialities that so often occupy our existence crumble. What can be more important than that? What can success mean, other than being inspired by life? Why then, are we deterred to follow our consciousness when it tells us follow?
Perhaps we’re searching for something we don’t even want; yet it takes time, the ebb and flow of days, to realize what we truly want. Maybe that’s what’s meant by not-doing. Non reactive doing, and more observing. More listening. More being with ourselves and the things we love, even if we have to carve out the time.
It feels good to let go of an expectation; of a person who we must be, of things we must attain, of a goal set not by us. For when we do, everything begins to fall into place.
It may take time, but you’ll feel a weight lift from your shoulders. Pursue what interests you, and don’t worry if it will make you successful. Don’t worry about the future. Let your conscience guide the way, and you’re already a success.
The wind is getting colder. These are the days I love.