Without Difficulties?

by Christopher Lovejoy on November 10, 2013

Are all difficulties perceived difficulties?

I might be going out on a limb here, but I think it’s safe to say that every single one of us is faced with at least one perceived difficulty every day, with at least one thing that seems hard to accomplish, deal with, or understand. I say “at least one perceived difficulty” because many of us know from experience that this qualification can be a rather conservative estimate for those who seem besieged with difficulty.

Is it fair to say that such difficulties are merely perceived or could a fair case be made for calling at least some of these difficulties genuine difficulties?

Tao Te Ching, Verse 63

Verse 63 presumes that genuine difficulties exist; it offers a prescription for living a life where genuine difficulties are confronted so as to keep perceived difficulties to a minimum.

Practice nonaction.
Work without doing.
Taste the tasteless.
Magnify the small,
increase the few.
Reward bitterness
with care,
and see simplicity
in the complicated.
Achieve greatness
in little things.

Take on difficulties
while they are still easy;
do great things
while they are still small.
The sage does not attempt
anything very big,
and thus achieves greatness.

If you agree too easily,
you will be little trusted;
because sages always
confront difficulties,
they never experience them.

Edited slightly to enhance flow and to reflect more inclusive language

Ref: Change Your Thoughts, Change Your Life: Living the Wisdom of the Tao

With this advice on difficulty both genuine and perceived, there is much to ponder and process.

My Impressions of the Verse

This verse seems to be riddled with contradictions, but could it be that we’re instead dealing with paradoxes?

Practice nonaction.
Work without doing.
Taste the tasteless.
Magnify the small,
increase the few.
Reward bitterness
with care,
and see simplicity
in the complicated.
Achieve greatness
in little things.

The main idea in this portion of the verse is this: “Achieve greatness in little things.”

We’ve already seen how Great = Boundless: “Great is boundless; boundless is eternally flowing; ever flowing, it is constantly returning.” In this light, greatness is not so much achieved as it is allowed.

If greatness equates with boundlessness, then allowing greatness in little things seems to be about seeing, hearing, tasting, touching, smelling, and feeling the boundless potential in little things.

Paying attention to detail, we can be present to the small, the tiny, the puny; making difficulty look easy, we can also treat the easy as if it were difficult, keeping easy and difficult in balance.

Even as the small is magnified, we can increase only a few, when necessary. Being the contrast for bitterness, we can offer the sweetness of care and find simplicity in complicated situations.

Finding our flow and practicing nonaction, we can work without doing, act without striving, getting a taste for the tasteless. This latter piece of advice pays homage to the formless Tao.

Take on difficulties
while they are still easy;
do great things
while they are still small.
The sage does not attempt
anything very big,
and thus achieves greatness.

We would all do well to recognize the sowing of seeds that presage genuine difficulty.

In being connected to the boundless current, allowing ourselves to flow timelessly, we can transmute seeds of difficulty into seeds of challenge, or if needs be, into opportunities for acceptance.

In remaining bound to the present moment, the boundless current can do most if not all of the work for us, as and when we open up and trust a boundless intelligence far greater than our own.

If you agree too easily,
you will be little trusted;
because sages always
confront difficulties,
they never experience them.

We all like to be liked; we all love to be loved.

The temptation to be compliant, to be easy-going, amiable, affable, amicable is unusually strong for many of us, making it all too easy to minimize or brush aside the seeds of genuine difficulty.

Remaining true to ourselves, to our feelings, and speaking our truth in the face of such seeds and choosing to deal with them in a timely manner, makes us sagely artists of confrontation.

Implications for Personal Fulfillment

The fulfillment of desire is the fulfillment of intention because intention precedes and produces desire.

Desire is never a craving or a sense of wanting, which implies lacking. Desire is never a mere urge or impulse. Desire is never unconscious.

A desire is what you get when you set an intention that has not yet been made manifest. Desire is your perfect companion for your intention because it reminds you of your intention. For example, I set my intention: “I allow myself to explore some of the implications of dealing with difficulty for personal fulfillment.” I have no idea how this intention is going to manifest. I’ll let formless intelligence handle the details of how. I’ll carry the intention, I’ll supply it with energy, and I’ll bring it to fruition with my focus on the outcome, while being flexible enough to allow the outcome to manifest in ways that might be different from the way I initially thought of it. This, of course, is risky.

Along the way, I might feel inadequate because a problem with no apparent solution might arise. An obstacle might appear. What if I suddenly become besieged with irresolvable difficulties?

And so, in a seemingly prudent frame of mind, I think: this might not be worth my time or trouble.

Discouraged, I drop the intention, or, if I keep the intention in my uncertainty, a desire later reminds me of my intention, and if the desire is strong enough, I once again resolve to fulfill the intention.

And then I remember the importance of making and keeping a commitment.

I make a commitment to fulfill my intention to explore some of the implications of dealing with difficulty for personal fulfillment; I start with a distinction between perceived and genuine difficulty, even as I make time to read, review, and report on verse 63 of the Tao Te Ching.

Perceived difficulties arise when I take action for the sake of taking action, work for the sake of working, do for the sake of doing, complicating the process of bringing my intention to fruition. In the twilight of awareness, I deny when I should receive, avoid when I should confront, reject when I should accept, react when I should respond, distract when I should focus, suppress when I should welcome.

Note the many opportunities to undermine my intention; note also the many choices I have to press onward with grace and ease.

Genuine difficulties arise when awareness and appreciation of missing pieces are lacking, even absent, which stops me cold or at least slows me down long enough to have me ponder: What am I not yet aware of? What do I not yet appreciate?

Following my intuitive guidance, I remind myself that the intelligence to bring my intention to fruition is there, waiting to be tapped, if only I can remain true to my intention, if only I can allow the outcome to manifest un.self.consciously, with grace and ease.

Then I remember the most extraordinary gift I can give to myself: to allow my being to inform and inspire my doing.

If the heart of my being draws me toward magnifying and inspecting the smallest of details, I allow this to happen. If bitterness arises in my experience, I welcome it, rewarding it with care. If things seem complicated, I bring my attention to their simplicity.

In all of the little acts I follow, I give time and space to boundless potential, boundless promise, boundless possibility, and I do this with a keen eye for spotting the seeds of difficulty, so that I might spare myself the time and the trouble of dealing with weeds.

Little by little, the small actions I take add up to a momentum all their own, buoyed by a sense of infinite possibility.

Ideally, when dealing with others, I strike a fine balance between trusting and confronting, exposing and disposing of the seeds of difficulty even before they have a chance to sprout.

Eventually, the outcome appears when I least expect it. My desire is fulfilled, my intention made manifest.

Next up: Be … Here … Now (Living by Being Here Now)

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This post is one of many in an ongoing series that began here.

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