– 64 –
What is at rest is easily managed.
What is not yet manifest is easy to prevent.
What is rooted is easy to nourish.
What is fragile is easy to break.
What is small is easy to scatter.
Put things into order before they exist.
Prevent trouble before it arises.
The giant pine tree grows from a tiny seedling.
A tower nine stories high starts with a single brick.
A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.
Rushing into action, you fail.
Trying to grasp things, you lose them.
By forcing a project to completion,
you ruin what was almost ripe.
People usually fail when they are on the verge of success.
So give as much care at the end as at the beginning,
and there will be no failure.
The Sage takes action
by letting things take their course.
He does not collect precious things.
He learns not to hold onto ideas.
He helps people find their true nature
but does not venture to lead them by the nose.
Here we have perhaps the most famous line of the entire Tao Te Ching: “a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.” In keeping with the previous verse, it offers wise advice for taking action and dealing with whatever challenges we might face in the course of our lives.
We are urged to lay solid foundations, to deal with potential problems before they arise and to have the patience to avoid rushing things to premature completion. Instant gratification and immediate results are very much of the focus of our fast-paced society. But the Tao Te Ching advises us to avoid rushing into action and instead to pay careful attention to each step of our journey, being sure not to rush or force things. The more we rush, the more mistakes we make and the more we grasp, the easier it is to crush the very thing we are trying to nurture.
Everything in life has its own flow, its own pace and speed. If we can tune into that and align ourselves with it, we can achieve without undue exertion and enjoy effortlessness ease in everything we do. We instinctively know what to do and when to do it. This intelligence and flow is the Tao at work in and around us. Relax into it and allow the Tao to direct your life.