The softness of all things overrides the hardest of all things.
That without substance enters where there is no space.
Hence I know the value of nonaction.
Teaching without words,
performing without actions-few in the world can grasp it-that is the master’s way.
Rare indeed are those who obtain the bounty of this world.
This verse once again touches on the concept of being flexible and fluid in your actions and thoughts. We have seen before how forced actions cannot be sustained. Actions that are fluid and can bend as life changes are more easily sustained because there is a sense of effortlessness behind them.
This first stanza brings to my mind an image of water flowing through a rocky canyon. The soft, pliable water flows effortlessly through the hard rocks and enters any open spaces that it comes across. The water can flow at great speed and continuous motion while the rock is shaped by the pressure from the flowing water. Because the rock is hard and attempts to maintain its position, it is eroded and carved by the water.
Non-action is used in the verse to mean acceptance for what is and openness to the way of all things. In other words not fighting or resisting the natural flow of life. Of course, as we have seen in previous verses, this does not mean sitting on the couch and letting life pass by. Action is needed, but the key is to not get so caught up in expectations and outcomes (see Living in Expectancy) that we create more suffering and hardship in our lives.
The “master’s way” that is referred to in the second stanza is the state of being where a person can act without effort. Think of great sports legends who defined the sport that they excelled at. They often describe how when they are playing effectively, they are in the moment. They feel as if they can see the next action without even knowing it. They are in the flow and connected with what they are doing.
Many of us have glimpses of this “master’s way” when we are doing what we love and feel totally engrossed in the activity. We are in the zone, plugged in, on it, feeling it, or one of the many other euphemisms used to describe this state. This is when time flies by and nothing else matters.
As the verse says, “rare are those…” who can tap into this state on a regular basis. Those that can do it by remaining soft and pliable, accepting to the changes in the flow of life, and being unattached to particular outcomes or expectations.
This ability to be in tune with the “master’s way” is something that we all have. We just need to quiet the mind from the constant chatter of its rigidity in thought, focus on expectations, and resistance to change.
You cannot stop the waves, but you can learn to surf. ~ Jon Kabat-Zinn
Translation – You can not stop the problems and hardships from entering your life, but you can learn to accept and use them to learn and grow.