Tractor pulls hay bailsMy grandmother taught me a lot, but she used the word ‘patient’ explicitly to train my behaviour.

Since the time of waiting for cakes to bake in my grandma’s kitchen, and waiting for paint to dry in my granddad’s yard, I have of course taken advantage of the time saving advances we all rely on.

Home Internet access in the ’90s seemed like one of those advances, but for me, it added new things to my day, rather than speeding up my activities. I made friends over email. I learnt to use FTP and to write HTML. Later, I created real-world organisations – something I would never have done without the web. Now of course, I’m learning, shopping, socialising, and actually working online.

But back in those early days, while other people moaned about the time it took for pages to load and the poor quality of photographs, I thought nothing of waiting 60 seconds for the information I wanted to get to my screen. I didn’t mind that it took four hours (on a telephone modem) to upload my new website. Waiting five minutes for a Word document to download was no bother to me at all. I was excited to have material that other people had produced from their own passion and expertise.

The early Internet was both amazingly fast (email) and quite slow (World Wide Web) owing to the technical restrictions of our home modems. The slow web taught me patience again, just like my Grandma; worthwhile things took time.

I see people getting irate because a PDF takes 45 seconds to download, or because they feel their mobile’s 3G signal is weak and slow. I sympathise – I know these are people who are trying to get things done. In my day job, I design information systems that need to be fast. But I avoid all that frustration myself by having a little patience, and remembering what I can do rather than what I can’t.

People who thought 10Mbps broadband was fast now feel sorry for friends who are stuck on such ‘slow speeds’. What used to satisfy them now disgusts them.

I appreciate capabilties and I’m not frustrated by limitations. Only Tao is without limitation. Everything within Tao has its way of being, its specifications. How else could it be? The three treasures can all relate to patience, but perhaps humility is especially relevant.

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Three water drops title=To be humble is not to put yourself down, it is to respect every position.

In humility, we respect the man on the street begging for change. In humility, we respect the young person who ignores our experience and sets out on an uncomfortable path. In humility, we respect the millionaire, no matter how she or he became such, for we are each a shard of Tao and have a path to walk.

When discussing the three treasures, Lau Tzu perhaps described humility as ‘shrinking from taking precedence over others1 or perhaps even ‘not daring to be the First in the World2. To be humble is to follow the watercourse. Water is never less for seeking the low land.

Great leaders understand the importance of humility, of their place within the whole. Tyrants do not. Great teachers are humbled by the pupils’ ability to reason and learn. Lecturers are not.

There is greatness in the small and smallness in the great; the beauty of clouds will endure beyond the beauty of any sculpture.


1Version: Legge
2Version: Wu

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Three water dropsSay too much, do too much, and it is spoiled. The right action at the right time is no action at all.

Economy, frugality, simplicity. As one of the three treasures, Lau Tzu said that by being economic we can be liberal. By being moderate, we might always sense the abundance in life.

If you are thirsty, the beauty of the glass does not matter.

When you are careful, you can be carefree and generous. When you love what you have you will never feel without.

Seeking the simple answer helps build a solution that can last.

“Everything should be made as simple as possible, but not simpler
Roger Sessions / Albert Enistein

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Three water dropsGentleness; compassion; love. However you concieve it, or which ever translation you prefer, the three treasures that Lao Tzu holds dear are intrinsic to our development of te, our expression of Tao.

Verse 67 of the Tao Te Ching says that if we love, we can be fearless and bold.

I like this very much. I’ve heard that it’s difficult to be fearful when feeling loved, when feeling and expressing love. I find there’s something in this.

By feeling and expressing compassion for others we can move to forgiveness, and the empathy it requires moves us toward understanding.

Often, it’s not that people are against us, it’s that they’re defending themselves, batlling with insecurities.

Compassion for those few people who actively wish us ill can be the foundation for healing, and it provides an excellent deflection. I cannot be hurt by that which is not within me. Other people’s malice is theirs, not mine, and it must burdon them so.

Compassion must be without limit. It must encompass even the murderer. Compassion does not excuse their behaviour, and may not remediate their punishment or rehabilitation process, but compassion acknowledges that we’re all in the dance of Tao, that society is complicit. Most of us are only a few weeks away from homelessness or desperation; we are each capable of monstrous acts when the situation drives us beyond our limits.

Compassion must include the self. If you cannot forgive yourself, care for youself, and be kind to yourself then your compassion is incomplete. Develop your compassion so that it envelops everything and everyone.

Beyond a wholesome discipline, be gentle with yourself. You are a child of the universe, no less than the trees and the stars; you have a right to be here.
Desiderata, Max Ehrmann, 1927

Image credit: anvay nekade

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room at the bottom

Mountain hotelThere isn’t room for you at the top.

Not only because those at the top are fearful and therefore defensive (with the means to defend themselves), but also because there really isn’t that much room up there. No space, no foothold.

This in no way restricts your actions or ambitions. If you want to be an actor, act. If you want to be a writer, write. If you want to be in business, work your way up or launch your own.

By way of your passion, and the excellence you develop, you may even find you reach the top of your niche. It may not be as high as other industries, you may not have as many admirers, but there you are, alone at the top.

How might that feel? Bracing? Disconnected?

There’s more room at the bottom. Lots of people insist on starting in the middle through some feeling of entitlement. Many strive to ignore their current situation and leap from the bottom as soon as they catch a break.

There’s room at the bottom for whatever you do, and whoever you are. There are others (of varying contentedness) to keep you company and teach you, and they may just support you when the time comes to stretch up a little.

But remember that you can’t leave the bottom and have it disappear – were it to do so, you would be at the bottom again!

You cannot rise from the mud and be spotlessly clean. You cannot build a tower without a ground floor.

The bottom is where the strength is; it is your foundation. It is the base of the mountain and the roots of the tree.

Image credit: Justin Kern

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