Flaked bark on the trunk of a tree

Running before you can walk

Thinking around notions of stability and progress, “He who stands on tiptoe doesn’t stand firm. He who rushes ahead doesn’t go far” comes to mind. This idea that, extending ourselves, we lose the essential balance we all need. Isn’t it true? That, lurching ahead in uncontrolled sprints or teetering on the edge, we stand to run off the rails or lose ourselves through this desire to progress ahead of our time.

Maybe it ties into ideas of risk, mastery and how things are done? Whether we hold to notions of carefully perfecting all the requisite skills needed to achieve any given task or feel that undisciplined victories still count as long as we cross the line first. Although, perhaps life’s always some balance of the two? That elusive moment where established skill spills over into the uncertainty of action and its outcomes.

As the foundation for a civilisation or way of life, it seems interesting. With that thinking from the Tao de Ching, Lao Tzu seems to advocate quite self-effacing notions of progress: a quiet, understated sense of how the individual should operate for the benefit of all. Almost a counter-intuitive picture of moving forward by stepping back to allow space for growth.

By comparison, don’t we operate by quite the opposite way of thinking? Pushing forward with this highly individual sense of daring to do things first then drawing others along in the wake. Not to say there’s not a degree of “perfection” to Western thinking, as we clearly stand on the back of long years of philosophy, specialism and expertise, but how exactly does that knowledge “sit” alongside the direction things are heading?

Perhaps, though, there are no answers? Life emerging from that blend of knowledge and daring as our actions pool together into the direction society is pursuing; ideas or solutions suggested and taken up becoming the paths we all walk. Almost as if we’re choosing this path of intelligent improvisation: seeing what’s possible and what people can be induced to accept, believe or go along with as a way of being.

Sometimes it just seems unclear what the vision is – the uniting picture behind all the disparate phenomena making up our lives. Is there one, or are we just making it up as we go? As if intelligence and action just play out as they will in long chains of potentially unforeseen, interconnecting, self-amplifying consequences. Maybe it’s simply not possible to see where all this is leading?

Taking it that, regardless of our ability to see the bigger picture, it’s still there and something we’re actively serving to bring into being, ideas such as those in the Tao de Ching seem important: “Be wise and help all beings impartially, abandoning none”. Lacking the firm centre of a sense of life’s meaning or worth, might the realities our choices create not be as we hoped?

Behind all the insistent, passing phenomena of modern society, where are we to find that solid substance on which life truly rests?

Notes and References:

24th and 27th verses of the “Tao de Ching”, Lao Tzu (around 6th century BC).

Nature, wisdom & leadership
What we have to fall back on
Belonging & believing
Getting around things
All we’re trying to uphold
Wisdom the world no longer gives?
Holding back, for the sake of others
Is this the riskiest place we’ve lived?
Ways of living in the world

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