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  • Beth Bradford

Trying to Grasp, We Lose

Scrolling through social media, I saw a picture of actor Chris Evan's arm, which has a tattoo of what looks like Taurus the bull. Apparently, it's his mother's (and my) zodiac sign. I thought it was rather yummy, so I'll share it here:





Then my mind wandered to the movie Dodgeball, where Ben Stiller's character had a painting of him "taking the bull by the horns." Then my mind remembered a passage from the Tao Te Ching.


Oh, how the mind wanders.


I had bought a translation of the Tao Te Ching many years ago, but it didn't resonate with me. I don't know if it was the translation or the stage in my life that interfered. Eventually, Wayne Dyer would publish Change Your Thoughts, Change Your Life, which offered a different translation and his interpretation. I refer to it often. One of the passages that bit me hard was Chapter 29. Here's the first part:


Do you think you can take over the universe and improve it?
I do not believe it can be done.
Everything under heaven is a sacred vessel and cannot be controlled.
Trying to control leads to ruin.
Trying to grasp we lose.

The section above speaks volumes about our desire to conquer--to "take the bull by the horns." U.S. culture perpetuates the idea of dominating others. This presents a problem, because people don't like to be dominated. If they do, they grow tired of it eventually.


One reason why I left the news industry was that I wanted a little more control over my work day. I hated sitting down with a bowl of hot soup only to be called out on another breaking news story.


Although working in academia allows me a little more control, I can't control whether or not students pay attention to me. Several students who didn't attend class connected via Zoom, and I know they weren't paying attention. I hate that more than anything, because when it comes to quizzes and projects, they do them incorrectly because they weren't paying attention to the instructions.


The more I try to assert control over them, the more frustrated I get. I then come home from my work day completely frazzled. I feel like a failure.




Returning to the Tao Te Ching, I remember that it doesn't matter how much effort I try to put into entertaining students during my time with them. I can't control their academic efforts. It's up to them.


Then what is my part? Here's more:


Allow your life to unfold naturally.
Know that it, too, is a vessel of perfection.
Just as you breathe in and breathe out,
there is a time for being ahead
and a time for being behind;
a time for being in motion
and a time for being at rest;
a time for being vigorous
and a time for being exhausted;
a time for being safe
and a time for being in danger.

Rather than exhausting all of my efforts, I have to recognize when to let go. I can't give more than what I have, and I need to remember to surrender to the ebb and flow of the world. Rather than demand the attention of people, I just offer what I have to give without expectation of anything in return. This way, I can connect with the Pulse of Life rather than making the Pulse of Life beat the way I want it to.


The section above resonates with Ecclesiastes 3, which tells us that there is a "season for everything." There's no purpose in demanding the summer when it's winter. It only brings anxiety and frustration. Instead, we can tune into what's going on in our world and step in when the time is right. Conversely, we step away when we're in danger or exhausted.


The last few lines echo with the Buddhist idea of the Middle Way:


To the sage,
all of life is a movement towards perfection,
so what need has he
for the excessive, the extravagant, or the extreme?

It is the idea of recognizing the polarity--the opposites--and moving beyond them. We don't attach to the extremes, which are common in our advertising slogans. We practice moderation and move along the flow of the river rather than swim from one bank to the next.


If "all of life" eventually leads to "perfection," we loosen our grip around what we want to happen or what should be happening. We don't demand the world to cater to our temporal whims and needs. We avoid extremes--of running too slow or too fast--and have confidence that in time, we'll get where we're meant to go.

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