The Art of Living: Attending to Needs

A Modern Reading of Lao Tzu’s Tao Te Ching: Sections 7–13

Erik Schön
Dec 26, 2020 · 5 min read
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What is the meaning of life? Why is this important? How do you live your life to make it more meaningful? The Art of Living provides timeless answers to these eternal questions including new perspectives on the world, people and their behaviours; practical tools for avoiding and handling conflicts, and, actionable advice on how to lead effectively and make a difference. “This is powerful, this is for practical people struggling with business goals, lacking time with family … feeling stressed.” (All parts)

7. Attending to People’s Needs

Lao Tzu

The world is eternal since it exists for others.

Therefore, skilled leaders
withdraw from contention,
yet find themselves in front;
acts selflessly,
yet find themselves taken care of.

Attending to people’s needs fulfils your own.

Ames & Hall

Skilled leaders in emulation of the natural processes are impartial and inclusive … It is because skilled leaders take nature as their mentor that their persons are preserved and all of their needs are satisfied.

8. Be Like Water

Lao Tzu

The highest effectiveness is like water.
It is because water benefits everything without contending
yet dwells in loathed places
that it almost reaches ultimate purpose.

Live in a suitable place;
keep your heart and mind deep;
treat others properly;
stand by your word;
lead effectively;
serve capably;
act with timing.

Act without contention
in accordance with ultimate purpose
to avoid blame.

Sun Tzu

Torrential waters rumble rocks thanks to momentum.
The swoop of a diving falcon kills the prey thanks to timing.
For skilled leadership, momentum is massive and timing tight.
Momentum is like a drawn crossbow, timing like a released trigger.

Le Guin

A clear stream of water runs through this book, from poem to poem, wearing down the indestructible, finding ways around everything that obstructs the way. Good drinking water.

Ames & Hall

The highest effectiveness is a combination of the degree of benefit something bestows and the inclusiveness of such beneficence. The intensity and expansiveness of water is an appropriate analogy for such efficacy since it gives the gift of life without discrimination, and flows everywhere disdaining nothing.

The greatest obstacle to optimising relationships is coercion. If a healthy relationship is mutually accommodating, then the introduction of coercion, in which one party overwrites the importance of the other, entails a diminution of the creative possibilities of both … Forced redefinition is humiliation … Relationships are invariably hierarchical. But hierarchy is only pernicious when it is compromised by coercion. The family as an institution is hierarchical, but appropriate patterns of deference can allow members of the family to have both dignity and parity in their relationships.

Jullien

Water is not fixed in any definite aspect, never immobilised in any particular place. It is the least thinglike of things — the most alive, the most alert … The Chinese tradition expresses admiration for the continuous flow that so resembles the great process of the world, the source of which is inexhaustible … since its course never stops proceeding, water represents effectiveness … The uninterrupted flow of variance, so well illustrated by the course of flowing water, is regarded as constituting the very course of reality.

Skilled leaders, like water, steer clear of obstacles and insinuate themselves wherever the way before them is free; like water, they always stick closely to the line of least resistance and at every moment seek out where it is easiest to proceed … all their skills lie in varying from one extreme to another — as widely as reality does.

9. Accomplish and Withdraw

Lao Tzu

Rather than fill to the brim, stop in time:
keep on pounding and the sharpness will be gone soon;
treasures are hard to guard;
riches and pride bring calamity;
Ultimate purpose is to accomplish and withdraw.

Ames & Hall

The human experience can be maximised only by coordinating its activities with the workings of the natural environment and the propensity of circumstances. These human activities should be modelled upon the cyclical patterns of nature in which one season gives way to the next, orchestrating the full range of natural forces — sun, soil, air, moisture — to collaborate in producing a thriving environment and an abundant harvest.

Jullien

When an effect is pushed to the limit, strained, or forced, it passes beyond reality’s threshold of tolerance, it can no longer be integrated and so undoes itself.

10. Like a Baby

Lao Tzu

Can you balance your energies
and embrace them
without separation?

Can you control
your breath gently,
like a baby?

Can you cleanse
your mysterious mirror
until it is without spots?

Can you love people
and lead
without coercion?

Can you open and close
the gates to the world
in accord with people?

Can you view clearly
the four directions
using unprincipled knowledge?

Create without owning;
act without coercion,
nurture without orders.
This is ultimate effectiveness.

Ames & Hall

It is the thorough integration of the physical and spiritual aspects of our experience in the concentration of our energies that enables us to maximise our potency and invigorate our minds.

11. Emptiness Brings Usefulness

Lao Tzu

Thirty spokes form a wheel;
its usefulness comes from emptiness.

Clay forms a pot;
its usefulness comes from emptiness.

Windows and doors cut out to make a room;
its usefulness comes from emptiness.

Therefore, something brings value,
emptiness brings usefulness.

12. Belly Over Eyes

Lao Tzu

Five colours blind the eye;
five tones deafen the ear;
five flavours destroy the tongue;
hunting and riding upset both heart and mind;
exotic goods hinder progress.

Therefore, leaders
take care of the belly instead of the eyes
choose one, reject the other.

Ames & Hall

Prevent the inner focus of vital energy from being overwhelmed by outer distractions.

13. Beyond Yourself

Lao Tzu

Favour and disgrace are like fear.
Honour and distress are like the self.

What does this mean?

Favour debases us:
afraid when we get it;
afraid when we lose it.

The self embodies distress:
no self, no distress.

Respect the world as your self:
the world can be in your trust.
Love the world as your self:
the world can be in your custody.

Ames & Hall

If we attend to each and every one of our responsibilities with the same care that we invest in our own persons, we can be entrusted with anything, including ruling the world … Treat all things with equal seriousness and respect, and our own person will be taken care of as a matter of course.

The Art of Living: All Parts

Contents: A very short summary of each part
Introduction: How to make life more meaningful

Glossary: Explanation of key terms
Acknowledgements: Standing on the shoulders of giants
Sources: Where to learn more

An Idea (by Ingenious Piece)

Everything Begins With An Idea

Erik Schön

Written by

Executive and strategist who has successfully developed and deployed strategy for over 20 years in small, medium and large organizations.

An Idea (by Ingenious Piece)

No Matter What People Tell You, Words And Ideas Can Change The World.

Erik Schön

Written by

Executive and strategist who has successfully developed and deployed strategy for over 20 years in small, medium and large organizations.

An Idea (by Ingenious Piece)

No Matter What People Tell You, Words And Ideas Can Change The World.

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