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Toon-Te-Ching: Verse 15

Welcome to this installment of the Toon-Te-Ching. We are taking each one of the 81 verses of the Tao-Te-Ching, pairing it with a toon and connecting the teaching to our work life.


Verse 15

The ancient masters were profound and subtle.

Their wisdom was unfathomable.

There is no way to describe it.

One can only describe them vaguely by their appearance.

Watchful, like people crossing a winter stream.

Alert, like someone aware of danger.

Simple as uncarved wood.

Hollow like caves.

Yielding, like ice about to melt.

Amorphous, like muddy water.

But the muddiest water clears as it is stilled.

And out of that stillness life arises.

He who keeps the Tao does not want to be full.

But precisely because he is never full,

he can remain like a hidden sprout

and does not rush to early ripening.

Stay attuned to your intuition. The phrase “alert like someone aware of danger” tells us to be attuned to what’s going on around us. The use of the word “like” signals the fact that it is not about being fearful, it’s similar to the high attunement you feel when there is danger. Can you tap into that intuitive sense you feel when danger is near, even for things that are not dangerous?

Do not rush to early ripening.

“Nothing is as powerful as an idea whose time has come.” Victor Hugo

Have you been part of an initiative that didn’t seem to be moving and then suddenly all the stars seemed to align? Sometimes things need to germinate. People and organizations need to get used to new ideas. What we view as “failure” can actually be gestation. I often see organizations that have several Agile ‘failures’ under their belts. The organization wasn’t ready. The failure is the organization testing out the boundaries of the new idea.

Are your ideas ripening? What can you do to nurture them?

Nothing can grow without space. “I wish I just had a moment to think!” I hear this all the time from people. People don’t feel like they can do real, creative work in today’s workplace. We intuitively know that we need space, but we get caught up in the flurry of demands and expectations. In his recent book Essentialism, Greg McKeown discusses the ‘disciplined pursuit of less.’ Brené Brown says “This book will blow your mind!” The idea that this book is mind-blowing, is in itself mind-blowing. Do we need to be told that we should focus only on what’s important and create space? It seems we do.

You may be the one filling the space. When I hear the advice “don’t attend meetings that aren’t valuable to you” my reaction is “well wait, they are all my meetings!” Sometimes other people overwhelm our time, but sometimes we overwhelm our own time. Are you guilty of cramming your days so full that you have no time to listen to your intuition? A friend recently told me that she had no time to do anything because she had to decorate the house for the holidays. I fully support decorating, but please let that not be an obligation that’s sapping your energy.

Brain twist. Next time you hear yourself start a sentence (even a sentence inside your head) with “I have to…” see if you can switch it to “I want to…” For example, “I have to take a 4AM flight to LA” becomes “I want to take a 4AM flight to LA.” You may discover that you stop doing things you don’t want to do. You may discover that you are creating your world. See what you find.

Verse Translation based on: Dyer, Wayne. Change Your Thoughts - Change Your Life: Living the Wisdom of the Tao (p. 68). Hay House. Kindle Edition.



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