“Mad Dash!” by William Martin

Chapter 9
(The Tao Te Ching, translated by Stephen Mitchell)
Commentary by William Martin

Fill your bowl to the brim
and it will spill.
Keep sharpening your knife
and it will blunt.
Chase after money and security
and your heart will never unclench.
Care about people’s approval
and you will be their prisoner.

Do your work, then step back.
The only path to serenity.


“Mad Dash!”

A new drive-through food establishment has opened in Chico. It’s called… wait for it… Mad Dash! The sign out front proudly proclaims, “Two slices of pizza and a drink in 90 seconds!” I’m thinking of opening a competing place called Instant Gratification! People will pull up to a pump, insert their credit card, stick a hose in their mouth and pump a liter of high fructose corn syrup directly into their gut. No muss, no fuss, no nutrients to get in the way and keep us from getting about the business of… whatever it is that is so urgent.

As Lao-tzu says in Chapter 9, we hurry to fill our bowls, sharpen our knives, and chase about our world with a frenzied mind and a clenched heart. I feel it every time I drive my automobile on city streets and freeways. I see it in my rear view mirror in which I can count the bugs on the grill of the behemoth behind me. I experience it as I sigh with impatience at the confused and dawdling driver in front of me. I have nowhere to get, yet I often hurry to get there. If there is more traffic than I expected I find this somehow wrong; it shouldn’t be this way. (Or, often, “I should have chosen a different time or route. The wrongness is my fault!&rdquoWinking

Taoist thought does not value urgency because it sees all events as having their own natural flow, occurring at the proper time and place without effort or strain. Urgency is a product of the conditioned human mind, superimposed on top of the movement of the Tao. This urgent conditioning is not wrong, and in a broad sense it is also part of the overall context of the Tao. But Lao-tzu is clear that, while all things belong to the Tao, not all things are helpful and congruent with human happiness and contentment. Not all things help the human mind find the balance of the Tao. Urgency is one of these things.

I can’t change it by holding up a “SLOW” sign like a highway worker. The only thing I can change is the way I respond to that urgency when it arises from my conditioned mind. I wish I could say that, “It’s really no problem. I’m actually above all this hurry and stress. I can go out and about and remain serene and placid because I am so very very spiritual. I let it roll off my back while I meditate and breathe deeply.” Not likely.

Perhaps one could discover a coexistence with the sound, fury, and mad dashes of our world, but I’m not so sure. Lao-tzu eventually had to get on his ox and leave the country rather than live where the preponderance of societal energy was so contrary to his perception of the flow of the Tao. I don’t have an ox on which to ride and don’t know where I’d go if I did. (Can Nancy and the cat fit on an ox anyway?)

So I’ll stay. I’ll pay attention to the way my mind creates urgency, impatience, and judgment. I’ll ask myself over and over, “What’s the hurry anyway?” I’ll turn my attention to the slow cooking and eating of natural and tasty food. I’ll continue to develop the habits of walking, biking, and public transportation whenever I can instead of pushing and being pushed through traffic.  I’ll wander the Farmer’s Market and the cooperative farm to which we belong instead of the aisles of Mega-Market Inc. where the music, lighting, and signage is devoted to hurrying me into impulsive and unnecessary purchases. I’ll slow down as best I can.

While nurturing my sense of outrage and writing the above essay, I have been sitting at a coffee shop absent-mindedly scarfing down a lemon-poppyseed scone. The crumbs remain on the plate as the only reminder of the process. I vaguely remember tasting it…I think.
Oh my! Do you know where I can get a deal on a nice two-person, one cat, ox?


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