“The one who meddles will fail
The one who grasps will lose.
Therefore, the sages do not meddle and thus
do not fail
They do not grasp and thus do not lose.”
- The Tao Te Ching
There is a wonderful scene in Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy where one of the main characters, Levin, a Russian landowner, is cutting the grass on his property. Using a scythe (like they did back in the old days) Levin cuts through the grass, and, as he does so, he begins to notice something about the work before him:
Whenever he tries very hard to cut the grass cleanly and evenly, he fails. But whenever he doesn’t try so hard to cut the grass cleanly and evenly, he succeeds.
In that moment, Levin becomes aware of the fact that whenever he tries too hard to execute a task, he fails at it. But when he simply trusts his innate ability to execute the task before him, he is far more effective.
The One Who Meddles Will Fail / The One Who Grasps Will Lose
As I write my novel, I’ve noticed that there is a phenomenon similar to the one Levin experiences in Anna Karenina that occurs in the writing process as well:
Whenever I try too hard to make the writing perfect it comes out sloppy, uneven, too contrived, and mechanic. It’s not at all original or refreshing.
But when I don’t take a premature swing at it, and just allow myself to be lifted by the brush of wind propelled by my soul—the writing comes out fresh and sweet.
When I don’t meddle in my writing, my writing gets better.
There is nothing new in what I’m saying.
Even The Tao Te Ching, one of the most ancient of wisdom texts, points to this universal law. It states: “The one who meddles will fail / the one who grasps will lose.”
The Tao Te Ching warns strongly against what it calls “interfering” too much with life’s processes.
We must not “meddle”, The Tao Te Ching warns. We must not pick at the scar as it heals; we must not try to rush something forward that was meant to take it’s time; we must not question the talent that we were born with; we must not doubt that when we follow our passion, the doors will open for us. (Maybe not right away, but slowly, gradually. It will be inevitable.)
To tamper with this process will only drive us into a standstill. We get stuck. Or, more accurately: we were meant to be stuck but since we don’t think we’re supposed to be stuck, we tamper with our “stuckness.” However, our tampering, instead of helping us out of our rut, only prolongs our rut even more.
By meddling, interfering, prodding, and poking at all the raw ingredients, we ruin the Chef’s meal before it’s even cooked.
If only we would stop our meddling, we might see that.
Our “Meddle-Obsessed” Culture
We’ve become a culture that is “meddle-obsessed.”
For instance: the day before the newest fancy-smancy gadget is set to be revealed, we’re already talking about the next big fancy-smancy gadget that’s set to come after it. As soon as a musician releases his single, we have to break each lyric down, criticizes it, and assess whether the artist has now become a part of “yesterday” (and has forsaken his place in the music halls of “tomorrow”), long before the artist has had a fair chance of proving himself to the public.
As soon as one political election is over, speculation on the next political election begins. A day after Halloween ends, we’re already breaking out the Christmas decorations. As soon as one of the worst economic crisis in the history of the world hits, we expect full recovery in a few months.
We’ve gone “meddle-crazy” I tell you.
And it’s all this “meddling” that’s hurting us.
It really is.
I Falter Only When I Fear To Falter
Recently, I finally understood the lesson that Levin had learned in Ana Karenina–the lesson that The Tao Te Ching (and so many other ancient wisdom teachings) were trying to teach me.
This was the lesson:
I falter only when I fear to falter.
I writer badly only when I fear to write badly.
I stumble in life only when I fear to stumble in life.
It is the fear itself that damages me, not the task before me.
When I recognize this truth, the fear becomes weak and sometimes completely evaporates. When I remember that I falter only when I fear to falter, momentarily, I feel like I’m back on track. Back to where I always knew I belonged. Back to where we all belong: in a space of “non-interference.”
You Falter Only When You Fear To Falter
Today, if you struggle to execute the task at hand, remember that you will falter only if you fear to falter.
Please allow yourself not to “meddle” in your life too much. Allow yourself not to “meddle” in the writing too much. Allow every task to flow out of you—like a hot spring gushing out of a crack in the desert. You might end up discovering, to your surprise, that you are, in fact, up to every task. You just didn’t realize it.
Give Up All Your Meddling
Stop poking and prodding at the wound, and give it time to heal already!
Let the record of life play out as it should. The music is more beautiful when you don’t forward it, rewind it, and pause it constantly—and you just let it play.
Let the music play.
Just let it play.
And then become aware. Notice that, quite naturally, your toes begin to tap to the beat. Your fingers snap to the rhythm all by themselves. Your hips begin to sway all on their own—and suddenly, before you know it, your moving, your moving, your moving…
After a while, you might ask yourself: “What is this?”
And, with a sly smirk, your heart will reply:
“That’s non-interference, baby.”
Say what you’re thinking right now in the comments below. Don’t meddle too much.
>>> Novel Update: Some of you have been asking me about where I am in the novel writing process, so I wanted to let you know: I’ve given my full manuscript to my sister to read. I am awaiting her feedback. I’m being very patient, but it’s very nerve-wracking. In the meantime, I’m focusing on freelancing, blogging, and writing that eBook I promised ya’ll.