There was a dark spot noticed on the floor of the lobby of my workplace a few weeks ago. I walked by it a few times before I thought to explore it further. To begin with it was just one, solitary alien drop; I stood there at first slightly dazed, thinking about soya sauce and sushi. I walked away and, it wasn’t long before there were more spots of ‘not’ soya sauce.
I looked at these drops with curiosity and closely. It took a few seconds before I felt the urge to stick my finger in it and take a swipe. Closer still I looked at it, lifting my slickly splotched finger to eye-height. Then, of course, I couldn’t help but to put it to my nose for a sniff. It was oil.
I looked up. It’s as if the meter-wide oil smear on the ceiling had been waiting in suspense, all the while giving little hints, until someone would finally notice it there. So, what do you think is going through my mind in that silence as I watch the next drop forming, a minuscule oozing in the middle of a ceiling puddle, with my forehead in its crosshairs?
Renner and D’Souza, in their book Not Doing, reflect on the art of being non-reactive in a difficult situation, revealing that ‘it speaks to the need to sit with a question without the rush to answer; to take time to deeply reflect on and investigate our challenges, before we jump in to solve them.’1 There was a big question that I was sitting with in that moment. An adrenaline was rising within me similar to that of a base runner waiting for the pitcher’s irrefutable squaring to home, in order to steal second. I took a deep breath, more of a sigh for the timing, as I wandered about over all the questions I possibly could. Like a shot out of a stun state, it was time, trajectory set to trouble-shoot.
Now two weeks later, there’s a giant hole in the ceiling and a mess of soiled newspapers, soaking up every remaining drip. Shivers of stress shake my shoulders and a wave of anxiety crashes between my temples every day as I walk through the area. And, I know, there are far worse, oppressive and trauma-inducing things to could justifiably detract from my experience of peace; this ‘smaller thing’ was simply catalyst to push the balance-of-calm a tad off-kilter.
‘Nature does not hurry yet everything is accomplished’2, writes the Chinese Philosopher, Lao Tzu (ca. 500 BCE).
It was two days ago in the early morning and the lights were still off in the area where the pile of oily newspapers had been mounting up. I noticed someone kneeled in the dim light and quietly cleaning the space. With precision, seeming effortless action, rectangular pieces of news print were laid out symmetrically, to cover the floor under the interminable drip. His body’s posture and expression of calm may have been considered as ‘wu wei’ by Lao Tzu; it was bearable, a pressure-less, non-anxious ‘non-doing’. He was relaxed, inspired and in seeming ‘alignment with the flow of life’3. Out of the disarray, organisation was not enforced, it emerged naturally.
God is faithful, so good and patient with us. He knows our hearts and the inner, rotting outrage that can be felt by those around us and affect the flow of peace and abundant life he yearns for us to abide in. Jesus says, ‘Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid’ (John 14:27). With the help of Christ, we can release the control of enacting force and effort to accomplish our will, in our time and by our standards. Then, as Renner and D’Souza affirm, ‘we do not need to see challenges as obstacles that we have to defeat or avoid’4.
Jesus calls us into ‘not doing’ in his beckoning to rest (Matthew 11:28) just as the Psalmist encourages a break from an oppressive engagement, to ‘cease striving’ to ‘be still’ and ‘know’ who God is (Psalm 46:10). Perhaps, action that is tweaked by our own muscling and the effort of power-pushing, is weak because it originates in fear. Sure, it can come across sounding steady and looking confident, such is the magical, illusory nature of what the world deems as strong (Isaiah 40:29; 2 Corinthians 12:9).
- Renner, Diana and Steven D’Souza. Not Doing: The Art of Effortless Action.(New York, New York: LID Publishing Limited, 2018), 195.
- Anjali Love, Wu Wei: Lao Tzu’s Wisodm. Medium (Thrive Global). April 13, 2017. https://medium.com/thrive-global/wu-wei-lao-tzus-wisdom-43765453739d
- Love, Wu Wei: Lao Tzu’s Wisdom.
- Not Doing, 198.