Tao de Ching #9 – Pushing too hard

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.

We are a goal-driven species. We have an emotional system deep in our brain identified by the neuroscientist Jaak Panksepp as the “Seeking” system. This emotion gives us drive, and undergirds just about everything we do. It let’s us know what is “better”, whether it’s acquiring something or running away from something. Evolutionarily, we “seek” what will keep us alive long enough to procreate.

We also have the capacity to abstract, and to understand what we do now will pay off in the future. Therefore, if we find something good, we want it all…just in case. Thus, sometimes we get the impression that more of a good thing is better, but is this the case? This is where our seeking system gets waylaid. To be in harmony with Tao is to know when to stop. When the bowl is full enough, when the knife is sharp enough, and how much money is adequate for anything we want to do. If we want more and more, then the seeking system is in overdrive, is out of balance, has taken over our capacity to step back and appreciate.

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