Wednesday, July 23, 2008


Somewhere in the Tao Te Ching, Lao Tzu mentions “the 10,000 things”, referring, I guess, to the countless tasks each of us sets for ourselves in our daily lives. Most of us immediately start doing “things” the instant we awaken, and we fall asleep only after we’ve done the last of the hundreds (thousands?) of things for that day. We basically go from one task to the next, minute by minute, hour after hour, day after day after day. Our lives are consumed and controlled by these “10,000 things” that we have convinced ourselves simply must get done. However, every so often – and it happened again a few minutes ago – the realization hits me that most (maybe all) of these so-called important things actually don’t have to be done. They’re not that important. They don’t really matter very much, if at all. The universe will continue smoothly on course whether I do these 10,000 things or not. Not only that, it becomes disturbingly clear, now and then, that when these 10,000 tasks are completed, there will be another 10,000 waiting for me, and then another after that, on into infinity. In other words, I come to realize that I am doing the tasks only so that I can do more tasks. There’s no end. There’s no point where I say, “Ah, this is a lovely task.” (Let’s say I’m loading the dishwasher.) “This task was destined for only me, so I’m going to bask in its loveliness. I find my life’s purpose in this wonderful task.” It sounds silly even as I read it, because of course we can’t bask in any one task, because there are 9,999 “things” waiting to be done! It’s a strange life most of us lead – a life in which we feel compelled to do things that aren’t really important and that only lead to endless other unimportant things to do. Well, this afternoon I’m going to try to break the routine, at least for a bit. I’m going to try to get absolutely nothing done. The 10,000 things be damned. (But they’ll be there tomorrow when I awaken.)

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