The Tao Te Ching: Verse Forty-Three

The softest things of the world
Override the hardest things of the world

That which has no substance
Enters into that which has no openings

From this I know the benefits of unattached actions
The teaching without words

The benefits of actions without attachment
Are rarely matched in the world

                                                                   Lao Tzu

Verse Forty-Three speaks to the professional or family caregiver that has ever been criticized for stepping up to help or perhaps even resented by the one you intended to serve. If you ever found yourself mumbling, no good deed goes unpunished, then this verse of the Tao is for you.

So often caregivers are overtly or covertly relied upon to get things done. While it can be a great complement to be known as a mover and shaker; we can sometimes get caught up in our own ego-based needs and confuse being tough for being strong. This is where we invite all sorts of trouble for ourselves.

The guiding message of this verse is to channel all your desire and well- meant ability to be of assistance into a subtle rather than overt effort. This is not to say that less is more but rather not underestimate the value of non-action. In this example non-action does not mean, do nothing. Rather it is a reminder to be mindful of your motivation. If your desire to be of help is fueled in anyway by your clinging to a need to be needed, then non-action is required.

Lao Tzu likes to use nature as a metaphor for his lessons. He often suggests focusing on the nature of water. It has a gentle quality that flows around obstacles yet relentlessly carves its own path over time. He references the wind as the force that moves much without being seen. Caregivers must always be more self-aware than most. The lack of self-awareness can sow the seeds of compassion fatigue; because you will never be able to fully have what you crave without creating a distance or a void between you and the recipient of your compassion.

Non-doing is also a powerful method of self-discovery.  As you attempt to refrain from your usual behavior, you uncover the internal forces that make stopping so difficult. You learn where you are attached; and learn about the emotions, impulses, and beliefs that keep you caught up in that attachment.  When you resist doing something out of habit, you will be afforded the opportunity to see, perhaps for the first time, the cost of your behavior. Of course this goal can only be attained through much gentle introspection but with time you will be more self-aware, more authentic and more able to use your good judgment before leaping into action.





3 thoughts on “The Tao Te Ching: Verse Forty-Three

  1. What a lovely post! Perfect for me as caregiver for my elderly mother and disabled brother, and I’m going to send it on to my sister-in-law who struggles with doing too much for family at great cost to herself. Thank you for your wisdom!

    1. Awareness is critical. I have a friend who is caring for her mother-in-law with dementia (fortunately she’s fairly cooperative now) and her disabled husband with grace and acceptance. It’s a little thing but her mother-in-law was trying to open something at lunch the other day and my friend just let her try until she became frustrated…then my friend asked her if she wanted help. I had the urge in the beginning to take the item and just open it for her because I recognized she was struggling…my friend made me aware (without saying a word) that her way was better…only help after validating the person “wants” help!

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