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Do or (maybe really) Do Not

"Do – or Do Not" Yoda's Star Wars injunction is famously followed up with "There is no 'try'". Much as I love the little fellow, I disagree with him on this point. Sometimes, there is only try.

But that's an argument for another day…today I'm pondering the first half of his homily. Do, or Do Not.

Why is it that we always assume that we must "do"? Why do we keep forgetting that "do not" is also an option? That it is a choice?

It is a form of arrogance, this assumption that things will not improve unless we intervene. It is a stress creator, this need always to be busy, to be always choosing to do. I'm reminded of the mediaeval Japanese poet Basho:

Sitting silently

Doing nothing

Spring comes

And the grass grows by itself.

Spring comes in the first drops of snow

Which in China was rendered as the proverb:

Don't push the river, it flows by itself.

In other words, the world works perfectly fine without us.

Many-a-day, I figure the world would actually work a lot better without us. We are destroying the planet; we are destroying the peace and co-operation that we've spent so long building. There is much that would be better if we, or at least some of that collective 'we', simply stopped 'doing' for a little while.

It's not my job to save the world though. I can only work on my little corner of it. The tricky part is always figuring out which bit is 'my little corner'. Which bit should I be working on, and which massive should I just leave well alone to order itself, all the better without my meddling?

I'm not going to try to answer that one for you. I'm still trying to answer it for me. What I have figured out is that if we're always doing, if we allow ourselves to be fooled into thinking that we MUST ACT, then we've lost the wisdom of the ancients…and the wisdom of our youth

The sages tell us over and over: do not assume that you need to do something.

The teenagers tell us over and over that there is merit in lying in a wheat field looking at the sky, or crashing in a bed just thinking thoughts.

We should think like the sages and remember what it was like to be a teenager…remember what it is like to be confused, to 'not know', to be uncertain, to righteously claim the time (the door-slamming JUST LEAVE ME ALONE! time) to think things through and try to work it out.

Having thought, we might well decide that, yes, this is my corner of the wood, this is the garden I need to tend, this is where I can make a difference…and if I can then, well, sorry Yoda, I still don't 'must do', but I must at least try. This is where my energy should be directed, this is where it is worth spending my time, using my intellect, marshalling my creativity. Here: it will be fulfilling. Here: it will be worthwhile – if only a tiny ripple's worth of worthwhile.

Having thought, we might equally decide the opposite. We are within our right to say: you know what? It's not worth the candle. So I won't. I will not do.

We are within our right to say: yes, but….

Yes, I could help here…but there is only so much of me, and I can contribute more over there.

We are within our right to say: sorry, but call someone else. Today I am replenishing my resource. Today I am going to sit and watch how the river flows, and the grass grows.

That's not some idle world, where you can renege on commitments – but the idyllic world in which you choose which commitments to make in the first place, in which you do not overcommit and promise what is not within your gift to deliver – it is the ideal world in which we are all honest about what we can control and what we cannot and what we will choose to do with the finite 'us' that we have.

It is the world in which we choose just as often to "do not", so that when we choose to "do" – we have the strength and enthusiasm and ideas and resilience to do whatever the 'doing' actually takes.

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