“Pounding and hammering it –
You won’t preserve it long!”
Carrying on in the same vein, Lao Tzu continues to warn us against the perils of over-doing things. In this context, Lao Tzu uses the metaphor of refining or sharpening a blade. Continually trying to refine and perfect it, trying to make it ever sharper, even once it’s reached its peak level of sharpness, we damage what we are striving to perfect.
If we interfere and meddle with things constantly, we do not give them an opportunity to develop by themselves. If you over-water a plant, you’re likely to drown it in its pot. If you constantly poke and scratch a healing wound, you prevent it from being able to heal.
So, in working, do what you need to do and no more. Give time for your actions to resonate, so you can proceed according to the consequences they beget. It’s like speaking. If you start saying one thing while you’re already in the process of saying another, you will stammer, and people will not hear your message clearly. If you strike another note before letting the first one ring, you’ll end up with dissonance.
The notion that doing more always gets you more is incorrect. Doing things in the right way, to the right degree, at the right time is what makes the difference. If you do lots, but it is all wrong, then you will just be sowing difficulties. If do what is right, but to an extreme degree, you produce a response that may be opposite to the one you intended.
It is like stroking a cat. Cats want to be stroked. But you have to stroke them in the right way, to the right degree, and at the right time. If you stroke a cat too often, it is likely to scratch you. Make a habit of it, and the cat may even avoid you completely. But if you a stroke a cat well, but only a little, it will be clamouring for your attention to receive more of the affection it has tasted.
Using the absolute minimum of energy to reach the maximum effect – this is the way of the Taoist.