Earlier this month we began breaking down the writings of Lau Tzu a mystic philosopher of ancient China, best known as the author of the Tao Te Ching (The Way and Its Power), published in the 3rd century. The excerpt is below:
Watch your thoughts, they become your words.
Watch your words, they become your actions.
Watch your actions, they become your habits.
Watch your habits, they become your character.
Watch your character, it becomes your destiny.
Last week we unpacked, “Be careful of your words,” which you can read here.
When our thinking and speaking are aligned with who we truly are our actions naturally follow suit. The concept of watching your actions for they become your habits feels familiar and necessary though. To me this speaks to our daily routines, the things we do without even thinking about it. How our actions, when repeated build upon each other and become parts of our regular life. Do we make time for the things we enjoy or are we simply going through the motions. Do we incorporate fun or conversation – do we say good morning or show affection to the people we care about or do we simply presume the know how we feel.
Our actions can be deliberate choices we make to show care for ourselves and others. They can also be rote routines we follow without thinking. Anyone who’s ever gotten into the car to drive to a familiar place and suddenly found themselves at their destination without any memory of the drive has experienced this. In college we called it the transporter. How did I get home? By following muscle memory and autopilot.
It feels like Lau Tzu is not guiding us to be ever vigilant in our activities but rather to pay attention to our choices so that we make space for simple pleasures and joy in our lives. I watched a reel on Instagram recently where they held up a sign offering $5 to any person who called someone to tell them they loved them. Every person who stopped made the call and refused the five dollars. Each said to give it to the next person, someone who needed it more than they did. I would argue that they felt richer simply by calling the person they loved to tell them. The callers didn’t need money, they had love.
The simple gesture of calling to tell someone they loved them reminded the callers of how much they had – they had people who loved, supported, and missed them. Much like that sign, Lau Tzu is calling upon us to be intentional in our actions – call someone you love, take a different route home and enjoy the view, give yourself the gift of paying attention. When we are attentive to our actions and our choices we realize the freedom we have to change the world and our lives for the better.