Laotzu recommends not-striving. In fact, he recommends the achievement of non-action.
The paradoxical language of Laotzu captured by achieving (an action if there were one) non-action invites the reader to look beyond a literalist fundamentalism. But like Buddha and the recommendation to cease craving, Laotzu employs the rhetoric of disassociation when characterizing the way.
Let go, relinquish, give up, cease, ignore, neglect, boycott, disassociate. The language contains a a relaxing not an intensification.
In the soul of the individual there is a plurality that must be at least lived near. Having grasped tightly through choice various responses to the world the soul take shape. Having associated various effects with various causes the soul takes shape. Having found success, so far, in avoiding dissatisfaction the soul rests in that shape taken and readies it for future use.
But what when the soul recognizes poverty of spirit? What of the moment when the soul collects data that its own shape is causing it trouble? Here-in lies one strain of meaningfulness in the words of the sage. The recommendation cannot be to act. It cannot be to assert. The source of such action or assertion has been deemed untrustworthy. What is the alternative?
Disassociate from unstrustworthiness. Be in but not of the world shaped by the soul. Such practice has implications if it can be achieved–to live with but not be guided by. First, the growth of dissatisfaction is noted. Learning to live dissatisfied is important for dealing objectively with dissatisfaction. Not all dissatisfaction is to be satisfied. Distance and reflection allow for more clear weighing and measuring of the worth of various satisfactions through the allocation of energy and resource.
Second, the ignoring of this self for guidance makes at least possible the quiet necessary to hear the voice that does not strive and does not crave for the soul to listen but is worth listening to. The doctor should not seek the sick, but the sick the doctor. But what must happen first is the sick must recognize sickness.
It would be surprising if the disassociation so important for personal development were ineffective in social development. But in our mixed up time forced association and disassociation according to the rule of the few has been substituted for voluntary disassociation.
The government grasps, yanks, pushes, strikes, forces, prevents…so much that is beyond the minimal protection of person and property that any right-minded community might come together to minimally safeguard. So immersed in the effects of its command and threat are we that it sounds extreme and excessive to meditate on what the world would be like with voluntary choice of association and disassociation beyond harm to bodies and property.
Disassociation is a powerful tool in the negotiation with the other for the terms of trade and the price of goods. That it is deemed illegal to disassociate by the monopolistic enterprise providing security service and dispute arbitration is real trouble.
How could the power of disassociation be so valuable at such a personal level of development and yet so valueless in social development? Well, maybe it is a sign of the ugliness of he who forces others to associate with him that the only way he can retain their association is to force them to associate with him. But doesn’t he realize the desire for disassociation that is building in those forced? Wouldn’t it be natural?