Act Without Expectation

Therefore the Master

acts without doing anything
and teaches without saying anything.
Things arise and she lets them come;
things disappear and she lets them go.
She has but doesn’t possess,
acts but doesn’t expect.
When her work is done, she forgets about it.
That is why it lasts forever.
Tao Te Ching, 2
     Acting without doing anything means that we act with nothing attached to it. We act and do what’s right just for the sake of doing it. We don’t have ambition or selfish intention. We don’t try too hard or push and force. We just act without carrying all sorts of baggage. We act unemotionally and unconditionally. And we don’t act if we are affected.
     Teaching without saying anything means that we teach by example. All of that stuff we believe in and desperately want to preach to everybody, we don’t. Instead, we live it. And quietly.
     Letting things come and letting things go is the practice of non-resistance and non-attachment. We don’t fight against whatever arises in our lives or comes our way, and we don’t hold on to whatever goes or leaves us. And we do this because we don’t need to control everything. We have faith that things are the way they are supposed to be. We let whatever happens, happen. We have faith.
     Having but not possessing means that we don’t care about what we have. Sure we have things but it doesn’t matter to us. We can take them or leave them because we are okay inside. We are at peace. Possessing the things we have occurs when we are clenched, afraid, empty, and without purpose. We need to possess because we feel powerless. Without real power, we look for false power. Possessing is a false sense of power. It isn’t real. So having and possessing are two different things.
     Acting without expecting is what altruism is. We do things such as helping others without expecting anything in return. We don’t act in order to feel a certain way, in order to appease ourselves, to clear our conscience, or for some sort of trophy. We act for the sake of acting.
     Forgetting about our work means that we just do our work and let go of it. We don’t care about the outcome. And we don’t need, want or ask for a pat on the back afterwards. We don’t need to be seen. We don’t need praise for the things we do. We are perfectly willing to do our work quietly even if no one ever sees what we did. Needing recognition or awards for our work negates our work. Helping someone and then showing off afterwards erases the deed. Forgetting about our work ensures that its essence lasts forever because it hasn’t been tainted by our selfishness. Showing off is like pouring a slow-burning acid over our work. Over time, the work disintegrates and then disappears altogether. Nobody cares what we do when we show off about it.
     Achieve this and we are well on our way to enlightenment. It’s been over 9 years since I began taking Steps, taking action and having faith and I’m still a thousand miles away from any of this, at least on a consistent basis. But does that mean I stop? Of course not, because remember, the point is not to attain anything anyway. The point is just to do it. The reward and the peace lie in the act itself, in the doing, not in the outcome.

     The Big Book is littered with precepts, attitudes and a way of thinking that has its roots in Taoist thought and Zen Buddhism. While many of the behavioral suggestions are moral and have their spiritual roots in Christianity and the like, much of our mental freedom revolves around the practice of letting go – letting go of our work, letting go of people, letting go of life, letting go of everything. We let go of our dependency on anything external. We just do our thing for the sake of doing it and for the sake of others, without attachment. If we just do what’s right in front of us with an empty mind, all self-created problems vanish. If we are okay regardless of what happens around us, we have achieved pure freedom. 

God, teach me to let go, not to attach, resist or expect, to let what comes come and what goes go…

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