The Sunday Lao Tzu: Three Things

“I have just three things to teach: simplicity, patience, compassion. These three are your greatest treasures.”

I think I’m at my happiest when I’m doing simple things. Reading, writing, cooking. A life lived quietly and without fuss. Today’s teaching strikes me as not just true, but directly applicable to the way I live my life. Simplicity, patience and compassion are all interconnected, and when you start to live with these three things in mind, then you are on your way towards a more contented existence.

I have always been a patient person, to the point where it becomes something of a kink. My favourite part of Christmas is the anticipation. Waiting to see how the dinner will turn out, what gifts are under the tree. As I tend to know what TLC has bought me beforehand (with the exception of The Pot, which came as a genuine, delightful surprise) the wait until I can get my mitts on the new loveliness becomes part of the pleasure of the whole experience. It’s an exquisite torture. See, told you. Kinky.

But patience also comes out of care and preparation. It’s pointless rushing a loaf of bread while it’s proving, or a slow-cooked stew while it bubbles fragrantly on the stove top. Is it a coincidence that my favourite meals are the ones that take a bit of time to prepare and cook, filling the house with delicious smells, allowing the expectancy of the meal to become part of the whole experience? I don’t think so. And of course, the food I like tends to be simple, hearty, rustic fare. I’m not a big fan of fussy over-done stuff. Although Heston Blumenthal always makes me laugh.

Compassion is a no-brainer. If you don’t live a life filled with understanding and empathy towards everyone else, if you lose your patience, then your time on the planet becomes much more complicated. People can be vain, stupid and cruel. That doesn’t mean you have to be. For the most part, getting angry with an obstacle of any kind doesn’t help matters. In fact, it can frequently make things worse. Basil Fawlty thrashing his broken down car with a tree branch is an image that springs to mind. I’ve never seen the boys at Kwik-Ft do that. Treating the people around you with a little patience, understanding and humour works wonders. Call it a charm offensive if you like, but it works a hell of a lot better than yelling and screaming.

Now, I know this is all making me sound like some sort of annoying zen guru, answering questions with yet more questions or gnomic statements, floating smugly through life. That’s not the case. The idiot in the modded Peugeot who cut me up on the way into work yesterday got the finger and a robust curse. I get angry and pissed off. I rush stuff and grumble about it. But I try to remember that simplicity, patience and compassion do work, and that sometimes all you need to do to solve a problem is to take a breath, step back and look at it differently. Sometimes, the answer really can be simpler than you think.


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Writer. Film-maker. Cartoonist. Cook. Lover.

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