Act without doing

We are in Olympos, Turkey, a place where permanent structures are not allowed due to the archeological relics in the ground. There are open-air tree houses here but we are in a bungalow because it is cold at night. Olympos was known as a hippie hangout and the place still has a hippie feel to it. We are staying for six days and will walk all around.

Come with us so that we can talk. This is a unique environment. Olympos, part of the Lycian League, dates back to about 300 BC. Pirates invaded in the first century; the Romans defeated the pirates and build a temple and later a basilica. Arab raids began in the 700s and the city was abandoned by the 15th century.

Walk with me through the ruins of the basilica.

“What concerns you?” I ask. “If you talk with me, I can help you.”

What is the source of my knowledge?

I have a graduate degree from the School of Hard Knocks.

You look into my eyes and relax. You let go of your anxiety and share your thoughts with me. What problems do you face?

We walk through the ruins of a Roman temple, dedicated to Marcus Aurelius.

“Very little is needed to make a happy life,” Marcus Aurelius says. “It is all within your mind, in your way of thinking.”

Some people say their problems are due to others. Is someone not treating you properly? Somebody done you wrong? Some people feel depressed, hopeless, helpless. They want something better in life: a lover, spouse, work, more money, something they can’t get but must have. Some tell about a great loss — death, betrayal, bad fortune. Some describe a terrible trauma: child abuse, rape, war, pain. Some have health problems, alcohol problems, drug problems, spouse problems, work problems, family problems, anxiety problems, anger problems, mental problems. What type of problem do you have?

We reach the beach and walk up a trail that reaches rock climbing cliffs. You tell me what I need to know in order to understand you.

I listen closely while you talk. What is the source of your problem?

We hike down the mountain. We walk toward the eternal flames, called Chimaera, produced by natural gas, mainly methane escaping from the ground.

Mythical Chimaera was a monster with head of a lion, body of a goat, and tail of a serpent. Chimaera, feared by all, roamed the woods, spouting fire.


Chimaera symbolizes your problems — there are many threats and the flames are deadly. A single warrior seems powerless.

We cross a river flowing into the sea. The current is swift, the footing treacherous.

Bellerophon, riding the winged horse Pegasus, was assigned the task of killing Chimaera. Bellerophon and Pegasas approached the monster but had to flee the flames.

We walk toward Chimaera.

Bellerophon and Pegasas flew up and away, out of range of the monster’s flames. Bellerophon threw his lance at the monster, piercing its heart. The monster did not die–it cannot die–and Bellerophon placed it under the ground, where its breath produces the flames seen on the surface.

There is a cycle in all things. The waves come and go. The degree you experience pain and suffering varies — depression, worry, anger, pain increases and recedes over time. You can become aware of these cycles by paying attention. Meditation facilitates awareness. If your body figures out these physiological cycles, you will feel better. The problem may still be there but it will not bother you so much. You grow stronger, better able to deal with problems.

We climb the stairs toward Chimaera. It is a long way.

There are various types of problems. Which type is yours?

The Serenity Prayer asks:

God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.

Through meditation, you gain insight into what steps to take. What is the first step? When you focus your awareness on your breath, a thought comes — about the problem, perhaps — take note but let that thought go. Move toward serenity. Act without doing. Eventually, an idea will arise — a thought about the first step you should take.

We reach the place where flames emerge from the ground.

The monster lives inside you. It is a part of you but you can devise ways to deal with it.

The flames come from various places.

Through practice, you become more skillful at dealing with reality. Understanding your inner monster is part of this process. It is not actually a monster. It is merely a collection of animals — a lion, snake, and goat, with breath of fire.

We watch the flames.

Lao tsu writes (chapter 63):

Act without doing;
work without effort.
Think of the small as large
and the few as many.
Confront the difficult
while it is still easy;
accomplish the great task
by a series of small acts.

The Master never reaches for the great;
thus she achieves greatness.
When she runs into a difficulty,
she stops and gives herself to it.
She doesn’t cling to her own comfort;
thus problems are no problem for her.”

We walk down the mountain and along the beach. What steps might you take?

It is possible to devise a strategy where, like Bellerophon and Pegasas, you move away to a tranquil place and act without doing. You accept your inner lion, snake, and goat and recognize their value in certain situations. You devise a skillful response and deal with reality rather than your misperceptions.

We cross the river. What had seemed difficult now seems easy.

Some people focus only on the short term. They are unwilling to expend the effort required to deal with the inner monster. They cling to their own comfort. Stop! Give yourself over to acting without doing.

Someday, you and I will camp in the forest and I will build a fire to illustrate acting without doing.

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