Principle 2 Action and Reaction – Week 4 – 2023

Principle 2. The Principle of Action and Reaction. Fourth Week

When you force something towards an end you produce the contrary.

Last time: Compulsions

This time: Our Meeting, More Meditation and a special treat

This Week:

Over the  last three weeks we focused on the  general structure and implications of the principle,  how it played out (or didn’t, or could have) in the past and in the present. This week we look at what it could mean in the future, and explore how this principle might prove helpful in those situations I imagine I will be facing.

Personal Reflections:

Here’s some raw material that I hope you will find useful in your own reflections. 

Focusing on another aspect of this principle we could derive something like:

The Principle of Appropriate Response:

Not every job needs a sledgehammer… but some do!

Or alternatively:

You can catch more flies with honey than vinegar.

Sometimes this principle (as well as others) can strike one as vague — and certainly in someways they are. It strikes me that this apparent short coming is perhaps a necessary characteristic, and one whose value is perhaps not obvious at first. For example, in this principle “forcing” is an empty term. What does it mean? When is my action too much, when is it insufficient? How much applied energy is just right? At what point does it cross the line and become forcing? 

As others have noted on various occasions, that’s a moving target. There is no set answer. The amount of physical force needed to untangle a delicate knot of thread is clearly orders of magnitude less than what it takes to lift a heavy weight. The amount or intensity of applied energy appropriate in one case, is far too little in another. And vice versa. What is an appropriate effort in one situation is forcing in another. Diverse demands require diverse responses. And so a definition of forcing is exactly what is not given in the principle, i.e. its this apparent vagueness, that makes it useful. Each context determines what is forcing and what is appropriate. How could it be otherwise?

Have you ever gone to lift something you thought was heavy (like an empty container you thought was full)? Have you been surprised as it jerks up much higher than you anticipated? It’s only then that you realize you have used to much force. I can think of lots of situations where I have done similar things but in interactions with others, or with situations, rather than things. I can easily recall or imagine situations where I misunderstood what was happening, and so overestimated or underestimated how much effort, energy, or force it would take to be heard, or make a point. 

That’s of course that’s not to mention all the times where, for example, my original intention — to respond in a calm and thoughtful manner — was lost. Not in this case because of my misjudging or misunderstanding, but rather because I was taken compulsively by the sudden eruption of deeper tensions. And with that all my plans flew out the window as I found myself responding much more (or less) aggressively, than I had planned.

The vagueness of the term “forcing” is then not a shortcoming but the key to applying the principle. In this dynamic and always changing world I have to judge, explore, intuit, or calculate what is required here and now, with this specific interaction in mind.

Usefulness coming out of emptiness, not fullness reminds me of some lines from our old advisor Laozi which Gia-fu Feng and Jane English translated it like this:

Thirty spokes share the wheel’s hub;

It is the center hole that makes it useful.

Shape clay into a vessel;

It is the space within that makes it useful.

Cut doors and windows for a room;

It is the holes which make it useful.

Therefore profit comes from what is there;

Usefulness from what is not there.

Or as some unknown translator has it: 

Make space for doors and windows.

Where the room isn’t, 

You may be.

I am ashamed to admit that I’m not very good at algebra. But I understand the usefulness of being able to solve an equation where X is a value that differs according to the rest of the numbers and operations. I no longer aspire to be good at that kind of thing, but I do hope to improve my ability with these existential equations. In this case solve for X where force=X.

Using the Principle in Reverse:

I have previously mentioned some thoughts I had about everyday experiences where I encounter this principle. One of them led to my own version of some other lines (chapter 24 of the Dao de Jing) from the inimitable Laozi:

Standing on tiptoe you risk falling over.

Rushing ahead you can trip and fall.

Trying to outshine others you show your dependence.

Believing yourself always right, in itself makes you wrong.

Boasting of your accomplishments puts the real credit in doubt.

Such actions are hindrances. 

Like overeating they leave you 

uncomfortable and full of regrets

A very different example comes to mind. It is one that  also has the benefit of taking “forcing”  in a constructive fashion. That is, it shows how you can sometimes produce the desired outcome by apparently “forcing” things in the opposite direction. Of course, one could say that in this case it is not forcing but just the right degree of force.

This is the case of that elementary relaxation exercises where, in order to cause muscles to relax I tense them to the maximum, hold and finally let go and focus on the sensations of unclenching. It’s a very effective, if primitive technique to get muscles to let-go. It’s also an important way of starting to familiarize oneself with the registers of letting go on a muscular level. 

Try it out when you just can’t get to sleep. I think it will prove its effectiveness. It certainly has for me and I’d love to hear about your results. So next time you are tossing and turning, worrying about how tired you’re going to be in the morning if you don’t get some sleep, just gently and slowly tense to the max, hold as long as you can, abruptly let go and focus on the sensations of the muscles relaxing. It’s important not to tense, too abruptly or too much, it shouldn’t hurt, and shouldn’t cause pain afterwards.

Repeat three times pausing in between to gently focus on the sensations of your body. Sometimes I don’t even get to the third round.

A Strange Little Parable.

Many tales are told of Silo’s friend the ice cream maker (well not really but I like the sound of that). This story is really said to have taken place near the small town of Chacras de Correa. One day the merchant climbed up a ladder to repair the roof of his shop. His (always demanding) neighbour came out from the coffee shop across the way and called up to him asking to borrow his hammer. The ice cream merchant said, “you can see I’m using it to fix my roof. You can have it when I’m done.” The insistent neighbour replied, “I wouldn’t ask but I really need it”. Again, the he shouted down, “just wait”. His ‘friend’ replied, “come down and we can discuss it”. The ice cream maker said, “please just let me get my work done”. His neighbour (an obnoxious fellow as you can see) gestured insistently, and said, “well come down I want to talk to you about something else.” Finally, exasperated he came down. And, perhaps not surprisingly to a clever person like yourself, his neighbour said: “well, now that you’re down here and not using your hammer you might as well lend it to me.” The ice cream maker gestured for his neighbour to follow him back up to the roof. The overly insistent neighbour pleased that his persistence has paid off scrambled up the ladder. Badly out of shape he made it to the top puffing and panting. The (up to now patient) ice cream vendor looked at his neighbour and shouting: NO! continued with his work.

Something Extra

This link takes you to a lovely and wise little animation on reconciliation. It was an international collaboration between friends in Argentina, the Philippines, and Hungary. Thanks for pointing me to this Boldy. It’s written by our friend Karina it has narration in English and subtitles in Hungarian.

On reconciliation:

Coming up:

This week we are considering this principle and how it may apply to future situations. Next week we’ll turn to principle three, The Principle of Well-Timed Action (or if you prefer “Timely Action). It says: “Do not oppose a great force. Retreat until it weakens then advance with resolution.” 


Sometimes meditation require you sit down and close your eyes but that’s less than half the story.

The mundane events of daily life make your meditation possible. This is where you gain the raw material that nourishes your reflections just as it is the testing ground where you prove the results of your “internal” discoveries. 

Worth Repeating:

“All worlds you aspire to, all justice you demand, all love you search for, all human beings you would follow or destroy are also within you. Everything that changes within you will change your direction in the landscape you inhabit.” 

The Internal Landscape, chapter four_ Silo


These notes have been posted on Facebook and sent to our email list. You will also find them along with other comments, and reflections on my website:

There’s more coming up…

Peace experience