I know, that doesn’t sound like a very ‘formal’ philosophical principle, but bear with me.
To exist means to stand out (from Latin “ex-” meaning ‘out of’ and “stare” meaning ‘to stand’), and so for a Thing to exist it must be different from all other Things. But how different? Just enough. In fact, any amount of difference is ‘difference enough’ for existence. (yes, there’s a circular tautology in there – you don’t have to like it).
So we understand then that the Evolutionary process, by which we witness such an enormous diversity of species, operates along those same lines: any creature that is just ‘different enough’ to succeed in surviving and reproducing is enough, and no more is necessary. So ‘good enough’ is perfect because any more would be wasteful, and ‘too much’. That’s why evolution is such a slow process – if nature finds a form which works, then it’ll continue working until it doesn’t work any longer. A creature evolves eyes to see. Another creature, who until then was successful at remaining hidden, is no longer successful at surviving. So it must change again ‘just enough’ in order to remain unseen – or change in another way – Nature doesn’t direct which kind of change – any one that’ll do, will do. So perhaps that creature which was ‘stealthy’ needs to become ‘stronger’ or ‘quicker’ or since it’s already been adept at being stealthy, then it becomes ‘stealthier‘ – again ‘just enough’. That one creature, that one species, can split apart – speciation – if one goes the ‘stealty’ route, and the other goes the ‘stronger’ route. Whatever works, works.
Taoists speak of ‘wu wei’, action without effort – but understanding the above, it means ‘just enough’ action, effort enough to get the thing done. Any more would be wasteful and silly, and ‘against Nature’. A single sheet of paper can’t move a boulder, but without effort, putting one sheet on top of the next, a thousand sheets (probably much less than that) can dislodge the boulder. A drop of water cannot erode stone, but a thousand drops can. One winter cannot gouge out a valley, but a thousand can.
Think of the story about walls of Jericho – how they crumbled from Joshua’s Israelite army who just blew horns. It sounds insane right? What if it wasn’t? What if, by means of small incremental changes, the oscillatory nature of sound caused the walls to at first ring, but as each horn blew again a little more, the walls would oscillate a little more, and each time, each little increase in strength, made the walls rattle and shake and finally crumble?
Breaking the Camel’s Back & Aikido
There’s that tipping point, the straw that broke the camel’s back or, in French, La goutte qui fait déborder le vase. It’s not much, but again just enough. The metaphor works well with Life – because we can understand there’s a fullness of Things, where every Thing is just on the verge, and that’s where the ‘wu wei’ and ‘just enough’ principle works – it’s only a small change, but just enough, because everything is always ‘almost there’, and only a little change is enough to make it ‘exist’ (stand-out).
So we can see Reality as full, full of ‘almost’ and the very dynamic changes we see as being ‘just enough’, always ‘just enough’. So perhaps Reality is always ‘effortless’, because all things are always ‘nearly there’ and it takes only a little effort to push it over the edge, into beingness. But that makes it feel rather empty too doesn’t it? Effortlessness feels kind of ‘winded’, out of breath, lacking ‘vim’, doesn’t it? In a sort of ‘meet you half way there’ kind of way, Reality is empty and full.
Nature’s force is tremendous, but always just enough. The key to having such power yourself then, is to work with things, to see where they’re ‘almost already there’ and to ‘help it’ in that direction, to be the tipping point – the ‘tipper’ of sorts. In that way you have tremendous power, yet experience it effortlessly. Aikido has ‘learned’ this, and is a brilliant example of ‘effortless power’.
It’s worthwhile to look around us at the places where we can apply small effort, be a drop in the bucket, where with patience and persistence, the bucket will overflow. Look to your community – at political efforts to change the status quo, and apply your energies, which may seem little, but will help them in that direction, and give them greater power. You can be the tipping point for a volunteer group trying to help the needy and who are on the verge of exhaustion or disbanding and giving up – your arrival and willingness to contribute can give them renewed strength.
An urban druid can look at places in the process of ‘re-wilding’ – and help it – be mischievous, and water the weeds that grow in the cracks in the pavement.
Every little helps!