So, everything moves in circles, yeah?
There are high times and low times (and often both at once). Times when we have a ton of energy, and times when "getting out of bed" is a major accomplishment. Times when the Universe delivers building-blocks to our door, and times when it stomps through like a three-year-old and gleefully knocks down everything we’ve built.
The wise and happy person, I suspect,
has figured out the art of a) recognizing and b) accepting these cycles. As you may know, I’m more than a little familiar with workaholism, which can be fairly (if not oversimply) defined as a "failure to be okay with down-cycles". For the "Type A" person (not to get too jargony), it’s simply not okay to have a slow day, to be less than amazingly productive, or to fail at just about anything.
Many people (not all of them workaholics themselves) have told me that this kind of "can’t slow down, can’t fail" thinking is a way to maximize success — a form of the old "do your best, try your hardest" adages of our youth.
I disagree, though not too many years ago I wouldn’t have. I used to openly adore "Either Extreme Is Fine" as a motto, and believed that working until near-death (like not sleeping for days, which I’m sure shocks you to your toes) was a virtue,
including especially if it took medical care to recover from a project.
If you ever read James Gleick’s book Chaos (which is awesome), you may remember that it includes the story of one of the founding mathematicians behind "chaos mathematics", and how he lived on coffee and no sleep for so long that he had to be hospitalized after making his great discovery. I had those pages marked, so I could read them over again and drool to myself. Oh yes.
But we Tao-addicts try to take our cues from nature,* and what would happen if the Oceans hung on to high tide for as long as they could? (Or [fill in your clever example here]?)
Besides the cosmological reason (and the medical ones), there’s also the fact that it’s a fallacy, I think, to assume that going full-bore as often as possible actually produces more or better results. As I get older and gradually figure myself out, I’m definitely seeing that He Who Paddles With The Tides Gets The Farthest. As a child, I didn’t have much admiration for the grownups who ate right, exercised regularly, and took the time to keep their mental and physical selves in good ticking order; it’s a lot easier, I think, to admire the guy who runs his wingtipped buns off and makes a million dollars. But adulthood, for all its dubious gifts, does give one the ability to see things on a longer timeline…and the Type A guy who seemed so impressive at thirty is often, at forty, buried in debt, medicated for hypertension, and regretting missing out on his kids’ childhoods.
The thing is, Nature is a vast and unimaginably powerful thing. Often its power is expressed in ways that don’t seem powerful from our point of view, because from the point of view of Nature, human beings think like children — we can’t imagine much past a few measely decades into the future with any clarity, so we don’t see the power and wisdom in dripping water on a rock for three hundred years rather than blasting it with a hammer now. But even if we can’t see it, we can infer it (and behold, this is my inference).
The personal lessons are pretty easy: balance and flexibility will get you way farther, in the long run, than strapping the jet-engine of workaholism to your butt. When you feel slow, rest. When you start to redline, back off. (Being from Detroit, I tend to think of the car metaphor: drive it nice, and it’ll still run awesome after 100,000 miles. Drive the heck out of it and you’ll have what we call a "beater".)
The bigger lessons are harder to grasp, but if you can accept the basic truths about Nature and cycles, then they follow easily: Ups and downs are normal. Sometimes things need to be burnt down, shaken apart or washed away in a flood, so that new things can grow in their place. Everything moves in cycles: Your career, your luck, your body, your family, your neighborhood, the economy. The smart money works with those cycles, not against them.
(Yes, I know you’re probably thinking, "But you sleep, like, four hours a day!" –Yes, but I’m not just staying awake and wearing myself out. In fact, the cyclic nature of polyphasic sleep is one of the things I like about it!)
*in which I include outer space, rips and anomalies in space-time, extradimensional aliens, and whatever the heck else happens to exist out-there or in-here — it’s all Nature; just some of it is easier to comprehend from here on our cozy little rock. ;)
(Awesome image from kidsgeo.com)