On Being Small And Unseen

The Tao of Slow

While the yang-hustle certainly is seen to get results, perhaps there is also virtue and need for ‘slow’ in our lives. The slow life challenges the dominant paradigm that we need to be constantly achieving, always busy, always seen.

Photo by Andrew Seaman on Unsplash

From little things, big things grow
— Paul Kelly

Musing on invisibility further, I realised that I have spent most of my life being ‘unseen’ by others. For so many years my actions and achievements have gone largely unnoticed. I don’t believe I ever noticed that it was a problem up until my 20’s, when I began to desire notoriety. I wanted to be seen.

For twenty or so years, I was driven with gaining attention  —  and yet, most likely remained more-or-less invisible despite my efforts.

So in recent months as I choose to deliberately be unseen, the difference in my state has been obvious. I am calmer, my nervous system is more at ease, and I feel that there is a higher level of quality to how I spend my time.

Perhaps I spent all that time fighting against my innate introvert nature? Not sure, but something to meditate on, to be sure.

What I realised the push-back began was when I would be accused of not doing something, when I know I had. I was that invisible, that even my achievements and actions were so also. Perhaps this is what drove me to be more noticed.

When I reflect back on my life, I realise I have achieved quite a lot  —  more than most people. But no one has noticed that. And so in the eyes of others, I have not achieved much at all…. “what have you done with your life…?” they ask. Thus forming the belief that I have done nothing. Because I have been unseen.

This refelction has been enlightening, and tells me more of the motivations and perceptions of others who I’ve let influence me for so long. These others reflect that general societal attitude which I describe as “yang”:

Push, hustle, sell, be seen, play large, step up, keep going, keep doing, don’t stop, soldier on, kill or be killed …

No wonder I found so many of former clients were always exhausted. No wonder there are so many ‘diseases of lifestyle’ that are literally killing our population and putting a strain on health budgets across the (first) world.

As I’ve mentioned elsewhere, this yang apporach to life may serve some people well — maybe they’re ‘extroverts’, or the ones we label with ADHD, or the driven ones who have certain skills to keep human civilisation moving forwards, ever onwards.

But I would argue there are others who can best contribute to our world in another way, a quieter way, a slower way. Or maybe we all need to spend a little time being this yin way from time to time. Who’s to say.

“Humble Greatness”

I’m reminded of the words of Lao Zi:

Knowing the manly, but clinging to the womanly, you become the valley of the world.
Being the valley of the world, eternal virtue will never desert you, and you become like a little child anew.
Knowing the bright, but clinging to the dark, you become a model to the world.
Being a model to the world, eternal virtue will never falter in you, and you return to the boundless.
Knowing honor, but clinging to disgrace, you become the valley of the world.
Being the valley of the world, eternal virtue will be full in you, and you return to the state of uncarved wood.
— Tao Te Ching, chapter 28

Whilst this text has been critiqued for millennia as promoting a naturalistic, ‘drop-out’ approach to social problems, it would be good to consider that the Tao Te Ching was a book written essentially for those in power. The text is peppered with statements on how the “good ruler” should behave with humility. It’s primary message is that it is humility and ‘smallness’ that will — paradoxically — lead to success and fame.

In fact, there are many Taoist texts with stories and parables that illustrate this point further. It seems the early Taoists of the 3rd-1st Centuries BCE were quite vociferous on this notion.

What I have come to realise is that the problem is not so much being seen/not seen; rather, who am I being seen by? In marketing terms, it’s the notion of know thy market. There is no point of writing good copy if the wrong people are reading it, just as much as if no one is.

There are plenty of people in my life who I love being seen by: my daughter, my partner, my family and closest friends. These people’s opinions matter, because their presence in my life matters. I’m not used to being seen and receiving positive feedback, so it’s a bit of an edge for me, after spending so long being seen by only those who criticised and cut me down. It’s OK for me to be unseen by the wider world, because I know that who I am being seen by matters more to me. These people see my true nature and celebrate it.

image source

It seems to me we need to bring a bit of balance to our world, and we can start by releasing the attachment to the yang-hustle. There is a place for slow, for being humble, and for not achieving anything great at all. As long as it’s authentic and aligned to your true nature. If you ever feel the pressure to perform or achieve, listen to the people who matter, as well as trusting your instinct. You may realise that you’re already doing what you need to be doing.


I extend the invitation to consider the following, and share your thoughts in the comments section below:

  • Do you really need to ‘step up’? Is it imperitive that you ‘be seen’?
  • If you need to be seen, then by whom? What will you ultimately gain by being seen by these people?
  • Is it really a big deal if you’re not famous and don’t contribute anything of any importance in the world?

Originally published by Petah Raven on .

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