Taoism is an ancient philosophy and spiritual tradition deeply rooted in Chinese customs and worldviews. Central to Taoism is the idea of the ‘Tao’: an ultimate reality that underlies and unifies the multiple things and events in the world. Tao is the process of the universe, the order of nature, and an unchanging unity that underlies all changing phenomena. For Taoists, life is about being in harmony with the Tao.
The beautiful thing about Taoism is that its teachings transcend its ancient origins and are just as applicable in a modern context. Its emphasis on harmony, balance, and flexibility, illuminate a way of living that can provide comfort, confidence, and happiness in the often complicated and contradictory world today.
Do not fight the current; instead, flow with it and you will travel a great distance without effort’ – C. Alexander and Annellen Simpkins
‘Wu Wei’ – nonaction or action without intention – is a key concept in Taoism. But don’t be fooled, this isn’t an invite to do nothing. Nonaction does not mean that people should literally stare at a blank wall and not move. Instead, it means you should not take any action that isn’t in harmony with the Tao. Or, put differently, you should not take any action that that goes against your nature. That’s any action that doesn’t sit well with you, that makes you feel tight and stressed, or bored and restless. These actions create unnecessary struggle. When you work with yourself and in alignment with your nature, you get rid of any arbitrary obstacles.
In Taoism, experiencing harmony is about not being fixated on the fruits of your action, rather being totally and completely focused on the action itself. Try not to waste energy and effort on paraphernalia; the frills surrounding the fundamentals. Reserve your energy for the task itself. Don’t rely on external awards or recognition for fulfillment, but to be fuelled by an internal passion and enjoyment. Taoists believe that, by acting in harmony and alignment, the position and honors will come of their own accord. In this way, Taoist teachings reflect work on the ‘flow state’.
Remember the path of least resistance takes you further: not everything good has to be hard, and not everything simple needs complicating.
The motion of yin/yang is a circular one – more a spiraling one – ever-changing between one phase and the other. As yin fulfills itself, inherent within it are the seeds of yang, and visa versa – Rodney L. Taylor.
Taoists believe in an interchanging, dynamic play of opposites: Yin and Yang. Yin embodies characteristics such as passivity, femininity, darkness, the valley, the unknown, and chaos. Whereas Yang refers to characteristics such as hardness, masculinity, brightness, the mountain, activity, and order. The two must always accompany each other. Just as Newton’s second law of motion tells us, for every force there is an equal and opposite counterforce.
The concept of Yin and Yang can be applied widely: balancing activity with passivity, movement with rest, and socialization with solitude. You need one side of the balance to notice the other; if you are exposed to the same surroundings every day you stop noticing those surroundings. In recent times this can be applied to an increased amount of time away from friends and family, leading to a greater appreciation of the time you have with them.
Taoism tells us that nothing in the world is singular and nothing in the world is static – and neither are you. In the words of Walt Whitman, you contain multitudes. You don’t have to be one thing, you don’t have to be definable, and you don’t have to restrict yourself with a narrow idea of who you are or think you should be. You’re an intricate and ever-changing swirl of yin and yang, so embrace the perfect balance that you are!
‘Life is a series of natural and spontaneous changes. Don’t resist them; that only creates sorrow. Let reality be reality. Let things flow naturally forward in whatever way they like.’ – Lao Tzu
Taoism emphasizes that life can be unpredictable, and the way to be happiest is to let go of the idea that you need to do very specific things for fulfillment. It’s about rolling with the punches no matter what comes your way. If you’re caught in a rip current in the ocean, you’re advised to swim with the current to the shore, not against its pull. If your car begins to skid on a slippery patch of road, a good driver will carefully and sensitively turn the wheels in the direction of the skid. And if something unexpected comes up in your life, ignoring it or attempting to plaster it with positivity won’t work. You have to face your fears to overcome them; you have to address problems to solve them.
Taoism teaches you to accept the situation you find yourself in and work from there. You can have goals, but when things don’t pan out the way you first thought they would, you use these hiccups to your advantage. You trust that it will all work out, without trying to determine exactly how (which can leave you stuck or feeling depleted). And you take actions, but ones that feel right and make sense in the context of your life at that moment.
These principles may sound simplistic and could be dismissed as too good to be true, but try applying Taoist teachings to your life with an open mind. If you expect balance, harmony, and flexibility to come in an instant and stay with you forever you’ll create resistance and (let’s be honest) a ridiculously high set of expectations. This isn’t very Taoist at all. Instead, let these teachings seep into your life naturally, weaved in with your own life lessons and experiences, and they’ll subtly start to change the way you go about your days.