This ancient philosophy can help you overcome your most frustrating challenges.
“Do or don’t, there is no ‘trial’,” Yoda told a young Luke Skywalker in The Empire Strikes Back.
It is one of the most memorable replicas of one of the most beloved original Star Wars films. It perfectly sums up Yoda’s tough loving attitude toward teaching Luke to discover his own inner determination and power.
Even if you’re not trying to harness the Force of an alien-looking little green dude, the scenes from Luke’s training may have resonated with you. Yoda’s role in Star Wars touches the hearts of everyone who strives to grow up and help others.
Yoda was a Jedi, but his philosophies, teachings, and even his sense of humor are based on a true spiritual tradition still largely unknown in the Western world called Taoism. In Taoism, the devotee seeks harmony through balance. It means balance in all aspects of life – career, health, community, environment and everything in between. Taoists strive to achieve this balance in a fun way. They embrace the paradox of life.
The Taoist spiritual tradition is thousands of years old, but in 2021 it is more needed than ever. We are caught in a climate of fear fueled by screaming and fear-injecting media 24/7. The business and career landscape is uncertain. The stresses of modern life strain our families and friendships. Yet, just as Luke needed to retreat to a calm, swampy world to train with Yoda before he could save his friends, we need to look within for a healthier outdoor life. This is where Taoism and its embrace of paradox come in.
Let’s take a practical example. Say you are worried about your career because, after confinement, your employer changes strategy. You’re worried that you won’t be able to find another job. Stress begins to eat away at you. How would a Taoist handle this?
Take this quote from a central Taoism text, the Dao De Jing:
“The softest steers in the world are the toughest in the world.”
At first it looks like a flowery quote that’s supposed to sound weird. How could the sweetest thing in the world control the hardest thing in the world? And what does that have to do with my life, with the pressures at work and the bills to pay? The quote is a paradox, and yet the answer is all around us. Water controls solid objects. The Grand Canyon, a chasm carved out of solid rock, was formed by water flowing gently through it.
What does this have to do with your career?
Taoists learn to live from nature and often use nature metaphors to teach their lessons. When you are afraid of something, you become rigid – physically, emotionally, and mentally. Think of animals in the wild that freeze when they sense danger. While you can still move physically when you’re afraid, your creativity stops. You develop tunnel vision.
On the other hand, when you relax physically, you also relax emotionally and mentally. You start to see new possibilities. Your creativity returns.
Relaxation allows creativity, but being rigid, or being tough, blocks it. When Taoists say that soft controls hard, they are referring to how water controls something as hard as rock.
Water gets its power from its flexibility and so do you.
You can profit from something, like a career or a house, but if you hold on to it desperately, you will not only suffer from the fear of losing it, but you will be blinded by greater opportunities. For example, I love living in Colorado and would hate to leave. Yet, over seven years ago, when a career opportunity opened up for me on the East Coast, I said, “I would love to! And moved across the country in a matter of weeks. I gave up on Colorado and ironically it allowed me to go back in less than two years, still doing the job I love.
Your most frustrating challenges require flexibility to overcome them. Yes, work hard in your career, but keep the flexibility to see other paths. Pay attention to your performance, but not to the point of becoming too stressed out to sleep.
This all sounds great, but what if you are stressed out? The Taoists also have an answer to this, and it has been battle tested for thousands of years. Take slow, deep breaths in your belly. Place one hand on your stomach and one on your chest. When you breathe, make sure your hand on your stomach goes up and down, and make sure your hand on your chest remains still. This ensures that you are really breathing deeply. After just a few minutes of breathing this way, your body will begin to relax and so will your mind. As a result, your creativity and flexibility will wake up.
As Bruce Lee, another practitioner of Taoism, said, “Be formless… formless… like water. When you are so gentle, you can overcome what seems difficult.