Going with the Flow: Its Origins in the East
Could you really say that you enjoy a sense of peace amidst the busyness and hassles of life?
What an amazing feeling to have this inner quiet when everything around is buzzing, scrambling about, and hurrying. It’s akin to the feeling of floating on the surface of the water while underneath is a strong current that you can neither resist or control.
In this fast-paced modern age, Eastern philosophy has much to teach us about doing less, going with the flow, and experiencing calmness of mind. We had recently talked about mindful living and this is a good time to look at where mindfulness is rooted.
What is Taoism?
Taoism, an ancient Eastern philosophy, laid the groundwork for what is now popularly called “mindfulness.” It came from Ancient China and started from the writings of the philosopher Lao Tzu who lived between 5th and 4th BCE. Lao Tzu’s work –the Tao Te Ching, contributed to the folk religion of rural China and became its official religion during the Tang Dynasty. It is, therefore, a religion and a philosophy.
Taoism teaches us how to live in harmony with the “Dao” or the “Way”. Some call it the “Source,” the “Universe,” or “God”.
The four fundamental principles of this philosophy are: simplicity, patience and compassion; going with the flow; letting go; and harmony. Harmony is especially highlighted in the oneness of man and nature.
Here are some quotes from the Tao Te Ching that show us the goodness in going with the flow and being fully in the present:
"Nature does not hurry, yet everything is accomplished."
“If you are depressed you are living in the past. If you are anxious you are living in the future. If you are at peace you are living in the present.”
Another Taoist philosopher, Chuang Tzu, explores the philosophy of flow by emphasizing the concept of Wu Wei: non-action or action that doesn’t involve struggle/excessive effort. This means using your intuition and natural abilities to flow with your environment and to go with the course of your life. When you do, you begin to take the path of least resistance. The practice of mindful living and meditation helps switch the mind from fear, anxiety, and avoidance to a state of openness and acceptance. To gain a deeper understanding of your reality, it’s essential to meditate every day and to train yourself in the art of Wu Wei.
Here are quotes from the master Chuang Tzu:
“Happiness is the absence of the striving for happiness.”
“Flow with whatever may happen, and let your mind be free: Stay centered by accepting whatever you are doing. This is the ultimate.”
Alan Watts, a British philosopher who popularized and interpreted Eastern philosophy for a Western audience, said:
"No valid plans for the future can be made by those who have no capacity for living now."
He also gives emphasis on being aligned to the course of nature. Clinging to certainty and being anxious create resistance that blocks the beautiful experience of flow:
“The more a thing tends to be permanent, the more it tends to be lifeless.”
“This is the real secret of life — to be completely engaged with what you are doing in the here and now. And instead of calling it work, realize it is play.”
“To have faith is to trust yourself to the water. When you swim you don’t grab hold of the water, because if you do you will sink and drown. Instead you relax, and float.”
Flow or resist?
Can the Taoist philosophy inspire you to change the way you do things, think, and live?
Non-action is quite opposite to the Western ideal of getting things done, making things happen, and working harder and harder to get results. We are encouraged to take control, be ambitious, and keep striving while most suffer from anxiety, depression, and sleep disorders from such.
Non-action is not about sitting under a tree all day, doing nothing. It’s not equal to laziness. What it teaches us is the power of gentleness, patience, and trusting nature to unfold in its own good time.
Are you burning yourself out with this almost senseless rushing and hurrying? Taoist philosophy teaches us not to resist the flow, but to let go and learn to navigate the current of life. To live in harmony with the Dao (the Way), there must be stillness of mind, cessation of striving, and curbing of desires. There must also be humbleness and patience. When we flow along as we do our daily work, we align ourselves with the universe’s natural course. Life is likened to a river where Taoists try to navigate through it instead of control it.
Try this flow meditation if you want a taste of such peace and calmness.
Letting go, flowing, and trusting give nature a chance to unfold without us resisting it or interfering its working.
Letting go means: stop swimming against the current and stop holding on to branches. It means letting go of the past and letting go of the future while focusing entirely in the moment. It is to live without hesitation.
It is to live in tranquility.
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