Tuesday, August 26, 2014
Freestyle Taoism can be incorporated into any religion or lifestyle, even atheism. Just ask yourself this on a regular basis: Can I do what I'm doing right now with less force than I'm using? Is there a less forceful way to get the same result I'm getting? Would less force bring an even better result?
The orthodox Taoist Cannon is over 1200 volumes. Mine is four words: Flow More~Force Less.
In any task, when I'm not using too much or too little force, when I'm flowing just right with the job at hand, nothing feels pushed or forced. I'm not making it happen in a forceful direct "I am doing this" kind of way. It doesn't feel like I'm doing that much and yet the job is getting done. I focus on this when I’m practicing martial arts, writing, singing, performing, teaching or just interacting with my wife and friends.
But even before I get to the point of doing any particular task, there’s the issue of which tasks to do in the first place. “Flow More~Force Less” applies not only to tasks themselves but to other larger questions like, Which task should I be doing? What is the best life direction for me? The best work? The best relationship?
What I do is to listen for what feels most deeply right to me, not just emotionally, but in every part of me overall. What actions or directions give me the that sense of rightness, aliveness, or Yes! When I find a course that feels right, I usually need less force to go in that direction, because it feels natural and seems to come from the inside out. In that state, less things need forcing.
But I'm not talking about achieving this state or living like this all the time, I'm talking about orienting towards this way of doing things. I'm talking about an ongoing inquiry into the amount of force one is using to get the results one is after in life and to choose one’s life directions. This is why I say “Flow More~Force Less” instead of “Don’t Use Force”. It reminds me to stay focused on the ongoing nature of this process.
Most of us use too much force so I focus on that first. But as I let go of more and more of my unnecessary tension, I can also inquire into where I might be too Yin, too passive and not using enough energy for the job. And all the while keeping in mind that life is not just simply a matter of managing my energy economy in a vacuum. There are all kinds of forces and levels of being that affect and limit my choices.
For instance, I'm tired, I'm in bed, I get a phone call from a friend saying that the river at the end of town is flooding and if a whole bunch of sandbags aren't piled up tonight the town is going to be flooded. In order to help with the sandbags, I have to "force" my body/self to do something it doesn't want to do, get out of bed, get dressed and work all night instead of sleeping.
So here is a case where I would accept that in this emergency, I have to go against what my body wants to do, and, once engaged in helping with the sandbags, I'll have to push myself past what's comfortable. I may have to pile bags for 8 straight hours to save my town and unless I drop magically into "the zone", I'll have to use some force to do this.
However, once on the job, I would still be looking to use my legs more than my upper arms while lifting the sandbags. I would notice the rhythm of the job and see where the best resting beats or times are and I would take advantage of those times to rest my muscles. I would be on the lookout for any way to get more work done with the least wastage of energy. So on the one hand I would be using force to get myself to and through the job, but I would also be looking to make the very most of that force by finding ways to use it as efficiently as possible. I find it helpful in life to know how to be very passive, as well as to know how to force myself to do things. But that "just right" balance point in between is what I orient towards.
This principle can be applied to all kinds of activities. I always start with "Can I get the result I want using less force?" But another avenue is, "Can I get a better result by using more energy?" Orienting toward the right balance of energy and task is one of my greatest pleasures. It makes unpleasant activities easier and pleasant ones more enjoyable.
But beyond personal pleasure the main reason Taoism prizes this state or this orientation is that there is an assumption that the forces around us, the ones that are constantly changing and challenging us, are controlled by the mysterious “Tao” or “Way” and reflects the deepest intelligence and genius of Nature. It is assumed, as a whole to be “good” or at the very least unstoppable and all-powerful. Aligning with this “Way” is what flowing more and forcing less is all about. We are flowing with the “Way” more and forcing against it less. This results in fewer injuries, a longer and happier life, less damage to other people and the environment, and a greater feeling of being a conscious part of an ever changing, beautifully balanced and awesomely well organized Universe.
Another example: I used to work in a cardiac catheterization unit when I was a young guy in Chicago. My job was to wheel out the instrument tray after the procedure, grab all the surgical tools that would need to be cleaned and sterilized, and throw out the disposable stuff. I would then wash all the tools and arrange them on a fresh tray. I would then wrap up this tray in cloth and it would be sent to be sterilized. Each doctor had his own special tray, with his preferred number and type of tools arranged in his own particular way. I remember two doctors in particular. There was Doctor Steiner who had a huge number of tools on his tray, was extremely short tempered, and whose procedures always took the longest time. And then there was Doctor Dhonda. I don't know how he spelled his name but he was from India and it sounded like DeHonda. He had hardly any tools on this tray, he was soft spoken and very well liked and his procedures were always the shortest with the least amount of complications. Even back then when I was barely 19, I could see the correlation between attitude, quality, efficiency and health.
People sometimes hear about this kind of “flow more~force less” philosophy and they think it would lead a person to being very passive and downright wimpy. I can’t speak for other people but I don't find it makes me too passive. Rather than seeing myself as a cork floating in the ocean, I think of myself as more of a surfer. Surfing is a great example of using less force, as is horseback riding. In both cases, one must surrender a more forceful kind of control in favor of a more co-creative kind of control, one that doesn't force the horse, wave or surfboard to do one's bidding, but one that's hardly passive either. Remember the goal is to use the right amount of energy for the job at hand. High-level athletes in many sports share this quality. They don't waste energy and there's an inside out kind of grace to their movements.
Some people seem to really like forcing things and using way more energy than is needed to get things done. I suspect the rewards of this kind of attitude are short-lived and that over time it tends to lead to injuries of one kind or another. But I don’t really know. Life is for learning.
“Flow more~Force less” isn’t for everyone, but it sure works for me.