Monday, March 30, 2009

Stepping into the Whirlpool

In my previous post, I asked the question: How do we live? Each belief system attempts to answer this question. For philosophical Taoists, one answer comes from the metaphor of water. When we can learn not to force things and "go with the flow", we can lead lives most influenced by Tao.

In one sense, this seems like clear and straightforward advice. Don't fight against yourself. Go with the flow.

The problem, however, is figuring out what the flow is and where it is going!

Every so often, we look at our life and it takes on the appearance of a gentle meandering stream. On these rare occasions, it's easy to discern the direction of the flow. We grab an old inner tube and blissfully dangle our feet in the water as we slowly make our way downstream. We think to ourselves, "Why can't my whole life be like this moment?"

Far too often though, our lives look like raging rivers. Yes, we are still able to determine the direction of the flow, but find it very difficult to make our way into the channel. Sometimes the waters are moving so rapidly that we don't dare jump in for fear of drowning. Even when we rise to the challenge, jagged rocks and obstacles in the stream can knock us silly or worse. Going with the flow in these cases can be downright dangerous.

But the problem I think most of us encounter the majority of the time is when the waters of our life look like a whirlpool. The waters are swirling in all directions and it becomes next too impossible to discern any rhyme or reason to the flow. We are pulled in so many directions simultaneously -- by partners, parents, children, colleagues, friends and our own confused mind -- that it is very hard to know which way is up and which way is down.

So, how do we extricate ourselves from the whirlpool of complex society? There is no singular answer. What may work fantastically in one situation may fail dismally the next time. The best answer I can provide is to be open to a variety of strategies and possibilities.

Of course, most humans don't like to hear an answer that states there is no true answer. In a world of constant change, we crave certainty. For me, this explains why there are so many self-help gurus ready to fleece us of our money in exchange for false 1-2-3 recipes. They offer us the mirage of certainty where none actually exists.

If I ever write a self-help book, I already know the title -- I Can't Help You! Hmm. I probably wouldn't sell very many copies. :-)


  1. I don't like the "we have all the answers" type solutions of faith, religion or self-help .. That is why I was determined to mark my own path.

    Yet my wife does have an answer for all things; good or bad, happy or sad..

    "nothing lasts"

    It is a very powerful and useful saying.

  2. I find this topic fascinating. To me, this is THE central question of anyone interested in any sort of spiritual path. "How, then, shall we live?"

    Of course, there is no single answer, for their is not single path. Ever day, every minute is different, and you ultimately just have to "feel" your way along. Everyday is practice.

  3. I found out recently that the way I am trying to live my life is Taoist, with the live and let live attitude.

    I read the book The Tao of Pooh this week, that's how I know.

    But as you say, my life is a whirpool, I just don't know where to go. But while reading your post I had an aha-moment. I should try all the directions one by one, and settle for the one that feels good. Also, I shouldn't tire of trying the multitude of directions until I find one that will do--for a while at least--until the whirlpool start moving again.

  4. Tao,
    You're married to a very wise woman indeed.

    Ya know, it's said that practice makes perfect. I have never found that to be true though. As you write, we must simply feel our way along the path.

    That's the trick in life. We never know which path -- at any given point in time -- is the correct one. So, it's good to be open-minded and to be open to think "outside the box".


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