Be like water

Recently I have been studying 道德經 Dao de Jing also known as The Way of the Dao. This is the book that underwrites the philosophy of Taoism, which is not so much a religion as a way of life. I will leave the scholars, philosophists and historians continue to argue over the original date, author, and translations. What really interests me is the concept of the interpretations, in particular, one by Stephen Mitchell which can be found online here.

One particular passage I want to comment on today is Chapter 8 and how that can remain relevant in the professional development industry today. According to part one of this verse, the most supreme goodness or excellence is to be like water, which effortlessly nourishes and benefits all life while harming none. It can flow from the highest mountain to the deepest pit where no one would go. Therefore it is like the Dao.

Let’s think about that for a minute. While we search for the greatest, best version of ourselves do we stop to nourish the lives around us? Do others really benefit from your existence, or do they receive more harm? How do your words or silence affect those closest to you? What about your actions and inactions? When you strive to become a better person, do you even consider others or is the journey all about you? How about the flow of your life, when you are at a high point in life does it change the way you acknowledge or think about others compared to when you have fallen in the pit of despair? Does being in alignment with water, which doesn’t even think or have desires of its own, hold interest for you?

Self reflection and labelling

Taking time to reflect is probably the single most important Adulting Tool you will ever use. Seriously! How can you possibly know that you are growing and improving if you don’t look back to see if today was better than yesterday?? I know some people are parents or busy executives or whatever other excuses you want to throw at me. Hell yeah I said excuse!

Self-reflection can be done anywhere at any time by anyone, it is and forever will be 100% free, and YOU are the one in complete control.

I want you to take a minute to reflect on your thoughts about stereotypes and labels. We, humans, are pretty damn quick to put these on ourselves and other people, without really thinking about the consequences. What really happens when we allow people to do this to us?

Dreamer. Lazy. Ugly. Fat. Skinny. Old. Young. Too tall. Too short. Not pretty enough. Not smart enough. Not good enough. Should be better. Should work harder. Should be married and have kids.

We’ve all been labelled or stereotyped, but if you took any of these labels to heart, how heavy did your shoulders feel as you read them?

Now imagine if each of these were a brick you had to carry and you walked around with them all day and left them on overnight. How would you feel when you woke up? At the end of the next day? At the end of the week?

When you don’t practice self-reflection you simply don’t take off the bricks. When you don’t take off the bricks, they have a tendency to weigh you down and crush your heart. This can isolate you and can lead to feelings of anxiety, depression, even suicidal thoughts. These imaginary bricks literally have the power to take a life.

When you do practise self-reflection, you see the bricks and you laugh. You dance them off and know that no matter what anyone else tries to say or do, you are in control of your mind. This inspires and attracts other people to your light.

If it’s been a hot minute since you had a second to yourself and you have genuinely forgotten how to, look in the mirror and ask one simple question- Am I happy being who I am?

Sure you can ask yourself a string of other questions but it’s not necessary. If you recognise you are not happy being who you are, you can usually identify why, and from there you can start making changes right now.

Maybe you see you are still wearing your bricks. Maybe you see you threw some bricks at someone today. Maybe you see that you smiled at someone and made one of their bricks fall off today.

You are the only person who gets to choose your life. Choose well.