If you’re feeling lost in life, these 12 teachings from Lao Tzu will help you

Lao Tzu was an ancient Chinese philosopher born in 571 B.C. and went on to write the Tao te Ching

Don’t let the old dates fool you, Lao Tzu has wisdom that’s still groundbreaking today and even more relevant and powerful than ever.

He went through many of the same struggles as the rest of us, but Lao Tzu reached a place where he found real answers and real peace with life, mortality, love and loss. 

Here are Lao Tzu’s top teachings that will help guide you if you’re feeling like life isn’t making any sense! 

1) Embrace change

Change is the one part of life that none of us can change. 

We all exist within time, and change is an inevitable byproduct of time. 

Even stones become sand over a long enough timeline, breaking down from solid objects to tiny grains that feel soft to the feet. 

Some changes happen slowly, some occur on the turn of a dime. 

Either way, the individual who accepts the inevitable nature of change has much more inner peace in life. 

As Lao Tzu says: 

“Life is a series of natural and spontaneous changes. 

Don’t resist them; that only creates sorrow.”

2) Let go of labels

Language is a highly useful and fascinating part of human evolution. 

One of its downsides, however, is the need to categorize and label everything, particularly human beings. 

From a young age many of us are taught to believe that our labels and categories define who we are. 

In the process, we often lose who we really are and feel very lost in life! A being and individual who is far beyond any simplistic labels. 

Lao Tzu urges us to avoid defining and labeling ourselves. Exist, interact, and be who you are without feeling the need to define (or justify!) to yourself or others who you are. 

Lao Tzu encourages us all to be ourselves without the labels.

“He who defines himself can’t know who he really is.”

3) Drop the need for outer validation 

Part of the slippery slope with getting lost in labels and societal expectations is caring a lot about what others think. 

This centers your power outside of yourself and puts your value and identity in the hands of others. 

It makes it so you self-sabotage everything you do, seeking the stamp of approval before you can feel a buzz of pleasure and accomplishment. 

Lao Tzu urges everyone to let go of the need for outer approval.

“Care about people’s approval and you will be their prisoner.”

4) Be generous 

Most of us would like to think of ourselves as generous, and perhaps many of us are. 

It’s certainly true that I have many colleagues and friends who do generous things. 

But for Lao Tzu, generosity goes beyond just sometimes doing generous or giving things. 

It involves a mindset shift from “what will this get me?” to “how can I give in this situation?”

Lao Tzu emphasizes that giving is actually the best way to receive something more beneficial than possessions or objects. 

“The sage does not hoard.

The more he helps others, the more he benefits himself. The more he gives to others, the more he gets himself.” 

5) Help others

When it comes to generosity, the greatest form of generosity and giving is offering your time and energy to others. 

Many of the times I felt most lost in life I was sure that I’d never find my way. 

But it turns out that feeling more on my own path didn’t require more discernment or better choices, it just required focusing a bit more on helping others find their path. 

We’re designed to help others, and even though modern consumer culture can steer us away from this mindset, try helping a few people for a day or two and see how you feel. 

The proof is in the pudding. 

“When we return to our natural state of helping others, we find a life of true purpose and find joy from making other people’s lives easier,” notes Lachlan Brown.

6) Practice gratitude

Gratitude comes naturally when you start giving and interacting more with others. 

The mere fact of being alive is a miracle, and it’s fine to be overjoyed about that even if it’s almost all you have going in your life right now. 

Gratitude is powerful, but it has to be genuine. 

When you feel appreciative of what you have, it creates deep empowerment and peace within you. 

Lao Tzu is a major advocate of gratitude, saying that real wealth is in realizing how blessed you already are.

“If you realize that you have enough, you are truly rich.”

7) Listen more than you talk 

The world is full of talkers and people trying to sell, convince, joke or even just hear their own voice (or read their own posts). 

Lao Tzu’s advice is to take a break from the noise and control your desire to be heard, understood and valued. 

Just as in the point about lessening the need for outer validation, it’s important to decrease how much you talk when unnecessary. 

There’s a reason that many of the wisest gurus and spiritual and religious leaders seldom talk or speak in parables and sometimes confusing riddles. 

It’s because they are trying to teach their followers the value and authenticity in listening and in experiencing life instead of always talking over it. 

Lao Tzu says that generally speaking the most talkative folks are the least knowledgeable.

“Those who know do not speak. Those who speak do not know.”

8) Never let emotions control you

Emotions can carry truth in them, but like everything in life they come and go. 

It’s important not to just trust what’s beautiful and hate what’s ugly. 

Some of the kindest souls have an ugly appearance and some of the most vicious serial killers like Ted Bundy look like a model. 

When it comes to words and ideologies it’s the same:

Many ideologies which sound pleasing to the ear disguise a deep darkness and resentment underneath, while many ideas which sound a bit bracing or unusual are actually truthful and liberating. 

 “The truth is not always beautiful, nor beautiful words the truth.”

9) Fight to win

When conflict does occur in life, Lao Tzu encourages us to let the hate and anger of our opponent wear them out and exhaust itself. 

When it comes to fighting for survival or basic things, Lao Tzu isn’t a complete peacenik. 

He recognizes that sometimes you do need to compete, fight for your basic rights and survive. 

But when it comes to such situations, Lao Tzu advises us not to let our emotions and passions cloud our ability to actually engage in combat.

“The best fighter is never angry.”

10) Stay humble 

As you go through life, you may accomplish many things, fail at many things and remain up and down about many of your goals. 

But whatever great things you do and however knowledgeable you become, Lao Tzu encourages humility

He says that the truly wise individual is somebody who realizes how much of life will remain a mystery no matter how much knowledge we accumulate.

“The wise man is one who knows what he does not know.”

11) Avoid the outrage machine

Lao Tzu encourages avoiding fighting and conflict when you can. 

Those who mistreat others and are full of attachment and self-delusion usually wear themselves out. 

He says that if we avoid controversy, disputation and useless arguments we avoid ourselves a lot of pain and useless heartache. 

“Give evil nothing to oppose and it will disappear by itself.”

12) Don’t dread endings

Taoism is a philosophy that seeks to work together with existence and nature instead of against it. 

Part of nature and time is that things come to an end. 

But often the endings that make us sad or hurt us are not as bad as they seem. 

If we can reorient the way we look at them, sometimes painful endings like breakups can actually be the start of something brand new and wonderful. 

Of course, that’s only something which we can see one day in retrospect. But knowing it’s possible is something Lao Tzu urges us to keep in mind. 

“New beginnings are often disguised as painful endings.”

Finding your way

Taoism is all about finding a “way” of life. It has no real firm rules or ideology, because it’s about the avoidance of rigidity. 

Taoism is about aligning yourself with a living, sacred force that runs through all existence, both sentient and non-sentient. 

The more you allow yourself to naturally align with Tao, the more your life will start making sense and you won’t feel the need for strict definitions and all the answers. 

In the mystery and the flow of the river itself, you’ll find the answer you were looking for. 

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