Chinese philosopher and mystic Lao Tzu wrote the Book of the Perfect Way (Tao te Ching) around 400 B.C.
But don’t let that old date fool you.
The Tao te Ching is full of wisdom and practical advice that can help you live and succeed in life right now.
Even better, Lao Tzu’s philosophy introduces you to ideas that can bring you real fulfillment and maturity.
The key is in letting go, but many people get wrong exactly what is meant by this and how to do it.
Let’s dive in…
1) Stop clinging to mind
The first lesson of Taoism is to not believe all the stories your mind tells.
Lao Tzu urges us to stop clinging to names, definitions and beliefs.
“I am X, you are Y.”
“I am this ideology, you are that ideology.”
Instead of giving us security and stability, our mental fixation breaks us from the present moment and weakens us.
“What the Tao Te Ching does, time and time again, is attempt to show us how we might see things if we could spend more time in awareness, and less in naming.”
2) Accept what is
Accepting what is happening does not mean liking it.
It means acknowledging that many events in life are outside your control.
This is just a fact, and the more we resist it and refuse to let go, the more we cripple our ability to to focus on what is in our control.
“Untie your knots, soften your glare, settle your dust. This is the primal identity.”
3) Live the now
The present moment is where we have power.
The past and future do matter and are worth considering, but if they control us with fear or excitement they take us away from our power right now.
Lao Tzu encourages people to see the potential in each moment instead of focusing on what’s gone by or what might come.
“Fill your bowl to the brim and it will spill. Keep sharpening your knife and it will blunt.”
This brings up the next point…
4) Flow with change
Lao Tzu advises us to flow with change, like the tree that bends with the wind and becomes stronger and stronger.
When we refuse to change or deny change, we blind and weaken ourselves.
We’re like the straight and brittle tree that snaps when the heavy winds hit.
When we let go of our version of what things “should” be, we open ourselves up to what can be and the power of the present.
“If you realize that all things change, there is nothing you will try to hold on to.”
5) Listen to your heart
Society, advertisers, corporations and governments all want to tell us what to think and what to feel.
Lao Tzu urges us to tune out the noises and listen to our heart.
Deep inside we know who we are and what we want, and the more we follow our heart the more we live an authentic, meaningful life.
Know yourself at a deep level by learning the beauty and ugliness in your own heart.
“Knowing others is intelligence; knowing yourself is true wisdom.”
6) Silence is the key that unlocks a thousand doors
Silence is something that Lao Tzu and many other philosophers encourage as a state of meditation and interaction.
Silence is golden, as you may have heard. It’s a form of letting go of the need to try to control and steer people, situations and outcomes to what we think we need or want.
There’s a time for words, to be sure.
But in many cases, remaining silent when you could speak (even speak to yourself) is the key that begins allowing doors to open and new opportunities to present themselves.
“Countless words count less than the silent balance between yin and yang.”
Humility is a very underrated quality.
Everything from social media to modern image-making encourages us to be full of ourselves and show how special we are.
Taoism urges the opposite:
Be humble. Good fortune comes and goes, and you’re not so special (nor so cursed) as you may imagine.
Stay humble and love yourself without being egotistical.
“When you are content to be simply yourself and don’t compare or compete, everyone will respect you.”
8) Stop seeking happiness
The more you try to be happier, the more miserable you become.
That’s because you’re living in the mind instead of in reality and awareness.
When we let our mind and desire guide us, we make happiness a prize that we will attain.
We lose sight of the inherent happiness and vitality inside us right now.
“My teachings are easy to understand and easy to put into practice. Yet your intellect will never grasp them, and if you try to practice them, you’ll fail.”
9) The Tao always includes yin and yang
Yin and yang are the two poles of the phenomenal world. They both attract and repel.
Nothing is totally yin, nothing is totally yang from our bodies to spiritual energy.
When we see the potential in dark or dangerous energy and the problem with receptive and soft energy, we begin to realize that a simple “good vs. bad” label has more to do with our need for control than reality.
We all need limits of what we’ll accept or not, but at the same time, the Tao te Ching urges us to see opportunity in frustrating people and situations.
“What is a good man but a bad man’s teacher? What is a bad man but a good man’s job?”
10) Don’t fear the first step
Lao Tzu and the Tao te Ching encourage us to take action without being tied to the result.
When we act out of our heart and without fear or hope, we put our will and energy into the moment.
This helps balance and use yin-yang energy and ensures that whether we succeed or fail, we find value in the experience.
“Things arise and she lets them come; things disappear and she lets them go. She has but doesn’t possess, acts but doesn’t expect. When her work is done, she forgets it. That is why it lasts forever.”
This ability to act without fear or idealization also ties directly into the next point…
11) The secret of wu-wei
The Taoist concept of wu-wei means to do without doing.
It means to be outcome independent and to not cling your wellbeing to the success or failure of your ventures.
It means putting in your full effort with none of your identification.
It means trying hard but also knowing how much is out of your control in anything you work toward.
It means finding joy in the journey itself and dedicating yourself fully to your work in the moment but then being able to let go when you move to the next thing.
“Rushing into action, you fail.
Trying to grasp things, you lose them.
Forcing a project to completion, you ruin what was almost ripe.
Therefore the Master takes action by letting things take their course.
He remains as calm at the end as at the beginning.”
12) Practice the four cardinal virtues
Lao Tzu and the Tao te Ching urges us to practice the cardinal virtues:
- Revering life and nature. We’re all lucky to be alive and it’s incredible how powerful and majestic nature and existence is when you think about it.
“Nature is not benevolent, and it is with a certain indifference that it avails itself of everything for its ends.”
- Sincerity and honesty are always key. We need to especially be honest with ourselves about what we don’t know.
“Whoever knows his ignorance reveals the deepest wisdom. Whoever ignores his ignorance lives in the deepest illusion.”
- Kindness and compassion matter in all our dealings and are necessary for success in life.
“He who has no confidence in others cannot gain their trust.”
- Service and helping others bring much more to us than we can ever give. The more we give the richer we get.
“The Master has no possessions. The more he does for others, the happier he is. The more he gives to others, the wealthier he is.”
13) Enjoy the trip
Lao Tzu’s purpose is to get us to be aware and live.
His desire is that we stop seeking answers and embrace the wordless Tao, or cosmic balance and purpose, that is contained in all things.
We can let go by daring to live despite the highs and lows, and daring to love even when it can break our heart.
To feel joy and pain without becoming them.
To be happy or sad without letting it overtake us.
To live life with verve and courage even if it sometimes feels like we’re alone in the dark without a flashlight.
“A man with outward courage dares to die; a man with inner courage dares to live.”