Ease over Effort

Might happiness be found in letting go and going with the flow?

I remember a moment in my early university days when a new friend asked what I was studying. When I answered “Arts, majoring in philosophy” she looked at me, slightly perplexed as another friend piped up, “She’ll end up being a waitress.” This memory has stayed with me and brought with it many philosophical reflections (what’s wrong with being a waitress?!). So far, though, I have had a really satisfying work life that utilises the skills I developed in that degree, which is sadly more than I can say for many of my peers. 

What this, and so many other life lessons, has taught me is that if you go with the flow, do what you enjoy, and don’t push things that aren’t working then the universe will usually have your back.

In a society that encourages you to strive and succeed, choosing the path of least resistance is ironically an incredible achievement. Like riding a wave, how would it feel if you let life lead you in the direction it wants you to go? We might call this going with the flow, choosing ease over effort, or simply letting go.

I know it sounds a bit woo woo but there’s something mysterious and magic about it. And Chinese philosophy can help you to understand and integrate this magic into your life too.  

Discovering Taoism: The Wu Wei Way

One philosophy that embraces ease over effort is Taoism. Aimo Javier is a certified Tai Chi and Qigong instructor and long-term philosopher who lives and teaches in the Byron shire. Aimo introduces me to the concept of Wu wei – the Taoist principle of non-doing. Perplexingly, non-doing is not quite the same as not doing. In fact, Wu wei is an incredibly noble action, and at the heart of the Taoist philosophy. It’s a paradox, because it’s essentially trying not to try. There’s effort in the ease. Day to day it might mean being at peace while engaged in busy tasks and finding yourself ‘in the zone.’ Long term, it’s simply swimming with, rather than against, the current. Setting aside your ego and letting go of rigidity to respond neutrally to what life demands of us in truth (which is often clouded by our self-obsession). Aimo says, “Letting go is the key. Letting go without judgement and accepting things as they are. Just let go.” 

This idea of letting go can sometimes feel abstract and arbitrary. Ironically, letting go often requires some effort. If you want to move towards a life of greater ease, then you might have to exert a bit of pressure. It’s okay to want things and move towards them, but we must do this in an open and accepting way. Aimo says, “If you’re trying to create something, you have to do it from a space where you’re not trying too hard, but you can’t be totally passive either.” When you learn how to master this balance between action and acceptance, you learn how to be in the flow. 

Find your flow

Relax your body

Notice where your tension is and invite it to dissolve and release. Don’t force, just maintain a passive focus. Once you become practiced in this physical letting go, you can start to apply it to other areas of your life. 

Listen

What you put into the world comes back to you with powerful lessons. If you’re running around trying to make everyone happy and suddenly you get sick, break a bone or, you know, a worldwide pandemic hits – listen – maybe it’s a sign to slow down. 

Trust

You know that it’s not all about you – there’s no man in the sky curating your perfect life. But as a cog in the machine that is our world, mother nature is on your side – she wants you to be healthy and well. Trust the path that feels easy (or easier!), natural and right. 

Connect with nature

Recognise that you are part of something greater. Spend quiet, quality time in nature and notice your sensitivity enhancing and evolving, allowing you to listen and accept more fully. 

Notice where you’re forcing

Are there areas of your life where you feel like you’re constantly pushing and struggling? If things continually go wrong or feel strained, it might be time to change course. 

In the end, my arts degree led me to a career in yoga teaching and freelance writing. Work rarely feels like work because I love it. Sometimes the writing work slows down and I focus a little more on yoga, and vice versa. But I never put my head in my hands and worry about work or money, because I know they always come. In my personal life I sometimes must let go of things that aren’t going well too, and although that can be hard, it usually leads to greater health and happiness. Mostly, I trust that the universe is always pointing me in the right direction – and so far, it’s going pretty well.  

Words by Jessica Humphries for Being magazine

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