I got the inspiration for this article from one of the most poignant versus of the ancient Chinese philosophical principle the Tao Te Ching. It was written by a prophet named Lao-Tzu thousands of years ago. The Tao Te Ching still remains relevant in today’s modern time and is widely quoted and referenced in many spiritual books. The verse I wish to share with you today, is one that has been an incredible source of insight in my own life.
“A man is born gentle and weak;
at his death he is hard and stiff.
All things, including the grass and trees,
are soft and pliable in life;
dry and brittle in death.
Stiffness is thus a companion of death;
flexibility a companion of life.
An army that cannot yield
will be defeated.
A tree that cannot bend
will crack in the wind.
The hard and stiff will be broken;
the soft and supple will prevail.”
I have found this verse to be true on many levels of life, there is the physical level of the break-ability of something that is stiff and rigid. This principle is one of the core concepts of a Japanese martial art known as Aikido. Where the energy and force of ones opponent is redirected and used against them. If an attacker strikes with brute force and keeps their body tense they will be much more likely to suffer serious injury as their joints and body are more vulnerable to being manoeuvred against its structure. A significant part of the Aikido training is not only how to attack and defend oneself against an attack, but also how to fall and receive a defensive counter attack to prevent injury. This allows partners to train and practice their techniques in a harmonious manner that mitigates the risk of injury to either person. In order to avoid being injured they are taught how to relax the body, become flexible and move with the person performing the attack, rather than the instinctive desire to pull away from an attack or tense up from stress or fear. In Aikido they move in toward an attacker and pull their bodies close and fall away safely, they are taught to curl their bodies into a ball to roll away from being taken down or thrown to the ground.
This principle is not only important in the physical aspects of our life, it can also be applied to our emotional and psychological state of being. A person who is able to adapt to the circumstances of life and maintains a steady state of being that is flexible and not easily rattled or in constant flux depending on what is happening around them remain unbreakable in times of chaos, trouble and crisis. Adaptability means not being so rigid and stubborn in ones thinking and holding so tightly onto expectations of how life should be, but rather allowing oneself to bend and move with the blows of life.
I remember reading a book written by Donald Trump a few years ago and he talked about the time he and many other property developers in America suffered serious financial hardship during the property market crash in the 1990’s. Many successful and wealthy developers went bankrupt almost overnight, including Donald Trump. He recalls a period where he was walking with his daughter along the street and they noticed a homeless man begging for money with a few coins in his hat. He said to his daughter at that very moment the homeless man was richer than he was, as he was in debt for over $400 million. But what separated Donald Trump from other developers that went bankrupt during that time and have never been heard of again is his strength and flexibility of mind. Rather than allow that major set back to eat away at his core self belief, it made him more determined. He developed good relationships with bankers and was given an opportunity to rebuild his company. He did not allow what had happened to affect his mentality or his focus, and just moved with the situation rather than resist it, fight against it or let it adversely affect his state if mind and confidence.
I have found this philosophy has been a very valuable asset in my own life. Being diagnosed with a potentially terminal and chronic illness during my late teenage years I have coped with health issues for my entire adult life. After a long battle, three years ago I finally succumbed to my greatest fear and began full time treatment on life support. It felt like my life was over, however, unexpectedly I have never felt more alive and excited about my life than during this period of my life. I am still able to do what I love, I train for 3 hours twice a week in Aikido, practice yoga and Pilates on a regular basis and enjoy a very active and adventurous life. My doctors have expressed their astonishment with my level of fitness and stamina in keeping up with the physical pursuits. When I meet new people and tell them about my life the question I am asked most frequently is, how are your health issues not an impediment to your life? And I tell them that my greatest asset is my attitude, my ability to move with and not fight against my life’s circumstances, my refusal to quit and determination to always find a way to live my life to its fullest rather than be pushed down or broken by feelings of helplessness or self pity.
There are many people in the world who are amazing examples of how unbreakable the human spirit is, we all have this strength within us, but in order to have it we must learn to bend.