Somewhere between nothing matters and everything matters, you find how out to approach life with a playful seriousness.
It wouldn’t help you to get caught up at either end of that spectrum. If nothing matters, then why do anything at all? (Other than seeking out food, shelter, and water just to stay massively depressed) And if everything matters, how in the world could you possibly function under such enormous pressure? Would anxiety not cripple you to the core?
As with everything, I want that happy medium, that middle blend, that Goldilocks zone of existential motivation.
Willow trees, surprisingly, have a lot to teach us about life & how to approach it.
They handle the strong wind with ease and handle their environment with immense grace. They are stern at the core, yet flexible on the edges. You contrast this with an oak tree. Sturdy, yes. But also rigid to a fault. Throw enough wind or pile up enough snow and it’ll break. The willow? It’ll adapt until it springs back to its natural shape.
We can be like this too.
In the Tao De Ching, Lao Tzu drops a beautiful line where he says:
“Men are born soft and supple; dead they are stiff and hard. Plants are born tender and pliant; dead, they are brittle and dry. Thus whoever is stiff and inflexible is a disciple of death. Whoever is soft and yielding is a disciple of life. The hard and stiff will be broken. The soft and supple will prevail.”
We can be unwavering on the deepest things, yet yield, entertain, and humor all else. It doesn’t hurt us. It doesn’t take from us. It only makes us more flexible and I see no downside to that.
All stretch, no snap.
Just because you can’t explain something articulately doesn’t mean you’re wrong.
Reject labels that others want to apply. Reject judgment for your lack of words. Trust what you know. Trust that with practice you will eventually find ways to speak it. And if you want, avoid having the confrontation in the first place.
Alan Watts told a great story on this point about these two swordsmiths in old Japan:-One was considered the greatest around and the other slightly inferior.
One day they had a test to see who made the best blade.
The second-best wordsmith went first and placed his sword tip-down into a stream, perpendicular to the water. They put a piece of paper on top of the water upstream to float down towards the blade. The sword, thanks to its high craftsmanship, slit through the piece of paper and then the paper joined together on the other side of the blade and continued floating down the stream. Folks wondered how the other guy’s sword could get any better than that.
So the greatest swordsmith put his blade in the water, and they set a piece of paper to float towards it. And instead of it being slit in two like the other paper, it simply floated around the blade, avoiding it altogether.
Lack of confrontation isn’t always a weakness. Sometimes it’s the greatest strength.
Suffering is life’s main ingredient.
But there’s a significant difference between passive suffering and purposeful suffering. Thank the almighty heavens we can choose what we suffer for.
In the same way that your own 40lb child feels much lighter than a 40lb object, the weight of the world you carry when you’re on a mission is drastically different than the crushing heaviness of meaningless existence.
Problems are always a part of the weather. And if you can figure out a way to expect them and handle them with some degree of nobility, you are set for life.
Turns out there can be a lot of overlap between building design and building a life. John Ruskin (unknowingly perhaps) tells us how to live life better.
It's never too late to stumble upon an underlying principle of reality. (Especially one that can be put to use immediately)