On Living Naturally

by Christopher Lovejoy on October 21, 2012

In Passively, Naturally, I introduced readers to the beauty and power of passivity, of living passively, of letting be and letting go, of slowing down to welcome choice moments of unity and harmony.

But what of living naturally?

At peace, I remain open, I stay warm and receptive: it feels natural for me to be free to go where I feel inclined to go; with peace and love in my heart, it feels natural for me to allow others to be as they are without interference from me.

It feels natural for me to trust my inclinations, to be true to my inner guidance, even when reactivity rears its head in myself or another, and it feels natural for me to trust the flow of events in my life, even when I encounter resistance.

As I feel free to flow as water flows, I feel free to go where I feel inclined to go, naturally.

Tao Te Ching, Verse 8

In its crystal clear stillness, it serves as a mirror.

In its gurgling and babbling, it flows as and when it’s drawn to flow.

Evaporating, it rises; condensing, it falls and settles; trapped, it stagnates.

Grasp it and it slips away with ease. Sink your hands into it and it yields.

In its purity and freshness, it sustains, but never plans, never intends, never expects anything at all.

Water: it just is what it is; it just does what it does.

We have deep kinship with water; we are, after all, made mostly of water …

The supreme good
is like water,
which nourishes all things
without trying to.
It flows to low places
loathed by all persons.
Therefore, it is like the Tao.

Live in accordance
with the nature of things.
In dwelling,
be close to the land.
In meditation,
go deep into the heart.

In dealing with others,
be gentle and kind.
Stand by your word.
Govern with equity.
Be timely in choosing
the right moment.

One who lives
in accordance with nature
does not go against
the way of things.
One moves in harmony
with the present moment,
always knowing the truth
of just what to do.

Ref: Change Your Thoughts, Change Your Life: Living the Wisdom of the Tao

This verse invites us to go with the flow, to be as fluid as water, to flow as water flows, even in the face of resistance (from the soul), even in the midst of reactivity (from the spirit).

My Impressions of the Verse

Verse 8 of the Tao Te Ching reminds us that we need not always interfere, that we need not always take the hard way.

Rather, this verse invites us to flow as water flows, to align ourselves with the nature of things, to be at peace, to be wholly present to experience, to allow the peace of harmony to inform our relations, to inspire our actions.

The supreme good
is like water,
which nourishes all things
without trying to.
It flows to low places
loathed by all men.
Therefore, it is like the Tao.

Clean, clear, fresh water is a most worthy representative of the Tao.

Even dirty, muddy, stagnant water in a swamp has its place, serving as a potent reminder of what can happen when we fail to trump adversity with fresh activity and go with the flow or get back into the flow.

Many souls walk long distances upon the earth every day for clean, fresh water; curiously, the technology exists to filter the dirtiest, muddiest, most stagnant water with a device no larger than a thermos bottle.

People have been known to drink their own urine to keep themselves alive days after being buried by an earthquake.

Clean, clear, fresh water is a most worthy representative of the Tao.

Live in accordance
with the nature of things.
In dwelling,
be close to the land.
In meditation,
go deep into the heart.

I very much like this implied analogy as it suggests that living close to the heart is not unlike living close to the land (and vice versa).

In the nature of things, we can observe effortless ease in the way such things rise and fall, wax and wane, grow and die spontaneously in their own time, in their own way.

The invitation to accept and follow and honor our own natures is a healthy and vital one.

In dealing with others,
be gentle and kind.
Stand by your word.
Govern with equity.
Be timely in choosing
the right moment.

Be gentle and kind; stand by your word; govern with equity (fairly, impartially); be timely in choosing the right moment: I sense a certain logic here, a natural order in these sagacious words that speak to the cumulative influence of wisdom in a life lived naturally.

As a soul whose nature it is to regulate and apply the faculties of consciousness, conscience, and common sense to my encounters and experiences with others, I have it within me to exercise capacities to choose kindly, consistently, equitably, wisely.

One who lives
in accordance with nature
does not go against
the way of things.
He moves in harmony
with the present moment,
always knowing the truth
of just what to do.

Here we have hints of our reward for finding balance and wisdom in the ways of nature.

Implications for Personal Fulfillment

If given a choice with clearly attainable means, most of us would choose to be (mostly) content, happy, fulfilled, and free.

Three bedrock features influence the course of our lives, contributing to contentment, happiness, and fulfillment: nature, nurture, and culture. An informed discussion about nature, nurture, and culture, however, wouldn’t be complete without discussing anxiety.

Anxiety is ubiquitous, affecting everyone everywhere; anyone who is human has felt it mildly, acutely, even chronically, in one form or another, at one time or another. I would even go so far as to say that anxiety is the price we pay for being human.

I’m fortunate to have experienced every form of anxiety and to know it as such – existential anxiety around the adequacy of my nature, social anxiety around the quality and quantity of my nurture, and moral anxiety around the sufficiency of my culture – and all of these forms of anxiety conspire to generate performance anxiety – that is, if it’s your desire to perform.

I manifest and realize my anxiety in many ways: when I’m unable to relax, when my body feels tense, when my mind is preoccupied or thinking too much, when I’m too controlling for my own good, or when I’m feeling overwhelmed.

I’ve never known anyone to be inspired by anxiety, but it does inform us – that is, if we don’t block it, bury it, or distract ourselves from it.

With respect to nature, nurture, and culture, anxiety can inform us when we consider these questions:

  1. Is your nature – your temperament – easy for you to accept? And if you accept it, can you honor it?
  2. Do have niggling questions about your upbringing – about the ways in which you were or were not cared for?
  3. Are you overly concerned about being judged by others as not being good enough or worthy enough?

I suspect that contentment, happiness, and fulfillment align with nature, nurture, and culture, respectively. That is, for me to have congruency with all three, I would do well to be content with my nature, happy with my nurture, and fulfilled by my culture. I also suspect that nature, nurture, and culture combine synergistically, such that my feeling of personal freedom is deepened, broadened, and heightened, respectively.

In light of these suppositions, personal congruency seems to be the main objective of a good life and a life lived well, rather than contentment, happiness, fulfillment, or freedom alone, even if we don’t acknowledge this explicitly, and we are only as strongly congruent as our weakest contributor to congruency.

This is a post about living naturally, and so naturally, I’ll focus on the first of my questions in a context that includes the other two.

A carefree and prosperous lifestyle that is both meaningful and contributes to the lives of others is desirable and therefore potentially fulfilling. To this end, I would do well to orient my life in such a way that I can “follow my bliss” and “go with the flow”, to flow as water flows.

With this in mind, this would be my starting point: to be here now and to accept myself as I am wherever I am while also knowing that such acceptance serves as my basis for enacting and blessing positive, enlightened change in support of nurture and culture.

I am naturally curious, cautious, and reserved, but l warm up easily in supportive circles or environments. I am not easily distracted; when I focus on something, I can do so intensely, for long periods of time. Having said all this, I also tend to be highly sensitive and reactive.

I say “tend to be” because I know that I can be mindful of my highly reactive nature as and when this is called for. Also, natural tendencies are just that – tendencies. I can rise above them for a time, but this requires energy, and can be taxing, even exhausting.

If I know that I feel naturally inclined to be a certain way, then I can honor this way of being, even if this means caring for myself in ways that others couldn’t or wouldn’t, and even if this means facing up to others and speaking my truth when they judge the way they see me.

Having less than perfect parents or caregivers isn’t destiny, necessarily. If you can make sense of the story of your life, you can also be creative about changing your narrative – or you can drop it altogether, as some would advise you do. For myself, I see value in weaving a reflective, coherent, emotionally rich narrative of your ideal life(style), which artfully and skillfully incorporates elements of nature, nurture, and culture.

Either way, either through creating or through releasing, I see emotional security as a desirable consequence.

With emotional security, I can be at ease with who I am. With emotional security, I can feel cared for, both from within and with others. With emotional security, I can more easily exercise patience; be less restrictive, resistant, or reactive; and be more adaptable.

With emotional security, I can marry nature and nurture to flow as water flows. With emotional security, I can more easily recognize and accept that others are always telling me about themselves – not about me; that is to say, their perceptions of me are not me.

My perception of you is also not you. I can learn to massage the language, setting up buffers to defuse difficult emotions and maintain a witnessing presence: “I trouble myself when you say that to me”; “I concern myself when you neglect to do this for me”; “I annoy myself when you persist in doing that”; “I inspire myself when you do this with me.” The underlying premise here is that what I do to and for and with myself I inevitably do to and for and with another.

With a content and happy marriage of nature and nurture, needs are satisfied, and the cultural offspring are more easily fulfilled. Fulfillment and freedom are mine to enjoy; congruency is mine to cultivate and celebrate without limits.

If living passively (and wisely) is compensatory, then living naturally, flexibly, and divinely is exploratory.

Next up: Living with Enough (Or: knowing and respecting your limits so that you can go beyond them)

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This post is one of many in an ongoing series that began here.

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