Issue #27 - The Art of Change: Embracing the Taoist Principle of 'Doing by Not Doing'

Philosophy Aug 8, 2023

Welcome to the latest issue of The Qi of Self-Sovereignty. The newsletter exploring what it means to be free in an increasingly not-so-free world.

Whether you're looking to locate your authentic self or investigate sovereignty, you're in the right place! In each post, with just a few minutes of reading, I aim to expand your awareness through a quote and a piece of content that made me go hmm...

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Thought-Provoking Quote:

"Nature does not hurry, yet everything is accomplished." - Laozi

Lately, I've been navigating what it means to be human— heavy emotions. While this experience has been undeniably painful, I know it holds the potential to pave the way for significant personal growth. Yet, in the present moment, my instinct is to immerse myself in consuming content and hastening the process of change. Reflecting on similar past experiences, I recognize this approach usually only intensifies my long-term suffering. Unproductive overthinking or a misdirected fixation on areas deemed important by my ego divert my focus away from the underlying pain and discomfort that must be confronted for genuine growth to occur.

...which leads me to the heart of this post: the concept of "doing by not doing." Paradoxical though it may seem, by embracing a state of being and allowing life's currents to guide us, change unfolds organically and productively, free from the constraints of forced effort.

From this recent experience, I've found myself contemplating the word "change." What has become apparent is my tendency to attach labels of "positive" or "negative" to the actions I undertake and the events unfolding around me.

"I want to be a force for positive change in this world."

"I'm doing this out of a desire to create meaning change."

"I'm guarding my mind against the invasion of negative thoughts."

"I'm locking the door to negativity, allowing only positive vibes to enter."

The problem with such internal labelling is that the notion of positive and negative are inherently subjective. Who we are, our upbringing and our surroundings determine which label we ascribe. What you might perceive as positive, I could view as negative, and vice versa. Moreover, the majority of situations or experiences do not fit neatly into binary categorizations of positive or negative. Behind every event lies a chain reaction— an intricate sequence of happenings that can subsequently result in growth or destruction, regardless of whether the initial event was perceived as positive or negative.

On a personal level, you've most likely been through a breakup or two... or five. In the moment, these heart-wrenching experiences seem unending, as if our very essence has been shattered. Yet, within these experiences, we forge a deeper connection with ourselves, unravelling insights into our interactions with others, refining our needs and values—essential for personal growth. However, at a surface level, we're prone to label a breakup as "negative."

Or consider, on a global level, the "negative" event that was World War Two. I doubt anyone would contest its status as a distressing tragedy, claiming countless lives—a fate you wouldn't wish upon your worst enemy. Nevertheless, from this harrowing event emerged:

  • The Nuremberg Code, which made way for ethical research principles and laid the foundation for bodily autonomy
  • A decline in colonialism, with many nations under colonial rule gaining independence and sovereignty due to changing global dynamics after the war.
  • Significant technological advancements in various fields, including aviation, medicine, and communication.

With this in mind, I started to question: What does change really mean? And is there such a thing as positive and negative change? Can we really drive positive change?

This introspective inquiry led me to realize that the impetus for change is often rooted in the egoic mind. Our ego assumes the role of a decision-maker, guiding our attention and energy towards what it considers the most expedient course for our efforts or, in the relationship example above, what might alleviate internal discomfort—often without considering what truly fosters growth. Many times such change only creates a wake of byproducts.

In an attempt to drive positive change by fostering connectedness, Mark Zuckerberg developed the social media platform Facebook. However, as I am sure you can agree, these digital platforms have only heightened social isolation. Furthermore, since Facebook has transitioned into a publicly traded entity, it is obligated to prioritize the interests of its shareholders. This shift has steered it away from its original purpose as a promoter of social connectivity, as profit is now intricately linked to heightened online activity—ultimately exacerbating the absence of genuine physical interactions.

The intrusion of the ego, driving "positive" change, can frequently lead to change that sacrifices personal growth or lacks alignment with our core values and convictions, leaving us worse off than when we started.

However, this is not to suggest that the ego orchestrates all change. Reflecting upon this, I asked myself: Who has influenced me most profoundly? It became evident that it wasn't necessarily those who had achieved "success" or spearheaded sweeping global shifts. Instead, it was individuals who authentically embodied their convictions. In their approach, the ego takes a backseat. They focus not on imposing external change merely for the sake of change or egoic recognition but on embodying and nurturing their internal values. By doing so, they create change on a passive level. Merely by being in the presence of these individuals, people, including myself, undergo a transformation in our own manner of existence.

These individuals, consciously or not, create change by simply being. In traditional Chinese philosophy, this is the concept of "doing by not doing," a fundamental principle of Taoism, emphasizing the idea of natural and effortless action in harmony with the flow of the universe. It suggests that true effectiveness comes from aligning oneself with the inherent order of things rather than forcing actions or outcomes.

This experience has shifted how I view change. Instead of lumping all change together, I see it as a spectrum. At one end lies passive change, characterized by natural and seamless actions aligned with our values. At the opposite end resides active change, which involves exerting effort driven by egoic motivations or change for the sake of change itself.

In the words of David Hawkins from his book, Power vs Force:

"Power is the alignment of our thoughts and actions with our highest values...Force, on the other hand, is the use of manipulation or coercion to get what we want."

I see change as a result of power, similar to passive change, while change driven by force as active change— our ego is calling the shots.

Moving forward, I'd like to take what my egoic mind is saying with a grain of salt. Although silencing the ego is no easy task, I recognize that change pursued solely for change's sake holds little value if it lacks direction and fails to harmonize with my authentic self and core values.

Now that's not to say that I will simply cease contributing to the world, believing change happens only by not doing. Instead, I want to deeply embody what I value, ensuring that when I do feel compelled to act, it is from a place in alignment with who I am and what I believe. Before pursuing action, I want to ask myself:

  • Why am I creating change?
  • Is this change in alignment with my values?
  • Am I pushing change to escape suffering?

To end, I hope that these personal insights can provide some meaningful value as you navigate the concept of change in your own life.

On a separate note, I just finished the final manuscript for a book I have been working on for the last nine months, The Hidden Cost of Money. It's now just a waiting game for the cover design and the internal layout for the print version of the book. I'm super excited to release my thoughts on how financial forces shape who we are and the world around us.

Thanks for taking the time to read this issue of The Qi of Self-Sovereignty. I hope you found it insightful.

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The future is bright!