The supreme good is like water,
which nourishes all things without trying to.
It is content with the low places that people disdain.
Thus it is like the Tao.
In dwelling, live close to the ground.
In thinking, keep to the simple.
In conflict, be fair and generous.
In governing, don’t try to control.
In work, do what you enjoy.
In family life, be completely present
When you are content to be simply yourself
and don’t compare or compete,
everybody will respect you.
-from the Tao Te Ching by Lao Tzu
When I first laid eyes on this story some five years ago, I was struck by its simple suggestions; strive to be a good person but also to be content in being yourself. And although this is one of the cornerstones of the organization I get to serve with, I took it for granted. Over the course of the past five years I cannot count the number of times I tried to control everything around me, that I was unfair, that I wasn’t present, that I stayed away from all the things I was afraid of, and perhaps most importantly, how much I strived to be the person I thought other people needed me to be.
To be honest, this approach worked for a long time, I was good at my job, I was in a solid relationship, and had some of the best friends – I thought life was good. Then six months ago it seemed like everything had come crashing down all at once, I moved away from the city I’d called home for the past three years, my just-as-long relationship had come to an abrupt end, I was starting a new job with a steep learning curve, I’d left some of my best friends, and my car got broken into. I’d quickly gone from being on top of the world to one of the darkest periods of my life. I was going to bars every night searching for who knows what and I wasn’t finding it anyway.
Thankfully I found help in the form of a psychologist who, in three short months helped me process through all the things I’d been running from – failure, my family, abandonment, loss, and deep self-loathing.
My journey since hitting that lowest low has been a beautiful one. I’ve learned how to sit in silence with myself, to count to ten before I respond to a tense situation, to leave when I’m uncomfortable. All things I couldn’t ever see myself doing before. Most importantly though, I’ve learned how to listen to myself and to figure out who I want to be for me. I’ve felt a significant shift in my disposition over the past four months; I’m less reactionary, more willing to listen, and more committed to refining myself. I’ve reconnected with my family in a way I never thought possible and I’ve been meeting some great people in much healthier settings.
Don’t get me wrong, six months ago I felt as though I was at the lowest point I could possibly reach and that sucked. A lot. But without that experience, the pain of things staying the same wouldn’t have exceeded the opportunity to turn everything around.
I am like water.