"The Master sees things as they are without trying to control them. She lets them go their own way and resides at the center of the circle."—Lao-tzu, The Tao Te Ching
While much has changed since the oxen-drawn wagon days of Lao-tzu, his wisdom on the art of living life "without trying to control" things and by staying "at the center" is still as relevant today as it was then, and perhaps, even more, considering our fast-pace live-styles and the changes to our work and family structures.
Let's face it. Gone are the days when mothers stayed home and minded the children, while fathers went to work and were the major financial providers. The "norm" today is a mixture of two-paycheck families, permanent single-parent households, unmarried couples, and remarried couples, all trying to balance the way things are. Add a child to the mix and finding your center amid the demands of work and obligations at home becomes, well, almost impossible.
Questions like, "How can we make it financially?' to "Who can we trust with our daughter or son when we both must go to work every day?" become paramount and create tension and conflict in a couples' life.
On the sea-saw of work and family balance, work, of course, usually gets the higher seat. While some corporations are becoming more sensitive to workers and their families, the majority still place the needs of the corporation first with family and personal needs second.
Isabella, an Account Manager for a local bank and a parent of a two-year-old daughter, Mia, says, "Dave and I found a good child-care worker, but then one day our child care worker got sick and we argued for hours about whose job was more important because one of us had to stay home with Mia."
Kevin, a Computer Exec who is recently remarried to Linda and has a seven-year son from a previous marriage, tells me, "I took an overseas assignment thinking it would only be for two-months. Well, two-months turned into six months. Linda and I talked almost every day through the internet. I thought everything was fine, but when I came back, I discovered Linda was resentful and was getting solace from an old boyfriend."
It's no wonder that the majority of divorces take place during the early stages of couple-hood when couples are challenged with the task of raising a child and finding a way to balance work, their relationship, as well as find time for a self-relationship, or as what many people call "me" time.
Yet if we take Lao-tzu seriously and learn to let things go and "reside at the center of the circle," we can balance the many pressure from of our work and family and still find self-fulfillment. What Lao-tzu is asking us to do is to step back, look at the big picture of our lives, and adjust our attitude toward life.
As human beings, we have four general or basic needs that create the big picture or circle of our lives; these needs are the physical, mental, social, and spiritual.
Steven Covey, time-management guru, in his book "First Things First," discusses these four basic needs and states that most people, in their attempt to fulfill them create what he calls “urgency addiction.” This results when you attempt to fulfill your needs by running at break-neck speed from one area of your life to another, attempting to get everything done.
The problem with this touch-base philosophy is that our needs as human beings are not separate, but are integrated, and attempting to compartmentalize them or treat them separately, only brings us further from our center, causing more stress and disharmony.
Life is truly a circle, every need flowing into the other. If your find yourself unable to fulfill one need it affects every other area in your life. Let's say, for example, your boss has asked you to stay late and complete a report that should have been done yesterday. Knowing your could lose your job and risk income that satisfies your physical needs, like paying the utility bills and putting food on the table, you choose to stay and work several more hours.
Choosing to stay and work late, however, means you'll have to forgo dinning out with your wife and attendance at your son's little league baseball game; two important social events that you enjoy very much.
Moreover, on the drive home from work both your need for mental peace and spiritual meaning may be compromised; you might begin to feel guilty for not being with the family and even some sadness or anger over your situation, thinking "what's life all about?
The key to staying balanced and maintaining inner poise when challenged with such life circumstances is to recognize your powerlessness and give up your desire to control everything. When you recognize you're powerless over life, you can gain what rabbi Rami Shapino calls "radical freedom," the ability to stay in the moment or center, and not be pulled asunder by the numerous responsibilities bidding for your attention from work and family.
An interesting theme from Lao-tzu's The Tao Te Ching is the concept of wei wu wei which means unforced action or doing by not doing. A person who acts with wei wu we does not attempt to fight life head-on, but steps aside like a skilled martial artist, and flows with the forces coming toward him, recognizing that the forces at play in one's life can only be controlled by giving up control.
When we meet life's constantly changing circumstance with a wei wu wei attitude, instead of hardening or bracing ourselves against our circumstances, we become less ridged and exhibit a softer, gentler approach toward life which allows us to listen to own hearts when it tells us to slow down, find some alone time, or seek greater solitude.
So let me ask you, as Lao-tzu might ask you, using his words, "Do you have the patience to wait till your mud settles and the water is clear? Can you remain unmoving till the right action arises by itself?" If so, perhaps you have found your center.