“As soon as you trust yourself, you will know how to live.”
–Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
Hacking is all the rage these days. You can hack your sleep, hack your relationships, hack your mind, hack your anything really. The spirit of hacking is interesting. When I hear hacking, I hear a few things: solving, outsmarting, tricking, finding a shortcut, beating the system. Some of the wellness advice given in the spirit of hacking isn’t bad, but in my experience, hacking yourself and your life is far from the best spirit in which to approach yourself and life.
Hacking reflects an expanding trend of people exerting dominion over nature. None of us have to look very far to find clearcut forests, polluted rivers, and extinct species as the result of people thinking they knew better than nature. People have been increasingly going against nature for a few millennia with devastating consequences for all.
Hacking oneself is exerting dominion over oneself, over one’s nature. It’s a form of slave-master relationship with oneself. It’s you telling you what to do even when it’s not what feels good to you at all. It’s you feeling like you know better than you. It’s an organism, in this case a person, working against itself. It’s the epitome of unnatural. It’s a strained relationship at best, a tortuous one at worst.
You might be thinking that if you don’t control yourself, who will? “Self-control is the key to wellness, right? I have to be vigilant. I have to push myself to exercise. I have to watch what I eat.”
As a college classmate of mine is fond of saying: I call bullshit. In fact, vigilance isn’t related to wellness at all. You don’t need to control or hack yourself. In fact, there’s a wellness hack to end all hacking and it’s been around since long before there was a word hacking. Let’s start with two Taoist concepts.
The first is tian ran. Tian ran translates roughly to: that which happens of itself. Like how a heart beats.
The second is wu wei. Wu wei translates roughly to: with the flow of life. Like how the tide goes in and out.
Wellness, your natural state, happens of itself, when you go with the flow of life. You can’t make yourself well. You are well. You can, however make yourself unwell when you work against yourself.
I had the amazing opportunity to spend some with a great Taoist master recently. I met the master at a nearby trail in the woods. When the master first approached me, she was full of energy, almost bouncing as she walked, and smiling widely. She didn’t say a word, but I took in my first lesson: Live life with a spirit of play. Don’t toil, don’t strain: play with life.
I nodded and we walked. We walked for a 20 minutes or so, both enjoying the humid, salty air. Then, to my surprise, the master stopped walking. Instantly. Not like she was scared or anything; like she had something much better to do. She sat on the ground and I sat on a nearby fallen tree. She looked at me approvingly like she was doing exactly what felt best to her, then rested her head on my foot which became her perfect pillow for the occasion. Her eyes closed and she drifted asleep. And so I received my second lesson: Do what feels good when it feels good. In this lesson, Lola taught me something I hadn’t learned from priests or professors or anyone in a teacher role in my life growing up. Again: Do what feels good when it feels good.
The master didn’t think about this nap at all. She wasn’t walking along thinking, “Naps increase the release of human growth hormone which helps with exercise recover. A nap will make me fitter.” Nor did she think for a millisecond that maybe should could get something else done. Nor did she compare herself to anyone else thinking, “I wonder why Jason doesn’t need a nap.” At that time, everything in her being wanted a nap more than she wanted anything else. That happened of itself and she went with the flow of life. She napped. She didn’t rush and she didn’t hesitate. She napped when she wanted to nap, not sooner, and not later. The power in this lesson wasn’t so much that she decided to nap when she wanted to nap. At her level of mastery, she seemed to not even make decisions. Instead of controlling herself, she seemed to be allowing herself. She was allowing herself to be. It was powerful to witness. I took it all in while this living master rested her head on my foot. I rested too and watched her belly rise and fall as she inhaled and exhaled. It was beautiful.
Ten or so minutes later, the master awoke, looked right into my eyes and with a powerful look said: “Let’s walk.” She had even more pep now and danced along the trail. She walked beside me, in front of me, and behind me at times. She taught not with her words, but with her way. A short while later, she was getting warm, sweating more, and breathing more heavily. She looked right at the backpack I was carrying and said only a word: “That.” She knew exactly what she wanted and she wanted it now. Not with concern or urgency, but not with indecision or deliberation either. She simply knew what she wanted and she made her desire and her action one. I poured some water into a white ceramic cup for her. She delighted in the water for a bit, then looked at me smiling widely. I looked back at her, in turn starting to communicate without speaking, and said clearly, “Don’t you want more? It’s pretty hot out here.” Her smile never faded, and she flipped the cup over and over, laughing the whole time. She had enough water and was now enjoying showing me a few tricks. I couldn’t help but laugh in kind as my learning deepened. She drank when she wanted to drink and stopped when she had enough, all with a playful spirit. She didn’t measure her sweat rate to dial in the “perfect” amount to drink or add electrolytes to her water to “make it better”. Nope, no hacking here. She is a master of letting wellness happen of itself by going with the flow of life.
For years, I’ve been practicing the art of meeting my needs by doing the next thing that feels best. To be in the presence of a master was truly inspiring!
As we parted, I bowed in gratitude. The master grinned sarcastically at me. Her message, and my third and final lesson, again was clear: “I’m not a master any more than you’re a master. We can all live this way. It’s our natural way.”
At that time of our walk together, Lola, from the Taoist lineage known as black lab, was nine weeks old. She was adorable. We had a fun time together and I sure learned a lot.
Remember your mantra for today: NOURISHING MOVEMENT, NOURISHING FOOD, NOURISHING LIFE.
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