The Case for Chaos

December 2010 Issue of Whole Living Magazine
Article by Executive Editor Amy Maclin


Water is a common metaphor in Taoism, which may be the original argument in favor of going with the flow, says Derek Lin, director of Tao studies at the Great Tao Foundation of America in El Monte, California. “Water adapts to whatever container it’s in,” he tells me. “Like moving water, life can take off in any direction and cause you to lose your footing—but what we have to do is yield and remain whole.” According to the Tao, there’s a “way” of the natural world, an organizing principle of the universe that just is and can’t be fought: You’re admiring the perfection of an apple tree when a Red Delicious falls and hits you on the head. The beauty and the gravity are of a piece, and we have to meet it with wu wei, Lin says. Loosely translated as “nonstriving,” wu wei is not the same as greeting the world with a metaphysical Whatever. “It’s when we skillfully use our energy on things we can control, instead of wasting it fighting things beyond our control,” Lin says. “You’re at your best when you can approach a situation from a relaxed and detached mind-set. Dwelling on your various attachments—worries, concerns, anxieties—takes you out of that natural state of excellence.”

Lest you think Lin can say this because he’s nestled inside a tinkling pagoda: He has a day job as a manager in the tech field; for 12 years he went home at night to translate the Tao Te Ching (the primary Taoist text) from ancient Chinese. The Taoist masters lived in cities as well as rural settings and practiced the Tao in everyday life, Lin points out. “As we rub elbows with people, they provide a gauge as to the extent of our progress,” he says. “Living on a mountaintop doesn’t give us access to other people’s opinions and opportunities to help them, which is how we grow.” So we might not want a world in which we can shut people out with crime-scene tape.