I was swimming today and my kids joined me. They rarely swim with me now that they’re teens. But when they were elementary school age, they loved being in the pool.
Today, one floated in the pool with me. The other sat on the edge testing the water, talking about the science of pH. Recreational time with my teens is so important. Our conversations wander. Sometimes it’s quantum physics, sometimes it’s the newest Star Trek Online release, and sometimes it’s water.
Today, we talked about water, how it’s soft flowing around our legs. My youngest pointed out if you tried to push through it fast, however, it becomes hard.
He thinks about life and philosophy a lot (he’s the one to bring up quantum physics), and after I connected that observation to Dao, his analytical mind immediately identified the problem with my belief.
I say “problem” because that’s what critics, like my son, say. The “problem” with Laozi is he’s a fatalist, even a nihilist. After all, isn’t he telling us willpower may be a problem, that competition is a failure of imagination, and that life’s foundation is chaos born of creativity?
Like water, Dao flows and when we move with it, we find peace. When we fight the current or push through the softness with demanding strokes, we struggle. It’s the difference between trying to make options appear versus choosing among the options that do appear. It’s the difference between deciding who we’re going to be versus discovering who we are.
For my son at 14, Dao is limiting. Daoism tells him that life is mysterious and unpredictable, so contrary to his perception, his days are not really about making his life happen as much as responding to what happens. He sculpts his life from the clay he’s given and finds that depressing.
To me at 53, Dao is unlimited. Daoism tells me that life is mysterious and unpredictable, so as I’ve discovered, my days are not about structuring everything around me, but adapting and responding. I sculpt my life from the clay I’m given and find that exciting.
Life is the creativity of the storyteller, not the blueprint of the architect. I love approaching life this way because I’m liberated from the responsibility of making things happen, making things work, from achieving and competing. I leave all those “shoulds” behind and simply live my story.
My dad once told me he had had a happy life because he never really had any goals. He told me that when I was young, and I found it funny. Of COURSE you’ll be happy if you never care to achieve something, I thought, because you never struggle and compete, risking failure. In time, I saw his words differently, because my dad absolutely had failures and successes, sad times and hard times, joy and blessed events. He only meant he didn’t live with a plan. He had no expectations from life but took what came his way.
I’m so much my father’s daughter.
I find the uncertainty, the surprises, the serendipity to be the joy in life. I prefer not to know what’s coming next, not because I fear it, but the joy of life is the process of adaptation. I so much don’t want to predict and plan that I don’t even want to know what’s going to happen next in my fiction writing: I’ve never written an outline but the story unwinds on my keyboard. This adaptation to the unknown is another feature I love about CrossFit: different work outs every day and I never try to look ahead at what they are before I show up.
I’ve made so many strange turns in my life, lived vastly different lifestyles in nearly every decade, and I could not have planned or predicted most of what happened.
I embrace change. In fact, I’ve had people tell me I am “change incarnate,” but I’m sure that’s because it is a hard experience for them.
Seeing my children grow up has been a hard change for me. Every age is a joy to see, but there’s grief at the loss of the former, and I could never have predicted those feelings. I miss my cuddly babies, my curious toddlers, my preteen adventurers. This loss, more even than deaths I’ve experienced, has softened me to the difficulty many people have with change.
So I appreciate the lesson…and keep coaxing my kids to swim with me.