There is a wonderful verse in the Tao Te Ching, chapter 76. This was written by Lao Tzu sometime around 600-500 BC.
"When life begins
we are tender and weak
When life ends
we are stiff and rigid
All things, including the grass and trees,
are soft and pliable in life
dry and brittle in death
So the soft and supple
are the companions of life
While the stiff and unyielding
are the companions of death
An army that cannot yield
will be defeated
A tree that cannot bend
will crack in the wind
Thus by Nature’s decree
the hard and strong are defeated
while the soft and gentle are triumphant"
This verse speaks of our flexibility being the key to life. At first glance, it is easy to think that it is talking about our physical flexibility, which is something that we strive towards with our yoga practice. However, after considering it for a little longer, it might become to open up with more meaning. Lao Tzu, the author, was not talking about physical flexibility, but instead how we face the world around us. Are we stiff and unyielding? Are we able to listen to other's ideas? Although we know what is best for us, do we often try to push our beliefs on others? Is it possible instead to be soft and yielding to those around us? To allow them to be who they are and not try to force them onto a path that looks like our own?
As parents, how many times have we told our children what to do? Of course they need guidance! It is how we do it though. How often does the conversation end with, "because I said so" or "because I am in charge"? Let me give you a better example with the age-old fight of trying to get our children to eat their vegetables. Of course, we can try to do this by forcing them to sit at the table and telling them that that they WILL eat them or there will be_____ (no dessert, an early bedtime, more veggies tomorrow,...). How effective would this hard, strong, unyielding approach be if you were the child in this example? What if instead we entered into a conversation with the child. Listening to them from OUR heart, maybe we talk to them about how the vegetables are grown and encourage them to take a few bites before completely dismissing them. Instead of trying to force them with our mind (ego), we approach them with our heart. This is the much softer approach that Lao Tzu was talking about.
How about in our workplace? How many times have we insisted that we knew the right answer to a problem we were facing and that there was no other way? And our boss or co-worker was a complete "jerk" for thinking it could be a different way? Maybe instead we could come to the realization that they have had a different experience in life and could have some very valuable insight, if we would just listen. Eventually we might come to the realization that they might even be right. Regardless, by listening to them we are able to open our heart more and learn a very valuable lesson in our lives.
In China, bamboo is a symbol for flexibility and a long life. In our lives, we often try to be the mighty and strong oak tree, instead of the flexible and swaying bamboo. The oak is easily broken down by a hard force, but the bamboo is soft and easy to bend out of the way . In yoga, Tree Pose is a perfect example of this. If we try to force Tree Pose and be hard and stiff, it takes very little force, or imbalance, for us to fall over. However, if we are able to be flexible and soft, Tree Pose becomes much easier.
In your life, which type of people do you prefer surround yourself with? The oak or the bamboo?