3 Underrated Taoist Principles That Have Simplified My Existence


A game-changing Eastern philosophy that revolutionized my relationship with nature and productivity.

Image from bigthink.com

Imagine a life where every single decision you had to make became like venom infecting your mind with overcomplication. Now imagine a life where everything flowed freely, and you went about your day in the simplest manner.

Which one would you choose?

Taoism is an ancient Chinese philosophy that came from the writing of the 4th-century philosopher Lao Tzu. There is something about Taoism that feels like it is perfect for the 21st-century world, where we have approximately 35,000 decisions to make a day, phones in our pockets that send us into a frenzy of digital addiction, and enough instant gratification to fry our dopamine receptors.

Taoism is about fitting in with the flow of the natural world. It requires you to let go of all the forceful tensions you experience in daily life and just go with the flow. Yes, it’s as simple as that. It teaches you how to embody the slogan of “go with the flow” in the simplest and most effective manner. This is why it’s become one of my favorite philosophies.

If you have ever felt a connection with nature, or value the natural world, this philosophy is for you. It’s the easiest philosophy I’ve come across that can really and truly impact your life on the spot after reading a few quotes and understanding the simple premises of it.

#1 Wu Wei: How To Get The Most Out Of Doing Nothing

Wu Wei more or less translates to “without doing, causing, or making.” Pretty much, it’s telling us that when we do something, it doesn't require the effort we think it does. I’m a serial procrastinator with my writing, I just spent an hour doing nothing because I perceived this article as a task of maximal effort. I went directly against the principles of Taoism until I caught myself and reversed it instantly.

Taoism as a philosophy is about following The Way’ and is centred around this. Achieving The Way this just requires you to be at peace when you are partaking in your daily endeavors.

Too many of us swim against the current in life, but what about just letting the current take us? What if we could be as easygoing as a tree that sways in the wind, just taking life as it comes without the unnecessary stress and pressure that society seems to project onto us from such a young age.

For me, it helped to think of it like this: make your actions as effortless as the natural processes of the world.

“Nature does not hurry, yet everything is accomplished.” — Lao Tzu

Embracing Wu Wei is probably the most simple way anyone can apply eastern philosophy. If there is one thing that Wu Wei has taught me, it’s to not think so hard with a tense mind. When you try too hard with something it doesn't work. Try to pick something up with a fully tensed arm, then try the same when your arm is relaxed. It’s easier relaxed.

Nature is the role model for pure freedom and pure thought, the simplest minds often end up succeeding the most.

The same applies to the mind. When you develop a mind that tries too hard, you will think too much to the point where your thoughts will overtake your capacity to actually take action. It sounds absurd but I know it happens to all of us.

That’s why we should look to the natural world when studying Taoism. Do the deer roaming free in the forest try so hard? No, they just are. Nature is the role model for pure freedom and pure thought, the simplest minds often end up succeeding the most.

“Then you realize that even if you'd tried to make it all turn out perfectly, you couldn't have done better, and if you’d really tried, you would have made a mess of the whole thing.” — Benjamin Hoff, The Tao of Pooh

Wu Wei shows us how to exist in a peaceful state. It proves that our chronic overcomplication of the world leads to nothing positive. When one relaxes the tensed mind, and just is, “The Way” is with them.

Photo by Samuel Silitonga from Pexels

#2 Become Water: The Art of Flow

“Water is the softest and most yielding substance. Yet nothing is better than water, for overcoming the hard and rigid, because nothing can compete with it.” — Lao Tzu

In the last week, I went out of London (where I live) to a nice scenic seaside location. Living in a megacity doesn't give me as much of an opportunity to see the beauty of nature. But on this trip, I’ve been surrounded by water.

Whether it’s the endless waves just crashing on the shore, or when I took a boat out on a local lake, observing the serenity of the calm water. These experiences of being by water in nature and the feelings of peace I feel are actually central to Taoism. Water is the biggest metaphor used in Taoism.

Nothing can stop water, all it takes is a tiny crack and the water will surpass the obstacle.

In the Tao Te Ching, Taoist philosopher Lao Tzu celebrates water for its flexibility, treating it as a metaphor for life. We should flow freely, with flexibility, not approaching our obstacles with rigidity. Rigidity is the enemy of Taoism. Embodying the beautiful flowing nature of water requires complete and utter mental flexibility.

What does this mean? It means that when you take a passive approach like water, you can move through everything. Nothing can stop water, all it takes is a tiny crack and the water will surpass the obstacle.

This goes back to the current of life. If we are never willing to change our viewpoints or admit that our life needs to go in a direction we didn't plan for, and never go along with the current or wind of life, we become as stiff and as hopeful as a dead twig stuck in the mud

Photo by Artem Kniaz on Unsplash

#3 T’ai Hsü: The Great Nothing — Less Is More

Now if a philosophy I was interested in was telling me to literally do nothing, I’d think it was a diabolical demon sent to snatch away everything productive I had going for myself. But again, my typical Western attitude failed me, I was wrong.

In Taoism, there is something mysterious and magical that contributes to ultimate fulfillment and achieving The Way, and it is what Taoists call ‘The Great Nothing’.

When we leave behind the concept of effort and do nothing with a greater purpose, the Taoists believe we can achieve peace, and I agree. Why does everything always have to be so hard? In my opinion, it goes back to the faults of Capitalism. Our society is made for us to work hard and finally reap the benefits after retirement.

But what if we were doing it all wrong, and in reality, we should have been following the example of some Chinese men from 2,500 years ago called the Taoists?

Chuang-Tse describes the great nothing in a short story, where the emperor has lost his pearl in the mountains and sends Knowledge, Distant Vision, and Eloquence to find it. Well, all three of these qualities didn't find the pearl, but there was one who did.

“Finally, he sent Empty Mind, and Empty Mind came back with the pearl.” — Chuang-Tse

Another quote that for me sums up the benefits of just thinking and doing nothing and just going with the flow comes from Chaung-Tse again and goes as follow:

“To have no thought and put forth no effort is the first step towards understanding the Tao. To go nowhere and do nothing is the first step towards finding peace in the Tao. To start from no point and follow the road is the firsts step towards reaching the Tao.” — Chuang-Tse


To achieve this Taoist principle of the great nothing and actually apply it in your daily life right now, you must understand that emptiness will get us there.

Everyone nowadays is afraid of emptiness because they relate it with the dreaded loneliness. In bids to not be lonely, they seek the opposite of emptiness and fill up their lives with unnecessary crap; they fill their appointment books and leave the TV running in the background.

The truth is that the greatest ideas come from nothing. If you go back and back and back and try to find the source of your most proud idea, it comes from nothing. So in reality, we shouldn't be afraid to seek out utter emptiness, because it is only there — when we empty our thoughts and minds — that we can benefit from the world around us. It’s a revolutionary approach.

Photo by Valentin Lacoste on Unsplash

Final Words

I love Taoism deeply. Just less than a month ago I had no idea what Taoism was, nor did I have an understanding of any Eastern thought or philosophy. I was strictly reading works from the Western Thinkers, forgetting there was a whole new scope of ideas out there that could benefit me.

Taoism has helped me become okay with doing nothing, and just going with the flow. It's not a philosophical cop-out excuse to be lazy, it’s a comforting reassurance that the universe is designed in such a way that if we emulate the natural processes, we will succeed. The Way is where peace lies, and to get there we need to do nothing, flow like water, and embrace the mystical and unknowable nature of a greater purpose.

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I am an entrepreneur from London with a passion for reading and writing about self-improvement, productivity, fitness, history, philosophy, and happiness.


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