I stood in the eye of the storm and calmly watched the chaos and confusion around me. When an opening appeared, I acted quickly to seize it. Everything I did had a specific goal. I was truly living in the moment and acting as the situation required. I made almost no wasted movement and did not do more than necessary. I knew exactly what I needed to do and when to do it. Because I could see and follow the flow of the energy around me, I achieved my goal with ease and very little hassle. What was my goal in this case? It was to order a plate of fish and chips for lunch.
What is the Tao of a Situation?
Every situation has a unique energy or Tao that is the sum of all the factors involved. These factors consist of competing interests and influences that shape the nature of the situation and the way it flows. The situation can be as simple as buying fish and chips or it can be as complex as dealing with a global crisis. In between these two extremes lie a range of human situations and problems that afflict us all. But no matter what the situation is, there is always a Tao. And when there is a Tao, there is always a good and bad way to manage it.
The Tao of Ordering Fish and Chips
I prefer food that is easy to eat and not too messy. Therefore, I usually have fish and chips when I go for Western food, which is not often. In any case, I have been going back to this new stall at my favourite mall with some regularity. At first, I made a few mistakes and got confused like everyone else. But in time, I became aware of the Tao of the situation and this is what I observed. (Please pardon my crude illustration, which is likely to make da Vinci turn in his grave.)
There are 2 queues. Both queues should have someone staffing them to make the service faster. Queue 1 is for payment and ordering. Queue 2 is where you wait to collect your order and any other side dishes or extras as required. But you can also place your order here before going to Queue 1 to repeat yourself and make payment. As you can see, there is an overlap of duties in Queue 2. Sometimes if the cook has nothing better to do, he will also take your order. But you still have to make payment in Queue 1. To complicate matters, the queues are not clearly marked, unlike my diagram. When there is no clear guidance, free will appears. This means people will act as they please causing chaos. As a result, all these factors can cause confusion if manpower is lacking.
Good Tao Bad Tao
Such was the case on the fateful day when I realized the Tao for ordering fish and chips. The cashier was staffing Queues 1 and 2. As such, the stress was getting to her and it showed. Not only did she have to take orders and collect payment, she also had to ensure that each customer got the complete order.
The first thing I did was to walk right up to the cashier in Queue 1. Before she could ask anything, I told her I wanted the fish and chips set meal. A set meal includes soup and a piece of bread. For my side dishes, I wanted coleslaw and mash potatoes. Then I promptly made payment. Next, I took my receipt, cutlery and tray before going to Queue 2 to wait for my order.
Meanwhile, confusion reigned around me. One man assumed that Queue 2 was where you made your order. He waited for some time in Queue 2 before trying to place his order. Then, the cashier asked him what he wanted for his side dishes. Taken by surprised, he looked at his options for the first time and took a few moments to make up his mind.
At the same time, there was another girl, also in Queue 2, trying to place her order. She had to raise her voice to make her order heard instead of just switching queues. She too stumbled over the choice of side dishes. To complicate matters, she was ordering for someone else and had to leave the queue to confirm the order of side dish the other person wanted. When she returned, she apologized profusely before making payment in the end.
During this time, I positioned myself deftly to avoid people making orders and payment as I calmly waited for my order. I could only imagine the stress of the cashier as she juggled her duties. When I finally got my fish and chips, I noted that my tartar sauce was missing. So, I politely asked the cashier for it. She glared at me, realized her mistake and served me accordingly. Having gotten what I came for, I said my thanks, turned on my heels and left to look for a seat. I had survived the chaos with barely a scratch and got what I wanted with little effort.
Reflections on my Experience
Being aware of the Tao of ordering fish and chips brought me a few benefits. I knew exactly what to do and say, thus avoiding confusion and mistakes. I knew where I had to go to get things done quickly. I also did not irritate anyone thus getting what I wanted faster and with less umbrage. Lastly, I did all this with little fuss, hassle and effort.
In short, I knew how to seize the opportunities and avoid the pitfalls. If the others had been aware as I had, they too would have acted differently. There would certainly be less confusion and irritation for all involved.
Why is Awareness of the Tao Important?
By using the fish and chips example, I have tried to show that the Tao of each situation is not something abstract or esoteric. Being aware of it has many practical uses. As I have already shown, you can apply the principles above to daily living and choices. But that is not all. The principles also hold water when you apply them to other areas of life where the scope is greater and the stakes are higher.
I am sure you too have experienced times where you knew the best way to act in a given situation. By doing so, you were able to flow with the Tao to achieve your goals with ease. Only when you are aware of the Tao can you truly live in the moment and flow with it. Only when you are aware of the Tao can you formulate the proper response that accords with the times and circumstances. What then are some of the other benefits of being aware of the Tao?
1. Flowing with the Tao to Success
The most obvious benefit is the ability to attain your goals in the midst of chaos. The path to success is rarely smooth and even then, there are little guarantees. By being aware of the Tao, you can align your choices and actions with it to help increase your chances of success. This is akin to going with the flow instead of against it. You achieve twice the results with half the effort.
2. Seize Opportunities to Succeed
Much of your success in life depends on the opportunities you seize. These opportunities rarely last for long and you must act quickly. There is no room for hesitation. But the only way to avoid hesitation is to be prepared for the opportunity and to know how to act to make the best of it. Without a keen awareness of the Tao of the situation, this is not possible. This is also the reason why some people succeed while most do not. The successful are able to align their actions and choices with the Tao of the times and make the best of it.
3. Avoid Pitfalls and Conserve Resources
The road to success is hard enough as it is. But when you go against the Tao of the times, you increase your difficulties. This is akin to going against the currents of the ocean. You have to expend twice the effort for half the results, if you are lucky. In truth, given your finite strength and understanding, you may not prevail against all the forces involved.
In the midst of this valiant but futile struggle, you are likelier to make mistakes and face needless problems. This can be fatal when the stakes are high and it can cost you dearly. True, you may survive a disaster, but at what price? And even if you manage to survive the first one, will you survive the next? Would it not be better to avoid the pitfalls you can avoid? I personally feel it is more prudent to be aware of the Tao and to avoid pitfalls where possible. This enables me to conserve my energy and resources for the crucial moments that I cannot avoid.
Ever since I have been aware of the Tao, I have applied it to all areas of my life. The results I have attained has reinforced my belief that it is vital to act in accord with the times and circumstances. It is vital to be in each moment and to flow with life, not against it. Doing so always helps me to get double the results for half the effort. Doing otherwise causes me to expend double the effort for half the results or less.
But this is not the end of the story. In my follow up article on Tao, I will show you how to manage the Tao for each situation.
Have you ever been aware of the Tao of the situations you are in? What happened when you aligned your actions with the Tao? What happened when you went against it? What are your views about the Tao of each situation? Do share your thoughts and comments below!