Nov 092011
Fish and Chips by Christian Tan

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

The Situation

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.)

Tao of Fish and Chips by the Vizier

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.

Flow by Jukka Vuokko

Taking Action

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! :)

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  28 Responses to “The Tao of Fish and Chips”

  1. I always love when folks make the spiritual practical, Irving. This is just a perfect example how we can apply the grandest principles to our daily existence. Anxiety is the illness of our age and the disorganization at the food queues could quite easily add to ones dis-eased state of mind. Instead you chose patience and compassion (for the server)… that is no small matter!

    As for me, driving in traffic is the ultimate test of my commitment to “practice what I preach.” I have found there is indeed a flow that one has to tune into in order to calmly, safely and successfully navigate rush hour traffic.

    • Hi Rob,

      If it is not practical or easily applied to any situation, then it is not very useful to me. This is my approach to life which encompasses spirituality. A belief or view is not very useful if it cannot be applied to a crisis. That is how I test my views of the world. I think it took me many years of searching before I finally found a spiritual view that was not only practical, but also appealing to me. It was certainly worth the effort.

      I agree that anxiety is one of the illnesses of our age. But chaos is also an opportunity for us to practice calm and composure. It is easy to be composed when there is nothing to unsettle you. But if you can move in the midst of chaos and still remain calm, that is some level or mastery.

      To be honest, most of the time, I am reflecting so I am not too bothered by what goes on around me. Head in clouds could be a good way of describing me haha! But when I am present, again I am rarely bothered. With this mindset, it is no stretch to be patient and compassionate towards the server. After all, I depend on her co-operation to get my food. It certainly makes no sense to piss her off and it won’t improve her service.

      Rush hour traffic can easily raise a person’s blood pressure. Again it is a matter of seeing the big picture to find the opportunities and pitfalls in the situation to get through calmly, safely and successfully as you say.

      Thank you for sharing your lovely comments! :)

  2. Rob commented that he likes it when folks make the spiritual practical. I agree, and I would add that I like it when folks make the spiritual clever and humorous. This post reflects all three! I laughed on one level while appreciating the deep wisdom on another.

    We did an excercise in a recent mindfulness training that I think is like what you are describing here. There were about 15 people in a medium size meditation room. Everyone was instructed to move around the room randomly. We all walked cautiously, being aware of where others were, responding to changes in direction, avoiding collision. No problem. Then we were instructed to double our speed. Things got a bit more challenging as we darted around, quickly sidestepping, veering away from each other. Then we were instructed to double our speed again! Now it was a Tao in action exercise. We were moving too fast to think, to make eye contact, to plan. We were fully present, using our awareness to move through chaos without harm.

    But we got no fish and chips as reward!
    Galen Pearl recently posted..Reflection on the JourneyMy Profile

    • Hi Galen,

      Finding a practical spiritual view and a practical way of managing the world was the first step for me. With that major task out of the way, I could afford to sit back and find humour in life. Like I said in your last comment, I love characters who can deadpan and wise crack when they are about to die or all is going to hell around them. A good laugh in the midst of a crisis is always a good tension reliever.

      That is an interesting exercise you mention and indeed it is Tao in action when people are moving around so quickly. It perfectly shows how the interests of each person adds up to form the Tao of the situation, which in this case is chaos. There really is no other way to manage chaos other than to be fully present and aware.

      Thank you for sharing your lovely comments! :)

      PS: I had to pay for my fish and chips. ;)

  3. Irving,

    I’m completely fascinated by this idea. Being aware of the tao of a situation seems to require taking a step back and looking at the whole picture. A certain kind of awareness rather than merging with the activity and chaos of life.

    I can clearly see that if I were to ask myself what is the “energy” or “flow” of this particular situation, I would see it differently than simply reacting. In fact, it may very well giving me the chance to capture a unique opportunity rather than being stuck in resistance.

    I see the benefits. But how do you become aware of the tao of a situation instead of just falling into the situation itself?
    Sandra / Always Well Within recently posted..The Power of Knowing Your Feelings and NeedsMy Profile

    • Hi Sandra,

      You’re right. Being aware of the Tao of a situation does involve taking a step back to see the whole picture. You have to look beyond what is in front of you. The problem with many people, including world leaders, is that they do not look far ahead enough.

      A quote by Confucius comes to mind, “A man who does not think and plan long ahead will find trouble right at his door.” It is hard to prepare at the last minute. Certainly few can do well in exams if they study at the last minute. Yet not many apply this wisdom to living in general. As a result, it has led to disastrous results at different levels of society.

      From your comments I can see that you understand the points I have been trying to make in my article. Haha! I only intended to deal with the benefits in this article and it has already become so long. If I included the “how to” here it would have become unmanageable. But rest assured, in my follow up article, I will share how anyone can become aware of the Tao of the situation. And in truth, it is neither that abstract or esoteric either. There is a practical way to manage.

      Thank you for sharing your lovely comments! :)

  4. Vizier – it’s easy to be mindful during meditation and spiritual practices as Rob points out. But how do we do it in the hustle and bustle of life? Most people wander aimlessly through life, but you go through life like a strategic battle commander:) You’re not only in every moment but you’re winning every moment!

    How the heck was the fish& chips?

    • Hi Vishnu,

      Actually mindfulness happens in the midst of the hustle and bustle of life. If you can only be mindful during meditation and spiritual practice, there is a risk you may not be able to maintain this mindfulness in the midst of difficulties. But difficulties are perfect opportunities for us to test our level of mastery and this is something you should consider.

      Haha! Honestly, I don’t go through life like a strategic battlefield commander. Neither am I in every moment and I certainly don’t win every moment. What I actually do is to pick and choose the battles that are really important to me. These battles I make sure I do my best to win. Those that have no strategic importance, I am content to just close one eye and leave its outcome to chance.

      As for how you can remain mindful in the midst of the hustle and bustle, do look out for my follow up article on how to manage the Tao of each situation.

      The fish and chips were certainly good enough for me to go through the hassle of queuing. ;)

      Thank you for sharing your lovely comments! :)

  5. Hi Irving,

    I love how very calm you are about the whole thing. You have the best energy.

    I refer to this as being “in the flow.” The river streams by…do we swim with it, fight against it, or jump off and sit on the banks? Have we found a little spot off to the side where we are out of the flow, under a leaf or hanging from a branch and just observing for now?

    One way to recognize the Tao is experience. Another is to pay attention and do our best to work within it as we experience it, and maybe clue others in,”She’s going to ask you for your side order. The options are listed over there.” Sometimes I know I really blow it, but I do always see the Tao. No matter, there may be a second chance, and if I hesitate and miss it, it is my own fault :)
    Julie | A Clear Sign recently posted..How To Ask Good Intuitive QuestionsMy Profile

    • Hi Julie,

      I agree that if the times call for it, it is always good to help others along so they too would avoid the pitfalls. In truth, the reason I could be calm was due to experience. You’re perfectly right. One of the ways to recognize the Tao is through experience and because I knew what to expect and how to manage, I could be calm and allow things to unfold as it however it wished to do so.

      Thank you for sharing your lovely comments! :)

  6. Irving my friend, you made such an important observation and lesson from something as simple as ordering your fish and chips. Going with the flow reminded me of sailing into the wind to get to where you want to go. Sailors use a technique called tacking which really going with the wind but at an angle to still sail windward.

    I like to initiate some discussion here about what are the factors that can help us determine the Tao of the situation so that people can be like to get in and out with what you want fast without been embroiled in the frustration of life.
    Jimmy recently posted..7 Reasons to Contribute to SocietyMy Profile

    • Hi Jimmy,

      I always enjoy observing the world around me from the complex to the simple to see if there are any lessons I might discover. I don’t always get insights, but it pays to always be alert because you never know when you might gain flashes of inspiration.

      Indeed tacking is a good way to describe going with the flow. That is an apt analogy you have shared.

      As for factors to help us determine the Tao of the situation, it is pretty complex to describe something I do intuitively. But no worries, I will do my best to make the steps as practical and as easy to follow for anyone in my follow up article on managing the Tao of each situation.

      Thank you for sharing your lovely comments! :)

  7. Irving,
    Your thoroughness for covering a topic along with your wisdom continues to amaze me. Clearly, you are an old soul! Thank you for sharing the steps to being present and in flow in our lives.
    Angela Artemis/Poweredbyintuition recently posted..Finding Purpose in Your PainMy Profile

    • Hi Angela,

      Thank you for your compliments! :)

      I do hope that my article is able to help readers to be present in the moment and to flow with their time and circumstances.

      Thank you for sharing your lovely comments! :)

  8. Irving: Really interesting article and I loved it because it clearly showed us how we should be using the Tao in all of life. I loved the statement you shared of being in the moment and going with the flow. I am going to do all I can to keep this top of mind. I think that is great advice.
    Sibyl recently posted..Are You Really Taking Advantage of All the Possibilities of Today? Here’s How You Really Do ItMy Profile

    • Hi Sibyl,

      We can all make better choices in life. If each of us were able to be in the moment and to flow in accord with the time and circumstances, we would know what to do and what not to do.

      Thank you for sharing your lovely comments! :)

  9. The title of your post is luring. I was intrigued to read it. It’s great that you are able to turn an ordinary experience into something for our learning.

    I certainly like the message about staying calm and being in the flow, even amidst chaos and uncertainty. It’s important to be able to stay emotionally balanced even in the face of anxiety and panic. It takes awareness to do that.

    Thank you for the great reminder!! I look forward to reading your next post :-)
    Evelyn Lim recently posted..3 Limiting Beliefs That Create Self-DoubtMy Profile

    • Hi Evelyn,

      I did give the title some thought, but all the generic titles about Tao sounded boring to me. In the end I decided to go with the Tao of my article and use the frame story about fish and chips as my title and it did turn out different in a good way. :)

      You’re right. It does take awareness to be calm and balanced in the face of chaos and uncertainty. It may seem difficult, it is really not so if you know what to look for. The Tao is there in every situation. You just need practice to see it.

      Thank you for sharing your lovely comments! :)

  10. That was a complete analysis of the restaurant ordering situation indeed! :) A very interesting way to draw your conclusions…and come to Tao. You got me, I am totally taken, loved it!
    Anna recently posted..Tooth bridge – as seen in old ladies’ mouthsMy Profile

  11. I think that I had my experience of Tao in certain situations without even realizing the concept of the process/system/energy flow… Irving, I am coming across this article at a very interesting time in my life where I feel in my spirit that I truly need to be aware of the events and people that I am encountering and will encounter in the coming months. Although, this interesting feeling comes at a time when I feel that I am operating mindfully, something is tugging at my spirit and I feel the need to be aware of this. I truly appreciate this post and I am looking forward to your next post on managing Tao in every situation.
    Ajen recently posted..I dare you to look closely.My Profile

    • Hi Ajen,

      Tao is merely one of the many names for the best way to manage the energy of a given situation.

      I am sorry I have not written about the Tao of managing every situation yet. I felt that I needed to address how to be aware of the Tao first. But you can be sure that my next article on the Tao will be how to manage it. This is something that I have given much thought to in the past 7 years or so.

      I hope that you will find the insights useful in your situation in the coming months. If you need any extra help, do feel free to drop me an email. The role I am most comfortable with is that of a Vizier or adviser. And with my knowledge of the Tao of situations, I am confidant of being able to provide guidance in almost any situation.

      Thank you for sharing your lovely comments! :)

  12. Great views here! Going with the flow is not questionable thing to do as long as you should still know if you follow the right thing. But if you feel that it’s not healthy anymore, you can stand in your own beliefs and fight for it!
    kim recently posted..My Arowana Is Not Eating No Matter What I Do !!!My Profile

  13. I want to try this.. I feel the need to be aware of this. I truly appreciate this post and I am looking forward to your next post on managing Tao in every situation.
    Elijah recently posted..retractable window awningsMy Profile

  14. the photo makes me crave for foooood! anyways, thanks for sharing your great ideas. it’s truly appreciated.
    olivia34newton recently posted..1300 number – Frequently Asked QuestionsMy Profile

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