Minimalism and the Tao

Minimalism has found a place in modern culture; a logical response to the pervasive materialism we in the Western world have enjoyed for decades — often times to our financial detriment.

Taoist philosophy tells us that when anything reaches its zenith (highest point) it will invariable turn around and begin the descent to its nadir (lowest point). The extreme of winter begins its march towards spring. The darkest moment of night opens up for the daybreak.

Minimalism, however, has been presented not only as a tonic to frenzied materialism, but also as a lifestyle choice or a design aesthetic. It’s not about having fewer pointless possessions so much as having the stark modernism style in your trendy, urban apartment.

Needless to say, being on trend is not a concern for a Taoist.

Minimalism for Taoists is quite different. We don’t strive to be ascetics (people who deprive themselves of basic, human essentials to prove their devotion to a god or cause.) That’s not the way the Tao works. The Tao is always in you and you are not required to earn its love through self-denial.

Moreover, walking hand in hand with the Tao means emulating what we see in nature. I’ve never seen a bear deprive herself of fish simply to prove a greater point. She walks with the Tao, eating, sleeping and living as the seasons and her inner nature dictate.

So why do Taoists tend towards having fewer possessions? There are two reasons.

1. We own what we need but no more. We don’t collect or hoard or indulge in pointless purchases because we know such behavior leads to scarcity for others. While it may seem we have a limitless supply of food and consumer goods at our fingertips, indulgences in one country means hardship, pollution and poverty elsewhere in the world.

2. Secondly, we know all of existence is based in impermanence. As much as humans wish to deny that change is the only constant, Taoists accept the truth. We are eternally in motion. The good things we enjoy today will surely fade, just as the setbacks we experience diminish as well.

Impermanence should be at the forefront of our minds. We must be ready at all times to accept the twists in the path of Tao and thereby — most importantly — have the ability to move with them.

Too often the direction of our life changes and we are unwilling and unable to accept it — the loss of a job, the death of a spouse, a divorce, or some major change that alters the dynamic of our environment to the point that we must move on. We make excuses that change would be too difficult. We are accustomed to life as it was, clinging to a situation that has ended like a child who refuses to put down a toy they have outgrown.

Accepting the impermanence of existence means having the internal strength to accept change and move with it, often times in a literal, physical sense. Keeping your possessions to only that which is needed and no more makes you all the more able to flow effortlessly with the Tao.

Minimalism is not a trendy choice. It is a way of keeping light on your feet to accept change and move gracefully forward.


About Leigh

Leigh is an American Taoist philosopher, exploring how modern life and its problems can best be addressed with ancient teachings. She is also a doctor of psychology.
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