The Tao of Living Without a Plan
A good traveler has no fixed plans
And is not intent upon arriving.
We’ve now experimented with ideas from many of the great thinkers in the West: from Socrates to Hegel to Emerson and Thoreau. It’s about time that we head East for inspiration.
And where better to turn than Lao-tzu’s Tao Te Ching. This is one of my favorite texts, and it’s full of some of the most challenging, counter-intuitive, and radical ideas on how to live.Read the original post
Take travel. Most of us travel through life with all sorts of “fixed plans,” aspirations, and goals. Without them, we feel lost. But Lao-tzu offers a radical challenge. Can you travel through each day without “fixed plans” and with no “intent upon arriving”?
As an inspirational saying, it’s easy to get excited about this idea. It’s one of those quotes you might read on a fancy greeting card or underneath the cap of an iced tea bottle.
But if we’re serious about actually living this idea, it changes from being a cool saying we read and then forget about 10 seconds later to a radical way of being in each moment.
No “fixed plans”! No “intent upon arriving”! That’s so different from the way I live most days. Right now, I have about four crumpled post-it note to-do lists hanging off the sides of my computer monitor. I have a calendar full of events and a mental grid of activities that’s even more extensive, covering almost every waking moment of every day.
Ironically, the only time I live without a “fixed plan” is when I plan it, when I block out a chunk of time in my calendar dedicated to having no plan.
Think about your life. Are your days filled with “fixed plans”? What would it be like to let go of “fixed plans” and any “intent upon arriving”?
I propose that we use this week to find out.
So for this week’s experiment, let’s see what it might be like to live with “no fixed plans” and no “intent upon arriving.”
Like the forgiveness experiment, it may be impossible to live with absolutely no “fixed plans” and no “intent to arrive.” But through the attempt, I believe that we can learn a great deal.
At the very least, this experiment will force us to explore two shifts in how we live:
1. Letting Go of Control – Most of us live with a clearly defined set of goals. One of my “fixed plans” is to build Life Beyond Logic into a “successful” blog (whatever that means). I’m sure you have similar projects and goals you are working toward. We cling to these fixed plans like a child to an ice cream cone. If someone or something stands in the way of our plan, we throw an internal temper tantrum. We feel anger, sadness, and failure. But if we take Lao-tzu seriously, if we no longer cling to “fixed plans,” then we start to loosen our grip on future plans and ambitions. We begin to open to events no longer turning out the way we planned. Instead of obsessing over our “fixed plans,” we direct our attention to new opportunities that present themselves each moment, opportunities we may miss if we’re focused only on our “fixed plan.”
2. A New Source of Motivation – The second part of Lao-tzu’s quote calls for a radically different type of motivation. Most of us live with a clear “intent upon arriving.” We’re motivated to work our way through college to arrive at graduation or a good job. We put in long hours at work to arrive at a promotion or approval. So if we let go of this “intent upon arriving,” where does our motivation come from? Why work? Why struggle? Lao-tzu seems to say we don’t need to work or struggle. “A good artist,” he says, “lets his intuition lead him wherever it wants.” The good artist, he thinks, finds motivation in the moment-to-moment process of creation, not in the ambition to create a masterpiece.
I’m excited about this experiment because, while radical, I sense that there is deep truth in Lao-tzu’s idea. In my experience, my best, most creative, work comes at unexpected times. It doesn’t happen because it’s on my to-do list or my calendar. It happens because, for a moment, I drop my internal planner and allow a deeper source of wisdom and creativity to flow through me.
Let me know what you think about Lao-tzu’s challenge. Is it possible to live without “fixed plans”? Is it possible to find motivation in something other than our “intent upon arriving”?
This week, I’m excited to announce the release of my new free ebook “Finding Reality.” It’s a book about Thoreau’s lessons for living deep, deliberately, and in the moment, even in the midst of the digital world created by iPhones, Facebook, and Twitter. It’s short, it’s practical, and, best of all, it’s free.