A Bone of Non-contention

“Let things flow naturally forward in whatever way they like.” – Laozi

There is a Taoist parable called ‘Accommodating the Water.’ As the story goes, an old man was walking along a riverbank. The river was swift and powerful rapids led to a tall waterfall just downstream. Suddenly, the man stumbled and fell into the river and was swept up by the powerful currents. 

Onlookers watched with horror, worried for the man’s life as he was carried downstream and over the edge of the waterfall. They rushed to the edge of the cliffs and peered down. To their astonishment, standing on the rocky banks at the bottom of the falls was the old man. He was soaked from head to toe, but he was unharmed and had an unassuming smile on his face.

When asked how he managed to survive, he said, “I have accommodated myself to the water, not the water to me. Without thinking, I allowed myself to be shaped by it. I did not resist it. Plunging into the swirl, I came out with a swirl. This is how I survived.”

This story illustrates how each of us resists change when things don’t go as we had hoped. But when we allow ourselves to ‘accommodate’ our circumstances instead of opposing them, there are feelings of peace, flexibility, openness, and acceptance. This is the state of non-contention.

Just as the man went with the flow, we alleviate our own suffering when we move with the events of our lives, not when we fight them. When we flail and resist the currents around us, we only sink deeper, or perhaps even drown, in our unwanted reality. 

So, let go. You cannot control the world around you. Get quiet and pay attention, you may notice discomfort in thought, emotion, or sensation. Just be still for a moment and allow life to happen. The goal is to be open to whatever is here at this moment, breathe into it, accommodate it, flow with the current. This is the essence of non-contention.

Allow the flow of life to run its course. It just may be the best thing that’s happened in your life.  

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