James Altucher is an accomplished writer and businessman, and certainly one of the better people putting out material on self-improvement and being an entrepreneur in the emerging new economy. I’m reading The Choose Yourself Guide to Wealth at the moment, and was struck by this little nugget of wisdom:
IMPORTANT: Every day, your body requires energy to survive, to think, to do well, to be happy. You don’t get infinite energy. One way to replenish energy is to sleep. The other way is to eat well and to exercise. But another way to replenish energy is to live a gentle life. As gently as possible. So your energy grows and is used where it is needed. Which means all negotiations need to be smooth else they result in anxiety and fear and guessing and out-guessing and much future depletion of energy. And then you die faster than the one who lived gently.
This could be a commentary on the Dao De Jing, or a text on qigong energy work. When I studied Taijiquan years ago, a martial art which is rooted in Daoist philosophy and spirituality, I was taught that the main principle of Taiji is relax. Relax and conserve your energy. When you’re doing all the various movements and postures that make up the Taiji exercise, you have to consciously and completely relax every muscle in your body, as much as you can. Then relax more. Then relax some more. We were constantly made to stop in mid-form, do a body scan, and find where we were holding tension in our bodies – then let it go. The purpose is to economize your energy expenditure, to make your movements as efficient and effortless as possible. In the West, the Alexander Technique is based on similar principles.
The other part of this is to relax your mind, your thoughts. If you think you can relax your muscles and body while still having crazy neurotic angry self-loathing blaming selfish ungrateful thoughts running full stream though your mind, good luck with that. You can’t, and one of the things Taiji practitioners learn is that relaxing the body helps relax the mind, and relaxing the mind helps relax the body. In Taiji, the mind is focused on the dantian, the body’s center. This prevents it from running amok and getting lost in all kinds of wasteful, unnecessary thoughts.
My teacher said that this wasn’t just an approach to doing Taiji – actually, he never said “doing” Taiji, he always said “playing” – but to everything in your life. Why waste energy needlessly?
As James Altucher and F. Matthias Alexander show, one needn’t be a Taijiquan practitioner or a Daoist to apply these insights and principles. You can check to see if you’re holding unnecessary tension and stress in your body and mind, and when you find it, you can let it go. Then, when it comes back – because it always comes back – you can let it go again. And relax more. You can focus your mind on something positive, or something calm and gentle, rather than letting it wander aimlessly, focusing on any of the hundred and eight thousand forms of bullshit that will do you no good at all, but which will suck the energy out of you like a vampire and make you die faster.
Check out James’ book, and his blog as well. If you want to read a 20th century Taiji master’s commentary on the Dao De Jing, check out Cheng Man-Ch’ing’s Lao Tzu: My Words Are Very Easy To Understand.