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The Power of Effortless Living

When I tell people I think life should be effortless, they usually laugh. They think I’m joking. Everyone knows life isn’t effortless, that getting things done and achieving anything worthwhile requires hard work, time and a lot of effort. Success costs, and people who become successful without paying are either cheats, crooks or just lucky.

Think, for a moment, about the metaphors you use to describe your experience of life. We often see life as a struggle, a battle, a war, a difficult journey with obstacles to be overcome, a test to be passed.  These images colour our actions and determine the way we go about doing things. We have come to see brute force as the best way to get things done. In the west, especially, we tend to carry around images of the lone pioneer, the individual battling against the forces of chaos, taming nature. To have achieved is to have beaten the odds, to have struggled and held on and never given up. Victory is for the tenacious, the resilient, the person who never gives in.

But there is another way of seeing things, and another way of getting things done, a way which sees life differently and recognizes the importance of harmony, balance and living peacefully, the importance of following the natural course of things.

Every situation – whether a relationship, an organization, a community – has within itself a natural structure, a kind of grain along which everything flows. Sometimes it’s called a ‘culture.’ Every situation is different, and the effortlessly successful amongst us do not make assumptions. They watch carefully until they understand the natural geometry of the situation, and seek to fit in. They don’t waste energy fighting the way things are – they ‘go with the flow.’

Success can come about by force – the energy of revolution can make things shift – but sustainable results only ever come about by going with the grain, seeking out the path of least resistance, and hence leveraging off the natural structure of the situation. Lao Tzu, the semi mythical Taoist master, wrote, ‘By letting it go it all gets done. The world is won by those who let it go. But when you try and try, the world is beyond winning.’ Water always seeks the low ground and always yields to resistance. Yet it carries enormous energy and can, over many years, wear down sharp rocks into small, smooth pebbles and carve wide, deep channels through the landscape.

When I was a kid, my father taught me how to saw wood. He showed me which way to cut – no good cutting against the grain since it will be hard work and the timber will only crack and splinter. And he showed me how to hold the saw – not too tightly, not pushing down into the wood but allowing it to move naturally and fluidly, guiding it ever so gently. Let the saw do the work, was his summary. The skilful craftsman knows better than to use force.

Lao Tzu continues, ‘Nature does not hurry, yet everything is accomplished.’ Our attempts to speed things along and do things in our own way and in our own time usually make things worse. To pull fruit off the tree before it is ripe is to end up with sour fruit; to row against the current is futile.

A river rarely takes a straight course, meandering instead through the natural shape of the landscape, keeping to the lowest points, moving around mountains and hills. But the water keeps flowing powerfully, carving great valleys into the landscape. Like nature, our own achievements can take time; they happen in their own way and at their own pace.

To resist the natural course – to row against the tide – is exhausting and pointless; those who try only wear themselves out getting nowhere. But hose who embrace the reality of the situation, tap into its energy and use it creatively can be wildly successful. Instead of fighting the natural order, they use its power and its energy to create results – and they do it effortlessly.

The effortlessly successful are also open to new experiences and accept that the future is a blank canvas. In the end, we know very little. My own life looks nothing like the way I imagined it; indeed, in many ways it is exactly what I would not have chosen. But things could hardly have worked out better. It is my belief that, when we relax and stop pretending that we are in control, life starts to work.

The truth is that we don’t really know what we want. Despite our search for certainty and a clear vision of the future, we cannot know what the future holds for us, what new lands we shall discover when our ship has been blown across the sea. All we can do is keep a vigilant eye for opportunity, relax and enjoy the journey. ‘Thinking that you know is a kind of sickness. The wise are sick of sickness, and so they are well.’

An effortless life is a truly effective one. When energy is not wasted on misguided attempts at control, and when we seek to follow the natural course, we can be supremely effective. We can find the tipping points and create enormous and sustainable change. And when we are open to new experiences, ready to fall into whatever comes our way, we can experience a truly vibrant and meaningful kind of life.


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15 Responses to The Power of Effortless Living

  1. Eoin Meegan says:

    I don’t agree with everything in the article. There’s a danger that we mistake ‘effortless’ for doing nothing. Is it really a good thing to drift and let the winds blow your ship where it will? There is also a time when one needs to grasp hold of the rudder and steer the vessel as ell.

    Efflortless living is more about the not doing of doing, and this, mmy friends, is not the same as doing nothing. Sorry if that is confusing!

    Unfortunately a lot of people mistake effortless for doing nothing (I’m not saying the author does) and increasingly I find so much New Age advice is to mistake effortless for lying back and expecting life to happen. Life will not just happen to you, you have to go out and make it happen. Even if you follow the law of attraction, you need to prime your mind first, and then follow it up with action to see results.

    The real meaning of effortless is avoiding resistance. there is actually more struggle and effort in resistance than most of us are aware of, and we expend so much energy resisting what cannot or should not be resisted in the first place.

    Love the Lao Tzu quotes. A philosopher I truly admire.

  2. M. Tohami says:

    When the hard work, time and effort are directed towards a passionate pursuit, then it becomes joyful and you feel like your life is effortless.

  3. M. Tohami says:

    When the hard work, time and effort are directed towards a passionate pursuit, then it becomes joyful and you feel like your life is effortless.

  4. i iwsh my life were effortless i seem to spend hours busy with no reward at all.

  5. Sean says:

    Interesting perspective and great use of metaphors. I really liked the  ‘Nature does not hurry, yet everything is accomplished.’ quote, that hold a LOT of truth.

  6. Justin says:

    Excellent post Mark. I have learned through experience what you push, pushes you back and what you fight you become. Learning to go with the flow takes courage because our ego mind likes to be in control.

    In reality the best control we can have is to become flexible to life.

  7. Happihockey says:

    Living in an area that recently experienced an Earthquake, a Hurricane, major flooding, a massive Tropical Storm, then more flooding and finally a Tornado I would argue with the conclusion that by “letting go” nature accomplishes great things.  During the three week period this summer when all those “natural” events happened, massive changes were accomplish, rivers and creeks cut new channels, rivers appeared where they had never been before, mudslides and massive destruction happened in the affected areas.  Following the psuedo-zen supposedly based on nature logic above then occasional burst of intense action will accomplish much more then just “letting it go” every will in the scale of human lifetimes.

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  9. I totally agree with the author. I feel we are born so beautiful and smiling as a baby. On the way due to negative traits like comparison and envy etc make us so ugly. Life is supposed to be effortless as the other animals without a thinking brain of humans do. I think the brain has been to the disadvantage. We always ignore our instincts which are usually right. 

  10. Eoin Meegan, i totally agree with you. We should not do effortless things. But there are some points in the article that I want to point out like  we don’t really know what we want. Mark, thanks for the wonderful information. :)

  11. Chow says:

    I feel one should not simply accept the point “we don’t really know what we want”.  The aim here should be to always be conscious of knowing what we want and taking concrete steps to work towards it.  At no point should one just drift along and be prepared to let the current take one wheresoever it wishes.  There is still much one can do for oneself and one’s life.

  12. I think life becomes effortless when you are in alignment. When your purpose and your passion collide you feel alive! I have days that require extra effort but they still remain peaceful because I know I am working towards the life I was meant to live.

  13. Louis says:

    I don’t know what these lot under this comment are on about, it was perfect.

  14. shima says:

    well,great article.

    in the 3th line of 9th paragraph (hose) should be (those). :)

  15. Gaye says:

    so true! cannot agree more… Maybe very easily misinterpreted however. For those who might get confused with the meaning of “letting go” in the article: it doesn’t mean to give up on anything, on your reponsibilities, job etc, it just means that every attempt you make to hasten or control something in your life is simply in vain, for life has its own course and that is the way it will go no matter what you do. So if you are wise, you just concentrate on “the moment”, “the present” -because this is truly all you got- and channel your energy to make the best out of it. You will delightfully see that in fact, just like written in the article, you’re way more effective and creative in your work, in your relationships and most of all you’re at ease and peace with yourself. I am currently undergoing a spiritual transition in my life, having “wasted” about 15 yrs of my 30 years of life on worrying about the future or questioning the past, thus missing out big time on the present. Therefore, I’m telling you, I’ve been there. Be willing to read between the lines of this article and really believe in the power of now. In fact the game changer for me was the book called by Eckhart Tolle, considered to be one of the biggest spiritual masters in the world, called “the Power of Now”.

    Wish we all learn to celebrate life one day. This is when the the humankind will be taking the next step in its evolution.

    Cheers :)

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