Whenever we put all our energy into staying focused on the Main Chance or making it to the top of the heap, we miss half of the equation of life. By that I mean there’s taking but also giving, there’s acquiring but also letting go. What’s more, let’s face it, there’s always someone bigger, wiser, or smarter than we are!
Perhaps the Taoists make it clearest with their principles of yin and yang, which represent the opposites: day — night, hot — cold, masculine — feminine, sun — moon, etc. These opposites are also inside us. In other words, you can go only so far in one direction before the wind in your sails weakens and brings you to a stop or sends you off in another direction. That’s why it’s just as important to follow your energy as to put on pressure to get where you want to go. I find it helpful to practice following.
You might think following comes naturally. After all, it’s a lot harder to lead — to stay ahead of the crowd — than to follow along. But what if being present to our lives and relationships is more important than pushing ourselves and others around? You may find, as I have, that because most of your waking hours are engaged in running your own show, there’s so much pressure to be in charge that you’re unable to stop and be present to your life. I find that whenever I lose a sense of presence, I automatically start pushing myself and others along, absent to the flow of energy.
So the question of whether we are leading or following is a useful one to keep at the back of your mind and ask repeatedly as you go through your day. For example, next time you engage in doing something, notice how your arms move. Observe the relationship between your hands. They could be aware of each other, turning and talking to each other as you move. When you are working with this image, you will be able to experience a constant reflection of energy from one hand and arm to the other, until they both become alive and tingling. They move through space in relation to each other, neither of them totally occupying your attention to the detriment of the other. As Master T. T. Liang once said to me, they are “like one bird following another.”
You can also tune into the experience of following by shifting your focus to your legs – how do they work together as your weight goes down through your bones into your feet and sinks imaginary roots into the earth. Wherever you walk, one leg leads and the other follows, then they reverse. If you could include even more of yourself in this way, it would be possible to connect all the parts of your body. To try this, think of the air you are moving through as heavier than water and you may come alive to feel you are swimming in the air.
Following is the purest attitude we can have as we move around our world, because we are “taking part” in life, rather than “doing” it. For life and chi flow through us like a great river. We can either spend our time stranded on the bank, longing to swim or bobbing on the surface like flotsam. Or we can allow ourselves to be caught up within that great current, so that the river itself seems to move us through our day.
It’s a challenge to practice following in the middle of a busy day. I’m a consummate doer, with a long laundry list of things that I’m determined to get through. So I often find myself in a kind of put-your-head-down-and-go attitude, the opposite of what is appropriate for a well-rounded life. So whenever I become conscious of my grim determination to finish what I’m doing at all costs no matter how important the interruption, I call up the memory of yin and yang and try to follow into the next few minutes of my life.
Next time you find yourself frustrated by life, why not ask yourself whether your attitude is that of a leader or a follower. Remind yourself that it is at the same time an honor and a high level of practice to be a follower. When we are capable of achieving such a degree of availability, we are saying “yes” to being part of something larger than ourselves, allowing ourselves to join the great current of life as we practice living in the present moment, along with thousands of followers over thousands of years.