Flexibility of mind

“Men are born soft and subtle;
dead, they are stiff and hard.
Plants are born tender and pliant;
dead, they are brittle and dry.

Thus whoever is stiff and inflexible
is a disciple of death.
Whoever is soft and yielding is a disciple of life.

“The hard and stiff will be broken.
The soft and subtle will prevail. …

“Noting in the world
is as soft and yielding as water.
Yet for dissolving the hard and inflexible,
nothing can surpass it.

The soft overcomes the hard;
the gentle overcomes the rigid.
Everyone knows this is true,
but few can put it into practice.

Therefore the master remains
serene in the midst of sorrow.
Evil cannot enter his heart,
Because he has given up helping,
he is people’s greatest help.

True words seem paradoxical.” ~Lao-tzu

Soft and Subtle

Have you noticed how children can do things without getting harmed, while those same things would break an older persons bones. Young children have bones that are still flexible, while the bones of an adult are hard, and those of the elderly are often very brittle.

I’ve read that in some sports like gymnastics, it is highly recommended that children start an early age before the bones get too hard. This not only prevents injury, but helps them keep the flexibility needed for the sport. I suspect that is the same reason ballet schools like to start students at a young age.

It is also true that the young tree can bend in a storm and not be broken, while the old one that has grown stiff will likely break.

Stiff and Hard

Clams grow a thick, hard shell for protection. So do oysters, conch, and many other shellfish. That shell does protect them from some enemies, but also limits movement. The octopus, on the other hand, has no shell and little protection, yet can move easily and rapidly.

Lao-tzu notes that soft water can wear away the hardest stone, yet the stone can do little to harm the water. Throw a large boulder into a river, and the water simply flows around it unharmed. Short term, the flexible like wind and water may be forced to go around the hard rock mountain, but over time the water and wind will wear it away and turn the rock into sand.

Mental Flexibility

It is not really the physical bodies that Lao-tzu was concerned about. Those tales are just allegory. He was telling us that we need to be “soft and subtle” mentally. Not “soft” in the sense of being mentally deficient, but in the sense of being flexible.

The mind that lacks flexibility and has become set in its beliefs cannot learn anything new. We can collect addition data to back our accepted beliefs and theories, but we cannot learn that which is completely new, or contrary to those beliefs. The atheist cannot see God is the greatest of miracles, while those trapped in religious beliefs that have a man-made God cannot learn much of the true God. They are opposites, yet neither can learn the truth for both have become rigid in their beliefs and will ignore that which contradicts them.

If you want to learn truth, you must be open to it. Your mind must be flexible if it is to learn new things.

Spiritual Awakening

Most important of all, those who have become rigid in their beliefs regarding God and the spiritual worlds are unlikely to have a spiritual awakening. The reason why it is often only after a major crisis in ones life—the so called “Dark Night of the Soul”—that many awaken is because that event cause a breakdown in rigid beliefs that allows a little truth to seep in through the cracks.

You can wait for a great crisis to break down your rigid beliefs to awaken. Or you can take control of the situation and develop the flexibility of the mind that you had as a child. The choice is yours.


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