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By Brianna Wiest
When the Western zen renaissance began in the 50s (a movement to which many have credited Alan Watts‘ work for inspiring) it was a manifestation aligned precisely what ancient teachings hoped and intended for humanity: to adopt it into our lifestyle. Yet, an essence got lost in translation. We began to interpret spirituality from the perspective of the ego when it was not designed for that, and we do not realize we are doing it because it is the only thing we know.
Take, for example, the concept of non-resistance. From our understanding, it is the process of consciously releasing expectations and attachments to outcomes (which the Taoist argue this is the root of all suffering).
Yet, we don’t really know what it means to be non-resistant, so we regard it as a sort of “ego surrender,” where our idea of “letting go” spirals into “surrounding control of life and simply allowing whatever, no matter how terrible!” This is how the misperception that spirituality is passive and lazy is born.
The way that non-resistance was intended to be practiced was by striking a fine balance between what you can and cannot control in your life. To put it metaphorically, it is to steer the ship along with the current, not against it. It does not mean to surrender all control or effort, it simply means to wield it more wisely.
This is such an exemplary way to characterize the nature of the ego, but as tradition would teach, the ego is not “bad” (that is another Western stereotype). The ego serves an absolutely crucial purpose, it is simply a matter of recognizing that and surrendering to it, rather than our fear and lack of awareness. In this case, it is realizing that the path of non-resistance does not call for us to completely surrender to “whatever” happens in life. Rather, it is to be discerning about how we exert control, and realize the fact that the “current” is more powerful than we are. We can either stage a fight we’ll always lose, or let ourselves be carried.