The Wisdom of Allowing Things to Happen

The Master allows things to happen.
She shapes events as they come.
She steps out of the way
and lets the Tao speak for itself.
~The Daodejing

By Leo Babauta

This has been what I’ve been learning over the past couple of years. Allowing things to happen.

It goes counter to our usual instincts in Western society — we are doers, creators of our destiny, we make things happen … we don’t wait for it to happen! That’s what I was taught from an early age, in school and by every motivational sports movie I ever watched. So allowing things to happen is not my normal way.

I have never been one to be passive, to let things happen instead of making them happen, to let go of control of things.

But here’s what I’ve been learning:

  1. This control we think we have over our lives and our destinies … it’s an illusion. As the guy who had his life turned upside down by a heart attack, the woman who lost her father to death and had to drop everything, the family who lost their home to a hurricane, the entrepreneur that was doing well until the economy collapsed and no one was spending, the hard-working employee who was laid off when the economy tanked, the cyclist who was hit by a car, the car that skid because someone ran onto the road who had been obscured, the mom whose son has autism despite her doing everything right during pregnancy … it happens every day, where we think we’re in control but we’re really not. Do we control all the people around us who affect our lives so intimately? Do we control the overwhelming power of nature? There’s so much out of our control that what we think is control is really an illusion.
  2. To control your cow, give it a bigger pasture. This is a great quote from Zen Master Suzuki Roshi, talking about controlling your mind. I see the cow and her pasture as a form of allowing things to happen — instead of tightly controlling something, you’re opening up, giving it more room, a bigger pasture. The cow will be happier, will roam around, will do as she pleases, and yet your needs will also be met. The same is true of anything else — stepping back and allowing things to happen means things will take care of themselves, and your needs will also be met. And you’ve done no work.
  3. You have less stress, less to worry about. Imagine allowing things to happen naturally, and things work out, and all you did was smile and watch. You don’t have to worry about shaping things, about controlling something that doesn’t want to be controlled. You don’t have to push, and fix leaks, and put out fires. You just let things work on their own. They happen.
  4. Things will surprise you. Let’s say you’re allowing something to happen. You might want it to go a certain way, to a certain outcome. That’s your goal. But what if you let go of this idea? What if you say, “I don’t know what will happen.” (Btw, you really don’t.) What if you say, “Let’s see what happens.” Then things will happen, but not the way you planned. The outcome might be completely different than what you’d hoped for. But it can still be great, just different. It might even be wonderful, and surprising. Surprises are good, if we accept that things always change and that change is good.
  5. You learn how things work. Instead of trying to make things work the way you want them to work, just watch them work. You’ll learn much more about human nature, about the nature of the world, as you see things work without you controlling it. It might change you.

That’s all very good, Leo, you’re thinking. But that won’t put the food on my table.

Maybe you’re right. And so, don’t let me stop you from what you need to do. Carry on. I’ll just sit back and watch.