How To Get Everything From Nothing…If You Want To
3 indispensable guideposts
from an ancient pamphlet by Lao Tze for
a stress-resilient life and well-balanced wellness
This piece is the eleventh of a number of stand-alone DESTINY postings on how to rise above and beyond the COVID-19 pandemic by shaping up to be healthy, fit, tough and wise. It is based on the author’s multi-decade insights as a cardiologist and the founder in a non-profit lifestyle coaching program completed by thousands of patients and coworkers. All the advice comes from participants’ real-life experiences, state-of-the-art science and diverse time-honored wisdom.
Having NOTHING, I should have been totally petrified and desperate. Just like many people today who have been decimated by this pandemic. And not unlike many budding writers I am following with admiration.
A 2500-year-old pamphlet with merely 5000 Chinese characters saved me. I am eager to share some of its central teachings with anyone who wants to live a better life.
I arrived from Hong Kong as a teenager with nothing…but my dream of becoming a doctor in the U.S. I had no life experience, no family support, no one I knew, no place to live, and no money.
Yet, from the perspective of ancient sage, Lao Tze, I had everything. And he would be proven right.
Dao-De Ching was Lao Tze’s only writing. It is revered as one of the most profound texts from China.
In it, I find nothing resembling any thesis or philosophy or religion. To me, it is simply an illuminating worldview with a mind-opening perspective.
The central theme throughout is ‘The Way’ of how reality is. Lao Tze calls it “The Dao”.
“The Way that can be told in any way
is not the eternal way.
The Word that can be put in words
is not the eternal word.”
Opening Verse, Dao-De Ching
So, if you want to find your way, you must look past his words. Otherwise you’ll just be stuck at the road signs and miss the wellsprings of wisdom they point to.
We’ll start by following three of the guideposts of The Way. We’ll then use the wellspring water to irrigate life and wellness for exercise.
Guidepost #1: NOTHING Underrated
Starting out with nothing as a poor foreign student, I found work-study jobs, student loans, and later, salaries, credit cards…the Dow and, most dependably, “The Dao”.
I am no “crazy rich Asian”, not even close. Yet, I have gotten more than I ever imagined. All paid off. Everything from nothing.
When you’re already at maximum,
there’s nowhere else to go.
When you’re close to nothing,
the sky is no limit.
It’s really not hard to do better when you start with nothing. And everything that’s come after that has been so, so wonderful.
With this experience I know I can rise from nothing. I have no fear or worry about even losing it all. I did it then, I can do it again. This time better prepared.
I know many people who have had way more than I all their lives. Yet, some are under constant stress of getting more or fear of having less. The nothing I had was actually a blessing in disguise.
There’s more to life than having everything, for good.
And, there’s more to life by having nothing, for now.
Guidepost #2: NOTHING Overlooked
“Nothing is the mother of Everything.”
— Lao Tze
By his perspective, “everything” is finite, whereas “nothing” is infinite. Yet, our common worldview is focused mostly on the limited “every-thing”, overlooking the limitless “NO-thing”.
Over 99% of the universe looks like “empty space”. Yet, hi-tech instruments have detected that it is loaded with energies and entities constantly blinking in and out of existence, with everything linked together, like a borderless embroidery.
It is the dark sky that lets the stars twinkle in our eyes.
Back on earth, there are limitless examples of how NOTHING is hidden in everything. Nothing works without it.
- These words are readable because of the blank space surrounding them.
- Musicians tell us the notes sound good only because of the proper pauses of silence in between them.
- A cup can’t hold much unless it’s been emptied. (A brain also.)
There is much, much more to “nothing”
than there is in everything that we see.
“Wu-wei” seems to be the way things in reality come into being so perfectly, abundantly and seemingly effortlessly.
A flower blossoms, just to fulfill its existential nature. No motive, really. The result is fantastic. A newborn baby is the same way.
The cosmos also. What unimaginable undertaking! What is the purpose of all the billions and billions of star-studded galaxies in space? Yet, what wondrous heavens we find up there!
Follow the flow of water and get everywhere, as if you’re trying to do nothing, is one of his favorite metaphors.
Lao-Tze’s teaching is NOT ‘do nothing’ or ‘not try’ to accomplish anything, as commonly misunderstood. Quite the opposite. It’s nurturing the desired outcome to come into being as if naturally on its own.
Sometimes, the things he advocates doing seem counter-intuitive, even odd, standing the mind on its head. Like making healthy choices when you’re not sick, to give an example for today.
Without forcing your way against the flow, do everything right (“wu-bu-wei”) so that nothing needs to be done (“wu-wei”) later to correct everything that’s gone wrong.
Today, we call that preemptive prevention.
NOTHING for Road-test:
Let’s put these signposts into practice…in our own body, wellness and life. In good times and bad.
- If this pandemic, or any other misfortune in life, has knocked you way down, leaving you with almost nothing, it’s not a bad place from which to start over. Nothing to lose, everything to gain.
At least in a pandemic, or a hurricane or wildfire, the playing field has been literally leveled for everyone involved. This is your chance to up-level the playing field for yourself.
- You think everything is here? Think again. Just look up to the sky for a moment. The podcast at the end may help broaden your bandwidth.
- Open your new eyes, now that you can see NOTHING better than everything before.
- Water waters the body like nothing else. After all, it makes up 70% of it.
- Too much sugar gives the body a jolt of energy, then drags it way down in the long run. Sometimes it’s worse than eating nothing.
- Lean protein is everything your muscles are also made of.
- Allow the body to re-sync, recoup and re-vamp its nonstop workings with the NOTHING wisdom. Allow it enough sleep, breaks for relaxation, enjoyment, fun and laughter. Maybe some tears when they flow naturally.
- At regular intervals, hard work and exercise actually animate the body better than everything else. And don’t neglect the resting intervals of doing nothing.
- Breathing air (even though it looks like nothing) is good for everything. Breathing practice seems to “oxygenate” the body-mind like nothing else.
- Create enough “empty space” in your day. Making time for nothing is healing. Leaving no time for anything is a dis-ease.
- Most of the complexities and miracles inside the human body are nothing our limited knowledge can read at present.
Just facilitate your incomprehensible invisible body wisdom do its job by providing it with nothing but the best conditions in which to work.
- Your mind can help a lot, but it can’t do it all for your body. Together, your body-mind can get everything done.
At the very least, do nothing to sabotage it, like mindless neglect, unhealthy food, prolonged inactivity, undue stress, and toxic environments. That’d go against ‘The Way’.
- If you get sick, you’ll often be given a one-dimensional drug to overcome it. If it works, that’s success. In contrast, all these multi-dimensional preventive health measures we recommend here are quite different.
Success here will be rewarded with the kind of nothing that’s better than anything. No disease, no disability, no stress, no side effect, no event. Life just flows on, fulfilling its existential nature, as if without motive or effort. Like NOTHING.
Nothing. Isn’t that everything we want?
Before you leave NOTHING and get to the final posting of this series next week, ponder on a free preview of this podcast up there in the sky. Enjoy, all at once or, better yet, one day at a time (2–3 minutes).
Good Night (Sky)
Footnotes on Lao Tze’s Dao-De Ching Pamphlet:
This mystic figure from 2500 years ago chose to leave fame, fortune and society for Nature. Fortunately, just before he disappeared, a stranger convinced him to put down his revered teachings in writing for the first time.
Lao Tze expressed his personal worldview only in this pamphlet. Its profound wisdom has since been studied and further developed by countless followers. Variable distortions have evolved, not unlike many other wisdom traditions.
In Lao Tze’s absence, followers developed it into a philosophy, called Daoism. Some even organized it into a religion. A few further twisted it into a craft. My interest is only in the wisdom and scholarship of the original text.
The text’s ancient Chinese writing is quite difficult, taking me a lifetime to learn. Its translations into many languages are laudable efforts, but…you know. I have the immense fortune to study it as originally written, aided by many learned scholars over the centuries.
That’s why I feel compelled to share what little I can decipher from this great treasure that I think is applicable to life today. I try to do my best for the English reader. I also find it helpful to ground the main points in human biology — something I’ve worked on all my life.
If I am in error about any of it, I welcome the opportunity to stand corrected with my humble apologies. Sincerely, being pointed out as ignorant or wrong means NOTHING to me. It allows me to learn everything I can from my honest mistakes.
Tak C. Poon, MD, PharmD, ABIHM, FACC
Board-certified American Preventive Cardiologist now developer of a wellness blog and a lifestyle habit-forming app at www.metacardio.org