The Tao of Relationships

Three Surprising Lessons from Ancient Masters

Start by managing your relationship with yourself.

The ancient masters taught that you must first bring harmony into your heart before you can bring harmony into your home. Similarly, you must master your relationship with yourself before extending that mastery to others.

One important key to self-management is present moment awareness. This means living fully in the here and now. There is no dwelling in the past, regretting what could’ve been, nor is there dwelling in the future, fearing what may come to pass. Your focus is right here and now, where you are at peace with yourself.

Another important key is the “soft” approach to life. When we look at a tree, we can see that living branches exhibit pliancy and flexibility, while dead branches are hardened and brittle. Take this as a cue from nature, and invite a new perspective into your consciousness as you transition into a new chapter of your life.

This new perspective is a gentler and more graceful path. As you start down this path, you find yourself feeling no need to rail against the world, or get worked up over one outrage or another. You’ve already fought your battles; it’s time to enjoy the rest you have richly earned.

Lesson: let your relationship with yourself be a peaceful one, and let your peace spread outward, like a ripple. As this ripple touches your family and social circles, you’ll see the potential for improved relationships blossoming like lotus flowers — one after another.

Take the holistic view when it comes to your relationship with the younger generation.

When there’s friction, avoid focusing only on the fault of the less mature, less experienced side of the discord. It is always possible that you have overlooked the part you play in the overall picture.

Recently, a troubled parent asked a spiritual teacher: “Master, my child is giving me a lot of negativity in attitude and back talk. What should I do?”

The teacher asked if the parent had ever made photocopies. The parent nodded. “Yes, Master.”

The teacher then asked: “What if you see an error on the copy you have made? Would you correct the copy, or the original?”

Instantly, the parent understood the deeper meaning in the teacher’s words. Often, young people reflect the best and worst in us, so if we notice something not quite right with a child, there may be a trace of that something within us as well.

Upon seeing the look of comprehension, the teacher smiled: “I think we can all agree that it would be best to correct both the copy and the original.”

Lesson: discord can be an opportunity, not for expressing your disappointment and frustration, but for a deeper examination of all parties involved. Let everyone, including you, be a part of the solution. This Tao will help you strengthen your relationships, and not push any loved ones away.

Be “the coin” when it comes to your relationship with friends and family.

The ancient Chinese coin had a square hole in the middle, so people could string many coins together for easy organization. When sages saw this, they used it as a metaphor. They taught that one should be like the coin, square on the inside and round on the outside. This meant one should be exacting and disciplined with oneself, while remaining relaxed and easygoing with everyone else.

Notice how many people are the exact opposite: harsh, critical and demanding with others, while giving themselves plenty of latitude and excuses. This is a double standard that destroys relationships and alienates people.

Ancient masters felt no need to be harsh, critical or demanding. They preferred to set positive examples with their actions, rather than to lecture or preach with their words. When people witnessed the effortless skills they demonstrated in life, they flocked to them, hoping learn from their wisdom.

We, too, can be like the ancient masters. Rather than to expend energy complaining about the imperfections we detect in the external world, we would be far better off directing that energy internally, to better ourselves.

Lesson: expecting more from yourself and nothing from others as you ease into this way of being. Soon, you will see people becoming naturally drawn to you, as if by magic. Ultimately, this is the Tao that builds relationships, and attracts fellowship, goodness and joy into your life.

Derek Lin
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