The How of Tao

The attitude of Taoism and the Buddhist concept of nonattachment and the basic principle of cognitive therapy can be reduced to a single technique that creates calm, contentment, and peace of mind. The technique is to let go of an idea you’re clinging to. Remind yourself it is only an idea and stop clinging to it as if the idea were meaningful and weighty.

For example, Judy is a thirty-eight-year-old woman who lives in the same town as her alcoholic mother. Judy was upset about this. It bothered her that her mother drank so much every day. One day she discovered the prime source of her stress: The idea that it was her duty to save her mom.

So she gave up the idea. It was just an idea, after all, it was not The Law. And the idea caused her needless suffering. So every time she felt upset because of her mother’s drinking, she said to herself: The only one who can stop Mom’s drinking is Mom. She became happier, more relaxed, and probably healthier.

She let go of a fixed notion that she should save her mom. Giving up an attachment to an idea is known by Buddhists and Taoists as nonattachment. It is known by cognitive therapists as arguing against “should” statements. And in Rational-Emotive Therapy, they call it giving up musturbation. Clinging to an idea is the source of the bulk of human suffering.

Here’s the technique:

1. When you notice yourself unhappy about something, ask yourself what idea you are grasping, clinging to, clutching.

2. Say to yourself, “This is just an idea, and ideas are not reality. This idea doesn’t help me, so I’ll no longer use it as a guide. The idea is now dismissed, thank you very much.”

3. When the idea comes back later — as it probably will — dismiss it again. You may be in the habit of thinking the idea, so it’ll come up again after you’ve dismissed it, like an idiot employee who doesn’t understand he has already been fired. Send him home again. And again. And as many times as you must until he eventually stops coming back.

You will relax and feel happier every time you let go of an idea that has been causing you unnecessary stress.

This article was excerpted from the book, Self-Help Stuff That Works: How to Become More Effective with Your Actions and Feel Good More Often.

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