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On the Road Less Traveled: Personal Essay on the Path of Non-Resistance

In physics, the “path of least resistance” is a fundamental principle that underlies our modern understanding of reality. The elegant observation is that physical processes follow the path of least resistance. For example, “what goes up must come down” corresponds to gravity and “heat goes from hot to cold” corresponds to the second law of thermodynamics, with this principle spanning […]

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Some friends I met on the Path of Non-Resistance.
Some friends I met on the Path of Non-Resistance.

In physics, the “path of least resistance” is a fundamental principle that underlies our modern understanding of reality.

The elegant observation is that physical processes follow the path of least resistance.

For example, “what goes up must come down” corresponds to gravity and “heat goes from hot to cold” corresponds to the second law of thermodynamics, with this principle spanning into our most esoteric understanding of matter (the Standard Model of physics).

As a student of Greek Stoicism, Chinese Taoism, and Japanese Zen, I have come to understand this path from a different perspective.

I have come to realize that much of human suffering arises from resistance, and the middle way to escaping this illusion (the concept of Maya) is to understand not the path of least resistance, but the path of non-resistance.

What is the Path of Non-Resistance?

Well, it’s difficult to put into words.

Lao Tzu –⁠ the founder of Daoism the author of the Tao Te Ching, a book widely read by CEOs – said that “Those who know do not speak. Those who speak do not know.”

Thus, although I can share some apophatic knowledge (in the singular teaching of Pseudo-Dionysius the Areopagite) of the Path of Non-Resistance, any positive imagery I paint would not be of said Path.

Eihei Dōgen – the founder of the Sōtō school of Zen in Japan – shares his insights into this path using this kōan from his magnum opus, Shōbōgenzō.

When the fish swims, no matter how far it swims, it doesn’t reach the end of the water.

When a bird flies, no matter how high it flies, it cannot reach the end of the sky

Here, Dōgen is teaching the reader by way of self-realization that the Path of Non-Resistance is not a path in the traditional sense of a patha road that leads somewhere with a destination in mind.

Dōgen further elucidates this idea in the Genjōkōan essay of Shōbōgenzō.

Therefore, if there are fish that would swim or birds that would fly only after investigating the entire ocean of sky, they would find neither path nor place. When we make this very place our own, our practice becomes the actualization of reality.

The Road Less Traveled

Returning to the Road Less Traveled, Zeno of Citium – the founder of Stoicism, a western school of thought that is undergoing a revival – faced an unexpected life event and the subsequent fork in the road as a shipwrecked merchant in a foreign city—Athens.

After stopping in an Athenian bookstore and reading about the life of Socrates, a previously unseen path opened in Zeno’s mind – a fork in the road – and he faced a choice.

Zeno’s choice – to follow the path less traveled from his peers at the time – not only changed his life, but it is fair to say it profoundly changed Western thought and impacted history in ways he could not have imagined.

Contrary to the teachings of Daoism, Zen, and Stoicism, one observes that as our world grows increasingly smaller and ever more connected, many people are seeking refuge in the comfort of familiar things and places.

Yet, we live in a time when thoughts manifest in flashes of ephemeral delight, ideas travel in the blink of an eye to 4+ Billion people across every corner of the planet, and global travel from the volcano of Mount Kilimanjaro to the glaciers of Patagonia is at the fingertips of any adventurous traveler.

I see Marco Polo and Zelda Fitzgerald in the men, women, and children I have met from my global journey to 50+ countries across six continents.

As the late Anthony Bourdain did so well in his travel show No Reservations, I have come to understand that beneath the shiny veneer of modern-day travel, the beauty of travel actually lies in sharing the journey with someone else, in sharing tales of personal experiences with other kindred souls from vastly different backgrounds.

Stay Hungry, Stay Foolish

I would like to end with just one humble advice.

Don’t be victimized by our looming culture of fear.

Our Blue Planet – the Pale Blue Dot in the words of Carl Sagan – is waiting to be explored, to reveal its secrets to you, and to any who dare ask it, it will share with you the fundamental truth of life itself.

Let’s take control of 2020 and your short time on this Pale Blue Dot.

Let’s take control of 2020 and your short time on this Pale Blue Dot.

Don’t be afraid to take the plunge without looking.

I encourage you to take off your safety harness and take the road less traveled.

By Andrew Vo

Fellow Traveler On The Road.

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