Posted by: Mike Ferruggia | November 21, 2011

Stirring the Pot

The Tao De Ching kind of exhorts us not to stir the pot, not to awaken energies in a group dynamic, let’s say, that if stirred, will come forth out of control. I’ve been thinking about this a lot, and the two options one has when dealing with certain situations. The zen/taoist way is to stay to the center and act as little as possiible and allow things to arrange themselves. This has worked well for me, but I must say it takes a lot of work and discipline and practice, vigilance and awareness. It is not as easy as it sounds, even as people around you get the perception that you aren’t doing anything, when you know in your heart, that the essence of it is that in fact you are doing everything!

If things are flowing, if they are working well, why stir the pot and upset the flow? And if things aren’t working well, intervening or trying to force a conclusion only makes matters more chaotic. Better to allow the negative energies to dissipate and disappear on their own. If they have nothing to push against, they can’t push. It is tai chi in action.

But I often ask myself if, when stagnation sets in, in a relationship, or among co workers, if a little stirring of the pot isn’t called for. Sometimes we can stir the pot in a mischievous way, just to get a reaction out of people for fun, or to create a little chaos and wreak havoc as a kind of guerrilla warfare smoke tactic. But these are just tactics.

In a legitimate situation, where stagnation has set in, the ingredients in a drink, metaphorically speaking, have settled to the bottom and the drink no longer has taste, should we stir the pot. Now in the glass of water metaphor, we want the sediment to settle to the bottom because then we are left with a clear glass of drinking water. But what about a hearty soup? If everything settled to the bottom, the only thing we’d get in the spoon is broth. And any Italian cook will tell you you must constantly stir the tomato sauce or else it will stick to the pot. So, which metaphor do we adhere to.

Different metaphors for different situations? If a baseball team has fallen into a slump, does the manager sit in the center and allow things to arrange themselves, eventually, everyone coming out of the slump, or does he stir the pot a bit and take the slumping star out of the lineup or bat him last instead of in the cleanup position?

At work, do you stir the team up on occasion, bringing in someone new, playing with the mix, come up with new and exciting things to do? Keep things fresh?

I have to remember that the constant of Tai Chi is change, the flowing river, it’s never the same, it is constantly re-inventing itself every moment, while still remaining the river. But the question is, do you allow these changes to effect themselves by themselves naturally, or do you intervene, actively make change happen?

And let’s apply it to ourselves. Are you in a slump, are you stagnating? Has your life become dry and stale? Do you just sit back and let life happen to you? This is not the essence of wu wei. In wu wei, we are actively engaged and consciously aware. And perhaps there are things we can do to stir the pot for ourselves, to get the river flowing again.

Being aware of the opportunities that come our way every day is one way, and we develop this awareness through all the practices of meditation and tai chi and qi gong we have spoken of many times throughout this blog. We also develop the gong fu that will enable us to take good advantage of those opportunities that we recognize on our path. We also develop the ability to percieve even setbacks as learning opportunities or to take setbacks and turn them into opportunities.

So, stirring the pot with the wrong motivation is wrong. Constantly changing things keeps your team on its heels and interrupts their flow. But stirring the pot a bit to freshen things up, to get things moving that have come to a crawl, is ok. Recognize things may have come to a crawl for a reason, out of a natural development, and maybe you need to crawl for a while, but you have to also develop the wisdom to know that there’s going to come a time when you are going to have to pull the trigger.

Having said that, I’m going to think on it for the rest of the day. Maybe you never have to pull the trigger. Maybe the trigger will get pulled. In every case, though, if you are unsure on whether to act or not, or when is the right time, always follow taoist principles as espoused in the I Ching, act for the good, follow proper principles, do not act out of the ego, for pride, greed, hatred and so on.



  1. Well said.

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