TZU JAN; let it happen by itself.

“You are good enough”, this is something I contend with every day, especially as someone just starting architecture. I constantly beat myself up when I go through other people’s work on Behance, when I don’t read up on what I had planned, and when it seems to me that my grades don’t match the work I do. In this self-imposed adversity, I have continuously sought a way out, I have always sought to outgrow. I hope these next words help you in some way if you are like me, always asking if you are enough.

Tzu Jan is the Chinese word for nature, it means “that which happens of itself.” The universe is spontaneous and we have evolved to make everything happen instantaneously. Different peoples of the world have different cultures, but today, the make-it-happen culture is ubiquitous. The materialistic nature which we have grown to imbibe is becoming even more complicated with new scientific innovations and technological development. The situation from the time I started to write this piece compared to now, when I complete it is quite different, with different developments dictating new behavioral patterns, and ultimately deepening our make-it-happen nature.

The first two paragraphs of this essay were written about six months ago, I have written a lot of other things since then, I can only say this piece waited until now to be completed, for some reason that seems to be above my head, and maybe for no reason at all. The state of my mind when I started to write this article is in no way compared to what is at this moment. If my memory serves me right, I started to write this with the intention to pass the message that it is better to take things as they come, and to use the generic phrase, “to trust the process.” As indicated by the opening sentence, I wanted the article to target architecture students, in response to the enormous complaints by my colleagues at that time, including complaints by myself.

My thoughts on the initial idea behind this article have changed, but not so much. I have questioned this very idea; should we let life happen by itself? Is it better to try to force everything we want to happen? I have also had some practical experiences that have given me a better perspective of the idea of letting life happen by itself. The remaining part of this article will be me trying to answer the question; should we let life happen by itself? What does it even mean for life to happen by itself?

I will start with this story I heard from Alan Watts, a 20th-century American teacher of eastern knowledge and philosophy. Alan Watts’ teachings exposed me to the basic ideas of Zen Buddhism, his books have also helped me in making inquiries that have shaped my general outlook on life. The story is told by Alan of a Chinese farmer whose horse ran away. That evening, all of his neighbors came around to commiserate. They said, “We are so sorry that your horse has run away. This is the most unfortunate.” The farmer said, “Maybe.” The next day the horse came back bringing seven wild horses with it, and in the evening, everybody came back and said, “Oh, isn’t that lucky. What a great turn of events. You now have eight horses! “The farmer again said, “Maybe.”

The following day his son tried to break one of the horses, and while riding it, he was thrown and broke his leg. The neighbors then said, “Oh dear, that’s too bad,” and the farmer responded, “Maybe.’ The next day the conscription officers came around to conscript people into the army, and they rejected his son because he had a broken leg. Again, all the neighbors came around and said, “isn’t that great!” Again, he said, “Maybe.”

The story doesn’t end there, the avoidance of the army conscription may have eventuated in the farmer’s son catching a disease that would later befall the village, if he had made the conscription he might have become another lost soldier in battle, or a powerful general, so powerful that his father wouldn’t need to farm again.

This story expresses how complex our reality is, it shows that life is a process of immense intricacy, and everything happens so another thing will happen. We are always quick to judge things that happen to us as either good or bad. It is almost impossible not to do this. It requires a very scarce level of superconsciousness to realize that our reality, and indeed, our lives manifest on a level that is beyond good and evil. It is our natural instinct, either for the sake of survival, or actualizing our pre-conceived notion of what reality should be to immediately evaluate events in our lives as good or evil, we immediately take actions that are not always beneficial, and in extreme cases, we dwell on these events, which are not in and of themselves either good or bad, to the extent that they define our lives and everyday existence as either good or bad.

What does it mean to let life happen by itself?

It is not easy to explain this, as it is for anything relating to the way humans see the events of life and how they react to them, or anything that tries to suggest how humans should live life. Notwithstanding, I will try to explain what it means to let life happen by itself. The last paragraph tries to explain that nothing in this life is good or bad. If you agree with it, then to let life happen by itself is to first of all, like the Chinese farmer did accept events as they happen in your life, with the conviction that you know not what they mean for the near or distant future, and like the Chinese farmer, just say “Maybe.”

There are a plethora of ways to let life happen by itself. Even when we are not able to view the events in our lives as beyond good and evil, as most of us will. We can still accept the bad things that happen to us as just another way of this unjust world manifesting itself. We accept that things happen, and do not dwell on the bad things that happen to us, let alone, allow them to define the way we see ourselves and the world around us.

Another way to understand the notion of letting life happen by itself is to stop actively trying to avoid bad things in our lives, some of us are so obsessed with this that we end up judging everything as bad, developing a hypersensitivity to bad events. I’m sure psychologists and psychiatrists have a term for this. To better understand this, let us refer to “bad things” as chaos- the opposite of order. Actively trying to avoid bad things means actively trying to avoid chaos. Chaos is that which we are afraid of, as Jordan Peterson puts it, it is where we are when we don’t know where we are, and what we do when we don’t know what we are doing. It is, in short, all things that we do not know or understand.”

Have you ever seen a person live their life that way? They always try to get everything under control. They never want to leave their city or country to start a new job, they never want to do new things that have not been done before. Parents with this mindset limit the prospects of their children by forcing them to take on careers they think they know enough about and can handle; they end up limiting the prospects of their children by being overprotective trying to avoid that which is unavoidable, and even better unavoided. Chaos is possibility itself; it is that from which our entire cosmos emanated, avoiding chaos is shutting down innovation and the chances life gives us to prove ourselves and make new things happen.

What letting life happen by itself is not.

Jesus Christ tries to explain what letting life happen by itself means in the last verse of the sixth book of Matthew, where he says “Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.” As if to say “why not leave out trying to end all your troubles today, when new ones are bound to spring up tomorrow.”

This explanation also gives us an insight into what this idea or philosophy is not. This philosophy does not posit that you should let life just happen to you, without having a say in the turns your life takes. Letting life happen by itself does not mean we should sit back and just take whatever life gives us.

It doesn’t say you shouldn’t demand that which you want from life. We are not called to just allow external events to define our lives, we are even called to do the opposite. Letting life happen by itself means knowing what you want from life, with the conviction that what you want might not be the best thing for you. It means knowing that there is more in store for you, and having the courage and wisdom to let that which is in store happen by itself.

Conclusively, it is impossible to tell the consequences of misfortune or good fortune. Life is complex, and events do not happen in isolation, they happen for other things to happen. It is counter-intuitive to try to control all things that happen to us, the order may be too extreme, and at the same time, chaos may be too devastating. We need a balance between chaos and order, to forge ahead into the unknown, to take that which is stored for us, letting life happen by itself.



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Tim Ojo-Ibukun

Tim Ojo-Ibukun

Tim is an Architecture student at OAU, he's the convener of tim talks.