Change is the Only Constant

The pandemic has brought forth unprecedented change in the modern world. What can Ancient Eastern philosophy teach us about accepting and adapting to change in order to lead more fulfilling lives?

Change is the Only Constant

The modern world of inflated egos and burnt-out souls was suddenly hit by a ravaging pandemic in late 2019. Unsettling times dawned upon human society. With that, came two types of people. Those who resist, and those who adapt. An unwelcome period of transition has forced us to come face to face with who we are, to look inwardly at our wellbeing and carve out a new way of conscious living.

Yet not all of us were willing to accept the reality of Covid-19. There were countless times when I would hear others gripe about waiting and wishing for life to be ‘normal’. They would hold back from carrying out projects or maintain certain practices, not because external circumstances forced them to, but their minds said no to it unless some sort of normality was apparent. Their inner souls denied and defied the reality of a world that was constantly shifting and transposing itself every day.

'Nothing is as painful to the human mind as a great and sudden change.' - Mary Shelley Photo by Denise Schuld

It has been so interesting to observe the different amounts of time that individuals have taken to willingly accept and adapt to the pandemic. From myself, who went with the flow from day one, to others who struggled acclimatising to the two major lockdowns in Australia and only admitted acceptance of reality after they had caught Covid-19 themselves via a variant. They say that this is the ‘new normal’. However, for two years, they were internally wrestling with external forces that were not in their control. Two years of complaints, anger at the world and dissatisfaction with themselves. Two years of putting life on hold. Two years that they will never get back.

Often when we are tightly strung and overwhelmed with life’s demanding tasks, we start to lose our working power and functionality. The pandemic has shed light on who we truly are when it comes to coping with uncertainty under pressure. Normality is ‘mere context-dependent social construct’ (Freud, 1999, p. 333) and will look different for every person. Hence, we all have one perception of what normal is for us, and when life happens outside this perspective, there is a dissonance created between our inner mind and outer experiences. The more we resist, the more amplified the dissonance becomes. Here is where unhappiness and strife exist.

The Tao Te Ching (道德經; Dàodé Jīng) is a classic Chinese philosophical text credited to Lao Zi, a sage from 6th century BC and is comprised of 81 verses on how to live with integrity and goodness. It is a fundamental text in Taoism and has strongly influenced other schools of thought, such as Confucianism and Buddhism. In the Tao Te Ching, you will find the concept of wúwéi 無為 which is the ‘powerful openness to change’ (Wang, 2007, p. 282 as cited in Moon, 2015, p. 457) and an understanding of letting things happen in alignment with the Natural Laws of the world. It supports the idea that we should govern ourselves in a way which promotes change to be done with ‘soft, minimal intervention, humility, and in a spontaneous manner’ (Moon, 2015, p. 457). Additionally, the text touches on the idea of emptiness in relation to usefulness.  Part of Verse 11 in the Tao Te Ching reads: ‘mix clay to create a container, in its emptiness, there is the function of a container’ (Lin, 2016, p. 27). We often think that emptiness or that which lacks substance, is useless. However, Lao Zi draws attention to the opposite and highlights how things needs to be empty in order to have a purpose, like that of a container. As Lin (2016) emphasises, ‘without that emptiness, the container would not be functional at all’ (p. 109). Another example would be a room which has emptiness created when constructing the windows and doors. This empty space is where its practicality exists. Both these Eastern philosophical ideas are crucial in understanding how we can achieve sustainable happiness through accepting life’s ebbs and flows with least resistance through emptying ourselves so as to be open to change.

Growing up, how I interpreted the world, what I believed in and my identity was subject to regular inspection and consistent modifications. Not all changes were easy to adjust to and some proved to have a negative impact in my life. Constant amendments would be put in place to steer me in a direction that I was satisfied with. Over time, I learnt that an effective approach to dealing with change was to apply the concepts found in the Tao Te Ching by living life’s natural course with acquiescence, being devoid of expectation and frequently emptying the mind. As a result, I gain enough emotional capacity and attentiveness to deal with the process of transformation.

Taking this a step further, I endeavour to pass this mindset onto my students in the classroom. When moving from one place to another around the school, we take detours to explore the vegetable garden or stop to look up at the clouds and see what shapes we can spot. We have conversations that flow outside of the topic domains during lessons. I schedule in time for free play and allow my students to interact in organic ways, letting them experience wúwéi in the everyday. All these practices encourage them to flow with the natural order of life, as well offer the opportunity to empty themselves to then be fully functional learners. They engage in the art of self-cultivation, the ‘development of oneself, both mind and body, throughout life, an endless transformation of the self’ (Peters, 2020, p. 1). As an educational practitioner, this aligns with my philosophy of helping others grow, not just academically, but socially, emotionally and spiritually too.

We can further seek to improve education from a Taoist lens by using the concept of wúwéi. Moon (2015) argues that we should let education run a more natural course, by ‘relying on self-transformation of learning without any imposed, mandated curriculum and assessment’ (p. 462). The idea of running with spontaneity in the classroom and allowing students to understand the world in its natural state is important for instilling inner peacefulness in our children. They learn to flow like water, shifting and adapting to what life throws in front of them, rather than being boxed in by an overcrowded academic program and the increasing demands of testing. As a teacher, I regularly see students being consumed by increasing anxiety, major burnout and the fear of challenging themselves because they are petrified of making mistakes. This is all happening to many young students, which severely affecting the wellbeing of our future generations. However, implementing the idea of wúwéi and permitting students to let go of negative emotions will shape them into citizens of the world who can readily accept and adapt to change with gentleness and humility.

From these Taoist notions, we can learn to empty ourselves so as to competently face all that occurs in life. If we hold onto trauma, anger and disappointment, where is there space to receive love, inner peace and spirit of the universe? Take a walk outside and observe the sky. Calm your restless mind with practices that help you feel tranquil. Write your thoughts out so that they are not taking up space inside your head. Empty yourself so as to dissolve the dissension between life’s reality and your imagined version of reality.


Freud, S. (1999). The social construction of normality. Families in Society, 80(4), 333-339. DOI:

Lin, D. (2006). Tao Te Ching: Annotated & Explained. SkyLight Paths Publishing

Moon, S. (2015). Wuwei (non-action) Philosophy and Actions: Rethinking ‘actions’ in school reform. Educational Philosophy and Theory, 47(5), 455-473. DOI:

Peters, M. A. (2020). Educational philosophies of self-cultivation: Chinese humanism. Educational Philosophy and Theory, 1-7. DOI:

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