The living are soft and supple;
the dead are rigid and stiff.
In life, plants are flexible and tender;
in death, they are brittle and dry.
Stiffness is thus a companion of death;
flexibility a companion of life.
An army that cannot yield
will be defeated.
A tree that cannot bend
will crack in the wind.
The hard and stiff will be broken.
The soft and supple will prevail.
Lao Tzu here compares the qualities of softness and rigidity. The former is characterised by life, for it is the hallmark of youth, vigour and strength, while the latter is evident in death and decay. To be soft and yielding is to be strong, alive and vital. To succumb to rigidity and inflexibility is to lose our vigour and invite death.
Be aware of any tendency you have to slip into rigidity – either physically or mentally – and shake yourself loose. Let go of rigid belief systems and relinquish any old grudges, resentments or anything else that may be weighing you down. Approach each moment anew. Be willing to see things differently. Be willing to do things differently; acting not from habit, but from clear awareness of the needs of the situation.
To consciously remain soft, supple and flexible is to retain youth of body and mind and to live in balance, aligned with the natural harmony of the Tao.