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Who Moved My Cheese? - A Daoist Approach

Updated: Mar 10, 2020

From my experience, most modern-day books that are about how to better your life, or change your perspective, are actually based on and have their foundation in ancient Daoist wisdom.

When I first picked up the book “Who Moved My Cheese” by Dr Spencer Johnson, I wasn’t sure what it was going to be about. A friend had recommended it, telling me that it was a short book that gave deep philosophical ideas in an easy and digestible way. This sparked my interest in the book, and as I turned it over to read the blurb something stood out to me, it read:

This book will show you how to:

· Anticipate change

· Adapt to change quickly

· Enjoy change

· Be ready to change quickly, again and again

It instantly made me start to think about my own understanding of Daoism. On the “About” page of this very website, you can see the second idea of how I practice the Dao:

"Face new opportunities with a smile. Try to understand the positive possibilities of change in your life, try to follow the flow of the Tao."

I was shocked at the similarities drawn between these two ideas and excited to see what ideas the book would tell, how it would tell them, and if there really was a connection to the Dao.

The book is an amusing and enlightening parable of four characters who live in a maze and look for cheese to nourish them and make them happy. Each character has a different personality trait that is easily relatable to, and of course the Cheese and Maze are metaphors for what we want to have in our lives and where to look for it.

After I finished the book, I sat for a moment reflecting on what I had read. The more I thought about it, the more it seemed my initial thoughts were correct: this book really was all about Daoism but it was packaged in the form of a story even a child could understand.

This got me thinking, because actually it is not unusual for Daoist teaching to use humor and stories to share their wisdom. The most famous Daoist book is the “Tao Te Ching”, which for all intensive purposes is a book of poetry that holds deep wisdom on and in between the lines. However, the slightly less known, second most influential book of Daoism is “The Zhuangzi”. This book is a compilation of imaginative fables, creative thought experiments, and memorable characters. Just like “Who Moved My Cheese”, “The Zhuangzi” discusses deep philosophical ideas in a short and easily digestible way.

While reading “Who Moved My Cheese”, three sentences stood out that seemed to sum up the majority of the book:

"It is natural for change to continually occur, whether you expect it or not."
"Just respond to what happens."
"Remember: Move with the Cheese."

The three sentences remind me of a story in “The Zhuangzi”, Chapter 20, Verse 1: Riding the Dao. It is a short story all about adjusting to the changes in the world, changing our own perception, and how to ride along with the Dao of nature, or as Dr Spencer Johnson would put it: how to move with the cheese.

"So you just have to adjust to the changes, regardless of what's useful and what's useless."

"The only way to get out of the quandary is to ride along with the Dao of Nature."

This wisdom and philosophy that we can gain from reading “Who Moved My Cheese” is much the same as the wisdom written on the pages on Zhuangzi’s 2000+ year old book. Most people in the West, and for that matter also in the East, really don’t know much about Daoism. However, from my experience, most modern-day books that are about how to better your life, or change your perspective, are actually based on and have their foundation in ancient Daoist wisdom.

It is great to see this wisdom repackaged and made accessible to people who may not have otherwise experienced it, but the original wisdoms and writings are still there. These days you can find beautifully translated versions of the “Tao Te Ching” and “The Zhuangzi”, alongside interpretations of how to apply this wisdom to modern-day life. I think its great that the ideas of Daoism can be spread to people in whatever form and through whatever medium but if you are inspired by the words of an interpretation, I would deeply encourage you to check out the source material!

In all, “Who Moved My Cheese” is a beautifully written and engaging book that can not only help you when facing changes in your job, relationships, money or health, but could also be the starting point for learning more about its philosophical concepts that have their roots in Daoist teachings.

Recommended Books:

“Who Moved My Cheese: An amazing way to deal with the change in your work and life” – Dr Spencer Johnson.

“Zhuangzi: The Way of Nature” – Author: Zhuanzi. Illustrated by C. C. Tsai.

This is a beautifully translated and illustrated version of “The Zhuangzi”. A wonderful way to dig deeper in Daoism, its philosophy and wisdom.

“Tao Te Ching” – Laozi.

The Tao Te Ching is the second most translated text in the world and has been translated into English alone over 200 times. Each translation is different. Some try to translate the text as accurately as possible but have difficulties because of the traditional Chinese characters being full of meaning, idioms and context. Others try to translate the text with their own interpretation or in a way that makes it more accessible to a modern audience. It is hard to say what is the definitive version but better to read a couple of different translations for each verse.

“The Tao of Success: The Five Ancient Rings of Destiny” – Derek Lin

This book mainly consists of ancient Daoist stories. It is beautifully written and provides insight into the stories and how to apply their wisdom. It is a must read for anyone interested in Daoism.

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