toeing the tao. . .

by mulberryshoots

So what does it mean to live a taoist life? I added a new tagline to begin the new year: “one woman’s (taoist) way of life.”

Here’s how it happened. . .

While the bottom was falling out of my life over twenty-five years ago (see eggs in one basket), someone gave me the Book of Changes, or the I-Ching, translated by Richard Wilhelm. At first, I thought it was an Oracle book, readings sought by tossing coins to focus on hexagrams that might shed light and wisdom on conundrums facing me when there seemed to be no answers in sight.

I read a lot about the I-Ching and I read the book itself a lot by throwing hexagrams and writing down in spiral notebooks all the words that were intuitively meaningful to me so that I might be able to piece together what it seemed to be saying to me about my very uncertain future.

Over time, as I filled up notebook after notebook of what the hexagrams were relating to me, I began to see a pattern emerge:

a) my questions were often too specific because I was in a rush to learn what might happen to me (yes or no questions about what to do next) so I learned to form broader and more open-ended questions, such as: “what would be helpful for me to know, or understand in such-and-such a situation?” rather than, “will this or that happen?”

b) the majority of the time, I found that I missed nuances or misinterpreted unfavorableness for favorable outcomes that I hoped would come true. In hindsight, the misinterpretations contained some ambiguity to the situation, or some ambivalency within myself that I did not want to admit or to look at.

c) sometimes the I-Ching would ignore my question altogether. And instead, tell me what I really needed to know, even if I didn’t want to ask about a particular situation.

I found that consulting the I-Ching was the equivalent to accessing one’s inner wisdom, one’s higher self and the wisdom of the Cosmos, the Sage, or whatever higher power you believe or don’t believe exists in the Universe.

And because the I-Ching is the foundation of Taoism, with quite a bit of Confucian overlay in the Wilhelm edition, I started to read about the difference between these two ancient Chinese kinds of thought.

In a nutshell, Confucian thought values society over the individual and emphasizes the importance for the individual to be acceptable and recognized by the society in order to be worthwhile. In other words, you are defined only by the judgment and alliance with what others tell you to be or do. In some ways, I find Confucianism more like “Confuse-em ism” because who one becomes is interchangeable with what one thinks others expects of them, rather than being true to oneself. Importance in the community and what others think of you supercedes what you might want to be or do.

Taoism is the individual finding your own way–like Lao Tsu and the Tao te Ching writings in which whatever you do is to do nothing and to want nothing but to be yourself without attachment. Taoist hermits are reclusive and live in the moment for its own sake.

So, toeing the Tao is a way to describe letting one’s energy roam and attract like energy in synchronicity and serendipity. Something like the energy of writing about this here in today’s post.

Postscript: tonight, a new friend wrote to me about purchasing a book on the I-Ching and a number of other chance happenings, asking me what I thought the significance might be to them. My immediate reaction was to suggest that she learn how to consult the I-Ching hexagrams, and to utilize the events as a way of accessing this ancient book of wisdom. I hope that she will try it out. It is a good way to begin, and how it began for me years ago. So I wish her well. And you too.