"Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?" ~ Mary Oliver

Tag: Taoism

‘being taoist’ . . .

the rock signifying "yin-yang" which I found on the beach . . . and "buddha babes" laughing about life . . . plus love remembrances from C.

the rock signifying “yin-yang” which I found on the beach . . . and “buddha babes” laughing about life . . . plus love remembrances from C.

A few weeks ago, I was in a bookstore called ‘Taproot’ and came across a hardbound copy of the “I-Ching” called “The Book of Changes and the Unchanging Truth” by Hua-Ching Ni. As a student of the I-Ching for over twenty-five years, I was intrigued and came home to purchase a used copy of the book.

It arrived a few days ago. And during the interim time, I also ordered a book on Amazon called “Being Taoist – Wisdom for Living a Balanced Life” by Eva Wong. It arrived yesterday and I read a few chapters last night before going to bed early. Made all the sense in the world to me and I also relayed some of these ideas to G. this morning and as I will sum up herewith:

Everyone is born with life energy. How we use it throughout our lives accounts for how long it lasts. If we strive for fame and fortune comparing ourselves to others; or rail against what life’s vicissitudes puts us through with anger, rage and vengence; if we live with envy of our neighbors and resent what we don’t have rather than being grateful for what we do have; and if we take it out on ourselves by overeating, being slothful, indulging in excesses, physical and otherwise, we use up our life energy without knowing it. We perpetuate this never-ending struggle upon ourselves. Everyday, without knowing it.

Instead, if we know that we can live simply and with moderation in all things: eat well but stop before we are full, drink lukewarm water when we are thirsty, walk when we have been sitting too long; sit when we are tired and get enough sleep, our life energy will be conserved and we will be at peace and experience contentment. This is the simple truth about longevity and quality of life.

Well, I thought – this kind of balance is within our own intentions and actions. When we overreact, are frustrated and disappointed, we’re using life energy more than we have to. When we strive for or resent what others may have but we feel we don’t have but want, we are using life energy more than we have to.

I’m old enough to know how lucky I have been to end up where I am now, having gone through lots of turmoil in the past. Leaving it all behind me now, I feel no need to “fix” what is unfixable and to leave those matters to others. And I drop them without rancor or regret. It’s just gone. Not worth any life energy to speak of, it seems to me, and certainly not worth talking about anymore.

Although I was born in China and am innately Asian in my outlook on life – thus the study of Taoism and the I-Ching – I also grew up in America and am aware of the bilateral way of Western thinking: “it is or it isn’t;” “it’s yes or no;” “it’s black or white;” “they’re wrong and I’m right.” But Taoism is not bilateral. It’s holistic and a way of eschewing or taking off this hairshirt of conflict: “right or wrong and that’s the only outcome.”

We don’t have to figure it out. We can choose at this very moment to discard all these “shoulds” “have-nots” and “unfixable disappointments” in one fell swoop – and thereby choose to preserve our life energy in a better way ~ starting now, in this very moment.

At least, that makes a lot of sense to me. Plus I feel so much better!




“wu-wei” baby! . . .

truro photo for duvet cover

So this morning, I pulled out a couple of paperbacks in my library on Taoism: “The Wisdom of the Taoists” by D. Howard Smith and “The Elements of Taoism” by Martin Palmer. Once again, as always happens, we, the reader, are told over and over again how Taoism cannot be put into words while reading words by people trying to explain it to us. It happens every time and it always amuses me no end.

At the same time, there are differences explained between Confucianism and Taoism which for me delineate the difference between choosing to live your life according to what you think OTHERS’S expectations or “shoulds” rule your life (Confucianism) or for your spirit inside to align with a larger Universe (the Tao) and to pursue your life in alignment with your inner truth (Taoism.) That might be a glib way to explain the differences but at least, it illustrates how vastly different these two philosophies of life can be.

There were pencil notes in the texts that I had written years ago, including a reminder of a quotation that I saw on the wall in a calligraphic script when I woke up one morning. It was not a hallucination so much as it was a vision that I remember clearly in a large calligraphic font on the bedroom wall:

                                                    “The more we are at One, the more we are All One.”

Now if that isn’t an axiom of Taoist one-ness, I don’t know what is. In my life, especially in times of hardship, I have experienced alignment with a Universe which was invisibly beneficent. I didn’t feel threatened by it and I trusted in its goodness to support the unknown in a positive way. So many seemingly insoluble circumstances in my past (bankruptcy, divorce, joblessness) smoothed themselves out masterminded by Helpers from the Universe. Truly, I could not understand otherwise and it has borne itself out in my life ever since. Which brings me to “wu-wei”

In its simplest definition, “wu-wei” describes a state of non-doing and going with the flow, trusting that the unknown is meant to be and that we are less wise than it is in dealing with anything more than the present moment. Without a trust in the Universe, whether it be in the form of an all knowing Sage, or God, or Almighty, it feels impossible to let go and subscribe to trying something like “wu-wei”. Although it’s hard to do, it’s also really hard NOT to do if one goes through life thinking you can control events and everyone around you. Here in America, we live in a culture that promotes the idea that we are invincible and will overcome if we just try hard enough. That’s not “wu-wei” though.

Everyone is different and that’s why there is no one formula about how to be happy or how to be enlightened even if we could wrap our heads around it. The only knowledge that we may have of someone is that we don’t know much about who they are inside deep down, unless of course they decide to tell us or to talk about it with us. So, given that we don’t know and really can’t know much about all of the people or circumstances that we are trying to react to, marshal or get things done with everyday, no wonder we get worn out. That’s where “wu-wei” provides an alternative reality to live with, within ourselves.

Here’s a short excerpt about “wu-wei” from Wikipedia:

To follow Wu Wei you must first let go of struggle. Stop fighting with life and trying to make things happen. You are struggling against the flow. You must first realize that you can give this up. Then it is the case that you act, you are not passive – merely waiting for things to happen, but you are no longer opposing the flow of events. Instead, you act, but let go into the uncertainty of life, and you see how life actually occurs. You become open to the mystery of which you are part. In a sense it is total acceptance of yourself and this moment. Of course, it is necessary to practice this. While the way is not of time, and we can be there in an instant, practice connects us to this place over time. Through practice the way reveals itself. Only through practice can this truth be revealed.

“Wu-wei” takes care of that enormous expenditure of energy, expectation and sturm and drang from our lives.

The Walt Disney movie, “Let it Go” is popular not just for the freeing storyline of girls being able to rescue themselves rather than relying on males to do it for us, but it also exhorts all of us to “let it go” –release ourselves from the Confucian dogma of what everybody else wants from us or expects us to be. How about that, huh? “Let It Go” being a Taoist mandate to free yourself from the inside out? I’ll bet nobody at Disney was thinking about that message when they made the movie, but hey, it’s not far from what they’re actually encouraging lots of little girls to do. And perhaps some grown-up girls too.

Maybe the rest of us can take heart that as we age, even though there’s less and less influence that we seem to have on our children as they spread their wings, asserting themselves inwardly and outwardly, we can know that the Universe is there for all of us. So, why struggle? Why not float along in a life with “wu-wei”, going with the flow knowing that there’s more in store for us that we can’t know. And that change is the only thing that is constant. So, why worry?

Now, I think I’ll go and make cheeseburger sliders on snowflake rolls with chopped onion for lunch on Super Bowl Sunday. Whatever happens at the big game, I’ll bet that it won’t be predictable, not with all the hoopla over Deflate-Gate or whether it’s actually a Deflate-Gate-Gate? Maybe It’s a good time to practice some “wu-wei” about the outcome, right? See you later!




return . . .

"Attain ultimate emptiness of mind; maintain absolute peaceful stillness of body," (Lao-Tzu ~ Dao de Jing) Calligraphy by my late father, Edward C.T. Chao

“Attain ultimate emptiness of mind; maintain absolute peaceful stillness of body,” (Lao-Tzu ~ Dao de Jing) Calligraphy by my late father, Edward C.T. Chao

Some of you may know about my relationship to an ancient book of wisdom called the I-Ching. It has many identities for as many readers: a book of changes about the constant alternation of Yin and Yang in our lives; an oracle which introduces us to the condition of things which our sub-conscious seems to recognize, and for me, an invisible link to help and assistance from the Universe anytime that I consult it. If you’re looking for Helpers from the Universe, they are accessible by using this book. Aside from some Confucian overlay that occurs in the Richard Wilhelm/C.F. Baynes edition, the I-Ching is also considered as a seminal source for Taoist beliefs.

I was first introduced to the I-Ching by someone who appeared out of nowhere to help me close out the move from our family home when I was getting divorced from my first husband. At the time, I was job-less, my children scattered, trying to grow up and go to school while their parents were breaking up. Not to belabor further how exigent things were at the time, the I-Ching Book of Changes became my refuge, an unknown hand of the Universe leading me through that harrowing time. I wrote down all the readings and the lines that sprung out at me as though written especially for that daily circumstance. Many spiral notebooks later and through the years, I became so familiar with the book that I knew many of the lines by heart and most of the hexagrams by number. The I-Ching is a dynamic book, certain hexagrams like “the Marrying Maiden” or “Obstruction” or “Darkening of the Light” making me cringe when I received them. Others, “Taming Power of the Great,” “Possession in Great Measure,” “The Well” and “the Cauldron” were more consoling and uplifting.

So why am I writing about the I-Ching today? Recently, we have experienced a few shocks that occurred outside of our control. And I was thinking about looking for my I-Ching book to do a reading or two as I drove back from my shopping trip the other day.

Yesterday, a big box arrived from one of my cousins, the middle son of my favorite cousin, Pei Fen, who had died earlier in the summer. Packed very carefully with rolled up newspaper emerged a black slipcase boxed set of the I-Ching in two volumes, a Bollingen version that had belonged to Pei Fen and had sold at the time for about $7.50 in 1950.

It was as though the Universe had arranged for this well-bound, oversized version of the I-Ching to arrive on my doorstep as if to say: “Here I am, remember?” I made a brown parchment paper cover for the first volume and taped a copy of the legend on the newly covered back of the book for easier access. Then, I threw a series of six readings for a complex situation that we have been facing and read them aloud for G. and me to digest together. The nuances for each question were clear as day to each of us. It was comforting to receive them as a guide for how to think about moving forward.

This I-Ching return is of great portent for me, especially at this moment. It helped me (might I even say, saved me?) during the worst period in my life twenty or so years ago. It magically reappeared yesterday, thanks to the thoughtful gesture of this gift from my cousin Pei Fen’s house. Thank you, S.! Among Pei-Fen’s last words to me were, “Be happy!”

The timing is perfect. What a consolation it is to be reminded once again that there is help from the Universe, anytime I am open to, and ask for it. I give thanks for these golden threads woven into my life.

fortune . . .

It was eighty-four degrees outside while I drove back from Brookline after my shiatsu treatment yesterday. It’s the third week in March and it felt like the middle of May! Since it was so warm outside, I decided to swing by one of my favorite Chinese restaurants in Framingham and pick up something for dinner on the way home. I ordered three cold appetizer dishes that weren’t on the regular “take-out” menu: drunken chicken, pickled szechuan cabbage, braised bean curd skin and some brown rice.

When I arrived home, I opened my mail, and in it was a beat-up paperback translation of the “Tao te Ching” dating to the 1960’s that I had found online by chance. I browsed Read the rest of this entry »

retreat . . .

I have learned an important observation about progressing through life from studying the I-Ching. And that is to be still when it’s time to be still. I think that we all recognize times when movement forward is not happening. Or that a next move is up to someone else or forces that are externally beyond our control. In America, the cultural norm is to think of progress as a straight line trajectory up and away, all the time. But in real life, it doesn’t always work that way. Sometimes, the most appropriate stance we can take is to be still.

Retreat into oneself can be an act of strength, not weakness as often interpreted in the West. Preserving one’s integrity while holding still is one of the most powerful concepts that I have learned from reading about Zen, the Tao-te-Ching and other lessons from the I-Ching. Keeping one’s flame alight, although hidden, is a way to get through situations when everyone around you is not of your kind or who are Read the rest of this entry »

toeing the tao. . .

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.

a taoist hermit. . .

In “About” I write that I think I would like to be a Taoist Hermit. If you read Bill Porter’s books written under the name, Red Pine, he relates stories about looking for Taoist hermits in the wild mountains west of Sian. Sometimes the hermits are in plain sight in a village but there’s no way to truly identify them even if you are looking straight at them. There are stories about hermits who sit alone in their mountain hut on a moonless night, eating only pine needles and drinking drops of dew.

I have been a loner all my life but I don’t think that qualifies me as being a “hermit.”  Here are two definitions of “hermit” I found online:


1. A person who has withdrawn from society and lives a solitary existence; a recluse.

2. A spiced cookie made with molasses, raisins, and nuts.

My existence is pretty solitary which is why being able to write this blog is a way to share who I am and to becoming more known by my family and friends.
So the hermit/recluse part is pretty well established in my lifestyle. Following the Tao begins with a single step (Lao Tzu) and the rest of the journey is the way that I live my life.
Click here if you would like to read a well-written article about the difference between Taoism and Confucianism (or Confuse’em-ism)