What is Daoism to Me?

I have been having a conversation with the Cloudwalking Owl, author of one of my favorite blogs, Diary of a Daoist Hermit.  In his last email, he made the statement, “As for Daoism, it all depends on what you mean by it.”  I’d like to explore that a little here.

What does Daoism mean to me?  More than anything, I think Daoism teaches one to live in harmony with the planet.  As a species, we are not in harmony with nature, so even could I live within the confines of our planet’s resources, I would make little difference.  That doesn’t mean, I don’t try.  I always take my own totebags for groceries, all my lightbulbs are the florescent type, I try to drive as little as possible, I try to buy local food, and I am moving towards being vegetarian.  I try not to be a consumer.  Most of my reading and movies come from the library.  I do shop at thrift stores for clothing and household goods.  I also donate back to the charitable thrift stores.  I try to keep as much out of a land fill as possible.  I am experiencing guilt about cleaning out my garage.  I put a lot of stuff out in the alley, in hope that it will get picked up by someone.  I intend to freecycle some stuff as well, but there were some things that went into the dumpster.  I feel bad about not living up to my intentions for the stuff.  I am doing the best I can, even though it isn’t enough to stop global warming or avert any crisis.  I do what I can do to be as harmonious with nature as possible.  That practice in daily life is how my Daoism manifests itself.  When I put something in the bin to recycle or compost, I am thinking of the planet, my home, that which gave birth to all the life of which we are aware.

I also read Daoist’s texts.  I have Chen’s translation of the Dao De Jing in hard copy, but most of the other reading has been online.  I have had a number of translations of the Dao De Jing.  I have read parts of other texts.  I study the concepts yin and yang, and tend now to think about the yin and yang of any given situation.  I also study the trigrams, and even organized my music by trigram for a while.  I have spent a great deal of time thinking about what I have read in the Dao De Jing.  I try to understand it, and where it might apply to my life.

And then there is my practice of Tai Chi.  I do a Yang Short Form.  I have been doing the form form 10 years and still feel challenged by it.  I have played with the form, as well.  I have lengthened it, and tried to reverse it.  I still do just the form as I learned it at least once per day.  I miss the occasional day and feel funny when I do.  I have learned more about meditation by doing Tai Chi, than any book I have read.  Tai Chi is sometimes called moving meditation, and I have had experiences doing it where time seems to fall away from me.  It is very pleasant.  Plus, I have received the health benefits of doing the form.  I think of my form as the most minimum formal exercise I must do.  I can always do more, but that little short form can take me into old age.

Those are all ways in which I express myself as a Daoist.  But they are not the only things I do.  I have a cat and I watch her hunt in the yard.  Luna locks onto her prey and suddenly blends into the landscape.  Then very slowly stalks whatever creature she is hunting.  She is a Daoist to me.  She is harmonious with nature without trying.  Yes, one could argue that she is not harmonious, but a killer and up-setter of a fragile urban ecosystem.  Well, she is always true to her cat nature.  She doesn’t pretend to be what she isn’t.  I always rescue the birds she captures, if it is not too late.  Most of the time no death happens.

My most recent rescue was a baby bird.  It had a red tuft on its neck and when I went to break up the skiffle, I was struck with fear that I was too late and would have to finish off the bird or let Luna do so.  For a second, I was freaked, but as I scooped up the little one, I realized I was holding a completely unharmed, but in shock, baby woodpecker.  Oh the joy of finding such an unusual bird in my hood.  I live in the city proper, not a ‘burb.  I took the bird to a bush in a far neighbour’s front yard.  When I checked back a little later, I had the delight of seeing the baby fly to a tree across the street.  No harm done.  That whole transaction was a manifestation of Dao for me.

There was one occasion that I didn’t get to Luna and her prey in time, and I had to put a small bird out of its misery.  It happened a couple of years ago, but is still fresh in my mind.  I did the deed quickly, then had a bit of a cry.  I wasn’t angry with Luna; she is a cat, and cats hunt.  I was mad at myself for not getting to it sooner.  And again, this was Dao for me.

But what does Daoism mean to me?  It is the public name for my spirituality.  It is my claimed religion.  I think of the Dao De Jing as a book of ethics.  Finding Dao enabled me to put a name to what I have always felt, but could never articulate.  The first time I read the Dao De Jing, I felt as if I were coming home.  I found in those pages a way to think about the insanity that is human culture without wanting to die.

I was raised as a Catholic.  The concept of God has never sat well with me.  Even as a child, I was not able to just accept and believe everything I was taught.  And about God, I was taught a lot.  As a child, one does indeed accept whatever is given by parents and my mom did her best to raise both my sister and me as good Christians.  The foundation she laid was on Jesus’ teachings and she taught by example.  She would really try to answer the question for herself, What would Jesus do? for any given problem.  And she has an enormous amount of Faith in God.  She has the ability to do her best, and then leave it to God.  I never had such ability as faith in God was not something I could grasp.

Words and their meaning are important to me.  My mother was an English teacher. As the eldest, I had her attention all to myself for the first 3 years of my life. I walked and talked during my first year because she carried me around naming things and teaching me the words for objects.  By 18 months, I was beginning to speak in full sentences.  I was about 8 or 9 years old when I heard John Lennon’s Imagine.  That song changed everything for me.  I thought a lot about that song; it encapsulated for me Jesus’ best teachngs.

I was in 8th grade when John was murdered.  I can’t forget when the news came over the radio.  As I heard he was dead, I felt my world being ripped from me.  I started to weep and I still cry about the loss of John.  I did a paper for Religion class about how he is my generation’s Jesus.  This did not go over well.  I got in trouble and was told I was wrong, which only strengthened my conviction that I was right.

When I graduated high school, I began to walk away from all organized religion.  I knew of none at the time that didn’t require a belief in God.  And my definition of God also comes from John Lennon.  He said, “God is a concept by which we measure our pain.”  That is truth to me.  I was more into nature and the wonder of the biological world and as far as what I needed from religion, I got from John.

I did call myself an atheist for a time.  I really don’t believe in a deity.  I was forced to at least pretend to believe when I was little, but as I grew up, I could not hold onto that idea. Spirituality is a personal thing for me – I did not know Dao yet.  I would go camping and feel that I was as close to “God” as a non being as I could get.  This worked for me until my 33rd year when I experienced a spiritual crisis of monumental proportions.

Late in 1999, I was diagnosed with Bi-polar Schizo-effective Disorder.  In early 2000, I took up tai chi as exercise.  I was into Hong Kong films, especially Jet Li movies.  Later, in the spring, my sister and I visited a friend in Chicago.  We spoke of my spiritual crisis and my desire for something outside of myself.  He told me of the Tao Te Ching as translated by Ellen Chen.  He had a copy and let me look at it.  I remember being in his pristine living room and reading the first chapter and KNOWING, “I am a Daoist.”

Still, have I answered the question, what Daoism means to me?  Following Dao, I believe Life is a process, not a thing.  Change is all there is.  There is nothing static about our reality, despite any appearance to the contrary.  I am sceptical of anything that doesn’t accord with that truth.

I don’t think I have satisfactorily answered his question, but I know on some level the question doesn’t really have an answer.  If life is not static, my definition and practice of Daoism can’t be pinned down with words, but only expressed by my being.  And my expression is probably not indicative of all Daoism.  I don’t know many Daoists, and I haven’t found a group of Daoists here in Saint Louis.  Also, I have not been ready to communicate with others about my Daoism.   I had to get comfortable on my own with the religion as I see it, and begin to put it into practice in my life.  I didn’t want to learn about Daoism through an institution.  Now, I am perhaps open to learning and practising some group activity on Dao, but I really feel that Dao as a religion demands that you do the math yourself – you must determine what Dao means to you.

%d bloggers like this: