I sit here on a lovely rainy day pondering. I think that’s one reason I love rain so much – the sound is restful and somehow rejuvenating and in that it gives my mind time and space to consider without the usual stresses. Well, that can happen so long as I don’t run headlong into my day, at least.
What came to mind as I listened to the trickling of the water in the drainpipes, the drops touching down on various surfaces, the swish of the distant cars as the fresh puddles shoot out from below their tires, was the Way of the Tao.
Isn’t it interesting how sometimes you pick up books at random, in a moment you want something different than what you’re in the middle of for instance, and in the end they all seem to relate? One night recently, on a whim, I picked up the tiny tome call What Is Tao? by Alan Watts. Concise as it is, it manages to effectively convey the essentials of the Tao. Having finished that, I grabbed The Tao of Pooh and now and then delved into this easy read.
The thing that most effects me about the Way of the Tao is that it is in the rhythms of nature. It isn’t the worship of nature, but is a kind of respect for nature that we whom have grown up in Western cultures can’t truly understand immediately. This is because in the Eastern cultures they don’t see human beings as standing apart or dominating over nature, but as an integral part of it, fitting right in to it. From a Western perspective, this is revolutionary.
When I started reading these two books, I was already making my way through John Muir’s My First Summer in the Sierra and No Impact Man by Colin Beavan. John Muir was a devout Christian, yet he saw the hand of the divine in nature. When speaking of poison oak and poison ivy he said, “Like most other things not apparently useful to man, it has few friends, and the blind question, ‘Why was it made?’ goes on and on with never a guess that first of all it might have been made for itself.” John Muir may never have know about the Tao, but he understood it.
In No Impact Man, Mr. Beavan talks about the day that he and his family had planned on walking across the bridge from Manhattan to go to a birthday party, but when the day came it wasn’t just raining, it was a torrential downpour. So instead, they stayed home and relaxed and just spent time together. No rushing off in a cab to do the 101 things that we all pack into our “time off” because they were on the journey of a year without making a negative impact on the environment. That day more than any other he felt how the rhythms of nature, even in the middle of one of the busiest cities in the world, is within each of us. He noticed how when we pay attention to these things, when we move within them, we are happier and more connected to the people around us, not just nature.
One of my favorite stories so far from No Impact Man was how on another day when it was raining, he was walking somewhere or other with his daughter on his shoulders. Feeling guilty that because of his choice to do this no impact challenge his daughter was having to be out in this weather. He was trying to hold the umbrella so that she would not get wet, but she was crying. Then a gust of wind blew the umbrella over and rain poured on both of them, and his daughter stopped crying. After he righted the umbrella she started crying again. After a couple of times of this he realized that she’s not crying because she was getting wet, rather she was crying because the umbrella is stopping her from getting wet. In his words, here’s his realization in that moment:
“And on this rainy day, here is what happens when I treat my body as something more than a means to transport my head, when I finally learn to treat the landscape as something more than the space that stands between where I am now and where I want to be later:
I take Isabella down from my shoulders and let her jump in a puddle, soaking her shoes and her pants. For fun, I jump in the puddle, too. Isabella laughs. She stretches out her arms with her palms facing up to catch the rain. She opens her mouth, sticks her tongue out and leans her head back. I try it, too.
When did the child in me disappear?
People are running past. They look desperate, miserable, trying to get out of the rain. What has happened to us?”
I think I’ve always kept the child in me, splashing in puddles and loving playing in the rain, for instance. But also, I am a person of the journey, appreciating the path often more than the destination. Also, I have often felt that there is no place better to find the divine than in nature. To connect with the Way of the Tao has for me been more of an understanding of how I relate naturally as well as how I move through the journey.
Reading the Tao Te Ching, the main source of understanding the Tao, is an interesting process this time around. It is causing me to question my ambition. But it is also giving me permission to find rest and contentment in this time of intense struggle with my situation and my lack.
In sharing this, I’m not saying I’ve converted to some new faith, but rather that I feel knowing about the Tao enhances and deepens the faith I have. It gives me a mind for the whole rather than a part. I see creation, not simply man, when exercising my faith. I have always had an affinity for this way, but until it was explained to me I accepted the idea of man’s domination, if uncomfortably.
I think when I started to see the world in this ancient way, I also understood how much less I need in order to feel the fullness of joy. If you know me or have been reading here for a bit, you know that I’m a purger, trying to keep myself free of so much stuff that weighs us down. But isn’t it so much a better idea to simply not collect these things so that there is no need to purge? I’m not saying strive to be an ascetic and live in deprivation, but more to be thoughtful in what you buy. To have less stuff is to have more time because you needn’t work so much to get it and you have less to clean and sort and put away. Not a bad trade.
I look forward to exploring the Way of the Tao more. I look forward to feeling the rain on my tongue and appreciating the wind on my face. I look forward to being fully present and having the time to connect wholly with those around me. I look forward, but only in that I am completely engaged now so I know whatever comes I will be the same then – engaged and ready.