Boiling Down the Tao

ying yang symbol of white and gold

Over the last several weeks (5 to be exact) I’ve had a chance to take a course on the Tao Te Ching, a classic Chinese spiritual text authored some 2400 years ago, traditionally credited to the sage Lao-tzu (the founder of Taoism) who may have been a cluster of authors, not necessarily a single person. With the guidance of a gentle spiritual teacher, the course explored five key concepts of the Tao:

  1. Present moment
  2. Flexibility
  3. Acceptance
  4. Letting go
  5. Effortless effort

This was my first dive into the Tao Te Ching and while some of the concepts were similar to other spiritual structures I’ve studied, there was some foreignness to this course that made it more challenging for me than other spiritual teachings.

I won’t pretend that I can boil all five of these concepts into a cohesive or simple essay for you, but I do want to suggest that they build upon each other and culminate in the fifth element, Effortless Effort or Wu Wei. This is certainly a state in which most of us who struggle with our own reactivity to life would love to find ourselves – able to be sustained in a sense of peace, power, and purpose, without effort.

Self-care is every conscious action you take that feeds your soul, nourishes your body, nurtures your spirit, or replenishes your relationship with yourself!

When asked at the end of the course what “take away” would most stick with me, I had to respond that the first words of the opening chapter of the Tao will definitely stay foremost in my mind:

Talking about a path, is not walking that path

Thinking about life is not living.

Having learned years ago that I am far more comfortable in my head than in my body, this verse is a sobering reminder to me that the comforts of thinking do not equate to the courage of taking action. I need to be moving forward, engaging the path (and life).

Other helpful bits I will carry from this course include these mantras that were offered in the final week of the course:

  • I have nothing to worry about.
  • I have all that I need.
  • I do the right thing at the right time.

These were particularly important for me because I am quick to self-criticism when my actions do not match the prescriptive schedule that I’ve mapped out for myself or my business. I see every delay as Earth-shattering and am always ready to label my inability to keep up with the plan as failure. Now, I’m learning to remind myself that MY falling behind schedule is rarely crisis-creating, but rather my actions are perfectly timed to a rhythm of life, far larger than myself. I’m in sync with a Universal rhythm.

Every encounter with spiritual paths, whether they are Christian or Jewish, Taoist or Buddhist, seems to bring me to a greater awareness that life is a spiritual journey and that we are primarily spiritual beings (energy-beings) clothed in a physical body, blessed with an intellectual capacity to think, and imagine.

So, that’s my invitation to you today – how might you imagine yourself walking primarily a spiritual path? What if every obstacle we encounter in this physical world – inflation, war, separation, discord, losses, or illness – what if they were ALL simply present in our experience to enrich our spiritual growth?

What if we…

  • Were to see ourselves as able to welcome whatever the present moment offers us?
  • Were to receive the path before us with openness and acceptance?
  • Were able to trust our capacity for responsiveness (rather than reactivity); to exhibit flexibility with whatever comes our way?
  • Could let go of the consternation we create with the noise in our heads, and simply move forward in confidence along the path?
  • Were to experience peace, power, and purpose through a transformative effortless effort that allowed us to engage our work without strife?

I will leave you with one more verse from the Tao (Chapter 28):

Striving to make our way in the world seems prudent

But if we trust our heart, we may find the way opening

With the effortless ease of a budding flower.

May you discover the ease that comes with walking your path with confidence and love.

1 thought on “Boiling Down the Tao”

  1. Laura Elizabeth Adams

    I am not super familiar with these teachings either. I love the idea of effortless effort. There’s such a softness to the notion.

    I also love the mantra: I have nothing to worry about. This goes along well with the yogic jewel surrender. I have nothing to worry about; the universe is conspiring in my favor. What a beautiful connection. It’s going to be my mantra all week. I find myself actually fighting against it as I write this; therefore, I know it’s what I have to reflect on.

    And, I enjoyed how you articulated, as you have when we’ve spoken, how you are much more engaged with living in your head and not your body. However, you do embody such wonderful awareness of your physical being. Give yourself more credit 🙂

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About Paula

I help other caregivers – both professionals and family caregivers – acknowledge their pain and learn to practice the many small skills of self-care that can sustain them through the challenges of wholeheartedly caring for others.

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