Though the Chinese New Year of the Wood Horse doesn’t begin until January 31, 2014, many people here in the United States begin to celebrate the “New Year” quite a bit earlier. While highlights of the Chinese New Year’s celebration include the Lantern Festival and Lion and Dragon Dances, so in our culture it is the crafting of New Year's Resolutions that is often a central ritual. As a Taoist practitioner currently living in the United States, I wondered what my “New Year's Resolutions” might be. What follows is at least a partial answer to that question: aspirations for the New Year rooted deeply (and sometimes just playfully) in Taoist philosophy and practice.
May my path through the coming year include …
Giving Voice to Child-Like Wisdom.
The founder of Taoism – Laozi (Lao Tzu) – is known as the “Ancient Child,” a name which points to the kind of curiosity, playfulness, spontaneity and simple kindness that are proposed by and cultivated through Taoist practice. The Child-Sage is innocent without being naïve. His perception is “naked” in the sense of being fresh and newly alive in every moment. Her heart is open and aligned with unfaltering trust in her and the world’s inherent goodness: a vision which draws forth the ultimate purity of all that arises within it. Giving voice to this child-like wisdom is inviting the essence of Laozi to speak through us – to be embodied in our own thoughts and words and actions.
Honoring This Human Body as a Temple & Relishing My Explorations Within It.
One of the portals into Taoist practice is the insight that our body might not be what we think it is. What the Masters tell us is that our human body contains the entire cosmos: the sun and moon and stars and galaxies; all of the elements, with their cycles of change; and an energy of wisdom, compassion, power and delight beyond our wildest imaginings. What to do with this?! The suggestion is to dive deep into an exploration of this wonderful terrain, via practices such as taiji, qigong or Inner Alchemy. In doing this, our body becomes a laboratory for alchemical research, and a temple within which Spirit is able happily to reside, and shine forth for the benefit of all beings.
Loving Mountains – And All Other Living Beings.
”The mountains belong to those who love them,” speaks John Daido Loori, in this beautiful video. As we grow more and more attuned to the rhythms of the natural world, our appreciation for the wisdom and delicate beauty of all of its inhabitants will also, quite naturally, grow. Being outside (in the city or the mountains) to greet the rising sun is one wonderful way of moving in this direction. Also important is the willingness to love ourselves – every cubic inch!
Not-Knowing -- At Least Once a Day.
The humor we find in the writings of the Taoist Masters often is the kind that sees everything as sacred by not holding onto anything as sacred. Rigidly held opinions and preconceived notions are surrendered into a spaciousness that allows everything to be just as it is. When we notice ourselves becoming tense or constricted, this is a clue to take a couple of deep, slow breaths, say “ahhhh” and just let go into a space of not-knowing. What’s paradoxical is that out of this kind of release there often will emerge the “perfect” action – exactly what needs to be said or done (maybe nothing at all) to come back to a place of balance and free-flowing harmony.
Opening to “Life Without Content.”
Mystics of all traditions (Eckhart Tolle, Adyashanti and Francis Lucille are contemporary examples) report that there exists within us a place which is quiet, still, spacious, and filled with a luminous intelligence quite distinct from our usual ways of knowing. To access this place is to touch into the field within which the forms of our world are constantly arising and dissolving. Here, we allow thoughts and emotions and images to come and go, without ever losing contact with the space in which this is all happening. We become like waves upon an ocean: swelling and receding without ever forgetting the deep stillness which is our source. Each tradition has its own methods of accessing this. In Taoism, we use a combination of moving, standing and sitting meditation practices.
Understanding the Personal “I” to Be a (Convenient and/or Inconvenient) Fiction.
A central aspect of Taoist practice is the cultivation of wuwei – the “action of non-action.” To be embodying wuwei doesn’t mean there are no actions happening – just that there is no personal “me” who is doing them. The source of the actions, instead, is the intelligence of Tao flowing through the temple of a human bodymind. (Or something like that.) In terms of the teachings of Master Jesus, we become clear conduits for the “will of Heaven.” In terms of the Buddha’s second-turning teachings: “a is not-a, and therefore is truly-a.” This can be a bit confounding, so best to approach it with patience, humor, and gentle persistence … and with an eye to the sweet relief that its realization will ultimately provide.
Celebrating the Wisdom of the Great Masters – of This Tradition and All Others.
For guidance and inspiration along this sometimes-daunting path, how wonderful it is to have the words of the Masters themselves! To end where we began – with the Ancient Child - here is an excerpt from the first verse of Laozi’s Daode Jing (Tao Te Ching) translated by Lionel Giles:
The Tao which can be expressed in words is not the eternal Tao; the name which can be uttered is not its eternal name. Without a name, it is the Beginning of Heaven and Earth; with a name, it is the Mother of all things … These two things, the spiritual and the material, though we call them by different names, in their origin are one and the same. This sameness is a mystery,--the mystery of mysteries. It is the gate of all spirituality.
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