How to Practice Taoism: 3 Steps to Happiness

“Sometimes, if you stand on the bottom rail of a bridge and lean over to watch the river slipping slowly away beneath you, you will suddenly know everything there is to know.” – Winnie the Pooh

winnie-the-pooh-piglet-what-day-is-itAfter some tough training on Sunday morning, I got coffee (no sugar) with a couple friends in what was jokingly referred to as a book club. The three of us recently agreed to read The Tao of Pooh. It’s a book that introduces Taoism through the example of Winnie the Pooh. I prefer philosophy to be delivered with a baseball bat not with a cute fuzzy half-naked bear, but I knew very little about Taoism so this served as a good introduction, despite the style of the delivery.

I’ll cut to the chase. Taoism is a philosophy of going with the flow: not resisting nature but going with it. Like love, sex, fighting, psychodelic drugs, it’s a thing that can’t be fully described with words, it has to be discovered through experience, through searching. Ultimately, taoism is less book club, more fight club. Less think, more do. Less intellect, and more direct sensory experience.

So, now to the title of the post… There is no clear way to “practice” taoism, but here are three ways in which I look to apply the ideas of taoism in my own life.

1. Taste vinegar with a smile.

Enjoy all experience, good or bad, without resisting it, for the inherent beauty and richness of the balance it produces in the world. Without bitter, there is no sweet. PS: The vinegar reference refers to the vinegar tasters:
“Sourness and bitterness come from the interfering and unappreciative mind. Life itself, when understood and utilized for what it is, is sweet. That is the message of The Vinegar Tasters.”

2. Embrace this life, here, now.

Don’t look too much around the corner for what’s next. It’s good to have goals just to give you a practical reason to move along the path of life, but it’s the very act of moving that IS life. The day-to-day process of life is the thing to be enjoyed, embraced, experienced. Here’s Alan Watts conveying this idea with music as a metaphor:

3. Embrace the inner snail.

Do whatever you do in the easiest and most relaxed way you can manage. Move with intention but smoothly, softly without sudden jerks. Without tension or excessive emotion of anger or excitement. Remove the clumsy and the spazzy from your movement and your life. Here’s a good short Gus Van Sant clip describing this very concept of efficiency and grace in movement:

The Tao of Pooh Quotes

Here are some quotes from The Tao of Pooh that I saved on my Kindle.

Two catch phrases to live life by are: (1) “things are as they are”

“You’d be surprised how many people violate this simple principle every day of their lives and try to fit square pegs into round holes, ignoring the clear reality that Things Are As They Are.”

and (2) “life is fun”:

“When you discard arrogance, complexity, and a few other things that get in the way, sooner or later you will discover that simple, childlike, and mysterious secret known to those of the Uncarved Block: Life is Fun.”

Resistance is futile, and ultimately a waste in the grand scheme of things:

“Things just happen in the right way, at the right time. At least when you let them, when you work with circumstances instead of saying, ‘This isn’t supposed to be happening this way,’ and trying harder to make it happen some other way.”

More, simple human-to-human interaction is just more natural and enjoyable when you don’t try so damn hard. Don’t try, just do.

“The surest way to become tense, awkward, and confused is to develop a mind that tries too hard – one that thinks too much.”

Don’t invest too much of yourself in the “race”. Goals help guide you, but goals are meaningless outside of that. The journey is the experience, and experience is life.

“There are things about ourselves that we need to get rid of; there are things we need to change. But at the same time, we do not need to be too desperate, too ruthless, too combative. Along the way to usefulness and happiness, many of those things will change themselves, and the others can be worked on as we go. The first thing we need to do is recognize and trust our own Inner Nature, and not lose sight of it.”

Happiness is in the today not the tomorrow:

“A way of life that keeps saying ‘Around the next corner, above the next step,’ works against the natural order of things and makes it so difficult to be happy and good.”

The journey of discovery should start by be directed inwards. And does it ever need to go beyond that?

“How can you get very far,
If you don’t know who you are?
How can you do what you ought,
If you don’t know what you’ve got?
And if you don’t know which to do
Of all the things in front of you,
Then what you’ll have when you are through
Is just a mess without a clue
Of all the best that can come true
If you know What and Which and Who.”

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