What is Tao?
Taoism (also known as Daoism) is both a philosophical system and a practice. Developed more than two thousand years ago in ancient China by Lao Tzu as a response to societal confusion, Taoism, or “The Way,” teaches the individual how to find, follow, and thrive on his or her own life path. It is derived from the Tao Te Ching (The Book of Virtue).
Taoist methodology uses the observation and replication of natural patterns to address one’s physical, mental, and spiritual needs. What does this mean? Generally speaking, man-made systems are temporary. Morals and values change with location and time. Lifestyles celebrated in one country may be denounced in another, while laws we once considered standard may be amended or discarded.
Natural systems, on the other hand, are steady and unchanging. Water continues to flow downstream regardless of external circumstances. Plants die in the Fall and reemerge in the Spring. Wild animals hunt when they are hungry and sleep when they are tired. They do not feel guilt or shame.
We were once that way, too.
Small children naturally follow their instincts. If they want a toy, they reach for it. When sad, they do not hesitate to cry. As they grow, societal influences begin to creep in, whether from family, friends, teachers, or the media. Each bit of input nudges them further away from their instincts, the center of themselves, toward paths bordered by constantly evolving “should’s” and “should not’s.”
Many spend their entire lives trying to find a happy medium between what they know deep down and what the world tells them to do. A half-hearted life, however, is often not a content one. There is another way. While it requires unwavering dedication to maintain clarity in a world of “never enough,” the liberation and certainty that comes with following one’s path will make it well worth the effort, no matter how great the energy expended.
To offer an example, imagine you are given a new car at the beginning of your life. You can easily see the way forward through the new, sparkling clean windshield. As you continue down the road, however, dirt and dust begin to accumulate. The further you travel, the more debris you collect and the harder it becomes to see. How long will it be before your view becomes so clouded that you drive off the road?
Look at Taoism as a windshield wiper. With continuous practice, one can clear the muck, find clarity, and live a life of contentment.