Blog: Spirit Speaks
by Liora Leah

Living Taoism

Rod MacIver, nature artist and writer, talks about his personal philosophy of living Taoism in one's daily life.

Date:   1/25/2009 3:46:26 PM   ( 12 y ) ... viewed 2239 times

Dear Heron Dancers,

Is it possible to build one’s spiritual life around feelings and perceptions that cannot be put into words? Yes, it is. Those perceptions are glimpses of perceived truth, shrouded in the mists of illusion.

I’ve had deeply held beliefs at different times in my life that have encompassed wilderness protection activists, capitalists, politicians, the religious right, Buddhists, and others. They’ve all tended to change over time. It is difficult to maintain one’s beliefs in the face of irrefutable evidence. Sometimes today’s passionately held beliefs are the opposite of last year’s passionately held beliefs. So, at the age of 52, what do I do now? What do I believe in now?

A couple of times over the years, I’ve been asked by literary agents or publishers if I’d be interested in writing a memoir. When I consider that idea, my thoughts turn to a morning in the Rocky Mountains. That would be the beginning.

I was fifteen or sixteen and hitchhiking on a back road in the middle of a national forest. It was a beautiful summer morning and the road was lined with huge old pine trees. I hadn’t slept much the night before but instead of being tired, I was elated. I spread my arms and twirled along the side of road like a dervish. I was filled with a happiness that I could not explain. I had maybe $100 to my name and some clothes and camping stuff. I was on my adventure. I was experiencing life—learning what life is really all about. The road that stretched ahead was one of endless possibility.

So here I am today, thirty-six or so years later, thinking about where that road led. It led to fighting forest fires and Wall Street and cancer. It led to real estate, amateur boxing, judo, and art. It led to Heron Dance. But what have I learned? What would I say if the producers of the NPR radio show This I Believe called me up and asked me to talk about my belief system?

I was thinking about all of this this morning and getting nowhere. Eventually, my thoughts turned to Taoism. I started rereading the notes I’ve accumulated over the years on the subject and I found something to think about. Taoism takes a variety of forms and the one I’ve thought most about has to do with living in balance while riding the mystery. You don’t understand life but you seek to live in harmony with it. In doing so, you live simply and humbly and in close connection with the natural world. Simplicity, patience, compassion. Yield in the face of adversity. Strength through gentleness and understanding. Like water, go around rather than through. Internalize rather than exert power. You get your power by confronting yourself and your ambitions. You try to be a benevolent force, a force for good, but you don’t exhaust yourself. You flow and your life has a flow. Tao is the natural flow of the universe. It is the natural order. It keeps the universe balanced and ordered. Other than that, it is not describable.

Living Taoism is not easy, perhaps especially for a high energy, curious person who gets satisfaction from striving and accomplishment. It isn’t easy running a large company, or a little business either, for that matter. It isn’t easy working for General Motors or working in a refugee camp or a soup kitchen. It isn’t easy living a life of prayer in a monastery. Where is the easy path through life? Where are the easy answers? All paths involve trials and adversity, discouragement and disappointment. All paths involve uncertainty and mystery. In Taoism you accept. Life is as it is. Life is pain and suffering, beauty and ecstasy. You sacrifice certainty in order to embrace the mystery that can be glimpsed but not understood or even described. Life can only be accepted or rejected.

And then there is the art. Taoist art is simple and beautiful. It is the art of gentle harmony. It is a product of yielding rather than ambition. You seek to paint the mystery knowing that you will fall short. Still, there is the glimpse and sometimes it is enough.

In celebration of the Great Dance of Life,

Roderick W. MacIver
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