I’ve been doing a lot of reading this month on Taoism. Most of what I’ve read early on this month, and off and on about it over the course of 20 years or so, has been basic philosophies and basic meditation practices… the sort of things that can be learned by reading the Tao Te Ching or by attending a weekend retreat. That single book can provide the wisdom of a lifetime, but I’m the type that can never leave well enough alone. I decided it was time to maybe explore Taoism not just as the philosophy as it began, but as the religion it evolved into. I’m always fascinated why people believe what they do, and how they arrived to those conclusions. Usually it’s by religious and/or cultural tradition because heaven forbid anyone think for themselves. Tribalism: it’ll be big. But that doesn’t always mean the idea behind the tradition is wrong. It’s just that it’s either based on a mystical idea that got misinterpreted or otherwise abused somewhere, or it’s dogma meant with the singular goal of herding the masses. The ideas based on some mystic understanding typically translate across religious systems. If you strip away the dogmatic crap, the spirit of original intent is usually quite beautiful.
I’ve not reviewed it, but in the wake of my decision to explore, I finished a rather incredible book on the topic by Eva Wong, Taoism: An Essential Guide. It covers the foundations as a philosophy and the development of the religion into what it is today. There was a line in the book about the general line of thought across all of the various sects of Taoism through the ages that truly resonated for me: “There are no heretics, only sects.” That’s the understanding I’ve worked from in my years of spiritual development, that there are many paths up the mountain, and one infinite summit. Imagine how that would look if all the religions, nations, and peoples of the world got on board with that idea. Any message that tells you there is one path only… that’s how you sniff out the dogmatic crap. My personal history with this sort of thing is well documented here and there on this blog, and I said in a book review earlier that I’m done trying to do the polite little tap dance and coddling the harmful beliefs of others.
I also understand that I can’t change anyone’s mind. They have to come to the realizations on their own. It’s why we’re here, after all: to live, to experience, to learn, and to learn how to love. I’m still working on this last one myself. Understanding the top-down approach of how I incarnated as a transgender woman in no way alleviates the fear, the pain, or the confusion that I deal with on a daily basis. Nor does it serve to dwell in the hate generated by those who fear the entire idea of my existence. It’s counterproductive to the concept of healing those problems.
Whatever happens, I’ve said already: I will not go quietly. I will do what I must to protect my human rights and freedoms. But no one said I had to be stupid about it. Instead of marinating in the absurdities that go along with the forces I’m standing against, I choose to focus my energies in a more positive, meaningful direction. This means redirecting my attention from the myriad paths up the proverbial mountain towards the path that will serve me best. I took a personal oath to live in love, hope, and compassion. It doesn’t mean I have to tolerate fear, hatred, or bigotry, but it does mean I don’t want to fight those ideas with the same mindset. I tried that before, and it nearly killed me just in the form of stress and anxiety. For one set of values to thrive in a world of extremes, the other set must be extinguished. I’ve long since chosen my side.
I can’t fight a world. I can’t fight a nation, or a state, or even a city. I can’t fight a religion, or a “type” of attitude, or whatever else. I don’t have to. My former teacher used to say, “Teach, don’t preach.” She was right. A friend reminded me recently that I affect more change by touching a single heart and mind, and then letting that ripple along to those they touch, and so on. This is how love spreads, as a wave of energy. Everything is energy. Everything. In focusing on the path that serves me, I can better serve others.
I’d be lying if I said I didn’t identify with what I’ve learned of Taoism so far. Between being raised on Star Wars (the Force is the Tao by any other name), being spiritually aligned closer to the nature paths, and having interacted with some rather extraordinary beings at different points in my life, Taoism seems to tick a lot of boxes for me. I understand it to have evolved, like myself, from a mix of other things. As Wong’s book describes it, it’s a dash of Zen Buddhism here, a bit of Hinduism there, with healthy doses of Confucian philosophy mixed in for good measure alongside the ever-evolving Taoist philosophies. In a lot of ways, the fit for me is similar in most regards to when I first discovered Western paganism. And since both are hodge podge “systems” now, I can make this work for me as an East-meets-West philosophy. Global level mysticism, no dogma added or needed. A spiritual mutt, if you will.
I’m tired of fighting the culture wars at their own level. I am needed on the path of the Great Work. I know what that path looks like for me in the here and now. I’ve spent far too long distracting myself with the petty and mundane. How it will unfold from here is anyone’s guess. I can only live with purpose, in the now, cultivating something better than what the majority of the world seems to offering up.