There are many meditation practices that have been introduced to the West, primarily Buddhist and Hindu, that teach that our goal in this lifetime (or any, if you believe in reincarnation), is to transcend the human, physical experience of life.  Many of these philosophies focus on emptying the mind of all thoughts and experiencing the place of nothingness and non-existence.

Such practices are very useful in allowing the aspiring seeker of their own spirituality to enter into a state of comprehension that  infinite awareness falls outside of the small and temporal cardboard box within which we have incarnated at any given time.  I have, indeed, sat for many years in the tibetan buddhist tradition and have gained enormous insights into the infinity of awareness.

I have always found such practices to be wonderful complements to the moving meditation of the Tao.

The Taoist arts, however, also have a sitting meditation practice, the foundation of which is very different from the above-mentioned practices.

The Tao and the Teh of Life

Taoists accept the spiritual human being as s/he is in this physical life.  We do not ask that we be anything different than that.  We are not interested in transcending nor escaping the physical realm.  It is within the physical realm that the Teh of the Tao can be experienced.  It is the union between the two that creates the ecstatic understanding of human beings as standing between heaven and earth.  Yes, we are of the impenetrable mystery of heaven, that un-nameable essence that is known as the Tao.

And, yet, we are also of the Teh – which is the physical, nameable manifestation of Tao.  We cannot speak of the true Tao, for it exists well outside of our small brains.  And, yet, that very Tao gave to each and every one of us our individual Teh.  Through the Teh, we can begin to try to grasp the ineffable ebb and flow of the Tao.  It’s rhythm flows through all things, whether animate or inanimate.

The Tao manifests all physical life, including our own individual one.  In that, Taoists are grateful always for the fact of our physical being at this place and this time.  Like snowflakes, no two people, no two lifetimes, will ever be the same.  Taoists stand in awe and humility at the very fact of our being, for it has been born out of the mystery of sacred union between complementing forces in the universe.  That union inspires a profound state of grace when fully comprehended.  And it is why all Taoists celebrate the fact of their being, for it has never, and will never, come again.  We aspire to live a long and contented life in the world as it is because we know no such thing will ever occur in the vast expanse of the universe, ever, and we fill ourselves with gratitude for the privilege of having come into being.

The Pragmatic and Ethereal Tao

Taoists are, in essence, spiritual pragmatists.  We accept the fact that we are born into physical bodies and must, within the cultural framework we are given in which to function, become successful.  The external forms of success, however, are irrelevant to a Taoist, as we are completely oriented to an internal locus of control, which deems contentment and satisfaction with one’s own life, and it’s place within a larger context, to be wholely coherent, integral and valuable to the individual spiritual life path.

 Such a path can only be known inside of the individual and, thus, we are largely immune to the vicissitudes of external, cultural and social machinations of humanity at large.  We do engage with it insomuch as it furthers our own, internal needs for ensuring that our work supports our individual requirements for contentment and satisfaction and spiritual awareness, but no more.  In this way, Taoists are, indeed, in the world, but are not of the world.

As pragmatists, Taoists accept the human brain as a manifestation of the Tao – the Teh of the Tao.  Stones and trees and tables and mud and chairs are also the Teh of the Tao.  And they all belong to the Tao, including us.  So, here the Tao has given us a body with a brain all full of it’s thoughts and worries and machinations and doings all around and about us.  The brain and the body are there for us to sense and perceive and discern and ponder and reflect.  The brain and body were manifested for us by the Tao to do these things.

Taoists do not fight that reality.  We do not seek to transcend or deny it, as so many other traditions do.

Rather, we work with it.  Humans are meant to DO things.  And the human brain, like the body, DOES it’s thing.  What Taoists do is simply to direct that natural desire toward doing for a useful purpose.  Let’s give that wonderful brain a job to do, rather than deny its natural impulses.  The Tao always embraces its creations and that is what Taoist meditation is all about.

As we go about our daily lives, having to interact with people and institutions and physical/psychic pollution generated by “society,”  Taoists understand that we accumulate what we call “dirt” over time.  Whether it is your neighbor who let’s their dog poop in your yard, or your boss constantly harangueing you for more productivity, or the breathing in of the fumes of asphalt laid down by our city minions to make traffic flow more easily, or your teenager constantly texting at the dinner table, we accumulate “dirt.”  Just dirt.  Just like mud on the hem of your pants after gardening or stacking wood.  And, like our usual physical shower, Taoists know we must spiritually and regularly clean the “dirt” from ourselves in order to make our way in balance through the maze of life.

In Taoist meditation, we both acknowledge the brain’s need to DO something AND we acknowledge the fact of “dirt,” in our lives.

So, in the best tradition of the Tao, let’s give that wonderful, agile brain something to DO.

Taoists have, indeed, over thousands of years, formalized practices designed to engage the brain in meditative exercises that cleanse the “dirt” we accumulate over time.  We do not ask that we ignore it.  We ask that we accept it, sit with it in deep love for our physical/psychic beings (given to us by the ineffable Tao) and transform it.  I can only say that it does, every time.  Again, a deep smile of gratitude ensues.  We emerge from the practice like steaming, supple bodies just gotten out of a lovely bathtub.  We are, indeed, empty of all concerns after such a sitting.  The sound of it should be that of the sound of the heart:  AAAAHHHHH.

Such meditations are meant to be transmitted from teacher to student in situ, so I will not elaborate on any of their specifics here.

Just let it be said that such practices include relaxation, focussed attention that engages our small brains in a higher ritual of cleansing the spiritual body from spiritual dirt.  They are wonderful practices that regenerate and renew the spirit, body and mind to relax and then meet the world anew, each day, each week, each year of our precious and limited lives.  They involve the total comfort and support of the body (no bending into pretzels or maintaining awkward and painful positions for hours that later lead to physical dysfunction and arthritis in the joins – as so many other traditions require).

We engage in the love of the body as an expression of the ultimate Tao in our meditations.

And, within that divine embrace, we make ourselves new and whole again.

May you rest and relax in comfort at all times and enjoy the challenges and beauties of your family and community at all times.

This is the way of the Tao.