It pains me to have to even write a page such as this.  The ancient Tao recognizes that people, when truly connected to nature and her cycles, automatically know how to act toward one another with respect and honor and how to do the right thing in any given situation.  Lao Tzu wrote that all civilization and culture destroy that natural self.  For the most part, I agree with him.  They do.  And it disturbs me to have to write this and acknowledge it, though we must if we are to restore ourselves to any form of humanity.

We have, indeed, lived within the paradigm of hierarchical, patriarchal “civilization” for about 7,000 years now, long having forgotten our history prior to that of living in harmony with each other and conducting ourselves with integrity, honesty and respectful relationship with each other.  Thus, I have to approach this page knowing we have all been brainwashed through millennia of wrong thinking and concomitant wrong action and must write to right this.

The natural Tao is NOT about RULES, but I do have to address some basic, natural rules of respect with regard to studying the Tao here in our modern times.  We have, indeed, become very estranged from our natural world and selves in urban environments.

I have, unfortunately, in many yoga classes I have taken and taught, been witness to what I call the “stretch and  chat,”  unconscious self-involvement of false students of spirituality so prevalent among americans these days.  In such classes, my own and others, I have observed that, in less than 30 seconds after the formal class has ended (or right up to and even beyond when it is supposed to start), before the students (and teachers) even get up off their mats, the chatter boxes of ego resume, subsume and consume the very  “spirituality” of the class the egoists just took or gave.

This kind of behavior is exactly why I have, in times past, stopped teaching.  I made a commitment to my own masters many years ago to protect the sacredness and honor of the Tao.  At times, when I realized I could not keep that commitment because the  self-involved behaviors and group culture of my students were impossible to overcome, I simply stopped teaching.  Or stopped going to another teacher’s class.  To protect the dignity and sacredness of any spiritual practice, regardless of its form or orientation, is the first responsibility of the teacher as well as the students engaging in the practice.

I have also witnessed a good number of teachers and students participate in idle and very public gossip (gossip is, always, in and of itself, demeaning) about their colleagues and/or fellow students in the hallways of these alleged spiritual centers.  Or, they engage in gossiping all about themselves and the details of their lives to others.

Really, grotesquely, appalling.  But, that is, by and large, part and parcel of today’s western practitioners, teachers and students alike, regardless of whether they claim to be teaching eastern traditions or not.  Such disconnections, between thought and action, between the talk and the walk, are the first elements of our culture and “alternative” spiritual practices that need to be corrected.

No such activities will occur in any of my classes.  Period.

 

The Heart of the Tao

The Tao is, in fact, enormously fun, quixotic, improvisational, spontaneous, authentic and dynamic in nature and, indeed, those are the qualities my classes are designed to teach,  hold and support.  That does not mean, however, that a devolution into anarchy nor disrespect of each other or the teacher will occur.  In so doing, we demean the Tao and that is unacceptable.

Being with the Tao  and its spiritual philosophy and practice is about leaving ego behind and making relationship with your co-students and teacher in engaging with something far larger than our mundane lives.  

We come together as complete equals in the studio to examine something outside of ourselves.  Such engagement means dropping the self altogether.  We do so in order to discover a larger Self that finds its sense of meaning, life esthetic and personal beauty through the cultivation of the relationship with the natural Tao.

The Tao truly does not care about any of the details of our lives.  It is completely neutral about us and our doings. Practicing the Tao is about attempting to apprehend the  dynamics, cycles and rhythms of nature and to find and express them within ourselves.  We do not ask the Tao to bend to our will.  Rather, we summon ourselves to perceive her subtle movements through all things, including ourselves.  We meet her, not the other way around.  This is how we cultivate chi.  That chi, that life force, is what is eternal and that is what my students seek in coming to class.

The Tao Temple

The  Tao Temple is a place to drop all superficial and personal concerns, to take a vacation from them, and to engage with what is real in a very different sense than the one our culture supports and promotes.  That other reality is the playful, invisible and ethereal realm that is the cosmic womb and bestower of all life and creativity within us.  Therein lies the heart of the Tao and we cannot hear nor adhere to it unless we are willing to drop our small chatter.  The Tao imparts freedom:  freedom from worry, self-consciousness,  anxieties about our selves and others and even linear time.  She also imparts freedom of movement of the body, mind and spirit that results in authentic expression of the Self.  In order to engage in that, we leave our selves at the door of the Temple and turn our attention to  the simple Tao.

That is where one will find the lakes and oceans and ponds of spiritual life.  One meaning of that famous quote, “Be like water and flow to the low places,” is to, indeed, surrender ourselves to the wisdom and flow of the Tao and to, ultimately, allow ourselves to be lead by her to the deep waters of self-awareness.

The Rules of Respect and Honor

In a Taoist Temple, we all come together in honor of the Tao. When you come to class, you must understand that that is what you are entering – a temple, no matter its simplicity or plainness.  It really is, ultimately, the sacred temple of yourself.  And one which you can learn to carry within at all times.  The Tao is about the development of a deeply personal, intimate and eternal relationship with the Self that never is extinguished, even when we finally leave our physical bodies.  One does not have to believe in that, however, in order to receive the benefits of Taoist exercise.

Upon entering a Taoist Temple, you do not need to bow or do any sort of external, ritualistic acts nor conduct yourselves  like monks or nuns. Obsequiousness is also deeply frowned upon.  Taoists are immune to both flattery and disparagement, so hold off on those behaviors.  Always address your teacher by his or her name, not any sort of honorific or title, because there aren’t any in the natural Tao.

Just come as you are, light and lively, ready and willing to meet the unknown without pretensions or agendas.

Always wear clothing that gives you a comfortable sense of freedom of movement and makes you feel good.  All students are expected to come to class wearing clean clothing and presenting themselves with clean personal hygiene.  Sorry to have to write that, but, unfortunately, some do not understand minimum requirements for engaging with their fellow students without offending them with their personal odors.

My Own Rules For Conduct

If a student disrespects the Tao with chatty nonsense in the building or lack of respectful cleanliness and hygiene for their fellow Taoists, I will give one warning.  And only one.  I have been very clear, here, about what the practice of the Tao is and is not.  The Tao is clean and clear and all participants are expected to present themselves in respect of that, in body, mind and spirit.

This is a class for adults.  I will ask students unable to ascend to that level of functioning to stop coming to class.  Protection of the integrity of the class is, in fact, my responsibility as a teacher and any student is welcome to speak to me at any time about any kind of disrespectful behaviors, whether they occur on a group or individual level.  Of course, that would include myself as well.

Our individual and collective enthusiasm and chi rises when we give ourselves over to something outside of our idiosyncratic and terribly mundane lives.

There is so much joy and light when we come together with our highest selves present and accounted for.  The Tao is a family and we start with that.  That is the intention of this class and students willing to enter into it in that spirit are most welcome.  Questions, concerns and confusions are absolutely part of that process and, when shared, they invigorate and enlighten all of us in the room, students and teacher alike.  So bring them.

The other expected natural expression of respect must occur when your teacher, any teacher anywhere, takes his or her place in front of you at the head of the class.  All attention by students must focus there at that moment.  All other concerns fall away, as does any talking.  It is not the teacher per se, where honor is being bestowed.  It is the fact that the teacher is about to impart to you teachings from a greater source: here, the Tao.  The teacher is not your “master” in any sense of the word, the Tao is the master.  Giving respect to the teacher is giving respect to the Tao.  A teacher is just her small representative, but should be honored as an ambassador from another country.

The final caveat to participation in my classes is also founded in the idea of respect for ourselves and others.

We, as a collective, always leave the Taoist Temple in better condition than we found it.  Pick up and put away your own mats, blocks and straps yourself.  If you personally notice something out of its proper place (even if you did not do it), fix it.

Don’t stand around chatting and expect others to do anything for you.  That kind of dishonor to your fellow students and teacher will also get you dis-invited from the class.  Our concern is for others and our actions demonstrate our concern for others.

Otherwise, please, please come with your true, authentic, vulnerable selves and enjoy the open space that the Tao provides to all of us within her embrace.  She does rejoice in laughter, spontaneity and intellectual questioning.  Bring those on in full force and we will all grow from them.

This class is all about the learning and exploring the body, mind and spirit through the practice and philosophy of the Tao and I look forward to sharing and participating in that with all of you.