Seeking The Tao, Flowing in The Way
By Jane Tawel
February 29, 2020
Seeking can never be static. The essence of seeking-ness means not so much the idea of constant change, but rather porousness. Like a sieve or sluice, our souls are best when there are many small openings in them. The way to seek is to move, flow, and be in a sort of “squiggly-lined” process. Searching is about newness, rebirth, creation; taking old and ancient things and realizing they are eternally refreshed and refreshing in the lives of new human beings. To seek is to hope to find, and find again, and seek again, and afterwards, find again, and then seek — in an ever widening circle of individual and shared lives.
The idea of seeking for truth or answers or help or morality, though, in a worldview of stasis is a modern-day tragedy. It is where many people go wrong when they say they seek their answers in a book. Many people in the world today, claim especially to seek ideas about living from a book called The Bible. But alas! a book is a static thing. Books are wonderful things, and to many of us, books are one of the most treasured belongings we have. But they are belongings. They are wonderful when we are in their “presence” but otherwise, they sit on shelves or in Kindles, and don’t do anything except miss the good old days when they were read as relevant, or long for a future when someone else will cuddle them back into life.
What is not static are the people the stories in the Bible are about. Stories about the past and human lives now passed, are not static if they are remembered or influential in even just one life of one living human being. What is never static in a book, or speech, or plaque, or any “dead” thing, is, what we might call The Truth or The Greatness of the Human Spirit. This is why writers who write truly about man’s search for meaning are said to have been moved to write by something we might call, the “Holy Spirit”. Holy in this case means something above the mundane, day to day human existence. Spirit in this case means something beyond animal or purely physical existence. Which brings us back to the idea of Seeking. To seek is to accept my own smallness in the Universe’s Vastness. To seek is to want to believe there is something More, perhaps Someone More. To seek is to never arrive, but to find great joy in The Journey. To seek, is the Universe’s great irony, because only in continually seeking that which is unknown or unknowable, can a person ever find wholeness.
In C.S. Lewis’ short compilation of lectures, entitled The Abolition of Man, he is both prescient and profound. He is prescient in the sense that Lewis foresees how the very idea of what it means to be human can be lost and destroyed if we give up on the belief that we have been created with inherent consciences and an eternal need to find meaning and purpose. The Abolition of Man is also profound, in that this well-known very Western, very Christian writer, Lewis, calls the right way to live not Christianity, not even what early Christians called their belief system when they called it simply The Way. Lewis calls right living by its Eastern Spiritual / Religion name — Tao.
There are many important reasons that C.S. Lewis chooses the term Tao to describe the right way humans should think and live, perhaps not least of all because his very own Christianity was a morphing of an Eastern religion called by its early adherents, Judaism. Today these belief -systems, what we may today call Christianity or Judaism or Islam, are all those who follow a book for their understanding of how to live, and so are often called “People of The Book”. However, the God that all of these religions claim as their own, simply says, that if anyone wants to live as He created them to live, to worship Him, or to belong to the worldview He taught Abraham, and Moses, and Jesus, then what that religion is to be called, according to this God, is “My People”. And the wonderful thing about belonging to something not called Christianity or Islam or even Buddhism or Taoism is that People are never, ever, ever static. This idea is inherent in the term Tao. Tao, like a chimera of light, is always flickering always just outside our limited vision. Living into and from within Tao means you accept the River is much bigger than you are and you have given up the need to step twice in the same part of that River. Tao means that God is the River and that She gives us the choice of whether we want to jump head first into that baptismal flow, not sure of where The River will take us; or we would rather sit in stasis on the shores, where we will more easily return to the dust from which we were created.
In The Abolition of Man, C.S. Lewis explains Tao beautifully (and better than I), and it is a book that everyone should read many times, along with almost everything else Lewis wrote. Although his books may be shelf-sitters, once read, and read again, Lewis words will leave his readers anything but the status-quo. But what I am mainly trying to unravel here, is Lewis’ idea of Tao as it relates specifically to the idea of seeking. Because that is what Tao is. The bottom line is that Tao is both ultimate Reason and ultimately beyond human reasoning. Tao is both the embrace of the minutiae of my day and the embrace of the sublime in the galaxies. Tao is both the acceptance of my mortality and the journey toward immortality. Tao is what I know in my very inner most part to be true and real, and that which I accept I will never know and can be unsure of is even real at all. Tao is The Way forward to Heaven, and the way back to The Garden. Tao is the essence of all life.
Lewis calls Tao, “the ultimate foundations of theoretical and practical reason”. In other words, living a certain way is actually the only way to live that is not lunacy. However, intelligent, reasonable, practical, scientific, or however, theologically correct or spiritual or moralistic a person claims to be, if he or she is not constantly aware that humanity is only “human” when it is seeking and flowing; that is, when a human being is walking along The Path of Enlightenment, seeking and journeying in The Way, or flowing back and forth in the current of Tao, only then is one at all what humans should be, can be, must be, to thrive or even survive. One is perhaps not really even fully human without a sense of true Tao, and humanity will become more and more zombie like than what we were meant to be — the sons and daughters of “Holy Spirit”.
C.S. Lewis calls out and rings the alarm bells on America’s own current and particularly frightening brand of zombies, when he calls people who do not live according to virtue or The Way of Tao, “men without chests”. “We make men without chests and expect from them virtue and enterprise. We laugh at honor and are shocked to find traitors in our midst” (Lewis, 11). Try doing anything like walking or swimming without a chest and see how far you get. Without a core of true belief or what we might call “a soul”, a thing within us that creates virtuous action, a human being is like a zombie with a functioning mouth in its head, but with only a rotting, decaying heart where a chest used to be.
Tao. It is defined as: “the unconditional and unknowable source and guiding principle of all reality as conceived by Taoists. It is the process of nature by which all things change and which is to be followed for a life of harmony” (Merriam Webster). So, while an understanding and commitment to Tao is important for anyone who wants to live well, it is an especially critical idea to embrace by anyone who wants to claim that a book is “God’s Holy Word”. If Tao is The Way, then “De” is the Spirit. This word De is interestingly similar to how we might use the term “De” in the phrase, “Imago Dei”, denoting “ Mirror Image in a Human of The Spirit-God”.
De is what some might call virtue or essence, but it is more that that. In studying a bit about this idea, I would maybe call De something like “good-soul” or “healthy-humanness” or “righteous-being-ness”. But all of these have the same problem. When I define something, I make it, at least for that moment, for that purpose, “definite”. I make it static. The thing about Tao and De, or The Way or the particular religion attributed to the Hebrews and Jesus, the Christ, is that they are all about movement. None are about forward “movements”, which is where religions and societies have often gone so very wrong, and why leaders like Jesus refused to be caught up in movements or what many would call “advancements”. Jesus knew that The Way is not progress but a yin and yang of past and present (“I come not to destroy The Law but to fulfill it” (Matt. 5:17). Lewis rightly points out that Jesus does not mean The Law as in the misunderstood rules that his own brand of religion had not only failed to follow but were now abusing to gain power and wealth. No, Jesus understood The Law to be what Lewis in many of his writings calls, The Natural Law or The Law of Nature or sometimes The Law of the Heart. In other words, there is a sort of set of rules that has existed within human beings since the beginning of our existence on earth and it is a set of rules about living well, living together, caring for the things that grow and live around us on the planet, and rules about being human that we go against to our own and to our species’ peril. The Law of Human Nature is as real as the Law of Gravity and just as destructive to disbelieve or to flagrantly test. (For more on this idea of what Lewis means by Natural Law, read the first chapters of Mere Christianity.)
True Tao is about ebb and flow. It is about constant movement, but not forward like a march, or passive like a sit-in. Living into The Way is about eyes wide open but it must also be about heart wide-open and hands-wide open. We must use our eyes, our senses, to seek in Nature and in other humans, that which is flowing, moving, changing “holy spirit”. We must read books, listen to podcasts, sit at the feet of rabbis or gurus, and meditate or pray in order to be taught and refreshed and to resume our active participation in The Way and to ourselves be “filled with holy spirit”. We must both participate in preparation for the journey and release ourselves from a static determining of where the journey will lead us. This is the yin and yang, the give and take, the less as more, and the last as the first and first as the last, of living as we were created to best live.
One intriguing passage on this idea of moving De or flowing Tao, is one that you won’t hear much from people who want their Bibles to stay static. In John 3:8, Jesus compares the De or Holy Spirit of God to a mercurial and uncontrollable wind, “The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.” We are not meant to control God, nor people’s access to Him, and even if we think we are in control, or we fear losing control and so try to control others who do not believe as we do, we will find that where the Spirit Wind is blowing, one had better learn quickly how to stop being a stubborn stone and quickly, humbly become a kite or a sparrow.
Jesus came to show his disciples Tao, and in fact, he calls himself, as that uniquely human being who was Son of Man and Son of God, “The Tao”, or “The Way”. In John 14:6, Jesus proclaims his philosophy of how to live as that of becoming one with the spirit of “living, flowing water”. In John 7:38, The Christ says clearly that the Tao of God is never to be made stationary or static and that, “Whoever believes in me, rivers of flowing water will flow from within them.” Not only is Jesus here pointing out that the new life he offers is like flowing water but that there is a yin and yang heart within his followers, a heart that flows from and a heart that flows within.
And so, I humbly submit, that anything worthy, anything really real, anything that will not only stand the Test of Time but perhaps the Test of Eternity, must be understood to be beyond the comprehension or theorems of even the most intelligent geniuses among us, beyond even the kindest most loving among us, beyond the most spiritual or religious among us, and beyond even the most strong, wealthy, beautiful, or creative among us. If living into Tao was even beyond The Christ to completely understand and beyond even his great abilities to completely explain to those who would desire to live as he did, then it is certainly beyond me. The Good News is, we do not have to understand everything — because we never will. The Good News is The Way can be found by all who seek.
The problem with anyone’s explaining and understanding, including my own feeble morsels of thought here, is that in the first place, a word on a page (any page, even a Biblical page or Dali Lama page or a page out of the Koran) is static. At the same time, a word out of someone’s mouth, is like a breath — once out, it is gone into the atmosphere and cannot be retrieved. This is why we call particularly meaningless words, “hot air” because they dissipate without leaving a trace of useful meaning or intent behind. It is also why the post-recorded words of gurus and rabbis and Messiahs that were only given to others orally, can not ever capture the complete meaning, but only the deep intent of those words once spoken, not written. It is easy to be caught up at this point in something very like cynicism or that of the eccliesiast when he proclaims all things on earth, “vanities of vanity” and all that human beings have, are, or have ever done, worth nothing more than a “vapor or a breath”. If someone has reached this point in life, I doubt very much they are still reading, nor that they have any desire to live a better, fuller, more meaningful life. And yet, The Holy Spirit, can fan an ember into a fire with one powerful breath. And yet, those of us who do seek Tao, De, The Way, Meaning, Essence — we must reach out our hands to those who sit on the shore in their cynicism with their stuff, or to those who are treading and afraid to go further and deeper, and we must reach out our hands especially to those who are determined to swim upstream or who are drowning. Because we are not truly in The River of Life, The Tao, if we think we can enjoy it or go it alone. So if you are someone who needs a lifeboat or lifeline today, reach out, and a Hand or some hands will appear. And if you are someone who has reached a point in the River because a Hand or many hands have helped you, reach out, and give someone else a helping hand.
My own best and surest source of spiritual guidance has this to say about living in The Way, following the De, and practicing and believing in Tao:
“Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened. Or which one of you, if his son asks him for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a serpent? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him! So whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets. Enter by the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few.” (The Tao of Jesus, the Jewish Messiah as set down in writing later in the book of Matthew, Chapter 7).
So, I ask myself (and perhaps you?):
· Am I content with floating down the wide, lazy river of life without meaningful purpose, lacking the virtues and good-soulness of De? Am I stuck on the shore, afraid to let the Current take me further from what I was? Is the wide gate of ever widening consumerism and self-centeredness what I believe to be best humanity has to offer? Am I willing to get wet, perhaps even to drown, for the joy of being fully in The River?
· Do I want to take, as Robert Frost might say, “the path less taken”? — knowing that I will be sometimes more alone, sometimes more unsure, but infinitely more alive to possibility, eternally curious to find what lies “in leaves no step has trodden black”; and faithfully, hopefully pursuing that which will “make all the difference”, today, and perhaps, even in eternity? Will I take Christ’s narrow path? Will I walk the tightrope of Tao?
· Am I aware of the ebb and flow of my own soul in this very moment? Can I allow the movement of the holy spirit that is alive in all things that are true to The Natural Law, the De, The Tao, to move within my own spirit and soul?
· Will I submit to a Power more strong than Reason that is alive in the Universe? Will I be consumed by a Love more real than any of my senses, more lasting than anything I have ever felt? Will I have faith in a Reality that is ever moving, but never changing?
· Will I seek, not in order to own, but in order to live more meaningfully? Will I journey not to succeed but to experience? Will I seek those things that one man described as so beyond, so “holy”, so true and right and spiritually human, that he calls them “things above meaning” (Colossians 3)? Will I seek a Tao that leads to that Reality beyond Reality, that is a fuller, deeper, real-er Life, and not live my life merely stockpiling stuff and ideas in order to fight the fears or numb my understanding of my inevitable death? Will I begin living the eternal life in the temporal confines of my body? Will I let today be enough and no more and to also be everything and always?
The Great Guru, Jesus, recommends that to find Tao, to live De, after so many centuries, is difficult, strange, almost counter-intuitive after so long of denying our intuitions of God-given virtue and wholeness. To live Tao, in this world, one must be “born again”. To be born again, daily, over and over again is to seek like a baby seeks. A baby reaches out her hands, not knowing what they will touch. A baby gazes at the world, smells the world, listens to the world, not caring to define what she sees, hears, or smells, but merely to experience it. Not everything a baby experiences is joyful or pleasant or happiness-inducing, but all that she experiences teaches her about the way human beings are meant to live. And there is nothing more true about all human beings ever born than that in the beginning, we all want to learn to live well. The only question that remains is: Do I still want to learn to live well? Or do I need to be born again?
My hope is that in any moment I can seek The Way, and that in this time granted to me today as gift, I will journey further in Tao. May I seek The Way without a static determination but rather with a hopeful joy in the journey.
The River of Life is something we are all born from, The Womb so to speak. But we do not all stay in that River. We have the free will to leave the River, and remain static on some foreign shore, foreign to the right way humans are meant to live. May I swim and float and rest and get help as needed, in the ever-flowing River of Life. I will be often buffeted, my flesh torn, afraid of the Thunder overhead and the lurking demons swimming below. And at other times I will find great, deep contentment, not in my accomplishments but in the sense that the River will hold me and that the River will never end. There will be times when I allow my soul the joy of peacefully floating in the holy spirit of True Universal Water, and there will be times I must swim hard against the current, battling my own lack of nerve or my own decaying virtue or rotting sensibilities. There are times that the virtues of the Water will seem faint or quaint, and I will need to fight my desire to vegetate and not meditate or activate. And there will be times when suddenly around the bend, I find an uncommon, unexpected fellow-swimmer, and we will help each other go further along and deeper in.
There will be many moments when I want to leave the River and build a nice little static mansion for myself on some passing and paltry kingdom’s shore. There will even be horribly selfish times that I myself help the Evil One dam up the River that wants to flow “from within” every human soul. There will be a lack of resources and many weaknesses that I wish I didn’t have, and I will mourn not being better prepared from my youth for the long, hard swim to reach the River’s End. I will survive by using the only words that are never static, the words:
For in “if” and the eternally unanswered “why”, there is the Tao, The Way. “If” — means there is an answering, “Then”. And to wonder “Why”, means there is a Someone who will one day answer “Because”. “However” means that I don’t need to know how I will get somewhere, I just need to take the next step. And the “buts” are the conditions that warn me, that there are other choices, “But” there is only One Way.
Seeking. Like becoming a baby again and again and again. To seek Tao is the only ever- fulfilling, ever-meaningful, ever-lasting journey. It is The Way, The Truth, and The Life.