Now repeat after me, repeat a thousand times the following exercise. Say it out loud:
“Remember practice makes perfect”…
Ahhh. That’s a clue: “Perfection”
Do we practice something in order to become perfect? Wow, now that’s something to consider isn’t it? Consider the desire people have to reach perfection, the absolute dedication that some people show in the practicing of a talent to achieve perfection.
Perfection is boring.
The secret to a practice is achieving a balance. Now mix in the mistaken belief that achieving perfection also will be a balanced state. Perfection is a very fleeting achievement: once a person practices their way to the top, nature and society practices kicking them back down.
Balance is challenging.
In Taoism, the goal isn’t a practice to achieve mastery. Taoism instead concentrates upon a personal set of practices which together move with harmony to achieve balance within a person’s life. This is a fine difference. Western culture is most definitely into being the best. Being the best is all about practice. Taoism is about balance. Learning balance often comes from a practice teaching stability. Being the best isn’t a very stable position to be within, as the process of becoming the best tends to come at the price of limiting personal development of other important traits.
I have a personal mantra that we are a balance of Body, Mind and Spirit. But I also believe we are actually more than this trinity. For practical purposes summarizing it as Body, Mind and Spirit helps make it easier to maintain a balanced lifestyle. This translates to a set of practices which aid in maintaining a Personal Tao. Typically these practices are a combination of activities which support the Body, Mind and Spirit equally.
A Personal Tao is not a set of practices you maintain. A healthy set of practices are merely activities a person uses to focus / flow smoothly to their own nature. The two are related, but practices are not required to achieve or find a Personal Tao. Practices are a very important tool for a Taoist to use, yet too much reliance on a single practice will at times blind a person to discovering their Personal Tao. A hammer is an awesome tool, but you can’t work with screws very well with a hammer. Likewise, a Taoist will meditate to open up an inner eye, but you still need your normal physical senses to interact with the world.
My personal practice seems simple to me, as it’s something that has evolved over many years. Anyone else looking at my practice would be confused by the seemingly random way I skip between activities: Poetry, massage (giving and receiving), Jujutsu, Yoga (3 different styles), Patterning (1) , Wandering, Mediation, Meditation, Love, Pastel Drawing, Dancing, Reading, Day Dreaming, Chi-Gung (2) and finally Listening. I have only really mastered three of these practices and within the rest I am just a novice or have only a very basic level of skill. The goal (3) isn’t to become a master. The goal is to flow with needs of life. If my body is feeling out of shape, I ramp up the Yoga and Jujutsu. If my body is extra sore I get some massage. If I can’t stop thinking, then I write poetry or meditate. If I have an excess of positive energy “Chi” then I will help heal someone by giving a massage or perform some patterning. As the real world interferes unexpectedly every day, it means having access to a range of different activities permitting flexibility by matching a practice to my current needs.
I had no plan to learn so many different skills. Instead, over time, one skill led to another. Life kept introducing new skills due to traveling, having to balance work situations, or just sharing life experiences with other people. Interestingly enough, each practice in itself led to other practices. So the process of learning rapidly expands out in time. A person may only have a few skills until reaching a critical point and it all suddenly flashes over into many new areas at once.
Taoists take a “buffet” approach to living a practical lifestyle. Typically a Taoist will explore and try many different practices. Over time a collection of tools and ideas are gathered to keep everything exercised and in shape. There isn’t a rush to learn something new: instead, we learn practices that fit with both our personal style and needs.
As our bodies, mind and spirit change over time, these practices also flow and change over time for an individual.
1) Patterning is a term I coined for describing the practice of using a combination of patterns found in our lives to help unlock truth or ideas. Many different types of patterning exist. For example: Psychology is a form of patterning based on human mental processes. Feng Shui is patterning based on human nature, artistry and older lore. Divination is another form of patterning using I-Ching, Tarot cards or Rune stones to predict possible future events. I developed the term patterning as I discovered that my practice combines aspects of each of these different forms of traditional systems into a more comprehensive system. Patterning is a more generic name, which doesn’t get tied down to preconceptions of a single existing practice.
2) I highly recommend the spin-cycle-washing-machine-slap-your-kidneys movement in Chi-Gung. (Ok, I purposely forget the movement’s name) You learn so many things across the various practices: like how working your kidneys and liver with certain movements aids in solving allergy issues. This in turn helps relieve the stress on the body, which in turn helps reach a moment of peace, which in turn relaxes you to a point of realization of “hey I like this path I am living” which in turn helps a person discover a Personal Tao, rather than being in fight for survival mode as the allergies won’t let me sleep, which interferes, anyway, you can continue the run-on sentences with examples from your life.
3) The goal is never a goal; the purpose of any practice is supporting your essence with tools fitting the needs of the moment.
How does one keep up an energetic practice in Taoism?
One of the harder things about the Taoist path is the balance of the overall long-term practice.
For many people, after a period a Taoist lifestyle can seem to be boring, monotonous or even at times pointless. (Anyone who feels this way, in reflection, feels that way about their own life. They are looking for practices to spice their life up.) This is not an issue about Taoism; it’s an issue of deciding what methods you choose to fulfill your empty-space.
I can compare Taoism to Jogging. On the surface I find the activity of jogging to be very boring. I don’t enjoy pounding the crap out of my knees, and I don’t enjoy running. I am rarely in a rush to get anywhere.
But jogging isn’t dull, and it’s not about a rush to get somewhere.
Boring is merely a matter of perspective.
It’s a matter of pacing yourself for the distance.
Taoism is a practice geared for your entire life. You don’t run full speed expecting to find all the mysteries of life in the first few days. Taoism teaches a person to pace their exploration, discovery and wandering to cover the path of an entire lifetime.
So many get excited when first learning Taoism, only to lose focus over time then. They put all their energy into a focus of achieving the results they desire in the now: seemingly in the fewest possible actions.
This is why I am careful about which students I take when teaching Taoism. Not everyone is at a point in their life where their perspective is ready to pace out the practices. As a result as a Taoist teacher, I have learned to teach different aspects of the practice to fit the person relative to where they are in life.
My goal is always trying to help a person find a sustainable set of practices. So the key to a long-term Taoist practice is not about focus, it’s about living. Very similar to jogging when one lets go of actually running to instead give in to the movement, to run the distance. Then in time a person also discovers to relax and just take it all in, to watch life, to watch the run through the trail.
It’s similar for Taoism. People place all that energy initially into exploring, and then lose their intensity after finding answers don’t pop up as they would like. The answers are all there. You just have to run the distance.
People want shortcuts.
Taoism does teach many shortcuts, but the shortcuts aren’t one of time, they are of perception. Taoism provides the tools of acceptance, so it’s possible to settle down and enjoy the run.
Taoism shows a person to take care of mind, body, and spirit, so it’s possible to run the distance. Remember to include all three aspects of mind, body, and spirit in any practice. I see mismatched effects cause problems all the time in Yoga. Yoga is a practice which has been developed in large part to aid in the shaping of a person’s empty space. So it’s strange to watch how some people concentrate only on the physical part of the practice. Yoga is a powerful practice, and sometimes I have watched people not balance the physical practice with a measure of spiritual practice: such an unbalance practice can warp one’s empty-space that then warps their body. It’s similar to watching a steel Submarine bending and tearing itself apart when diving too deeply under the water. The spiritual part of the practice is an important counter pressure to protect one from hurting the body from the bends.
Taoism also teaches to drop expectations so a practitioner can have the patience to complete life: to discover it’s about yourself rather than answers. Taoism also teaches that you will embrace many practices over time, to match shifting needs.
Taoism is never boring; it’s your life.
It’s just a question on how we choose to jog through that life.
Practice is a very very interesting topic. When I started the Awakening Dragon Taoism School, I had a dilemma of how to teach our Dragon Practices.
Most people when they teach a practice: you start with a form, and you practice within the form over and over again until you get the form perfect and then you can move on.
I find that to be too restrictive. To concentrate so much on forms can blind a person to variations and personal angles that could be of greater benefit.
Instead, I teach practices in a “meta” sense. I teach everything that goes around the practice but not the form. Hence I teach a formless practice. I work with each student, and I use their own life as the form to fit the practice within.
Do you see the difference?
Most people learn a practice so they can change their shape to fit the practice
I teach Taoist practices to fit within the shape and form of each student!
It’s a vastly different way of teaching. When teaching a student, this process always fits like a glove as then the practices will always fit their life fully.
Now, this isn’t for everyone. In fact more people than not do better with form-based practices. It’s less work and keeps a person very busy. Formless practice doesn’t work for very literal people needing precise and very sharp definitions.
But formless practices are great for rebels, for people that don’t fit in anywhere else because they are so strongly their person, or for those seeking how everything connects together but in a nonliteral and relaxed manner.
It took me years to ponder and develop a very simple concept of how to embrace practice, not as a practice but simply as “________” or “Pu”, formless yet full. That is enough to assist students to discover and fill the empty space which defines us each. To teach a practice that enhances a person’s essence but doesn’t limit them as a premade form.
That is Formless Practice. How to implement “Pu” “the uncarved block” as a full practice. To be within full potential and explore all potentials that as a person we each can represent.