The Accidental Taoist

I’ve read the Tao Te Ching at least a dozen times starting in high school. I’ve read at least 6 different translations and own 4 of them. But I have to say, it never really stuck with me, never really resonated, until just recently.

Two weeks ago I came home after being laid off from my first corporate jobby-job, my position having been eliminated, and felt oddly elated. Not the normal reaction to being laid off in a recession. It wasn’t because I was excited to go on unemployment, in fact that thought didn’t even cross my mind. It wasn’t just because I suddenly had the freedom and ability to spend the long summer hanging with my kids while I looked for my true dream job, though that was definitely part of it. It wasn’t even because now I’ll finally have time to finish writing my young adult novel.

It was mostly because I had stumbled into the Tao.

I got home and read a few random pages from our newest translation of the Tao Te Ching (I have yet to read this translation straight through preferring to just open to a random page and see how the wisdom pertains to my day) and this is what I read;

Therefore the Master
acts without doing anything
and teaches without saying anything.
Things arise and she lets them come;
things disappear and she lets them go.
She has but doesn’t posses,
acts but doesn’t expect.
When her work is done, she forgets it.
That is why it will last forever.


Practice not-doing,
and everything will fall into place.


The Tao is like a well:
used but never used up.
It is like the eternal void:
filled with infinite possibilities

It is hidden but always present.
I don’t know who gave birth to it.
It is older than God.

I read this and realized that I had found The Way. Doing by not doing, being by non-being, letting things come instead of forcing change.

Do you want to improve the world?
I don’t think it can be done.

The world is sacred.
It can’t be improved.
If you tamper with it, you’ll ruin it.
If you treat it like an object, you’ll lose it.

The Tao is about accepting the world as it is and about finding your place in the midst of it all. Not struggling against the currents, but floating along with them and soaking up as much as we can from the lessons all around us. It is about becoming better people by letting go of our own ideas of what is right and what is wrong and simply accepting what is.

I never thought of myself as a Taoist, but I realize now that I am, we all are. We cannot practice the Tao without breaking it. We simply have to be, and we are in the Tao. The only true Taoist is the accidental kind.

Once again – we are not human beings, we are humans becoming. And if we are just patient, we will see that the path is there before us, and it takes us to the light – but it’s not a straight line; we must all pass through the fire, we must all test ourselves against the rocks.

We must all learn when to jump, and when to wait. I used to be a jumper, but I am learning, slowly, to be patient, and to hold my peace and wait.

In Western speak, I am gaining the wisdom of the serenity prayer.

Grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
The courage to change the things I can,
And the wisdom to know the difference.



Filed under Books, Rant

3 responses to “The Accidental Taoist

  1. Bee

    I think I’m too thoroughly Western (and possibly too cynical) to ever make a very good Taoist. I hear “Practice not-doing, and everything will fall into place,” and all I can think is, “Yes, but *somebody* has to put the clothes in the wash or we will calmly, serenely run out of clean underpants.” 😉

    • Bee, That is the most perfect response, and a couple months ago it would have been mine. But the Tao doesn’t tell us to stop living, it just helps to teach us to go with the flow of life.
      No, we still can’t get away with just sleeping all day, or sitting on the couch watching bad tv eating onions, but if we learn to stay aware and to follow the natural rhythms of life, we find that it is less of a struggle than we thought.
      Hope you’re doing well. Drop a line any time. I love hearing from you.

  2. Congratulations on being open to whatever Reality brings you. and having such an enlightened view of your recent job change. I’m certain that there is necessary and wonderful work for an accidental Taoist. I’ve been a fan of the Tao for a long time, and recommend a version by David K. Reynolds called: Reflections on the Tao te Ching.He was my teacher. I am also very pleased to see that my book, IMPROV WISDOM is on your wish list. The philosophy of improvising has much in common with the principles of the Tao. I hope you have a chance to read it. Many libraries have copies. I wish you many happy improvisations.

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