• Jennifer Barnick

A Little Tao Talk


While it's safe at this point in my life to say that I wear no religious banner—there is one world religion that my mind leans on quite a bit, particularly if I am in a rough patch.

The best way I could describe Taoism is absolute radical acceptance of self, of the moment, of the universe. I think I would run around proclaiming and attempting to be an actual Taoist if I had any hope at all that I could actually be a Taoist. I’m just not that good at being so naked all the time. However, when life outright strips you then that is the perfect time to use the wisdom of Taoism. So, I am going to present three in-the-rough life moments and then try to give a Taoist perspective so perhaps you can, at the very least, get a sense of how one can study Taoism and perhaps adopt some of its wisdom when your own native wits have abandoned you.

Death—your own or a loved one’s death: In Taoism, the truly innocent never die—well not like most of us do—for they have not clouded reality with all sorts of artificial notions of what life actually is. (Now note, there was a historical sect of Taoism that sought through herbalism and magic to seek immortality, however, that by no means is in sync with the major canonical works and teachings of masters of the religion.) Innocence is a constant objective in Taoism. It speaks of a kind of "sleep when you are sleepy, eat when you are hungry" type of thing: do not be foolish or arrogant and think you can actually tame the laws of the universe (like pretending all through your life that you and everyone you know is not going to die). In several Taoist writings, Taoists are seen as showing up to funerals ready to party. They are portrayed as joyful and oblivious to what everyone else is seeing as tragic. When questioned, the Taoist masters are always laughing while saying things like, “He was dead the moment he was born” or “Look around this whole mess is birth and death…relax and enjoy the ride” or “People stop crying over spilled milk”.

Loss of fortune—money, house, home, career, spouse: Taoism loves dealing with loss because Taoism loves pointing out a constant human conceit, and that is most people think they know when they are really losing and really gaining something. Meaning, most people are totally stupid regarding good and bad luck and their ability to discern whether or not a specific event was good or bad. For Taoists things happen due to causes and conditions. Sometimes you can see it coming; sometimes you cannot. Sometimes the situation was because you were stupid; sometimes you are not to blame. However, the Tao is always in perfect harmony, and horrible things might turn out to be the best thing that ever happened to you, and awesome surprises might be your future ruin. But then again, perhaps that ruin would bring you to the love of your life, but then again that love of your life might die young bringing you the worst pain you’ve ever experienced…. So, that is how Taoists see good and bad. Bad can bring good; good can bring bad. Their solution is to study wisdom, try to eat a good diet and get plenty of rest because you just never know what’s around the bend. Other tips: better to hold back than to push forward, always assume that you are not the smartest man in the room, and again, never forget that the day you were born was the day you began to die (though the Tao has no end and you are part of the Tao).

Massive guilt or regret for something you have done: As far as religions go Taoism is a real big softy for sinners. So, if you are a pretty big sinner then this might be a helpful wisdom to study. Taoists acknowledge evil; however, it arises due to causes and conditions of any given point in time and never is it an enduring phenomenon like Satan. An evil person arises out of causes and conditions, however, evil, like anything else in the Tao, arises and falls away. From a Taoist perspective if you are good at keeping low, holding tight, and enduring discomfort you really will go far in the world. However, we often are not good at any or all of those things, and, well, sometimes we go for a little evil. But evil does eventually exhaust itself, as the causes and conditions of the evil exhaust themselves. When you have committed an evil act and have regret Taoism always states that the moment you have regret is the moment your evil has exhausted itself and that the very feeling of remorse is a sign that you have returned to innocence. You will have all sorts of consequences unfold around you because of the bad thing you did, however, hold tight because what seems bad at first might actually be really super awesome. And remember to enjoy all this mess cleaning, and evil exhausting, and good luck and bad luck, because the moment you were born you began to die (though the Tao never dies and you are part of the Tao).

Happy Hump Day everyone, and I wish you all bad luck that turns out to be good luck.

Jennifer Barnick is a painter and writer. She studied painting at the San Francisco Art Institute. She founded Twenty-two Twenty-eight. “One of the most exciting aspects of Twenty-two Twenty-eight is building a channel for artists and writers to share their work with the world.” You can follow Jennifer on her Instagram here.

Check out Jennifer’s book. You can read the first short story for free on Amazon here.