Sunday, April 24, 2011

T is for Tao

As I wandered the spiritual globe, I picked up bits and pieces of different religions that worked for me.  From Taoism, I adopted the concept of The Tao which I use as my tool for understanding God.

At its heart, the concept of The Tao is deceptively simple.  "The Tao that can be spoken is not the eternal Tao."  This is the very first line in the Tao Te Ching.  This perspective simply says, "Defining something limits it.  If you say, 'This is God,' then there are countless things in that definition that your version of God doesn't include.  By creating your definition of God, you are limiting how you're willing to experience God."

For example, if we conjured up a fictional Creationist who hates frogs, their argument would be, "Of course frogs aren't from God - they're hideous little creatures."  This begs the question, "What then, is the origin of the frog?"  To our fictional Creationist, saying that the frog came from anywhere other than God would imply that there is a creative force on par with God which also created reality.

That sort of justification requires countless rules that God must follow and has created many of the contradictions we find in religions today.  The problem at the core of that approach is that the entire concept of defining God is based around fear.  We have these crazy, chaotic, intricate, complicated lives where we run from one extreme to the next all in the course of a single day.  But not God.  God must fit in this nice little box so we can climb in it too when we need comfort.  When we open our eyes and look out at the world, we want God to fit in our pocket - a defined, compact version of reality that allows us to disregard the things we don't like.  What's more is that, since we have God with us, we are not responsible for or have to deal with those things that don't fit into our predetermined definition.  Many of us WANT a parental God that will watch over us, set boundaries on our world, and reward us for doing good while punishing those who hurt us or do things that are outside of our rules.

What if, instead of being a parent that set all the rules, God was a blank mural and a collection of paints and brushes?  Whatever we create on that mural - whether it is what we define as beautiful or ugly - comes from us.  That mural that we paint has the potential to become something beautiful which is the pride of our neighborhood; arguments over what can or cannot be painted have the potential to turn into a violent riot.  We find that people lay ownership to broad swaths of wall, insisting that they and they alone can dictate what will be painted there.  Some paint what's in their heart, either applauded by their neighbors or having paint thrown over their creation and harsh words thrown at the painter.

From that perspective, God is simply open and inviting - a mural - and the tools with which to express what comes from within us.  All of the rest, the good and the bad, comes from us.

When I look at our world, that's what I see - a bunch of people loving and hating, arguing or getting along, each of them with a brush in their hand.  Some stand back and simply watch - unsure of what to paint; afraid to leave their mark; happy to say that painting the mural isn't their responsibility.  The traditional shamanic approach is to believe that everything is sacred ("from God") and that each thing creates its own reality (or "holds a paintbrush and stands before the mural.")  Choosing not to paint is still a choice.  Choosing to fight instead of create is still a choice.  Choosing to create something beautiful - even in the midst of the chaos around you - is also a choice.

Some of us like that idea and the power and freedom it brings; others don't want to step beyond the safety of the box they're in.  Both choices are sacred roads to journey down, simply because we choose what's right for us.

Do I understand God?  Nope.  No one can.  If we're to believe the Tao Te Ching, we never will.  Sometimes it's enough to simply frame the argument, to realize that you're standing before a mural with a brush in your hand and that choosing, "What next?" is completely up to you.  Will you paint or will you simply watch?  If you do step up to the mural, what colors will you use?  What will you bring to life?  From a shaman's perspective, if everything is sacred, then we're not simply painting.  As you stand before the mural, brush in hand, realize what the mural is, what the paints and brush are created from and understand that all of that was freely given to you.  Consider not just what you're painting, but the act of painting itself and all of its implications.  And then look around at those around you - the ones who are arguing, the ones who are claiming the mural for their own, and the ones who are painting amidst it all.  When you stand in the place where all of those pieces fall into place and you see how the people, the paint, and the mural are all one, then you're embracing the shaman's perspective.

One of the challenges in writing The Awakening (Book One in the Rebirth trilogy) was framing the story of the end of the world in this perspective.  The tale of, "Hooray! Our religion won!" has been written numerous times; the story of, "All is One - and this is what happens to the mural and those painting it," is, to my knowledge, unexplored ground.  While I drew many of the concepts from sources as diverse as Hopi prophecy and the Christian Bible, I ran each of them through the "telephone game" that many of us played as children.  (A single sentence would be whispered from ear-to-ear until it made its way around the circle, returning with words changed and meaning garbled.)  For example, the concept of angels has become the Old Ones, immortal beings that have parallels in cultures around the globe.

Each piece that was embraced for the story first had to be reduced to its core concepts so that it "fit" on a global scale without contradicting another religion’s core beliefs.  In the midst of it all, there are people from all walks of religious and non-religious life who are swept up in the events as reality begins to unravel.  The question was never, "How do I interpret this belief?" but rather, "How would the individuals gathered at the mural each experience events from their perspective as night began to fall?"

The Awakening (Rebirth: Book One) will be available in both paperback and ebook editions on May 13th through Amazon.com and BarnesAndNobel.com.  You can pre-order the autographed paperback edition for $15 (which includes shipping to addresses in the continental United States) and it will be shipped on May 6th - a week before the publication date.

7 comments:

  1. Painting what is in my heart upon the mural while chaos around me ensues would be my choice. My experience has been that I am at my most creative during shambolic energy. ;)

    Looking forward to the release of your next book and will be going to amazon.com on the release date. :)

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  2. Enjoyed this very much - love the mural analogy - daresay I'd be the one spilling my paint and claiming it was Art and that I meant to do it :-) Seriously, though, I am always very taken and intrigued by what I read here. Thanks for all these things to ponder on, and I look forward to getting the book.

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  3. You constantly keep me on my toes! You are so driven to uncover the true meaning of life. Congratulations on the release of your book! Julie

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  4. What a wonderful use of words again today!! I am so looking forward to your next book!!

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  5. @Karla We'd have so much fun at the mural! I'm a big "call the spilled paint art" kind of guy myself. If nothing else, there'd be a lot of laughter. :)

    @Julie Thank you! If I could accomplish anything in this life, it would be to uncover all of the meaning I could find and write it down. I don't think that I hold all the answers, but I'd love to give someone a starting place a bit farther down the path - something that they can build on and take it even farther.

    @Lori Thank you! We're coming up on the release very quickly. :)

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  6. The metaphor of God fitting into the box resonates with me. Years ago I discovered that my spiritual path does not involve boxes. Great post.

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