Everything that exists was born
of the feminine principle within the Tao.
This mysterious principle can be called,
“the mother of All.”
There is no need
to weary ourselves in an effort to find her.
She is ever with us
because she is us.
From The Tao Te Ching, Chapter 6, interpretation by William Martin
I am quite familiar with the Zen quote that a man who is looking for the Divine is like a man riding on an ox, looking for an ox. I’ve used that quote often over the years. Yet still I have persisted in searching, looking, and in many ways, striving for a deeper spiritual experience of life. Why is it so difficult to get off the damn ox, open my eyes, and see it standing right in front of me?
Here’s the key – The Tao is impersonal – that is, it does not stand outside of us and relate to us as one person would relate to another, so we often miss the obvious. But in truth, we don’t really want a personal Deity – one that stands outside of our life and scrutinizes our actions, doling out or withholding favors on a whim. What we long for is true intimacy. How marvelous that this intimacy is the very nature of the Tao/Cosmos.
In human relationships, people can be kind or cruel, loving or hateful, caring or distant, empathetic or manipulative – hundreds and hundreds of “personal” qualities that are not really part of the Tao. The Tao does not relate to us in the way people relate to other people. It is, however, terribly intimate, more intimate than any human relationship could possibly be. It is us. It experiences every aspect of us. When we die, it knows that death, experiences that death, and in a sense dies with us; thus the Tao knows death. We are not alone at our death. The Tao is there. It is there at that moment, and at the next moment, whatever that moment might be. The dance never ends because it is the dance of the Eternal Now.
This intimacy transforms our relationship with nature. The extinction of the tiniest species in an intimate loss. The felling of a single pine tree is an event of importance because we are as close to that pine as we are to our breath. This is not to advocate a hyper-scrupulosity in which we wring our hands at every sparrow’s fall. (However didn’t Jesus say something once about the importance of a sparrow’s fall?) I don’t advocate a syrupy sentimentality. I’m talking about taking every life, every single life of every single being, with respect and honor, knowing the intimacy that is built into the fabric of Web of Life. By doing this, I find my own life experience to be deeper, more intense, and full of joy. Each moment is an intimate moment.
No tree, flower, weed, bird, vegetable, fruit, animal, or stone can be seen as a “resource” for human benefit. Every plowing and reaping, every excavation and construction, every life brought into being or taken away must be seen as an intimate act; must be approached with mindful gratitude and respect.
I kill ants when they invade my kitchen. I don’t poison the colony, but I wipe up those on my counter or shelves. I apologize when I do so. This apology is not a silly sentimental act. It is an act of respect and honor. The more we make such acts a part of our life, the more we experience the intimacy of the Tao.
Don’t take what’s going on in the world personally. But do savor the intense intimacy of it all. Even the viruses within us are us, in the most intimate manner imaginable. Like wiping the ants off my counter, care for your own life by neutralizing the harmful effects of disease wherever possible, but see it as a dance of intimacy and don’t take it personally.
Consider being with a small group of your friends in a space where you can gather with masks and/or face shields and adequate distancing and share tea, coffee, and conversation. It may not be as “personal” as we would like or we hope to have in the future, but it can be truly intimate if we remember just how deeply interconnected our lives actually are. Don’t let the circumstances of quarantine trick you into believing that you are not still a part of a marvelous intimate Cosmos.