“Knowing others is intelligence;
knowing yourself is true wisdom.
Mastering others is strength;
mastering yourself is true power.”
― Lao Tzu, Tao Te Ching
I lost my smile a few years ago. Must have dropped it somewhere along the way. And for a while all my skies turned grey. And the songbirds forgot all of their lullabies. It wasn’t something beautiful. It smelt like forgotten showers and greasy hair. It looked like no shows to work and missed appointments. Unreturned phone calls and eye bags. There are moments within these memories that I am not proud of. They feel like pressed little bruises whenever I think back to them.
To be honest, it took me a very long time to find my smile again. The kind of smile that begins on the inside and bubbles up to split and stretch your mouth. Eventually, I began my search for peace. Survivors instinct I suppose. This was when I first heard of Toaism. Magic, more specifically, mysticism within the ordinary. Through learning about this philosophy and spending a great deal of time in deep meditation I began to unravel like a pond lily. I observed myself, I observed the world around me. I welcomed all parts of myself, even the little bruises and shameful mistakes. And it was through this I truly began to heal.
So, what is Taoism exactly? Taoism is the philosophy founded by Lao Tzu in ancient China and is still widely practiced across the globe today. Naturally, it is too great a task to summaries it within one short article and I highly recommend reading about this more widely*. The first lesson I learnt was that chasing peace, would never bring me any. Living completely presently, in full appreciation for the moment happening is much more important. Acceptance. That is the true nature of the Toa. And deep connection to all living things. This includes mountains, rocks, sand and the sea. For they are living too. Not in the conventional way we accept life as human beings, but they live as part of this universe, giving and taking energy from the sun and the moon as they give and take life within the natural world. Nature is not just a part of us, nature is us and we are nature. Yin and Yang originates from Taoism and represents the constant balance of negative and positive energy within the Universe. This is not to mean “good” or “bad”, but rather “light” and “dark”. Yin represents the passive and empathetic, the night and moon-energy. Yang represents the bold and powerful, the day and sun-energy. Every person holds both Yin and Yang energy within themselves, just as the Earth, and Universe holds it. Both Yin and Yang are essential for harmonious balance both within ourselves and within the world.
My recovery from depression began once I accepted my depression. Once I acknowledge that it was there. Often, especially in a western society, we are rushed to the next stage before we are ready. I was given copious amounts of advice on how to get rid of my depression, on how to eradicate myself of those emotions. When I was unable to do so I was left feeling ashamed and weak. But once I simply acknowledged its existence, and spent time noticing how it felt to be in the company of my demons I began to feel grounded. I mean this in a deep spiritual sense. To truly sit and mediate with my depression was tasking. But through these times I learnt more about my mental illness than any self-help book, new diet, or prescription pills could have enabled. From this, I was able to take the next step. I began to forgive myself. To forgive my mind for its illness, to accept that this illness is real, it exists and there is no shame in it. I began to engage with the abundance of different energies within myself. Noticing how some days, I felt quiet and gentle. Other days, I was angry and energetic. Some days I could laugh like sunshine or cry all night like rain. Each of these emotions and experiences taught me something new about myself, creating an understanding for the vital balance of experiencing all emotions. You cannot grow from something, especially pain, until you have allowed yourself to feel it. Until you have allowed yourself to understand it completely.
I know that magic exists. I have recognised astounding forces within myself, seen monsters dwelling in my caves and created miracles in my mind. How can we deny magic when we ourselves are magical? Reality itself is remarkable. I find the best example of this is the beauty of a storm. Lightening, rain and wind all immense flows of energy interacting with our planet, uncontrollable and experienced simultaneously by animals and humans. Rainbows are undoubtedly magical; rain and sunlight, two opposing energies working together to reveal new dimensions as we see all of the colours arching across our sky. Nature is extraordinary, and we ourselves our nature. Our existence is profound and no one, no scientist, no philosopher, no preacher has ever been able to explain it. Taoism acknowledges this. It does not try to master Life, control living or instruct existence. It simply recognises the unexplainable beauty of it and appreciates our place within the endless circle of energy that is our universe. The cosmos exists within us as we exist within it, and miracles occur every single day of our lives. Through my recovery, I began to fully appreciate the beauty of being alive. The magic of existence. And though some days still feel stormy, I take comfort knowing that I exist as part of this universe much more deeply than I can ever truly comprehend. And that, to me, is Magic.
Taoism: The Way of the Mystic by Cooper J C
The Tao of Pooh by Benjamin Hoff
The Book by Alan Watts
Art by Jennifer Van Der Merwe