Self-Mastery and Tao: Ten Essential Practices

taoism-essential-techniquesIn the modern age, with its endless and intoxicating distractions bombarding us and pulling our consciousness in many directions, it is vital for us to develop and follow a personal discipline that keeps us focused on the real purposes and meanings in our lives, so that we can slowly attain the fruits of our practices.

When we live for instant gratification, or live to chase “happiness” — as many have come to conceive of it — we ultimately end up disappointed. Hence the old adage that, “one who chases happiness is sure to avoid it”.

This is the strange irony: The human spirit does not gain authentic and lasting happiness from satisfying base desires and from being briefly satisfied with some outer stimuli because it forms nothing lasting or solid.

Instead, people become truly and authentically happy when they place such things as discipline, values, purpose and meaning above immediate gratification. Then we can attain true fruits of the spirit — which in turn makes us truly, authentically happy — without ever striving for it as an end goal in itself. Eventually, through practice, one comes to realize that their spirit is already everything they truly need, and so much more. The whole inner world is rich with all the soil and seeds needed for any growth, and this growth is true and sincere, because it is unique and comes from within.

Sacrifice, discipline, and attainment makes us joyful because, and when, they enable us to create something true and meaningful. We are willing to put aside the distractions and take on the real work and challenges that push us beyond our ourselves and our cravings.

Below are ten practices for cultivating oneself and attaining lasting, meaningful happiness:

Contemplation: Think before speaking or acting on anything. If you don’t have a good reason, don’t do it or say it. Speaking little is ideal. Think for yourself and don’t use other people’s reasoning unless you really understand it and can’t think of anything better after exhausting your own ideas. Beware of biases, cognitive dissonance, logical fallacies, and wishful thinking.

Emotion: Find the roots of worry, anxiety, fear, etc., to solve them rationally, emotionally, and spiritually. Never let emotions lead, but also do not deny or suppress them; try to understand, resolve, and grow from them.

Stillness: If you cannot rationally decide on what to do, don’t do anything. Return to the Tao and act from there. If you get emotional, you lose Tao. Go elsewhere and wait until you return to calm, think over your emotions, and consider your next actions.

Will: Once you’ve thought something through, put all of your power behind it. Do not allow doubt. You cannot travel effectively nor enjoyably while constantly questioning and doubting the craftsmanship of your map.

Discipline: It takes about three weeks without interruption to form or discard a habit. Aim to feed good habits, and be very wary of feeding poor habits. Remember that your spirit and responsibilities are more important than your happiness.

Simplicity: Keep all matters as clear and simple as possible. Use reasoning to sublimate things, reducing them to only what is really important and matters. Let go of burdensome emotions, desires, memories, and thoughts.

Health: Thinking clearly, deciding specifically, avoid your own and other peoples’ toxic behaviors. Distance yourself from toxic substances, foods, habits, people, ideas, and avoid producing further toxicity in the world. Feed the body nutritious foods, meditate to calm/focus the spirit, and contemplate to strengthen/order the mind. Exercise regularly, even if it’s brief, and expend your energy fully.

Compassion: Even if someone has a poor behavior towards you, be compassionate, noble, polite, but distant from their toxicity. Have genuine empathy and understanding for others, even in the face of hate.

Truth: To thine own self be true. Always be honest and sincere in your actions, thoughts, estimations, and judgements. Weigh truth rationally and to its logical limits in any given context. Accept that many truths are not enjoyable or pleasant, and that things often have far more than one “truth” to them.

Tao: In all things, follow the Way (see below). Always consider the teachings of the spiritual disciplines you practice (in my case, Taoism) and realizations in your decision making and weighing. For me, I consider Wu-Wei, Te, Breathing… most importantly, I consider the Tao, and whether my actions, attitude, state of mind, and so on, are helping me in walking the Way, or unsettling my spirit.

The Tao, or Way, is an ancient Chinese spiritual, philosophical, and logical concept that is difficult to describe, and impossible to conceptually grasp, but can be thought of as the unborn potential from which Nature springs, is animated, and eventually returns. Taoism is heavily rooted in the Tao Te Ching (“The Way and its Virtue”), an ancient text written by a pseudo-historical Chinese sage named Laozi, or “Old Master”.

Tao is everywhere and nowhere, in everything and yet ungraspable by the senses. Tao is the central idea of Taoism, a religion and philosophy from ancient China, centered around the cultivation and return to Tao. Returning to the Tao is a slow, cultivated practice of meditation, breathing exercises, internal alchemy (also known as Neidan), and unburdening (by letting go of desires), with the path leading one closer to Tao, cultivating the inner power known as “Te”. Te is a concept that is difficult to translate fully into English. It has been variously described as “power”, “virtue”, and “potency”, as well as the natural persona or individual characteristics that make “something” whatever it is. It is what a child has in abundance

Being close to Tao, having cultivated Te, one achieves a state of cloud-like and flexible naturality, what the Taoists sometimes describe as the “uncarved wooden block”, implying someone simple, without pretense, and not “carved” by concepts and desires into something other than their natural and liberated state in Tao. From this natural state, one “acts without acting”, meaning to take action in the world, but that action flows effortlessly from one’s natural connection to Tao, instead of contrived desires, fixations, and conscious intentions. This state of non-action is known as “Wu-Wei”, and is one of the many spiritual fruits Taoists seek to attain through their practices.

Practitioner of Taoism and a seeker of the cryptic, Maher Sagrillo is a Lebanese American game designer and artist living in Colorado. He has written for the post-industrial music website Heathen Harvest and designed several board and video games.
Practitioner of Taoism and a seeker of the cryptic, Maher Sagrillo is a Lebanese American game designer and artist living in Colorado. He has written for the post-industrial music website Heathen Harvest and designed several board and video games.

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