The reality of an Urban Taoist.

I’ve read enough stories about Taoists achieving oneness in their meditative practices, and then going outside and being able to identify themselves with the trees, the sky, the rocks, and the grass. It’s called “Not-Two,” and it’s a beautiful thing. And it happens to me too. A lot actually, and while driving too, which is odd.

But the aesthetic beauty of nature is only one aspect of reality.

At my office, for two hours every day before my clinic shift starts, I meditate, recite my Taoist scripture, and practice my qigong and tai chi forms. If I’m lucky, I can do it after my clinic shift.

A kid was shot in the head a few hundred feet away from me. I still finished my meditation.

Now mind you, I work in the East Rogers Park neighborhood of the city of Chicago, and on one of the busiest streets in the city. I’m right smack dab in the heart of “everything.” By “everything,” I mean that it’s nothing but traffic and construction noises, loud conversations from pedestrians passing by, sirens from ambulances, firetrucks, and police cars, and sometimes even gunshots (I heard five the other day and a couple last week). From time to time there are gangbangers congregating right outside of my storefront, and sometimes there’s even hookers and drug dealers. And when the high school lets out between 2:30p to 3:30p, I refuse to go outside because that’s when all the attempted murders happen. And it all doesn’t occur at night, nor in the alley… but in broad daylight right smack dab on my street. And it’s all committed by people under the age of 20yo, popping off lead at seemingly random people. And being a minority male myself, other minority males will want to mistake me as a rival gangbanger.

That’s my reality.

I would imagine that many or most people who call themselves Taoists (or spiritualists in general) who live in grassy-green retreat-like peaceful areas of our country may have a hard time cultivating the Tao in such a chaotic backdrop. I don’t blame them though, because hearing constant noises from police cars, ambulances, guns, and general urban ruckus could be a bit jarring for most. It still is for me, sometimes.

How pretty.

But that’s the beauty of my practice. Cultivating stillness amidst the chaos is as real as it gets. It’s a challenge that I willfully accept every day of my life because I have no other choice. My reality is not a tropical beach in which I can do a yoga pose for Instagram, nor is it a beautiful green scenery with rolling hills and tall majestic trees kissing the sky in the middle of which I can pose for a cool meditation photo. Nope. My reality is right here, right now, in the thick of what my Qigong master calls “the misery of society.” It’s chaotic and violent, noisy and beautiful.

Anything other than what I have won’t be reality. It’ll just be an escape. And I’m not an escapist.

As an Urban Taoist Monk, you have to view everything in life at its complete, non-dualistic form. Yin and Yang (or the Taiji symbol) represent the universe – a universe of opposing forces that live harmoniously together. What we call “beauty and ugly” are just concepts that humans created out of our egotistical thinking, because we value one over the other. In nature, there isn’t such thing as beauty and ugliness. Things just are what they are, and exist without judgement. That’s the true nature of everything.

All the so-called “beautiful” landscapes in nature all a part of you… but so are gun-toting teens, the screaming pedestrians running from the mental health facility, and young prostitutes. They’re reality too. And therefore you have to accept them as a part of you as well. People who tell me otherwise are just full of shit. Don’t even tell me how you can be “one with the universe” in your posh and peaceful and green or beachy surroundings if you can’t do the same in the urban jungle.

The ability to cultivate stillness in such a chaotic environment is so important. When it feels like the world is spinning out of control, someone has to be centered. Someone has to be the pivot around which the chaos is spinning, because that way, some people may want to join you in your endeavor towards inner peace. And the more people join, the less out of control the world spins.

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