I was once asked a weird question about “the Taoist look” regarding hair. He mentioned that his work wants him to keep his hair short and his face shaven, so he asked me if there’s any way that he can prove that having long hair and a beard is a “very Taoist thing,” so he wouldn’t have to groom himself to his company’s regulations.
Are there any Taoist “stylishness regulations?” I mean, would failure to maintain a beard be grounds for immediate separation from the Tao? Where in the Uniform Code of Taoist Justice (UCTJ) does it say this? What about shoes, will I have to get rid of my Crocs?! Are my glasses Taoisty enough?!?!
Right now, as I’m typing this, I’m wearing a t-shirt depicting children summoning demons, you can see a little bit of one of my several tattoos, and behind me there’s a painting that says “Zen.” There’s nothing in this photo that says “TAOISM,” except maybe for my poor attempt at facial hair. So as you can see, I’m not very sagely in appearances.
But is that really important? Do I really have to “look” sagely in order to be a seeker and student of The Way? Do I really have to look a part in order to play a part? What is this “part” we’re playing, other than a bunch of words, concepts, and categories that we humans become egotistically attached to? And that’s the reason why I felt that the aforementioned question was really funny coming from a person calling himself a “Taoist.” Taoist philosophy says that words, concepts, and categories are fixed in nature, so none of them can be used to describe the ever-changing, ever-evolving Way of the universe (aka The Tao).
In the very first paragraph of the very first chapter of the Tao Te Ching (Derek Lin translation), Lao Tzu wrote:
The Tao that can be spoken is not the eternal Tao
The name that can be named is not the eternal name
The nameless is the origin of Heaven and Earth
The named is the mother of all things
What this basically means is that if you think that you can explain the Tao — aka the Way, and the wondrousness and vastness of the universe — by using words and concepts, then it’s not the true Tao. These words and concepts didn’t even exist when the universe was created, yet existence continued to unfold, grow, and evolve without them. By the mere use of language, there’s no possible way you can describe the absolute entirety of existence.
But that’s the way nature is. And ultimately, that’s the way you are.
You’re not meant to be classified, labeled, and pigeonholed. Yet we do it to ourselves all the time. Oddly enough, we take our own pigeonholing very seriously. However, when we stuff ourselves in a conceptual box, we close ourselves off from experiencing the rest of existence by doing so.
I learned early on that this is one of the most constricting, most limiting things I’ve ever done to myself. I played “the game” back in high school in order to survive those assholey years simply by conforming myself to labels and appearances. Yes, I stopped getting bullied and picked on, but I felt like I was suffocating. Every day I couldn’t wait to get home from school so I could listen to jazz and classical music, watch cartoons and read comic books… you know, all the things that “cool” people don’t do. As soon as high school was over, I slowly started to drop all of the self-imposed labels, and disassociated myself from all of the people who were limiting my potential. It was a hard thing to do, but I had to do it in order to spread my wings and bust out of my self-imposed prison. It was so liberating.
“DING! You are now free to move about the universe.”
Sometimes I have prospective qigong students come to me and tell me that they want to be more spiritual. So, pulling an “Alan Watts” on them, I’d ask “Who is this you that wants to be spiritual?” When they give me their name, I ask if a name is all they are. Then they give me their job title, and I ask if a name and a job are all they are. Then they’re inclined to tell me their hobbies, and I ask them if a name, a job, and hobbies are all they are… and so forth. It can go on forever. You can list down all the things about you that you do, where you’re from, your race, and everything else, and it still won’t amount to who you are. That’s because you’re more than labels, you’re more than categories… you’re an experience.
Words and concepts and categories are fixed ideas. The universe is ever-changing. Life is ever-changing. You are ever-changing. You’re not meant to be labeled, categorized, or pigeonholed… you’re meant to be experienced. You experience life as much as life experiences you. You are the eyes and the ears that the universe uses to experience itself.
Working or eating or sleeping or any roles you play are not you, they’re just things you engage in all day. Your clothes, musical tastes, hobbies, and political/social beliefs are also not the real you.
So who is the real you if you’re not a role, category, or label?
Remember those times when someone spontaneously said the perfect joke or farted right at the perfect moment which made you laugh uncontrollably like a mad person?
There you were… the spontaneous joyfulness and delightfulness of life, reminiscent of the spontaneous growth, expansion and wondrous beauty of the Tao… that was you!
So enjoy your name, work, hobbies, beliefs and so on. But just understand that you’re more than all of those things. You are the microcosm of the limitless universe 🙂
You are more than you know.