WHAT IS THE TAO?
There is a buddhist principle that I adore called Tao. It is pronounced “dow” and simply means “the middle way.” What does tao mean? To best define the tao principle, let’s look at the opposite of Tao. Wild swings. Here’s what it looks like.
You look down at your belly when you are watching TV. It it spilling over your waistband (because you are seated and do, in fact, have a human body that bends) and you immediately think, “Ugh. My stomach is so fat. I want to get rid of it! I’m so sick of hating how I look. I’m going to do something about it NOW.”
And then you commence your version of whatever dieting looks like to you.
This is a wild swing. Every time you take a wild swing, whether towards the world of dieting, or rebelling against dieting and swinging back to apathy and double ordering at Taco Bell, you have lost your way. You are in reaction mode, and are not living in the Middle, not living the wisdom of the tao.
THE WILD SWINGS
The inevitable result of swinging violently towards dieting/restriction behavior and away from the what the tao means is this: you will then violently swing the opposite direction with equal force. It may take three weeks or three months, but swing you will. When you control life with extreme discipline, your life will balance itself out with extreme rebellion. Enter Taco Bell drive through at 10 pm on a Tuesday.
Why would you want to understand what is the tao? Consider for a moment how much energy each of these swings takes when you diet then binge eat. It takes so much of your life energy to start a diet. You have to get motivated, read about your latest diet choice, talk to friends about it, and buy the app to start recording your calories.
Consider how much life energy you spend swinging from dieting and restriction, to rebellion and binge eating, over and over again.
When you stop the wild swings, and understand what tao means, you will have more energy to spend on things that you want to spend your life energy on. What the tao is: it is all about spending your life energy on LIVING instead of lamenting about last night’s brownie. (Here’s how to develop habits instead of dieting.)
WHAT IS THE TAO: HEADING TOWARDS MIDDLE
So how do you stop the wild swings? If you are craving a diet/restriction swing as a way to get control of your stomach (immediately, please!) the answer is to not swing. What does tao mean? Talk yourself out of the diet. Put the calorie tracker down, and just walk away.
Walking away does NOT look like rebellion. Rebellion is another swing. Rebellion looks like, “Well, if I don’t have to diet, I can just eat whatever I want. And I want to eat with abandon. Forever.”
That is not the Middle Way. If you are wondering what is the tao, this is not the tao.
The Middle Way is asking yourself when you are in the middle of the mental swing, “Wait. Is this extreme?” And then in the moment, return to the middle. Again and again and again.
What is the tao? Instead of seeking balance by swinging the opposite direction with equal force, you simply return to middle, and wait for the pendulum to come to a rest.
THE MIDDLE ALWAYS MOVES
Another principle of the tao or middle way is that it is a moving target. It flows with your life, and trying to obsessively always be in the middle, dammit, is just another swing into the extreme.
Think about yourself on vacation. What does tao mean on vacation? If you are eating out every lunch and dinner, even if you are ordering “responsibly,” you will not consume the same qualify of foods that you do when you are cooking at home.
What is the tao while you order? If you try to order even more obsessively, and ask your server to modify every meal, and always get the mayo on the side, and substitute the potatoes for peas, then you, ahem, are not living the middle way. You have officially swung into the world of obsessive.
What is the tao on vacation? The middle way requires flexibility. When on vacation, the middle will move. When you are eating in a friend’s home, the middle will move. When you are sick the middle will move. When you are physically exhausted the middle will move. When you are extra active, the middle will move.
What is the tao while dieting? Living the middle way is not prescriptive. That is just another diet. It is reflective and intuitive. It requires that you get a little still in your head, and get quiet enough to sense when you are peaceful, and when the pendulum has started to swing. Notice today when you feel peaceful, and when you want to react and start the pendulum swing.
WHAT IS THE TAO WITH MEDITATION?
I haven’t always had a meditation practice. I wanted to have a meditation practice for many years. I read a bunch of mediation books. I listened to a few meditations on YouTube. And I just couldn’t get myself to want to do it for more than a few days at a time, for more than a few breaths at a time.
What is the tao with habits? And then I learned about intentionally programming your life through instilling habits, and realized why I hadn’t been able to form a meditation practice. I had started too rigidly. I had assumed that a “real” meditation practice had to be at least five minutes a day (and preferably an hour) and included sitting erectly on a Moroccan-themed pillow with Tibetan bowls in the foreground.
Today, my meditation practice actually includes my dog, coffee, and 15 breaths every morning. One hundred breaths if I’m really feeling it. That’s it.
And when I instilled the practice of meditation in my life on a regular basis, something subtle and quiet happened. I could sense more easily when I was in the middle, and when I was swinging out of it. I got some distance between myself, and my behavior.
If you want more clarity to see what is the tao, what is the middle way, I recommend the Be Well meditation program from Card Salad, or simply start with your dog, coffee, and 15 breaths.
WHAT DOES THE TAO MEAN? MEDITATION MADE SMALL
Whether you are the Dalai Lama himself, a seasoned meditator, or someone who has never had a desire to start a practice of meditation, let’s practice the smallest habit possible that can lead you to understanding what is the tao, or the middle way.
Right now, no matter where you are or how anxious you are or how much you don’t feel like meditation, close your eyes and just take three breaths. That’s it. That’s all for today. This is what the tao means.