I came into a sort of naive Taoism in my late 30s.
I arrived at it unintentionally, unexpectedly and while drunk and brokenhearted. A man had lied to me, eaten all of my popsicles, refused to see me or speak to me, and then replied to my eventual breakup text with a simple, “okay”. Somehow, the lack of dessert options was bothering me the most after the shock and anger had faded slightly.
I stumbled while talking to friends and said something with accidental meaning. Someone more sober was around to remember.
“Everything is going to be okay. And also? Nothing will ever be okay again.”
I wrote it down, and tried to repeat it when things seemed a bit dire. Normal life always seems to continue (after disasters small or large), somewhat predictably:
The dog is sick, no one knows why or what’s wrong. The toddler has eaten part of the sofa, my boss is a sociopath. My mom died last week and the car needs a new alternator. My favourite pants have a rip in the backside and I’m not sure how long it’s been there. I stepped on a thumbtack in the middle of the night and I ate a bug because I thought it was a piece of quinoa. My gym crush seems to have caught on that I’m stalking him and is giving me a dirty look from the treadmill. My body feels like a pregnant, tube sock wrapped sausage creature.
Mother-effing-ouch. It all really hurts.
Life is entirely flippant in its aversion to the easy path, and the universe is always exploding in colourful allegory. No one is offering apologies, and everything happens at once. Forgiveness seems like a cruel thing to even suggest when things are chaotic. Who has the time, let alone the inclination?
The rain beats on the roof. It leaks, stains the ceiling tiles. The spectrum of autism has haunted my life for years in the form of my quirky, offbeat (and often difficult, and often lovely) children. People are always telling me how “they couldn’t do it”. I’m not allowed to smash those people in the face, and it’s a damned shame. My ex husband is losing his mind and my credit card is maxed. Actually, all of my credit cards are maxed.
Life is a maze and masturbation is a boring chore at best. Yes, I’ve tried using the other hand.
That guy I like? He’s not calling me back. Or texting, emailing. I’m hitting refresh again (nope). He does know where to find me (oh please, let him find me).
What can anyone do? The answer is refreshingly simple, and obvious. There’s nothing. Therein, the relief and the release.
Initially it seems unrelated, but the man who hurt me badly also talked to me convincingly and strikingly about the Tao. I had been meaning to pick it up for a while, but I could never find the time. I had resolved to him that I would read it.
When he left (without fanfare), I found at first that I couldn’t open the cover or read it at all. I thought I was feeling better, but I was still resisting anything to do with him. That time, that place, that guy. All of it made me angry and made a giant hole in my life. I couldn’t listen to certain music. I couldn’t eat certain foods. I couldn’t read certain books. I didn’t want to see his smarmy, stupid face in every place we’d ever been or hear his voice in everything we’d talked about.
In the process of carrying this, my outlook on life was altered and dimmed. The sky was now falling on a much more regular basis. The same things were happening (ceiling stains, autism, death and car troubles) but my ability to cope with what was mostly your average sort of life was compromised. My resentment was heavy, and I was in a great deal of pain.
I decided to read a bit about Taoism and forgiveness.
The Tao teaches of the three jewels: compassion, moderation and humility.
At the heart of these ideas (as in so many doctrines) is the goal of living a life of respect, of quiet grace, of being unwavering in the face of the things which cause waves. When life is rough, we must be smooth. It all “just is”. The Tao asks: Why act? Just be present. Be unmoved. Let your ego be your enemy and literally “lose yourself”. Treat those who wrong you with the most respect and compassion of all.
At best, I am a very literal person with a need for concreteness and for structure in my daily life. At worst, I may be mildly autistic. I have an obsessive need for a practical application to even the most impractical of philosophical concepts. So when I read about Taoism, I immediately thought, “how does this really happen? It sounds cool, but how can I make this fit in my real life?”
First, I took up whatever cause seemed the most worthwhile. I wanted to be an unmoved blur of energy. I threw myself into what I imagined to be “a compassionate lifestyle”.
I started a running club and ran nearly 100 km in one month, I helped others with their own goals. I signed up for every charity race I could find. I lifted weights and I grew stronger. I found a wonderful Friday night yoga class and attended this in lieu of drinking alone. I brought food to the food bank. I went for long, long coffee dates with friends and listened well. I made new connections, I helped, I nurtured, I chatted.
I dated in a way that might have been termed voracious. I lent people the shoes from my feet (yes, this actually happened), I gave away my lunch (that too). I reveled in my extroverted nature and became the local pusher for the drug of human companionship.
Compliments came in abundance (“wow, look at you!” is a compliment, right?). I found that it’s damned hard to be humble when you’re busy being awesome. Humility went out the freaking window and I was wallowing in my ego. With that embracing of ego came a virtual torrent of regret, not fulfillment. I felt a little bit numb, but still very angry. How could life be so unfair when I was doing everything so very right and so very well? How could anyone have disrespected someone so perfect?
So… the proverbial drawing board. Moderation? You can imagine how well that went. I embraced moderation at a frenetic pace. I sat still until I could feel my legs vibrating with the desire to move. I shut up until I was a babbling idiot. I was quiet until all I could hear was the ringing of my own shouts.
Nothing about Taoism was working for me because I was such a special little snowflake. I threw the book at the wall.
I considered again my own drunken statement about life’s challenges: everything would be okay, and also, nothing would ever be okay again. It occurred to me that my bitterness and inability to forgive is the very thing that makes the sky fall. I could use any excuse to create more regret, or I could lose the importance.
If I carry with me an inability to eat what I want, I might potentially lose five pounds, but I will cringe every time I pass the frozen foods. If I don’t allow myself to enjoy the music he enjoyed, I won’t end up weeping as often, but the car will be very quiet with no radio. If I don’t read the books he loved, I won’t remember how he felt about them, but I might miss something important about how to let it all go. If I don’t let go, my life will feel heavier.
I want to feel lighter.
Lightness is realizing that the things which are (even now) the hardest to forgive are just as unimportant as the very smallest things. I can always buy more popsicles.
Many larger concepts need a bit of wiggle room, and revenge is still tempting. I sometimes picture a darkly humorous end for the man who brought Taoism into my life, however painfully. I have my moments of immaturity – hell yes.
In the middle of dessert, I paused and smiled. I forgave him quietly (and without fanfare) and rested the sticks beside my book.
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Assistant Editor: Karen Cygnarowicz / Editor: Catherine Monkman
Photo: Darwin Bell