Live Like a Daoist
The Arc of Live Like a Daoist Week
To help understand each day’s exercise it may be useful to begin with a few words about the overall arc of this week. The exercises are:
- Day 1: Wandering
- Day 2: Language Creates Distinctions
- Day 3: Shifting Perspective
- Day 4: Fasting the Mind
- Days 5-6: Changing a “Fully Formed” View
- Day 7: Sitting and Forgetting
Each day is meant to give you practice – sometimes rather playfully – in shifting, loosening, or abandoning perspectives that you currently hold. A good Daoist life is not about building up specific habits or cultivating specific feelings, but rather involves breaking down (or at least loosening) the grip that conventional norms have on us. Think, perhaps, of Chapter 48 of the Daode Jing (the earlier Daoist text traditionally ascribed to Laozi):
Those who work at their studies increase day after day;
Those who have heard the Dao decrease day after day.
They decrease and decrease, till they get to the point where they do nothing (wu wei).
They do nothing and yet there’s nothing left undone.
— Lao Tzu: Te-Tao Ching — A New Translation Based on the Recently Discovered Ma-wang-tui Texts, translated by Robert Hendricks (1989)
“Doing nothing” is not about literally sitting still, but about acting without commitment to one framework or set of values.
At the same time, throughout this week it is important to bear in mind that Zhuangzi understands that certain things are inevitable, unavoidable, “fated.” In your context, these “constraints” includes attending classes, doing your reading and other homework, and following health guidelines. We read in Zhuangzi 4 that one should “reconcile” oneself to these constraints. Do not allow the week’s exercises to dissuade you from following these constraints.
Wandering (or roaming or playing — all translations of you 遊, emphasizing different aspects of its meaning) is a central trope in Zhuangzi. Sometimes it is associated with what seems like radical difference from our everyday lives:
My teacher! My teacher! He destroys all things, but he is not being just (yi). His bounty reaches all things, but he is not being kind (ren). He is an elder to the remotest antiquity, but without being old. He covers and supports heaven and earth and carves out all forms, but without being skillful. It is all the play of his wandering, nothing more. (ZZ 6 / 62)
This radical kind of wandering may be too difficult for the average person to grasp; note that in response to another description of radical wandering, Master Longtall Lumbertree says “These words would send even the Yellow Emperor into fevers of confusion”! (ZZ 2 / 19)
On the other hand, in other places wandering/play seems less radical, as in the “play of the blade” when the cook carves his oxen (ZZ 3 / 30), or even more concretely:
You, on the other hand, have this big tree and you worry that it’s useless. How you could loaf and wander, doing a whole lot of nothing (wu wei) there at its side! How far-flung and unfettered you’d be, dozing there beneath it! (ZZ 1 / 8)
It seems that the author of Zhuangzi sees some continuity between everyday wandering and radical wandering.
To begin Live Like a Daoist Week, therefore, find time to wander for at least 30 minutes. Some of it should involve physically moving around without a destination, but you can also experiment with other kinds of wandering or play, so long as the activity is not focused on a goal (such as winning).
Now and again as you wander, pay attention to what you are noticing. If a particular sight or sound captures your attention, take a picture or make a recording; this evening’s reflection will give you a space to upload it.