the Sun Hermit: “What is Tao?”

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One day I was on a hike with the Sun Hermit and a friend. We were walking through a rich forest, climbing among great rocks and settling into the peaceful rhythm of nature.

I asked the Sun Hermit to talk to us about the Tao. His staff made a wonderful clacking sound as he set it down on a rock and used it to hoist himself up.

“In Tao there is no separation. My arm, my hand, my staff and this rock are all one living, breathing consciousness. Everything is so alive that there are no words to describe it. Everything has its own language, an inexhuastible essence. To see the world through the eyes of Tao is to see it not in terms of function, but to be swept away by beauty.”

“That sounds kind of exhausting!” joked my friend Kaylo.

The Sun Hermit laughed. “It’s the most invigorating thing in the world! It’s what keeps these old bones going every day. Every breath and every heartbeat is a testament to the majesty of Tao.”

We fell silent, and I could feel how the three of us were moving as one organism. I could see how we were changing our environment and our environment was changing us. Animals create paths through the forest but they create by following. It’s a strange paradox. What comes first, chicken or egg?

“It only seems paradoxical because they seem separate. Why do things appear separate to me?”

“When you see your reflection in the mirror, does it appear separate from you?”

“No, I guess not.”

“The world is just another mirror. Train yourself to see it this way, and you will.”

I would practice with Kaylo. If he said or did something that got to me, I would practice seeing him as my reflection. Usually the situation would seem absurd: how could I get angry at my own reflection? Sometimes it didn’t work, because the feeling as just too strong. But I did notice it was becoming easier to see others as my reflection.

Or doing the dishes, I would say to myself: “As I wash this dish, I cleanse my own mind of illusions.”

Another great passion was art. As I wrote or drew something, I would set aside the need to create something to impress others and instead use the art as a medium for self-exploration. The characters I created were different aspects of myself, and the ideas I played with allowed me to clarify my experiences to myself.

I began to understand the great teaching at a new depth: “Love thy neighbor as thyself.” I began to take it literally. What is love but absence of fear? And who can fear their own reflection?

I found that as I saw others as my reflection, it became easier to see their virtues, or at least the positive potential within them. And this seeing activated the corresponding virtue within me, activated whatever dormant potential was there. And I saw that projecting separation shut down my creative potential, and my own self-awareness.

But time and time again, strong emotions would cloud this practice. I began to see that behind them was a fear, a fear of opening up or revealing myself too much to others, that I would be hurt or shamed. I asked the Sun Hermit how I could take this practice to the next stage, and overcome these fears.

“Be with the fear, knowing that it is unreal. The fear is only an indicator of transformation. Allow the fear to be there without reacting to it. Feel the fear in the body, and feel its impermanence, its changing nature. Every time you come up against this fear, you have the potential to become more grounded in your inner knowing. Don’t worry, it’s a good sign.”

And so the practice continues. I can see in myself a desire, at times, for a quick resolution, for an immediate fix-all. And breakthroughs certainly happen. But they happen unexpectedly, as a result of clearing space for them. They happen as a consequence of our persistence and devotion.

The practice continues! My journey with the Sun Hermit is a mystery within a mystery…

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