One of the members of the New Taoist Community asked if members had any personal accounts of how Taoism affects or helps us. I thought I'd offer the following...
Long before I encountered Taoism I became aware that I had a problem. I'd go to social events and I'd feel awkward and clumsy, even when in the company of good friends. When I began working in office jobs I became even more aware of this problem so I'd try to watch how other more confident people acted and try to mimic them. This false behaviour made me more self-concious and that in turn made me more awkward. People seemed to be able to tell that there was something false about how I behaved and responded to me with caution.
Before I found Taoism I had started to become aware that this only occurred in environments where I was trying to fit in - trying to be like everybody else. When I was in different situations I had no such problem. When I was drunk I didn't have the problem either - not because the alcohol was giving me confidence, I've always had a fair amount of self-confidence, but because after a couple of drinks I didn't care what people thought of me and I was willing to be who I am. The problem was that I didn't know what this meant or have a wider understanding of the world in which to fit these observations.
When I discovered Taoism, one of the first things in the Tao Te Ching that really resonated with me was the line in chapter 41 about somebody understanding the way appearing foolish to others. I realised that the reason I felt awkward and clumsy was because I was trying to fit into these situations according to their rules, not according to who I am. I started to stop worrying about fitting in, about being like everybody else, and suddenly things came together. Parties, which had always been difficult to me now became fun. The more I explored Taoism, the better it got.
Occasionally I find myself slipping back into the old ways of thinking, just for a moment or two. Then I remember the Tao Te Ching and everything becomes fine again. In preparing this posting I had a look through a couple of translations of the Tao Te Ching to extract some lines which have some relevance to me for this subject. Mainly from Mitchell, but with a bit of Merel, I've joined them together to come up with a chapter appropriate for me regarding this situation...
Who understands the Way seems foolish;
Who progresses on the Way seems to fail;
Who follows the Way seems to wander
Must you value what others value,
avoid what others avoid?
Open yourself to the Tao,
then trust your natural responses;
and everything will fall into place.
Care about people's approval
and you will be their prisoner.
When you are content to be simply yourself
and don't compare or compete,
everybody will respect you.