Sadly, this is the last review I will be writing for the next thirty days. I am taking a one month retreat in a small cave about one hundred and fifty miles from our home, nearly three days journey on foot from the closest vehicle access point and far away from humanity and all of its endless buzzing about. This isn’t the first time for me – I once stayed in a small Himalayan retreat hovel for seventy days – another story for another day.
There are endless reasons why we should make time once a year at a minimum to go on retreat. We have become so accustomed to the endless drone of appliances, television, computers, our cars…the list is infinite. At every turn, there is something waiting for our mind to grab onto, to absorb our attention, diffuse our focus, and remove us from the sacredness of the present moment in which all things are possible. In silence, true silence, we enter into the crucible of creation itself and have the opportunity to become co-creators of our existence in harmony with God, The Creator, and Allah – take your pick.
Think of silence as an endless ocean. From the depths of silence bubbles creation itself, breaking the surface of the ocean of silence and becoming thought. There is a problem however, that plagues nearly all of us. These ‘bubbles of creation’ run into the turbulent layer at the surface of the ocean of silence, our subconscious and conscious mind. This layer filters the bubble, often contorting and twisting it before it breaks into the realm of conscious thought; our thoughts become our actions and produce our view of our existence and our physical world.
In retreat, the mind goes through a few stages on the way to finally shutting up: For me, day one is usually the uncomfortable, can’t find my seat daydream day. Day two is a deeper revisit of all of the problems that ever occurred in my life, usually negative. On day three, my mind begins with all sorts of food cravings and ends with bitter complaint at the lack of company. By the fourth day, the turbulent surface of the ocean grows calm, and you begin to experience a glimpse of true silence.
This silence heals wounds, brings clarity and a feeling of oneness that cannot to be put into words. It is not meant to be: words are nothing more than shadows of true meaning, yet we cling to them for all they are worth. Real Truth can only be felt, intuited – it cannot exist in words themselves.
Lao Tzu: The Tao of Pooh
Lao Tzu was trying to get the same point across when he decided to use the word “Tao” (pronounced “Dao”) to describe the Infinite. “Tao” simply means “Way.” Lao Tzu made the realization some five thousand years ago that just as a fish could no more accurately understand or speak of the complexities of humanity, neither can we truly know the mysteries of the Universe through any attempt to describe or label it.
Lao Tzu’s use of the word “Way” is especially important. Lao recognized that no matter what our beliefs were or what we chose to name the Infinite, we were all on our own paths – which all lead to the same place. In The Tao of Pooh, Benjamin uses happenings and events in the lives of Winnie the Pooh and other characters from the story to illustrate the teachings of Lao Tzu in a light and childlike manner. As an adult, we often fail to realize the power of simplistic language, and the negative effects of too many words on our communication.
The Uncarved Block
The Tao of Pooh speaks of the principle of the uncarved block; beautiful, natural, effortlessly being. Benjamin illustrates the nature of The Tao through calm and carefree Winnie the Pooh – a bear who simply IS. When we can learn to simply BE – the same state of inner calmness we strive to achieve through Yoga, life becomes fun.
The essence of the Tao and The Tao of Pooh is the same as the essence of Yoga. Do what is in harmony with nature and the natural way of things. Do not strive for balance, be still instead and you will become balance personified. As Asanas teach us to be flexible and bend naturally, so does The Tao teaches us to be flexible and bend in our lives and thoughts. Be as a leaf blowing on the wind; content to enjoy the journey without fear or worry of its end.
We are all on our own journeys; each of us on a separate pathway, yet walking together. The Tao of Pooh may appear to be a strange choice for a Yoga website, but I assure you it only appears that way. Humanity must come to learn to respect the paths of each other regardless of religion or philosophical belief system. If you can remember that we are all looking for the same answers, each in their own way, you can enjoy and celebrate in the belief systems of those around you. I have no permanent word for God – I know in my heart that any label I choose is truly meaningless compared to feeling the presence of The Creator.
In retreat, I hope to remember how to bend again. I hope to feel the presence of my own infinite spirit in harmony with The Creator. I go into retreat in order to find the stillness that eludes me as of late and the joy of the journey. Read The Tao of Pooh; be as flexible in your beliefs as you are in your Yoga. Learn to forget the labels we place on everything and instead simply allow things to be.
Namaste, my friends…and farewell.
The Tao of Pooh
Benjamin Hoff, ISBN 0140067477