A few weeks ago I stumbled upon a fascinating blog post by Betsy at Zen Mama that highlighted some of the best Taoist quotes from The Adventures of Winnie the Pooh. I had been meaning to read The Tao of Pooh for some time now, and reading this post renewed my interest in the subject so I immediately checked it out from my local library.
Taoism is a common theme of pop culture media, with its principles represented in popular movies like the Star Wars saga, as well as The Big Lebowski, Fight Club and Ferris Beuller’s Day Off, as explained in more detail in this post by Ren Adams.
The principles of Taoism are rather basic, in fact. Founded by Lao Tze in 640 BC, Taoism focuses on promoting a peace-filled life by working in harmony with reality and the natural universe.
If you haven’t read the Tao of Pooh, it is a quick and enlightening read that exemplifies the simplicity of Taoism. I found the entire book to be enjoyable and calmingly motivating, but perhaps my favorite part of the book is section in which the author discusses the quest to obtain goals, to achieve a sought-after pursuit, or to fulfill an ambition. In The House at Pooh Corner, Christopher Robin asks Pooh what he likes doing best in the world.
“Well, said Pooh, ‘what I like best—‘ and then he had to stop and think. Because although Eating Honey was a very good thing to do, there was a moment just before you began to eat it which was better than when you were, but he didn’t know what it was called.”
Anticipation, expectancy, or eagerness some might call it. A fruitful endeavor to others. Or simply a goal, pursuit, or quest. Unfortunately, the attainment of our own personal Holy Grails are often not as fulfilling as we had thought they would be. The rewards are not as sweet once they are tasted. The completed tasks leave us feeling empty and seeking a new task to fill its place.
As the book’s author, Benjamin Hoff, points out, it is not that our goals are unimportant. Rather it is the “process that makes us wise, happy, or whatever.” It is the act of striving for what we think we will bring us happiness, that we actually feel our happiness.
But when we strive in the wrong way, or we pursue a goal that is not our own and has been thrust upon us by someone else, or we lose sight of why we are pursuing our aspirations, and the nasty side of ambition creeps in. And it brings with it doubt and fear, anger and resentment, drama and yuckiness.
Like many others, I suspect, when I am immersed in a particularly challenging quest, I frequently battle self-doubt and a general lack of confidence. Will this book ever be finished, much less published? Will that article be accepted for publication? Will the client be satisfied with his web marketing project? Am I keeping my readers interested and engaged, or are they clicking away or closing their web browser after the first paragraph?
These doubts often cause me to veer off course and forget the reasons why I am striving for a particular goal. And then things turn ugly. Tears are frequently involved. I forget what I was seeking in the first place. The act of striving becomes less fulfilling, and more of a commitment.
I am continually looking for ways to re-center myself at times like this, but I have generally found that by taking a step back and intentionally enjoying the process, I am able to find the satisfaction again.
As Benjamin Hoff points out in the Tao of Pooh, that moment of pure bliss and utter enjoyment right before Pooh eats that honey is not just anticipation. Surely, it is that, but it is also much more than that. It is an awareness of the anticipation. It is an awareness of all the good around us. It is an awareness that we are, in fact, exceedingly and whole-heartedly happy.
How do you keep yourself aware if the anticipation and focused on the process?