I was sitting in a coffee shop recently with a young woman who described herself as a Taoist Pagan Pantheist. My first thought was, “what the heck is that?” Luckily what came out of my mouth was slightly more tactful, “describe that for me, I’ve never met someone who described herself that way” (Translation: what the heck is that!).

After we talked for a while, she recommended I read this book. So here’s my synopsis – pretty fascinating book, actually. I’m looking forward to getting together with her again to discuss it.

The Tao of Pooh was a very enlightening book. Besides just giving a very simple and entertaining explanation of the essence of Taoism (through the eyes of that crazy little bear), this book challenged modernist assumptions on many levels and in some ways was very refreshing.

From the Taoist point of view, while the scholarly intellect may be useful for analyzing certain things, deeper and broader matters are beyond its limited reach (24)…and one sometimes gets the impression that those intimidating words are there to keep us from understanding. That way the scholars can appear Superior, and will not likely be suspected of Not Knowing Something (28).

But sometimes the knowledge of the scholar is a bit hard to understand because it doesn’t seem to match up with our own experience of things. In other words, Knowledge and Experience do not necessarily speak the same language. But isn’t the knowledge that comes from experience more valuable than the knowledge that doesn’t? (28-9)

Now, scholars can be very useful and necessary, in their own dull and unamusing way. They provide a lot of information. It’s just that there is Something More, and that Something More is what life is really about (31).

My only critique of the book is that it is purely theoretical. In some ways it does the very thing it critiques – only exists in the abstract area of the mind – there is nothing practical. It left me wondering what Taoism looks like in the life of a real person. What would it look like in my life? How does it transform my relationships? How does it connect me to something bigger than myself? How does it lead me to change the world? How does it encourage me to pour myself into community or the lives of other people? How does it help me change the shit of my life or heal my brokenness?

This is the first book I’ve read on Taoism and so I don’t know whether there is something out there that addresses some of my questions or not. I don’t know whether there is a more concrete story of the life of a Taoist or not (if someone knows of one, I’d love to read it – something similar to Blue Like Jazz?). In fact, this book leaves me wondering whether Taoism has anything to offer me other than some good, abstract ideas to think about. At the same time, I want to avoid being too critical and demanding of a book that isn’t meant to be exhaustive about its subject. 

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