The emotional ups and downs of daily life can feel like a roadblock to spiritual progress and health. So, it becomes tempting in early phases to withdraw from the world and all its distractions. Leaving the world and spending time in nature and quietude can help the student grow at a faster rate—for a time.
However, Taoist masters encouraged their students to return to “the real world” to face worldly desires and compare the hustle and bustle of a faster lifestyle to the quiet life in nature. This encouragement was usually given to students when they needed to mature. Facing daily challenges and learning to get along with others caused the students to look at the shortcomings in themselves.
Therefore, Taoist students would return to cities and take mundane jobs to practice maintaining their inner peace. If they could stay calm, find joy in the ordinary, and face difficult circumstances squarely, they were seen to be on the path to mastery themselves.
For most people, withdrawing from society before having spiritual grounding and maturity will lead to setbacks on the path. The spiritual ego will become over-inflated. The mind, not finding true satisfaction, will continue its cravings for material things, power cravings, and other control tactics. They will be playing out worldly dramas in the guise of spiritual progress.
The advice is to start where you are. Breath deep. Stay in your hula hoop. Find your hands, find your feet. Learn about your organs and become their friends. Be kind to your neighbor and yourself.
Image / Portrait of Taoist monk, China, ca. 1945, University of California
Learn more by reading The Alchemist’s Tao Te Ching: Transforming Your Lead Into Gold