I am such a lucky person.
A few months ago, I had the opportunity to interview one of my favorite authors, Deng Ming-Dao. So today, as a special treat for all of you, I would like to present you the full interview with a GIVEAWAY in honor of this first day of The Ultimate Blog Challenge and this second day of the Becoming Soulfully Connected Telesummit!
I am participating in the telesummit (see the schedule here), and we were asked if we would like to provide a giveaway prize to a lucky winner who registers for the summit and helps us to promote it. There are lots of prizes, which you can see here, but MY prize was a copy of The Lunar Tao, by Deng Ming-Dao, along with the exclusive MP3 recording of the interview that I will NOT be posting here! (Gotta hold a little something back for the big winner!) 🙂
So if you haven’t done so already, be sure and sign up for the telesummit to get yourself ready to win some of those prizes AFTER you read this fabulous interview with a great Taoist author… DENG MING-DAO.
Interview with Deng Ming-Dao
There is an expression in Taoist philosophy called “wu wei”, which means non-action or not-doing. The concept of wu wei is a way of living, a way of being. Wu wei is about allowing things to happen naturally as they may. For many of us, the practice of integrating our martial arts or our energy practices into our everyday lives is somewhat piecemeal. We spend our days rushing around the office and then spend our evenings meditating, doing yoga or practicing Tai Chi.
Author Deng Ming-Dao has been practicing and writing about Taoist principles for many years. His books primarily focus on finding ways to integrate Taoist principles into our everyday lives so that we can live more holistically. I caught up with him to ask him about his work and to see what he could tell us about energy, Taoist philosophy and his newest book, The Lunar Tao.
AP: I’ve noticed a theme throughout your books. You often refer to nature, the moon cycles and the seasonal changes to keep bringing you back to Source, to Tao, to your practice.
DMD: Everything has a cycle. Every cycle has a zenith and a nadir. When a cycle reaches its nadir, it has to go back towards its zenith. That is the nature of the cycle. The moon shows us that every month. The face of the moon changes from dark to fully bright to dark again.
When we have challenges in our lives, it feels dark and bleak but we have to hold on. We have to have faith. Things have to change for the better. It doesn’t hurt to help it along by working hard and being prudent. You are going to experience ups and downs. There is no such thing as being down all the time.
When life is giddy and beautiful, you have to look to the future. Take advantage of your success because a downfall will come. The wisdom of Taoism suggests forbearance when things are down, and saving and preparing when things are up. If you did only that, you would be successful.
Spring follows every winter. We need down time. Taoists call winter the time of storing. Unless you can rest and store up energy, you can’t burst forth into the glory of spring. Qigong, martial arts and meditation are the physical acts of being Taoist. You have to work out every day, stretch and watch your diet so that you can harness your energy for spring.
AP: You need to allow that yin space to develop your practice…the yin side of life.
DMD: That is the hidden meaning of what the Tao is about. What is the yin side of life? We are so good at asserting ourselves and wanting to be superstars. We want everything to be bright, bold and beautiful. But when do we find time to quietly withdraw and understand what is going on with us? I think if you withdraw a little each day, if you can just sit down and take stock in what happens and try to clear your mind so that new ideas can come in, that would be a great benefit to every person.
AP: Our bodies hold our energetic patterns. If we are tense, our bodies hold on to the tension. In any point in time, we can become conscious inside our bodies. Tai Chi is an important practice to help us do this.
DMD: We talk about the body and the mind as separate. But one of the great things about Tai Chi is that it shows us that body and mind are unified. They work together. Does the body influence the mind or does the mind influence the body? It is a two-way street. You can use the body to calm the mind and you can use the mind to control the body. Activities like Tai Chi really help you to see that connection.
AP: There are many ways to develop body consciousness. You can also go for a walk or do yoga to practice this awareness. With this sort of consciousness, you can tell when something is physically wrong.
DMD: If you are tense or bent over, maybe you think nothing is wrong but you have stomach aches every day. It is important to pay attention to this. If you have some sort of spasm, for example, it can cut off so much blood flow that it develops into an additional problem. It’s about keeping the body and mind in balance. This is important for maintaining overall health.
AP: With your diet, it’s about bringing that consciousness into your choices of what you put into your body and noticing how your body responds to food.
DMD: Choice is really important. We don’t eat just because we need a donut. We are not driven by the marketing of the corporations. I wonder how much of what people really eat is what we want to eat and how much of it has been manipulated by people who want to sell products? We have a choice. We can choose what we eat each day. We choose what we eat in order to encourage certain states in our bodies.
For example, if you are undergoing an athletic competition, you might eat high carb, low fat foods in order to fuel your competition. On the other hand, if you want to achieve a high spiritual state, a vegetarian diet or a diet where you don’t drink, smoke or eat extreme foods would be important. We can choose how we think based on our dietary choices.
AP: The food choices we make affect our ability to absorb certain spiritual concepts.
DMD: Right. If you have some huge meal in your stomach, you are working on absorbing that! Everything we eat has an implication for our bodies. We think that food is neutral – that it’s just calories, just protein, carbohydrates, vitamins. We look at things in a mechanistic way.
The Taoist approach is a holistic one. Food is more than just its parts. Each type of food stimulates consciousness differently and has its own effects on our body. The orchestrating of those effects is something that a Taoist would do in order to control what is happening to him each day.
AP: When my husband cooks me a meal, I think that food has a higher quality because it is made with love.
DMD: I agree. If you’ve got the same ingredients, the same kitchen, the same recipe by two different people, the dish would not taste the same. When we cook for people, we are not just nurturing them with protein. We are nurturing them with our love and our care. That has a tangible result. It isn’t all in your head. Each of us is sustained by this – not just by the food but by eating together and receiving the gifts.
AP: Tell us about the lunar cycles from your latest book, The Lunar Tao.
DMD: If you look back at Chinese culture, all the important days are keyed to the lunar calendar. This is important because it shows us how Taoism can be part of a living culture, part of our daily observances. It adds a dimension beyond the scholarly standpoint. The 24 solar terms are keyed to the seasons as well.
The lunar calendar and the solar calendar don’t quite coincide all the time. This year they are six days apart, but that imperfection reflects the difference between our human conception of perfection and the natural rhythms which carry their own form. Harmonizing with this natural rhythm is really the essence of being a Taoist. The book also lists the seven major festivals throughout the year. In all of these, it forms a very rich folk tales and poetic illustrations of how Taoism applies to daily life.
AP: I just love the stories. Did your parents tell you those stories? Where did you get the stories from?
DMD: A lot of the stories are known in the culture. A Chinese master, when giving a lecture, will give the briefest reference to a story and, of course, everybody knows it. If I put it in an American context, if you were talking to someone and they gave a reference to Paul Bunyan, everyone knows what that means. The masters will use stories to either to support or to contrast whatever lesson they are trying to give. A lot of the stories you would have heard since childhood and a lot of the stories are keyed to proverbs or idioms.
AP: I first came across your work with the Everyday Tao book. I loved how you defined the characters through stories. Just gaining knowledge of those stories even behind the characters in your writing is helpful.
DMD: If you look at the word Tao itself. It might seem abstract if you are just trying to learn about it, but if you look at the word and you see that it is a picture of a face with the v shape at the top are two tufts of hair. The symbol on the left side shows feet, the movement of feet. The line at the bottom means a path, so you get a very graphic description for somebody of someone walking on a path. You get a good understanding of Taoism just by looking at the word itself.
AP: Yeah. There is such richness in what seems so simple, but it’s really not that simple.
DMD: You can build your understanding from a very simple thing and then build up to more complicated things – there should be a lot of encouragement for this. You don’t have to swallow this cultural tradition and this spiritual tradition whole. You can start with little parts of it and build your understanding from that. They all fit together.
AP: I love learning about other people’s perceptions because I think that is what Lao Tzu teaches. He teaches us to accept our failure, to accept the viewpoints of others and just let that information come in and see how it feels.
DMD: I always end up being a different person when I finish a book from when I started. Do you realize that every prominent famous person in Chinese history over at least the past 3000 years, every single one of them was a failure in some way? If you read the biographies –everybody was a failure in some way.
AP: Yeah, it is definitely a very key component of the work, to accept whatever is there.
DMD: That’s right, but never to give up. You accept what is there, but you continue to pursue what you feel is your goal in life and your vision.
More about Deng Ming-Dao
Deng Ming-Dao is an author, artist, teacher, and book designer. His latest book is The Lunar Tao, published by HarperOne in 2013.
Among his other books are: 365 Tao, Chronicles of Tao, Scholar Warrior, Everyday Tao, The Living I Ching, and Zen: The Art of Modern Eastern Cooking.
His books have been translated into a variety of languages including Dutch, Estonian, French, German, Hungarian, Italian, Korean, Lithuanian, Portuguese, Romanian, Russian, Spanish, and Thai.
His woodcut prints are in the collection of the Fine Arts Museum of San Francisco, Achenbach Foundation; Brooklyn Museum; San Francisco Museum of Modern Art; Oakland Museum; Plains Art Museum; as well as corporate and private collections. He also contributed full color woodcut illustrations for Hawai’i One Summer, by Maxine Hong Kingston; published by Meadow Press, 1987.
Deng Ming-Dao has trained in a variety of Chinese martial arts since 1975, with an emphasis on the internal systems of Xingyiquan, Baguazhang, and Taijiquan. During his thirteen years with his main Taoist teacher, Kwan Saihung, he studied martial arts, qigong, meditation, and philosophy and assisted in teaching classes and seminars in the Bay Area and across the country.