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Igniting A Taoist Moment

December 14, 2010

               Although I’ve read the Tao Te Ching over fifty times, I still find that sometimes life will throw me a “Tao Moment,” a brief instant of lucidity when I will realize the wisdom of Lao Tzu at the very moment that it is revealed to me by life. In these very small moments I am truly happy, for not only has the philosophy of Taoism been shown to me in my everyday existence so plainly that I can see and feel it as it happens, but also because I usually find these instances to be smack in the middle of something else that I was already enjoying – or preparing to enjoy.

                Today I had a “Tao Moment,” though it would be quite appropriate to also recognize it as a “Pooh Moment” with a tip-of-my-cap to writer A. A. Milne. He had written something in the ‘The House at Pooh Corner’ that has been largely recognized as a great statement of Taoist thought, and while I had previously appreciated the sentiment of his words, today was the first time that I can recall ever realizing the words and feeling them at the same time. It was nothing shy of fantastic, a kind of moment that will live in my memories for a very long time and certainly worthy of a deviation from my ordinary writing to share.

                I was in the process of writing my thoughts on the seventh verse of the Tao Te Ching when I had noticed something in my wife’s Sims 3 video game: one of her Sims (simulated people) had incense burning to help her have a better mood. This had motivated me to light a vanilla-scented candle that was sitting on my desk, something I had not done in a lengthy spell. While I am not a great fanatic of scented candles, I have always found the subtle aroma of vanilla in the air to have a comforting, calming, and soothing effect on me (and judging by my moods lately, it’s something I should be doing much more often).

                After removing the protective dust-cap from the small jar that held the candle, I struck a wooden match and leaned my hand toward the candle when suddenly the scent had reached my nose and instantly I was happier than I could have imagined. It was not the aroma of vanilla that had brought my senses to life and a smile to my face, but the unmistakable odor of phosphorus sesquisulfide and potassium chlorate, the two chemicals that react in combustion when a ‘strike-anywhere’ match is ignited. The smoke was pungent, it burned the inside of my nostrils, and I loved every moment of it.

                Why? I think A. A. Milne described it best:

“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.

— Winnie the Pooh, The House at Pooh Corner

                Pooh was absolutely correct. The word is ‘anticipation,’ that magical feeling that one gets right before they get something that they really want, which is oftentimes better than actually having the thing you wanted. For me, the scent of vanilla in the air would be relaxing and peaceful, a delightful respite from the miseries I’ve been dealing with from unemployment and trying to get by on my wife’s part-time income and my sparse and sporadic royalty payments. Once I had remembered the therapeutic value of the vanilla-scented candle, I couldn’t wait to have the aroma wafting in my nose and reminding me that peace could be found anywhere and anytime if one approached life with the proper mindset. However, it was the delicious stench of the struck match that had given me greater pleasure, even as the vanilla candle continues to burn.

                Having things get better in life is one thing, but knowing they’re about to get better is just as rewarding, if not more so.

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