The Tao of Womanhood: Nature's Wisdom for Today's Women

Article excerpt

Hold to your heart

The wisdom of Tao

Because through it

We discover

Our own answers,

Learn the ways

Of power and peace,

And find the greatest treasure

Under heaven.

(Tao Te Ching, 62)(1)

For over two thousand years, artists and innovators in many fields have been inspired by the Tao Te Ching. Translated more often than any book but the Bible, this ancient Chinese classic of eighty-one lyric poems has endured because its message of harmony and dynamic growth is as real today as it was twenty-five centuries ago.

The Tao Te Ching was written by the philosopher Laotzu during the warring states period in ancient China, about 530 B.C. Seeking alternatives to conflict and chaos, Lao-tzu found inspiration walking in the woods, observing the lessons in a mountain stream, a grove of bamboo, and the cycle of changing seasons. By studying nature's patterns, he found an enduring philosophy of power and peace that can transform challenge into opportunity.


The wisdom of the Tao is especially relevant to today's women, who find themselves pulled in many directions at once. The tempo of life in today's industrialized societies leaves many of us feeling frantic, disconnected, and exhausted, because we've replaced natural patterns with mechanical efficiency and bottom-line economics. Recent cultural changes have left women's lives fraught with paradox. Presented with new professional responsibilities as well as traditional role expectations, women are expected to be beautiful and required to be strong, like a fine piece of Chinese embroidery with its shining silk threads sewn into intricate and demanding patterns.

Following the Tao helps women move from frantic reaction to focused action. Returning to the wisdom of nature, they can rediscover more of their own nature in the process. For the ebb and flow of the tides, the phases of the moon, the changing seasons--all are variations on the cycles that occur not only in the natural world but in individuals, families, and relationships.

The wisdom of the Tao is both poetic and highly practical. Instead of offering women another list of "shoulds," which they have in excess, it emphasizes wholeness and integrity, reminding women that they are more than the roles they play: more than mother, daughter, sister, student, girlfriend, wife, career woman, or grandmother. Such roles are static and reductive. Like the palette of an Impressionist painter, any woman's life is a subtle blending of colors, of sunlight and shadow, as naturally varied as the patterns in a living landscape. By following the Tao, each woman can become the artist of her own life, developing greater resourcefulness, creating a vision of womanhood uniquely her own.


Traditionally, women have shaped their lives around relationships and interdependence, while men have valued power and abstract principles.(2) Over the centuries, women's concern with relationships has been both a chronic weakness and an enduring strength, contributing to the care and nurturing of generations, while depriving women as individuals. When taken to extremes, this concern produces overly compliant women who never think for themselves. Although caring for others is essential to life, perpetual self-sacrifice becomes pathological and self-destructive.

While the currents of life today pull women between opposing impulses of nurturing and assertiveness, the Tao upholds a dynamic lesson of harmony, describing all of nature--including human nature--as composed of both the compassionate, nurturing energies of yin and the forceful, assertive energies of yang. Following the Tao prevents us from falling into the false dilemma of choosing either yin or yang by reminding us that a complete life must include both. Instead of exhausting our energies by conforming to limited stereo types or single-mindedly rebelling against them, trying too hard to be either "feminine" or "strong," we can transcend domination by either extreme. …