Putting the Tao in the tao: An Interview with Ming

By meredith, September 26, 2011 9:30 am

I met Ming when I went into The Women’s Center in Cambridge, MA to interview for a potential clinical internship or volunteer position. Ming is the Center Coordinator at the Women’s Center where she is the only paid staff member; she wears many hats. To give you an idea of the wonderful person that Ming is, we had some confusion, and she thought that we were doing a phone interview, and yet, she still met with me for an hour when I came into the center. She gave me a full tour, and then we chatted for a while about her work and the work at the center, among other things….I hope I am able to convey the deep, heartfelt spiritual life wisdom that Ming so wonderfully shared with me…

Me: When we met and talked a couple of weeks ago, I liked what you had to say about people’s resilience and positivity.

Ming: Well, yes, it is something to keep me going…that positivity.

Me: Can you tell me about your career path, and, in particular, what led you to get your LMHC? (become a licensed mental health clinician)

I had always been a good listener and been there for people. Then in high school, a friend of mine said that she wanted to kill herself. I was absolutely speechless when I heard that. I didn’t know what to say. It was during that encounter that I realized that I would need some kind of training to be able to respond to people who feel that way.

I wanted to really learn how to be with another human being and listen to their stories and challenges and struggles.  Then I learned from a TV show that you could be a psychologist and sit there and listen to people’s problems.

Me: So in a way it was kind of like a calling.

Ming: So I went on pursuing my education, passed my licensing test, etc.

Me: Did that ever feel daunting?

Ming: It was pretty clear for me that there was this path laid out before me, and that you just do it. In high school, I knew I had to get into a college and major in psychology and pass the entrance exam in Taiwan. I had to study really hard to get into a school for my undergrad degree. I majored in psychology, and from then on, since I heard that psychology is ‘big’ in the U.S., I realized I should study abroad, and then get recommendations from professors to become a psychologist. So I studied English harder, apply to graduate school in U.S. and was accepted into the counseling psychology program at Lesley University.

After graduation, I had to get my licensing hours and then prepare for the licensing test. Looking back, this was all just a part of the process. I don’t particularly like to study or take tests, but I had to do it along the way to get there.

Before getting into the U.S. program, I also had to take the TOEFL and GREs. I’m used to this type of testing, though, because students in Taiwan have been through so many tests. This part wasn’t particularly hard for me.

The hard part is the little moment when you are struggling with your own confidence. People or things may happen that make me question myself, like wondering if I have what it takes to actually help people…not in terms of the standard requirements but internally do I have what it takes to have that impact on people. Looking back in life, there were times when I was depressed or withdrawn and very introverted. It’s hard to imagine really sitting with people if I struggled so much of coming out of myself.

Throughout the experience you meet clients, the people you’re working with, and you find it very hard to work with them. They trigger your own challenges. If someone is hard to work with, it’s usually a reflection about something I’m struggling with myself. Many times I am stubborn and angry, and I really don’t like being that way.

Working with people is about seeing a lot about myself and overcoming those challenging views or emotions. Still today, there will be days I see those parts of myself. This is when I have to find the strength and confidence to go beyond myself in order to find hope and motivation.

There’s a part about to say stop pitying yourself…or now you know this is your issue. Accept it. Acknowledge it. And then look at it and find ways to understand it and learn from it. Learning from it you either realize that oh actually it’s a lot of judgment on my part, and that I don’t have to judge myself so it’s not really an issue, or that it’s just your own criteria that is no longer needed. Or maybe it is something that is blocking me from being open to more people. Then I have to say this is something I have to decide to stop doing, do differently, or continue doing it.

And I have come to the realization that when you don’t see it you are stuck in it. But when you see it, the issue can then become true acceptance. You no longer make excuses for yourself. You have that clarity to say that I know this is not helpful and I need to change. Change only comes from true acceptance. Don’t beat yourself up and say you’re a bad person so you need to change, but rather because I am a good person, and there is something more important about life, that is when you truly have that motivation and willingness to move beyond it.

I learned that a lot from working with people who have addiction. They are my best teachers a lot of the times. They keep using the clichés that you’ hit rock bottom’ and ‘take it one day at a time’. Those become very useful tools and encouragement to ask yourself okay how low are you going to go to hit rock bottom? Is there a rock bottom beyond rock bottom? People realize they don’t want to continue going down, and this is pretty bad so they’ve got to turn around and do something.

I see that in people in recovery. They decide this will be the last day they will use [drugs] or pick up the drink. This is not to say they don’t use again, but the determination becomes clear.

In my own recovery, I might get into a bit of self pity, but I wouldn’t dwell on it long. You quickly move onto the bigger picture and wake up from it. Keep doing the things that you are doing. Stay motivated and stay positive. This is not motivational therapy. But you know there is something bigger and better and that is what you are looking for. That is what you are called for. This can become very spiritual.

What you are called for is beyond just your personal determination. There is something that you are moved by and inspired by because you are connected to something bigger. You know, call it spirit, or God, and to me it’s Tao…you can’t separate yourself and stay in that little box and say life is just about doing a, b, c and d…no, if I am really honest with myself I am really truly connected to every being and phenomenon in this world. So I have to do my part. I am part of something bigger, so I need to do my part.

I use a simple analogy like rowing. Everybody has to row; one person can’t sit and relax while everyone else is rowing. Everybody has to play a part. Of course, it is always your choice. Everyone on the boat could say no and refuse to row.  I have no problem with that. But when you see the bigger picture, it carries you…it pushes you to row, to play a part.

MB: Have you ever personally struggled with self doubt, and, if so, how did you overcome it?

You already answered this in terms of confidence and your way of thinking, but is there anything else you do?

Ming: I realized I am the biggest enemy in my own life. Here and there, there will be signs or teachers that come to my life to point out to me that it is all within your reach or it’s all within your control…any obstacle. It’s never about anybody else or anything else.

So there’s this metaphor saying, that there is no fire mountain that you cannot climb over. This is my way to say that any obstacle in life you can pass because it is all within you. Of course, we have self doubt because that is how it was designed. Every obstacle in life, if you really pay attention, if you really stay still, you find that, it’s only when you think you cannot do it that you cannot do it.

Of course how you do it is the work. Once you know, okay, I can do it, then one can trigger how we are connected to everything. That’s when the motivation comes. Here and there I will have teachers and signs in my life that will show me this, to remind me of this. Whenever I feel doubt about myself, discouraged, hopeless, someone or something will show up in my life. For example, it could be a client. They will tell me they went to an AA meeting, and they heard that sentence one day at a time, and it finally clicked. Just by sharing that with me, it becomes my own message, and serves as a reminder that, oh yah it is one day at a time.

Or it could be something I witness like a close call for an accident that kind of brings me back to a reality that time is precious or that I am lucky to be alive. Little things like that pull me out of myself and wake me up again to see the bigger picture. It could be a book that I happen to read at that time…mostly spiritual books. But it could also be a soap opera. You never know because it’s that sign. It’s that something that happened to show up, and I happened to capture it to say oh that’s what I needed to hear!

Or a good laugh. It could be a comedy that makes you laugh it out and think nothing could be that serious. It loosens you up, waking you up, the close call is to bring me back to kind of connecting to the larger world. It breaks me out of my shell. That’s the best way I can explain how I get out of that self doubt moment.

I feel I need to say that I am consciously aware that I am connected to this larger picture: that I have to do my part.

There’s something called a wakeup call or that aha moment that every human being has that receptor built in, and it can only at the right moment. In the beginning of my life, when I was very young and very ignorant, I would feel as though some people were hopeless. There’s no way they would ‘get better.’ I don’t believe that anymore. And it’s because I really see that built-in receptor is there. They just haven’t reached their own right moment.

I never give up on anybody, even if I might not be the person that will make a larger impact at the current moment. That moment will come to that person.

That concludes that I need to continue to do my part. You can call that a calling. It’s not just being a therapist or helping people. There’s a calling that I have to live my life and stay connected and stay open. Only when I am open and tap into this larger world will everything else also trigger people to do their part. I’m not saying I’m special because I do my part; everyone else does their part. Because we’re all connected, only when everybody rows, things shift. I know I need to row.

MB: You’re reminding me of the South African term, Ubuntu, that Desmond Tutu uses that explains that we are all connected and therefore I can only be me; I can only be my best self, if you are you; if you are your best self.

Ming: That’s it.

We use different language, but we’re saying the same thing.  You hear that, and you make that connection. That is how we’re all connected.

MB: I’m reading this book right now, and it’s called ‘The Tao of Personal Leadership’. You mentioned the Tao. How does the Tao play into your life?

Ming: Tao is a Chinese word that can be translated into the method; the way; the principle. ‘the way.’ So there’s the small t, and then there’s the big T. To me in general, anything you do, there’s tao in it. For example, the Japanese say the tao of tea, which has a whole ritual and ceremony and principle behind how you drink and use tea in your life. The tea tao means what is the meaning and the principle behind that. I call that the small tao…the small aspect of certain things we do in life. The tao of leadership or the tao of cooking.

And then what I realize is that then there’s the big Tao, the Tao of life and beyond, that sort of guides us in everything we do and every being and life…

So it is very equivalent to the Creator, God, but then from what I experience Tao is. The Tao of Life is the Tao of everything. We’re all tapped into this; we are all part of this; and Tao is the behind force of everything, so once I see that it becomes clear how I can be guided, or live life accordingly. It’s about living life accordingly, according to Tao. I feel like the more I say Tao the more I limit it. It’s like how the more you describe God, God becomes smaller than what it is. So I try not to say too much.

It is about really tuning into your deep, inner truth. You can see Tao plays in nature in the changing  seasons. Tao plays in human beings: you can call that morals. Tao in chemicals, you call them chemistry. Tao in society is that ultimate law beyond human laws that humans need to follow. I have to live my life accordingly because if I am taking a detour out of that, then I usually can feel the consequences.

For example, when I grew up, my family always taught me that you get up early and you go to bed early. Early usually means 6 o’clock. The earlier you get up the earlier you go to bed, and supposedly that’s good for you. Being a kid there is this tendency of slacking off and trying to do what feels good but not trying to do what’s good. That also means don’t stay up late. You should get up early and enjoy nature and then go to bed early.

For a human body as a kid I wanted to sleep in, and I didn’t feel like waking up early. My body is still tired. I tend to do what feels good. I learned to get up to get to school.

Then later in life I get a job, and I have to go to work, and I have to be responsible for my life. I really start to feel the consequences. That’s more about staying up late. If I stay up late for whatever reason, watching TV or chatting with friends or doing some reading, I will feel it in my body that it’s not good for me. I can’t explain it. You can see because I feel tired or I feel awful, but it’s more about the fact that it’s not good for you so don’t keep doing it.  I contribute that to what I was saying earlier about living life accordingly. There’s a sense of law, but it could be slightly different from individual to individual. Then there’s a bigger principle that I need to follow, such as being kind to one another.

I know sometimes if I’m angry or pissed off or jealous for whatever reason, I might not act kind to others, and later on I feel bad. It lingers in my brain. I feel weird, awful, not smooth, not…right. Simply put, it’s a very limited but very concrete example of Tao. Tao is a word that sums up all of the universal law, no I take that back, the law of nature. Because we are all a part of it; we are all connected to it. So that’s just what it is. Just like rowing a boat, rowing a boat. Life is about the boat moving…so everybody rows the boat.

One way I would suggest people to learn more about Tao. Tao de Ching is a book that has a pretty good explanation about Tao. I also want to particularly say with caution that when you are trying to understand Tao as a concept you will definitely miss the whole picture. It is about living the experience. You can’t study Tao by reading a book, but it’s by reading it and then feeling it  and then showing it by doing it. That’s when, really, sort of spirituality and life can integrate: when everything can truly make sense, even though living shouldn’t be about making sense here (Ming points to her head) but making sense by just truly connecting and being open and being a part of something bigger. I have learned all this after I have the affinity to receive Tao. If people are interested in receiving Tao, they can contact me.

MB: Is there anything you do regularly to stay connected to yourself and your spirituality?

Ming: There are a couple of things I try and do on a regular basis: free writing. I’ve found that very helpful because it’s a way of really allowing whatever goes on in my mind to have a way of expression. And by expressing it, it really helps my thoughts flow. The idea of flow is better than being stuck. Or I experience being stuck, which isn’t necessarily bad, but feeling stuck can inspire me to have the flow and experience the flow. I thank being stuck so that I can experience the feeling of flowing and know when it’s happening.

Another one is meditation. There are different ways I meditate. Sometimes I meditate simply: it’s not really just about sitting still but more about giving myself the space and time to be open, focused yet open. You’re devoting a time to being completely open and concentrating on being open to whatever comes to you…thoughts, feelings, but not to let it stick but to just acknowledge it and let it happen without resisting it. In a way meditation is a practice of being part of nature, as you are allowing and acknowledging and non judgmental to anything; you are just present.

I also read spiritual books. Lately I’m reading more Asian and Eastern teachings like Lao Tzu, Tao de Ching, Confucius, and a lot of Buddhist teaching.  I simply find it easier for me to connect because I’m reading it in Mandarin Chinese, so that language seems closer to home so that I can be connected to what was expressed in words and somehow I have a felt experience.

Oh, I forgot, two more things: it all comes together, the writing and meditation. There are two other things that come with that. I am practicing every day to truly reflect and be honest with what I’ve done wrong and make a conscious note of not doing it again or be more conscious of my bad habits. Every day I take a mental note that it will become something I will not do. Every time I do that I also do this other thing on the flip side.

I count my blessings. Little blessing. Big blessing. Whatever blessing it is. To find whatever makes me grateful in life. I think those two practices have helped me root in the human phenomenon. Spirituality is something intangible, but I’m still in this body, in this life, doing whatever work and making a living, so that kind of helped me ground myself as a human being.

MB: The last time we spoke, you mentioned the resilience that you have seen in the human condition. In particular, you mentioned this homeless woman who day in and day out goes through a whole host of struggles, and yet, she survives, and even cracks a joke now and again. Can you talk more about that?

Ming: That’s a good point. I don’t know how I pick it up. I’m always wondering how I picked it up.

I am very amazed and touched when I see resilience in people. I think that’s part of me counting blessings that I’m grateful for. It is there. If everybody can say life is so bad, the world is so bad, but I always say but I see this: I see resilience.  I cannot imagine living the life they live, the people who struggle every day and still have a spark, a sparkling moment, that I can see. That was just amazing. If you want to call it God’s work, the human spark, the moment of sparkling, that shining moment that is God’s work, Tao shining through in that person…

I think it’s always there; it’s just a matter of whether we see it or not. And I guess I choose to see it to remind me how powerful human spirit or god or whatever we call spirit is there…because at the same time I can also say that destruction and violence, are almost equally powerful, and I think a lot of people see that as well. For me, that is part of my motivation to know it is more than that. And so I see it. If I think this woman is so depressed and so desperate or so devastated, I would not see the spark.

So there’s something bigger than that; something bigger than any one of them. But at least I see it, and when I encounter that I would try to reflect that back to the person. And I think that is part of doing God’s work, or whatever you call it. Because we’re connected so we reflect that back to each other that there is something bigger that is bright; that is big; that is beautiful; that is good. And that is always there. It never goes away. And that’s part of my blessing of seeing that every day, to remind me, and then keep going.

And I see that in people in recovery too. They could just say hell with it I’m going to keep using for the rest of my life. But they don’t. That’s another thing. They don’t. They still want to somehow come back to that track, that path, accordingly. There’s almost this innate device that keeps guiding us back. Whenever we’re taking a detour, it just feels weird or different. It’s not comfortable.

And they come back. I think some people are almost resentful of the fact that we keep coming back. Hell with it. I’ll just be in trouble for the rest of my life. But no, people don’t. I don’t know if they consciously know that. “I don’t care.” They are such powerful words. And even just by saying that deep down they care or they wouldn’t be saying ‘I don’t care.’

So that’s resilience because it’s built in. It’s built in, that deep, inner wisdom: we can call that Tao that is within all of us. It’s just waiting for that moment to spark.

Waiting for it is not particularly passive, but it needs to have some kind of serendipity that happens at the right moment. It could be an event or a person’s guidance. Everything comes together and boom.

MB: Do you have a pearl of wisdom that you would share with a younger version of yourself, knowing what you know now, say, in your late twenties or early thirties?

Ming: I would say something like always be open to possibilities. In other words, don’t give up.

Nothing is for sure or a dead end or ‘this is it.’ Stay open. Everything is possible. By saying that it’s helping my younger self not to get stuck in, trapped in, not to get depressed, bogged down. And then that one thing for sure is that if you stay this way, if you keep open, everything will be all right.

So hopefully by me telling my younger self I will probably experience a shorter time being depressed and more time to be active and touch more people’s lives as well as my own. My life probably will be fuller, richer, and that’s all. Sometimes we have to go through what we have to go through to get to what we know now.

So maybe in a way I’m saying that challenges, obstacles, difficulties are all your friends. That would be something else I would say. Welcome it. Embrace it. Do not resist it. It doesn’t mean it always feels good, but good friends are not always nice to you.

MB: Good point.

Ming: Or, in Chinese, good medicine usually tastes bitter.

Me: I like that.

**If you would like to contact Ming with regards to questions or more information about the Tao, please feel free to reach out to her via email at mmiinngg@hotmail.com.

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