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Finding the way

Photo: Michael Richmond

“Outward journeys are courageous. Inward journeys are true travel.”

What sounds like a quote from a philosophy book is actually an excerpt from a nontraditional travel guide, The Tao of Travel, written by Graduate School of Social Work Assoc. Prof. Emerita Pamela Metz.

The Tao of Travel is the most recent in a series of seven books in which Metz applies Taoist teachings to the activities of daily life and presents modern, easily accessible interpretations of the ancient philosophy.

Taoism, assumed to be the first belief system of the ancient indigenous Chinese, presents several central ideas describing a way of life. While there is no concrete definition of Taoism, Tao can be translated into English as “path” or “the way” and refers to an approach to life that is in harmony with nature.

“My interest in the Tao focuses on contemporary application rather than religion. I want to make knowledge available to the public in as simple and clear a way as possible,” says Metz, whose teaching philosophy and life goal is to transform complex ideas into lucid principles applicable to everyday life.

It was more than 30 years ago that Metz first encountered an English translation of the Tao Te Ching, a foundational book of Taoist philosophy written by the Chinese sage Lao Tzu.

“The Tao appealed to me because of its ambiguity,” says Metz, whose own books have been translated into seven languages. Eastern cultures and philosophies, she explains, tend to allow simultaneous existence of mutually opposing ideas, while Western thinking often employs reason and the logic of cause and effect to explain and understand nature.

“Western philosophies make the assumption that we can know everything and it is our quest to know everything. Taoism acknowledges that not everything is knowable and that mystery is a good thing,” Metz says.

Metz’s own experiences inspired all of her books. The first in the series, The Tao of Learning (published in 1994), reflects Metz’s extensive experience as a teacher and offers a non-traditional view of the many ways of learning and teaching.

The Tao of Women “appeals to women and men alike. Women read it to learn about themselves and men read it to learn more about women,” Metz says.

The Tao of Loss and Grief evolved from her experience working with the terminally ill as a hospice social worker.

In The Tao of Gardening, Metz applies Taoist philosophy to life by illustrating the various metaphors for living inherent in gardening.

“Just like a gardener plants seeds and believes that, through nurturing, those seeds will evolve into something bigger and greater than the simple seed, we have to have faith that the seeds we plant in our lives will grow into something bigger and greater than we can imagine,” Metz says.

In her own life, Metz applies Taoist philosophy by trying to accept what is and letting go of things that are not in her control. “I try to be open to surprises, expecting the unexpected,” says Metz, who radiates the same serenity and contentment captured in her books.

Metz hopes her books prompt readers to start thinking about their own lives.

“It is important that we see our lives as a journey and that we are sensitive about the fact that we make our way,” she says. “Whether or not my books make sense to the reader makes no difference. Understanding that you don’t understand is the beginning of knowing.”

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