Activity time: 90 minutes
Materials for Activity
- For pre-engagement preparation
- For the engagement
- Blankets, beach towels, or yoga mats, one for each person
- Food for sharing, such as bread, cheese, and grapes, and bottles of water
- Serving platters, one for every three or four participants
- Napkins and other supplies needed for serving the food you have chosen
- Attractive tablecloth
- A copy of the Tao Te Ching or copies of selected chapters (2, 8, 16, and 32)
- For post-engagement discussion
- Newsprint, markers, and tape
- A copy of the Tao Te Ching or a copy of Chapter 11, one for each participant
Preparation for Activity
- See general suggestions on Engagement in the program Introduction under Implementation.
- Review the fundamental ideas of Taoism as outlined on Handout 1, Taoism Fact Sheet, and Leader Resource 1, Taoism Background.
- Invite a guest to the workshop who is knowledgeable in Tai Chi. An actual Tai Chi instructor is ideal, but any knowledgeable practitioner could guide this activity.
- Instruct participants to wear weather-appropriate, comfortable clothing and closed shoes.
- Identify an outdoor location in a place of quiet beauty, preferably with a lovely view and where you will be undisturbed. If no place really "away from it all" is available, an option is to choose an accessible location and go at a time of day when few people are likely to be there. Early morning is particularly suitable, if you can entice your participants out of bed! Of course, wherever you go, be aware of the safety of the group.
- Plan and purchase (or arrange to have provided) supplies for sharing some simple food during your outing.
- Optional: If you have access to a Taoist temple, you might choose to visit the temple instead of doing this activity. If that is the case, contact the temple well ahead of time. Ask if a member of the temple would be available to talk to the group beforehand to prepare them for the visit. Make sure you know what preparations are necessary before the guest speaks to the group; consider gathering guidelines in a handout for the youth. If the temple member belongs to your congregation and/or is a youth, that would add benefit.
Description of Activity
Participants prepare to engage more fully with Taoist practices.
Tell participants the group will now take its explorations into the field in order to better understand the kind of experience that Taoist practitioners seek to create. It is important that participants understand this will be a "Taoist kind of experience" rather than actually "practicing Taoism."
Tell them the group will go to a beautiful location where they will be led in Tai Chi by an instructor, share some food together, then sit in quiet contemplation of the beauty around them before returning.
Remind participants of the fundamental ideas of Taoism. Ask participants which they recall as some of the important basic beliefs. In the ensuing discussion, help bring out the importance of nature, balance, harmony, flow, and chi, the energy force that imbues and connects all living things. Suggest that participants, during the engagement, allow themselves to feel connected with their natural setting, release themselves to feeling the harmony of the lovely setting, and notice the flow of energy that Taoists call chi (chee), which connects them to the earth and to each other.
Remind participants that tranquility and harmony are important to this activity, so all are expected to maintain a contemplative tone. At the site, gently instruct participants to set up their mats, towels, or blankets, spaced far enough apart that their Tai Chi can be done without limiting movement. Set up the food.
Have all participants stand calmly on their mats, close their eyes, and simply breathe for a moment. Read aloud Chapter 2 from the Tao Te Ching.
After the reading, the Tai Chi instructor will take the group through a Tai Chi exercise for at least 20 minutes.
At the conclusion of the Tai Chi segment, suggest that the group move quietly to the location where the food is waiting and sit in groups of three or four. When everyone is settled, read aloud Chapter 16 of the Tao Te Ching. Sit in silence a moment.
Distribute the serving platters to the center of each group. Suggest that instead of serving themselves, each person serve others and allow themselves to be served, and that, aside from courtesies, the food be shared in silence. Participate in this sharing, or at the very least do not provide a distraction; any organizing or chores can wait.
When all have finished, indicate that everyone should help clear away the food, supplies, and trash, with as little disturbance as possible.
When clean-up is completed, have participants move back to their Tai Chi mats. Suggest that they sit comfortably, facing a view they like. Say, in these words or your own:
One of Taoism's fundamental teachings, which it shares with Unitarian Universalism, is that humans are part of the natural world, described in our seventh Principle as "the interconnected web of all existence of which we are a part." Taoism also teaches that if we act in accordance with the natural order of things and don't fight with the way things really are, then we can accomplish much without toil, worry, or strain. Here in this beautiful place, let us release our customary stresses, expand our awareness to all that is around us, feel our place in the interconnected web, and relax into its vast embrace. This is one way we can be at one with the Tao.
Read aloud Chapter 32 of the Tao Te Ching.
Sit down with the other participants, and contemplate the peaceful surroundings. Allow about 10 minutes for this contemplation.
Stand and say, in these words or your own:
Thank you. This has been a [choose an appropriate adjective, such as thoughtful, serene, helpful, intriguing, or important] time for me, and I hope it has been beneficial for you as well.
Ask participants to help shake off and neatly stow the mats and other supplies in the vehicles, and to then rejoin in a circle for the closing reading.
Say, in these words or your own:
Taoism is full of seeming opposites-active and passive, judging and nonjudging, open to the universal and attentive to the minutest. May we be successful in finding balance in our own opposites and in nurturing peace in our lives and in our hearts.
Read aloud Chapter 8 of the Tao Te Ching. Return to the vehicles together.
Open by mentioning that the group recently engaged in a Taoist-like experience. Ask for reactions; note participant responses on the newsprint. Thank contributors. Add one or two of your own responses to the list, if you wish.
Ask youth if they enjoyed the experience. Ask if it made them feel closer to God, or the divine, or the Tao-however they define those terms.
Say, in these words or your own:
Taoism, like Unitarian Universalism, leaves the discernment of truth up to the individual-and, also like Unitarian Universalism, it requires much: great energy, discipline, and application from an individual who earnestly quests for the truth. We are charged with a great responsibility-and in order to accomplish that charge faithfully, we must keep not only our eyes and ears but also our hearts and minds open and ready.
Listen to this chapter from the Tao Te Ching.
Read aloud Chapter 11 from the Tao Te Ching. Ask participants what the passage says to them. Does the message they hear seem true to them? If so, what does it imply they should do? What will make that happen?
Thank participants for their contributions to the discussion. Tell them that this concludes our group exploration of Taoism, but if any of the youth would like to discover more, you can provide them with additional resources outside the workshop time.
Including All Participants
Be sure the location you choose is accessible to all your participants.
If any members of the group have physical challenges, discuss with the Tai Chi instructor ahead of time how to ensure that all the youth can participate in Tai Chi in a meaningful way.