Epicycles

All things and beings will eventually return to the original source.
This is called “peace.”
“Peace” means returning to one’s original nature.

Excerpt from Chapter 16, Tao Te Ching

One of the aspects of Taoism that I most resonate with is the idea that energy circulates and follows cycles. Since the larger concept is that we are all of the same energy, and connected at our core existence, we also circulate and experience cycles. We are all emanations from the same source, and to that source we will return, but even as we live out our unique lives there will constantly be cycles and seasons, periods at which we find ourselves returning.

This has certainly been true for me, and was one of the initial pieces of self reflection that helped bring me around to learning more about Taoism in the first place. I grew up a seeker, feeling always as if I were missing something, some key piece of the puzzle that other people seemed to have.

Most of my friends and family were following a path that seemed more clear than mine. Many of them had strong ideas of what they wanted to be doing when they were finishing high school and entering college. I made my way through, gravitating towards art classes only at the end of my time in high school, having finally found something that resonated with me.

Going to college was a moment of reset, however, when I decided to put my time into more “practical” pursuits such as Biology and English. Only after being drawn in by Philosophy did I find something I could connect to at a deeper level. At least here were other people who were asking interesting questions, even if they still seemed as if they knew where they wanted to go.

A couple of years into college I rediscovered art classes once more, and returned to that initial connection. I didn’t have time to pursue a degree in art, and was only able to take a handful of foundation courses in the time I had. Enough to get my feet wet but not enough to show me a direction. Incidentally, I recall deciding not to take a photography course at this point because I felt that it might be too technical, and was also so popular that I couldn’t see myself having a strong enough vision that would allow me to stand out in the crowd.

The most influential portions of my college education came out without planning, almost out of the blue. First was my then-girlfriend convincing me to sign up for a semester abroad program. I had never traveled out of the country, and this semester allowed me to challenge myself and broaden my horizons in ways that still ripple through my life. The second, and far more influential, was meeting the woman would become my wife.

We were married right after we had both completed college and we moved to the east coast for her graduate school. I was lucky enough to fall into what would become my long running career, though at the time I certainly didn’t believe that to be the case. Several years were spent encountering new ideas and new people, learning how to be a couple and share a life, and adapting to supporting ourselves. Never did I feel as if I were on a path or moving in any specific direction, though the ride was certainly interesting.

Several conversations with my wife sparked me into another return to art, and a continuing education degree at RISD for print design. Again I fell into the creativity that the projects allowed, and dug deeper into a specific discipline than I had before. There was a chance that this might become a path for me, a way to combine my career and my interest at a deeper level, which might finally give me a connection point and sense of moving forward towards an actual goal.

After she completed graduate school she was lucky enough to be offered a tenure track position in the Midwest. We moved, and I was lucky enough to stay on with my company in a new location. Beyond simple transition, I was able to capitalize on a unique opportunity and advance my career. Taking this step was wonderful financially, and offered me the chance to travel, but meant putting ideas of changing careers on the back-burner. That, and starting a family, have largely kept me busy since then.

A couple of years ago I found myself becoming restless once more. I took up art on my own, doing purely experimental paintings out of my own mind to try and flex the muscle. It was in this time frame that I was also looking back to Philosophy to help me figure out where I could get a foothold. Despite the career and family success, I couldn’t help still feeling as if it was all some kind of mistake. I had been very good at jumping on opportunities as they came up, and not dismissing ideas out of hand without giving them serious thought, but I wasn’t planning, and I wasn’t aiming at anything. It all felt a bit like a ship lost at sea, even if the sea was beautiful on most days.

My art experiments gave me the chance to flex some aching muscles and express myself. It was wonderful, but within that process were endless miniature cycles that played out. I experimented with medium after medium, going from watercolor to charcoal, to pencil to pen and ink, sometimes back and forth. I put effort into a diverse range of projects and outlets. Towards the end of a two year period of intense art practice I found myself taking a lot of picture to use as references, or as inspiration. I came to realize that I have been enjoying that aspect of preparing for the art as much (or more) than I have been enjoying the art itself.

This coincides with my deepening understanding of Taoism and Stoicism, and my appreciation for seeing my position in life as one of discovering my direction as destination, rather than one of charting for a specific goal. I am trying to consciously open myself up to be present and available so that I can enjoy what comes and not miss any of it for my efforts of peering down the forks in the road.

I like to think that if one were to look at my life from the top down as it were, it would be a series of epicycles, aspects of my life spent branching out only to circle back in on themselves a little further down the road. Key themes are beginning to make themselves apparent, but it may be this act of exploration and returning that defines my time here more than anything else. Perhaps, like the astrologers of centuries past, someone may look back and try to chart a straighter line for my life once everything is said and done, but missing out on the rhythm of returning would be to skip so much of what has brought me here today.

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