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Excerpt from "The Tao of Walt Whitman"

Daily Insights and Actions to Achieve a Balanced Life

by Connie Shaw & Ike Allen


Walt Whitman was one of the greatest poets of the twentieth century, whose mysticism, lyricism, and great heart has made him beloved by many. He is the poet of the people: “The messages of great poets to each man and woman are, Come to us on equal terms, Only then can you understand us, We are no better than you, What we enclose you enclose, What we enjoy you may enjoy.” And he was—we would like to profess—Taoist in spirit, whether he called himself that or not.

We aren’t Whitman scholars, but we know a good poet when we read one. And Whitman has all the elements we love: gorgeous language, a fearless ability to dive into the center of mystery, and an all-embracing attitude toward life. Neither are we Taoist masters—rather, pilgrims on the bumpy path of insight who appreciate a hardy fellow traveler like our poet. Here’s how he describes himself: “Walt Whitman, an American, one of the roughs, a kosmos, disorderly, fleshly, and sensual, no sentimentalist, no stander above men or women or apart from them, no more modest than immodest.” He was a man exhilarated by the sublime beauty of nature, who celebrated eternity in the everyday—and this is why we call him Taoist.

Taoism is the ancient Chinese philosophical and spiritual tradition that emphasizes compassion, humility, and moderation. (Whitman had the first two in abundance; but the third, one could argue, was not his forte.) Tao is the energy of life, and so it encompasses both the practical and the mystical. The key is to find the balance between them, and this is our objective in The Tao of Walt Whitman.

Says the literary critic Harold Bloom, “If you are American, then Walt Whitman is your imaginative father and mother, even if, like myself, you have never composed a line of verse. You can nominate a fair number of literary works as candidates for the secular Scripture of the United States. They might include Melville’s Moby-Dick, Twain’s Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, and Emerson’s two series of Essays and The Conduct of Life. None of those, not even Emerson’s, are as central as the first edition of Leaves of Grass.”

So in this volume we have applied the Whitman scriptures to daily life, to Tao. We’ve chosen a Taoist principle for each week of the year, and a Whitman verse that expresses or comments on that principle for each day, Monday through Saturday. We’ve given you something to do or reflect on for the day with the aim of plumbing the depths of Taoist Whitman wisdom and fully experiencing the beauty and truth therein. On Sundays we offer our own experience of, or reflection on, the weekly adventures.

Please use this book in any way that is useful to you. It isn’t meant to be a taskmaster. Don’t feel as though you must proceed in a linear fashion if that is not your wont. Poetry, and Taoism, and most certainly Whitman, are agents of freedom above all. He was certainly one to shake things up; it is our hope that you will question the need for anything stale and no longer vital in your life as you contemplate his words and take these actions.

You can switch the actions around to suit your schedule, the seasons, or your whims. Sunday is a day to reflect on the week’s passages and actions. If you haven’t completed them, however, you can take the time to do so on Sunday. You can also go to dailytao.net to write about your own experience of the week and read what others have to say.

Feel free to extend any action, insight, or inspiration for another day, week, month…or the rest of your life. Whatever you do, we hope you enjoy, and find inspiration and benefit from the words of this great American poet.

Week 1 Truth


All truths wait in all things,

They neither hasten their own delivery nor resist it,

They do not need the obstetric forceps of the surgeon,

The insignificant is as big to me as any,

What is less or more than a touch?

If you’re open to the pedestrian moments along with the larger revelations as you go about your activities, perhaps you will discover some heretofore hidden truth. And you might try answering Whitman’s question as well.


Only what proves itself to every man and woman is so

What are the bedrock principles, truths, or realities you live by? Can they be denied by anyone? Do you think Whitman is right?


O truth of the earth! O truth of things! I am determined to press the whole way toward you,

Sound your voice! I scale mountains or dive in the sea after you.

How committed are you to the truth? To paraphrase Tracy Chapman, “If everything you think you know is wrong, would you change?” Write about 3 things that you’re lying to yourself about and what steps you can take to change things.


The earth does not withhold, it is generous enough,

The truths of the earth continually wait, they are not so conceal’d either,

They are calm, subtle, untransmissible by print,

They are imbued through all things conveying themselves willingly

Give a try at expressing one of “the truths of the earth” in some way other than through words. Perhaps paint a picture, dance a dance, create a melody…


All must have reference to the ensemble of the world, and the compact truth of the world,

There shall be no subject too pronounced

Take one of your most firmly held beliefs and go through your day imagining that the opposite is true. For example, if you sincerely feel that someone in your daily sphere presents a challenge to your wellbeing, take every opportunity to notice ways in which this may not be so.


What do you suppose creation is?

What do you suppose will satisfy the soul, except to walk free and own no superior?

What do you suppose I would intimate to you in a hundred ways, but that man or woman is as good as God?

And that there is no God any more divine than Yourself?

Spend time contemplating the meaning of this. Is this true?


I spent this week continuously asking myself what I could actually say was true. What was true for me? I noticed that my truth was not necessarily true for others. By the end of the week, I noticed that the only thing it seemed everyone could agree on was that we were all having a common experience. Beyond that, it seemed we each translated truth in our way to support us in this experience. What is true for me is that I create my own truths and I choose to create ideas that make my experience here filled with joy by whatever name. I invite you to enjoy your truths and embrace the truth others share with you. –iKE

Connie Shaw is a publisher and poetry lover who lives in Boulder, Colorado.

Ike Allen is co-creator of the film Leap! and other movies about consciousness. He leads transformational seminars internationally, and also lives in Boulder.

Price: USA $9.95

Format: 5 x 7 Paperback

ISBN: 9781591811046

Excerpted from the book The Tao of Walt Whitman ©2010 by Connie Shaw and Ike Allen. Published with permission of Sentient Publications http://www.sentientpublications.com

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