In Taoism the object of spiritual practice is to become one with the Tao — to harmonize one’s will with nature in order to achieve ‘effortless action’. When I stepped off the plane in Beijing, I had no clue what the Tao was, nor was I too keen on being a follower. I left for China with an itinerary provided by Earth Charter Communities Network but I hadn’t really looked at it too closely. I knew I was to speak at a couple of universities in Beijing, I knew I had a bicycle date with a teacher named Mrs. Dong, and I knew The Nature Conservancy wanted to learn from my experience in, of all places, a Giant Panda preserve. I knew I had important places to go and important people to see. Little did I know what REALLY awaited me…
There isn’t space here to describe all of the wonderful experiences I had, but I will tell you about my bicycle ride through Beijing with Mrs. Dong, a high school master teacher. Bicycle was by far my favorite way to travel through the city. We stopped at shops, scenic areas and historical sites, then headed to Mrs. Dong’s school, Beijing No. 5 Middle School (which would be a High School in the US). We toured an area in the school’s courtyard where the school hopes to create a nature center. A terrific opportunity! I gave a presentation about nature centers to the school’s Eco-club.
One of the students I spoke with, Millie, truly “got it”. She questioned the Chinese education system, which is based on standardized testing. She questioned the wisdom of learning everything from a book. We talked about how a person can read every book there is about fixing a motor, and take test after test, but until they actually turn a wrench with their own hands they cannot call themselves a mechanic.
After my presentation, I did one of the ENC’s Traveling Naturalist programs – this was definitely our most distant school to date! We did various geology lessons and it was terrific watching the students experience a hands-on program. We talked about the layers of the Earth using M&M’s. We observed erosion by shaking rocks in a can and excavated “minerals” from a chocolate chip cookie. Many of those students have since emailed me. They recognize the issues, but do not know how to act.
By the end of my stay, I had learned to follow the Tao. I will always remember the feeling of when I became part of the natural flow. It was uplifting to learn about the individuals and organizations like Earth Charter Communities Network that are creating positive change in China. I was honored to have been asked to visit and help in some small way. I truly hope I was able to assist them in finding a connection to the natural world and developing a vision for the roles of nature centers in China. It is as natural as following the Tao.