Earlier this year, not long after my fiftieth birthday (my summer students seemed shocked when I told them I was born in 1957 - in the middle of the last century!), I went to the doctor for the usual check-up. He did all of the usual things, and he told me my cholesterol and blood sugar levels were rising. I had to do something about it.
So, I imagined what a Taoist approach to this problem might be, and passage 12 of the Tao Te Ching came to mind:
The five colors blind eyes.
The five tones deafen ears.
The five tastes blur tongues.
Fast horses and breathtaking hunts make minds wild and crazy.
Things rare and expensive make people lose their way.
That's why a sage tends to the belly, not the eye,
always ignores that and chooses this.
I take this as an admonition against excess. All those flashy colors and sounds and tastes distract us from the natural unfolding of Way and our place in it. We do not need fancy food, or fast cars, or luxuries to live out our Integrity (te). "Tending to the belly" suggests providing basic necessities, as opposed to those things that please the "eye," extravagances. This distinction applies to food as well. "Belly" food would be just what we need to maintain ourselves; "eye" food would be more calories, more fat, more sugar, more everything than we really need.
I kept that passage in mind (together with the reproof of "lavish food and drink" in passage 53) and I just stopped eating "eye" foods. In my case, since diabetes runs in both sides of my family, sugar is especially dangerous. Sugar - which is in so much of the processed food we eat - was fairly luxurious in the era of the Tao Te Ching (c. 5th-4th centuries BCE). So, I took a hard line on it. My mantra became "sugar is poison." I also just stopped eating bread (bad type of carbohydrates) and butter (fat). I kept away from other fats, and reduced my intake generally. I increased whole grains and fish.
Last week, I went back for a four month re-test. And my doctor was most happy. He reported that my cholesterol and blood sugar levels were significantly reduced. It seems my Tao diet is working. Of course, the trick is that it is not just a temporary thing. This will be the way I eat from now on, if I want to keep my blood clean. But that's all right. I have lost twenty pounds and feel good. I generally do not "practice" Taoism in physical ways (I don't meditate or do breathing exercises or the like); so, my new eating habits are the closest I have come to bodily "doing" Taoism.
And, of course, I am inspired by Li Po, who found Way in wine. Here's one from him:
Something Said, Waking Drunk, On A Spring Day
It's like boundless dream here in this
world, nothing anywhere to trouble us.
I have, therefore, been drunk all day,
a shambles of sleep on the front porch.
Coming to, I look into the courtyard.
There's a bird among blossoms calling,
and when I ask what season it is,
an oriole's voice drifts on spring winds.
Overcome, verging on sorrow and lament,
I pour another drink. Soon awaiting
this bright moon, I'm chanting a song.
And now it's over, I've forgotten why.
I won't be drunk all day, but I will have a gin and tonic and sushi for dinner tonight, in keeping with the Tao diet.