The Tao of Pooh


The Tao of Pooh by Benjamin Hoff. A book about the eastern philosophy Taoism, told through the lens of Winnie the Pooh.

This book and I have a long history together, starting way back in 2014! I hadn't given it a full read until now, but I'm glad I finally did. What I found inside this book was a way of living which in some ways is largely contradictory of my own; the following are my reflections.

Taoism discourages spending too much time dealing with the abstract, which is what my entire career in computer science is going to be based around. This is something I never thought could be an actual problem until I considered the Taoist perspective. I've found that visiting back home is effective in bringing me back to reality; everyone is more concerned about what I have for lunch than what cool algorithms I'm cooking up at work/school.

A fly can't bird, but a bird can fly.

The idea of recognizing your inner nature and working with it instead of fighting against it. I think this presents a basic framework for how one should live their life. Aaron Schwartz—who played a part in inspiring this blog—wrote about being a great programmer, but wanting to pursue politics and writing in his A Non-Programmer's Apology. In his mind he was being nonutilitarian with his actions by not pursuing the thing he was "best" at. This brings up the question: does a person's inner nature simply equate to what their talents are? Talent is probably a good place to start with if you're trying to be more like you, but I would like to argue that there's more to it than that.

After accepting the challenge of being true to your inner nature, it can be tempting to throw your life away and start again as the "real you". Don't do this. Work with what you've got and make iterative improvements on what needs fixing. Avoid throwing the universe out with the bath water.

Do more things just because.

In the book the characters of Winnie the Pooh are represented as archetypal personalities, each has their own way of living which in some way conflicts with the Tao. What's important to know is that smaller portions of these characters live within all of us, and as extension of that, there's a part of you that's a part of me.

He confuses exercise with work.

A part of this book talks about how it's possible to make everything into work, including exercise and family. This resonated with me because I think I have the personality type to do just that. Most hobbies usually become centered around the question of "how can I get better at this" instead of "how can I enjoy this more". I'm sort of obsessed with the idea of compound interest and how daily work can eventually lead to huge gains in later years. In general, I enjoy being good at things and the idea of progressively getting better. There are certainly problems with this in regards to sustainability. For now, diversifying my interests has been a way of avoiding burnout, once I get tired of one thing I just switch to something else I'm interested in working on.

I think the biggest question here is, "how am I going to find my inner nature?" What makes me, me?

I've been trying out different "hobbies" and in more extreme cases "ways of living" in roughly 4-8 month periods for the past couple years. I pick something that I think will add value to my life and that I can easily justify doing, until circumstances change and I find something else to fill my time with. The transitions between periods is mostly brought on by school, internships, and general relocation. I've bounced between intensive academics, strength training, digital painting, software related projects, and reading copious amounts of books (hence this book club). Reflecting back on this I think I've been doing a pretty good job at discovering my inner nature. By going through these different experimental phases I've slowly been figuring out what does and does not work for me. Going forwards I plan to start incorporating small daily activities from past interests that I'd like to continue to pursue. For example, although I'm not actively doing 2 hour workouts every other day, looking back I found that level of physical activity quite fulfilling and even if I adopted doing 10 push-ups a day as a regular part of my routine I think it would benefit me—at the least it would make it somewhat easier to adopt that level of intensity again, rather than starting from nothing.

In addition to everything I've been doing in the past couple years, I also thought it'd be a good idea to take a deep dive into the past and look for clues. By clues I mean anything that seems to have persisted over the years since childhood. My detective work was essentially me going through old report cards looking for insightful teacher comments. Taking everything with a grain of salt, I figured my old teachers might have mentioned something that I could still recognize in myself. Here are the most interesting comments I found:

Third grade: > Casey is a mature, conscientious, and committed student; a strong self-motivator with exceptional intrinsic drive.

Eighth grade: >At times Casey tends to mask his ability with humour. He must recognize that his peers do not judge him based on academic ability.