The Tao of Walt Whitman

The Tao of Walt Whitman

Daily Insights and Actions to Achieve a Balanced Life

Connie Shaw & Ike Allen

In a world in which poetry has few readers, the authors have created a format to make it accessible by providing a context of action and contemplation for readers to find their own meaning in the text.


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The Tao of Walt Whitman won the Gold Award in the Body, Mind & Spirit category of ForeWord Reviews’ Book of the Year competition. Winners are selected by dozens of librarians and booksellers who are experts in the subject matter of the books they judge and who make purchasing decisions daily for their collections or bookstores. These fiercely contested awards are viewed by librarians and booksellers as an important statement about a title they might have overlooked. Walt Whitman, whose Leaves of Grass was called “the secular Scripture of the United States” by Harold Bloom, is still a source of contemporary inspiration. His ecumenical wisdom, which includes both transcendentalism and realism, is encapsulated here in short verses for each day of the year. These, along with a daily action step, become a springboard for readers to transform themselves. The sublime poetry combined with exercises for self-reflection will make this unique pocket-sized daybook a constant companion for those seeking greater balance in their lives. In a world in which poetry has few readers, the authors have created a format to make it accessible and inspire a new audience to find value and use in this genre. By giving readers a context of action or contemplation in which to find their own meaning in the text, they reinvigorate the appreciation of the poetic word. Whether the reader is new to Whitman, or poetry altogether, or is already steeped in the words of the masters, they will find in this volume new ways to approach poetic language and their own lives, regardless of their generation. This is a book to share with grandmothers, best friends, young adults, and book groups—anyone who wants to plumb the depths of poetic wisdom while learning more about themselves.

Stream or download (right click "save as") an interview with the authors, Connie Shaw and Ike Allen here.

Stream to an interview with co-author Connie Shaw here or download (right click "save as")  here.

Praise for The Tao of Walt Whitman

As a guide to the transcendent, Whitman’s poetry offers illumination for those on the path of Taoist harmony. This book is an inspired blend of bite-size samples from Whitman, along with the authors’ reflections and exercises.

—Marci Shimoff, author of Happy for No Reason and Love for No Reason

The Tao of Walt Whitman presents gem-like excerpts of his verse, along with creative, thought-provoking activities and commentary, to bring the essence of this exhilarating poet into our daily lives.

—Judy Morley, publisher of Science of Mind Magazine

Brotman: Don't underestimate the power of doing nothing

Walt Whitman proves that slowing down lends itself to seeing the poetry in spring and everyday things

May 27, 2013

Barbara Brotman, Chicago Tribune staff writer

I sat down on a park bench recently to spend a carefully planned half-hour reading a book. Alas, I saw that I had forgotten the book.

Now what?

I had a half-hour on a spectacularly gorgeous day, the sun pouring down on my bench beneath the newly leafy trees, and nothing to do.

The horror.

I could have pulled out my phone and started a round of emailing and texting, but in this outdoor splendor that seemed terribly wrong.

So I just sat there and looked around.

A woman walked by pushing a baby stroller, followed by a yipping dog.

An elderly woman at another bench on the path ate a sandwich as she turned the pages of her book.

A breeze blew.

A couple slept on a blanket in the grass. A dog trotted along the path, dragging its leash behind it. A man and his son walked by, the small boy reaching up to hold his father's hand.

A bird trilled.

It turned out I had something to do: doing nothing.

It was grand.

Doing nothing is the perfect activity, or rather inactivity, for summer. The classic pleasures of the upcoming season — lounging on a sun-warmed chair on your deck, drinking a cold lemonade, watching butterflies in your garden — are so low-energy as to be just a few steps above breathing.

And what peace and pleasure can be had simply by taking in the world around you. You can think; you can daydream; or you can simply enjoy the wondrous show.

But don't take my word for it. Take Walt Whitman's.

Now I will do nothing but listen,

To accrue what I hear into this song, to let sounds contribute toward it.

I hear bravuras of birds, bustle of growing wheat, gossip of flames, clack of sticks cooking my meals.


I loafe and invite my soul,

I lean and loafe at my ease observing a spear of summer grass.


Beginning my studies the first step pleas'd me so much,

The mere fact consciousness, these forms, the power of motion,

The least insect or animal, the senses, eyesight, love,

The first step I say awed me and pleas'd me so much,

I have hardly gone and hardly wish'd to go any farther,

But stop and loiter all the time to sing it in ecstatic songs

Doing nothing sounds pretty impressive in his words.

"Whitman was a great loafer," Connie Shaw said.

Shaw is the co-author, with Ike Allen, of "The Tao of Walt Whitman," a book I happened on while doing research on doing nothing.

Shaw greatly admires Whitman's language and his loafing.

"He was a poet, and a mystic; he was also a Civil War nurse," she said. "But he appreciated the advantages of idleness."

"The Tao of Walt Whitman" intersperses passages of Whitman's eloquent idleness with the authors' suggestions on how we might get the most out of our own:

Go somewhere peaceful and quiet and sit without doing anything for 15 minutes.

Walk out your door, and allow intuition to guide your footsteps. Keep your mind as receptive as you can. Sometimes the mere act of moving your feet can shake creative solutions free.

Do as the poet does, as fully as you can. If a spear of summer grass is nowhere to be had, then plenty of innocent, alive, and humble things can substitute. Leaning, loafing, and inviting at your ease are the indispensable activities of the day.

"We're hoping to get people to just spend some time doing nothing and see what happens," said Shaw, who owns Sentient Publications, a Boulder, Colo., publisher of books on creativity and spirituality, including this one.

Plenty can happen, she said, when we pay attention to the world we spend most of our time ignoring in our rush to do something.

"A lot of the time, our activity is a distraction from ourselves, from our feelings, from life itself — from what you can find in the stillness," she said.

And by doing nothing, she really means doing nothing.

"Don't even meditate," she said. "You're not even trying to put your attention anywhere in particular. You're just relaxing and stopping and appreciating, hopefully, the moment."

Nothing, seriously? Does your highly scheduled soul blanch at the thought? Is a panicked "Nothing doing!" your first reaction to the idea?

Give it a try. Have a seat — in a park, on your front step, on the lakefront. Look around. Or look up.

Walking to the "L" the other morning, I glanced at the sky and had to stop to goggle. A bank of cottony clouds was drifting across it, bright white in the sunshine against brilliant blue, a magnificent movie playing on an Imax-dwarfing screen. I took out my cellphone and took pictures.

You may feel guilty about spending time just looking around, listening, or sniffing the flower-scented breeze. You may feel that you should be doing something.

But that's the beauty of a magnificent spring or summer day. You don't need an activity to go out into warmth and sunshine. The day itself is the activity.

It may feel strange at first. We are so accustomed to doing something — often several somethings simultaneously — that doing nothing may take some practice.

We'd better get cracking.


Additional information

Product Format


Page Count

222 pages


5 x 7 in.