It all started with a Pony. A very deadpan, very Zen Pony.
In 2014, an acquaintance challenged me to watch the show “My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic.” Katie and I shared a love of things Disney, including Kim Possible, and she also knew I was a novelist. She believed the show would appeal to me because of its strong writing.
I was skeptical, and I told her this, but Katie was right. This latest version of the My Little Pony franchise from Hasbro wasn’t just sparkles and rainbows (even if they did have characters named Twilight Sparkle and Rainbow Dash).An episode that dealt with discrimination because of someone being a foreigner? One that handled the displacement of native peoples due to the ongoing expansion of westward settlement? Handling disabilities? It soon became apparent this was a sneaky smart show that used these characters in fascinating and subtle ways to teach valuable lessons, ones you didn’t see on television as often as you used to. This was due to the initial leadership of Lauren Faust, who developed the show, and the writers who went on to work on it with her. They insisted the show always have good, character-driven stories.
One particular character from the fourth season caught my attention. Maud Pie is the older sister of one of the show’s main characters, Pinkie Pie. Where Pinkie is bright and bouncy, Maud is controlled and taciturn. Where Pinkie is loud and excited, Maud is serene and observant. Where Pinkie is exuberant, Maud is matter-of-fact. She was, essentially, the anti-Pinkie. At least, that’s the initial reaction most had when seeing her.
But as I looked at the episode this character appeared in, I noticed something. Maud wasn’t rude or weird. She was following simple Zen Buddhist tenets in a very non-Zen world. Direct, minimal observation contact, not pushing her own opinions into the environment, just letting things be, not competing at all, only applying exactly as much effort as needed, even at the moment she needs to be the heroine (at which point she outshines every other character).
The realization the show created a Zen pony was a revelation for me. I’m a student of Zen philosophy. I recognized the lessons. Could I use Maud to help do the same for others? I remembered a book from the 1980s – The Tao of Pooh, by Benjamin Hoff – that did something similar. The name seemed appropriate. So, in early November of 2014, The Tao of Maud was born.
We send a message out each morning, every day, 7 days a week. Each week is based on a character from the show and the attribute it represents – laughter, kindness, loyalty, friendship, recovery, redemption, family, wealth, identity, etc. We started on Twitter, and since have added daily posts on Facebook, Tumblr, and Instagram. I’ve given talks about the concept behind it at MLP conventions all over the country as well. Now in its third year, we’re still exploring other ways to expand the reach of the messages. We’re even looking into an Alexa skill.
This is a labor of love project. I like the idea I’m doing some small bit of good in the world each day with this. And three years in, I’m still enjoying everything it teaches me, as well.