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 sharp writing. I was skeptical and 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 openly tackled the displacement of native peoples due to the ongoing expansion of westward settlement, including an open conflict between the sides involving weapons?
- Frank and open depictions of disabilities, and their integration into the society?
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 this iteration of the show, and the writers and creative team who went on to work on it with her and shepherded it after her. They insisted the show always have good, character-driven stories. (I interviewed one of those writers, Amy Keating Rogers, in early 2016. You can read the transcript of the interview here).
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, mostly, the anti-Pinkie. At least, that’s the initial reaction most had when seeing her.
As I watched the episode this character appeared in, I noticed something different from many of the other fans of the show. They initially saw the figure as weird or aloof, even with the denouement provided. But I noted that her behavior seemed to follow simple Zen Buddhist tenets in a decidedly non-Zen world:
- Direct, minimal observation and contact;
- Not pushing her own opinions into the environment;
- Just letting things be as they are;
- 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).
As a student of Zen philosophy, I recognized the lessons. The realization the show created a Zen pony presented an opportunity to me. I remembered a book from the 1980s – The Tao of Pooh, by Benjamin Hoff – that used a children’s character to teach lessons of Eastern philosophy. Could I perhaps use Maud to help do something along the same lines? 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 even given talks about the concept behind it at MLP conventions all over the country as well.
Now in its fourth year, The Tao of Maud has nearly 10,000 followers across all the platforms combined, and the current Executive Producer of the show has thanked me for the kind messages it has sent out into the world. It’s truly a labor of love project, as I have to date funded this completely out of pocket. I like the idea I’m doing some small bit of good in the world each day. I’m still enjoying everything it teaches me as well.