I’m learning about Taoism. How would you describe Tao?
How is it that the shortest questions need the biggest answers? 🙂 I will do my best to describe it. Whether or not I can do so in a way that effectively transmits the idea to you is for you to determine. But here it goes:
Think of the Tao as the flow of life. We imagine ourselves as being separate from this flow but in fact we and it are one in the same.
It’s like vegetable soup. We have a bunch of individual vegetables that can fairly be identified within the soup, and yet the soup itself would not exist were it not for those same vegetables. Is the soup filled with vegetables, or do the vegetables comprise the soup?
They are both cause and effect. And so we can imagine ourselves as separate from the flow of Tao, but it is our collective psycho-spiritual motion through living that creates the flow we think we need to ‘join.’
If we look at our life, it is made up of fates and choices. Of course the fates themselves are derived from previous choices, so in reality it’s a world made of choices. They’re just not all our choices.
But to our individual piece of ‘carrot’ or ‘corn,’ it can sometimes feel like the soup happens to us. Where we trip ourselves up with Tao is that we argue with what’s happening.
Rather than being accepting of the fates and remaining focused on our choices, our egos will forgo the choices because they are too busy lamenting the fates. That thought-based mental battle with what is, is the basis of our discomfort with the present moment.
We must make friends with what is by understanding the nature of causality. We can accept reality if we silence our rejection-narratives. Then we can take the energy we were wasting on our mental struggles and we can use to scan for more opportunities.
I’ve referred to him in the past. There was a big US tycoon that quickly grew wealthy. He was said to have a ‘disorder’ that caused him to believe the world was conspiring in his favour.
Basically, he believed that he had a personal and very generous angel. So it didn’t matter what happened in this man’s life, he always viewed it as some hidden gift. He saw everything that happened as either some current or future good fortune.
Think about what that means: if a business deal collapsed after months of work, he wasn’t unhappy —he was excited. He saw the collapse as notification that his money would be better spent elsewhere.
He never argued with what happened. His assumption was that it was good. That’s what it feels like to live in the Flow of Tao.
Every life has this flow. Our arguments feel like resistance because they are resistance against that flow. Each collection of individual words that we assemble into a larger idea that refuses to accept what is, is like us paddling upstream.
It feels harder because our ego is swimming against a much larger motion —a motion that is far from personal. We cannot pit the motion of our little piece of carrot against the motion of the entire soup.
The Tao is the flow of Oneness, meaning our personal, thought-created sense of separateness is like defying the flow. Our thoughts are egotistical because one piece of carrot wishes to control the entire soup.
The chef does not consider each piece of carrot individually. The chef is wholly invested in making soup. When we ‘get healthy’ we stop trying to advocate for our personal self (me the carrot, you the pea) and we begin to become One with the chef.
In doing so we surrender our desire to control the Flow of Tao, and instead we focus on staying aware, awake and alert to the sensations that help guide us within the flow. And thereby we also become one with the soup.
Be yourself. Affect the flow. But do so within the flow, from a place of authenticity, not from a dissatisfaction with what is.
Be like the aforementioned tycoon. Happily accept what is given to you, and rather than offer resistant word-based arguments, invest your being in seeing the best in your situation. And then manifest whatever comes naturally.
Do not stop to judge. The moment we stop and create time so that we can judge another time, we can be assured that we are no longer present. And that guarantees that we are out of the Flow of Tao.
There are forces and truths in this world. Gravity, viscosity, momentum etc. Water does not question that is-ness. It merely flows. Likewise, we can choose to not divide the world up into words and then glue them together into concepts. We can dissolve those thought-trains and we can simply Be in the Flow of Tao. No arguments, no wants, no desires.
Without a self to advocate for, we naturally rejoin the Flow. Not that we can ever be out of it, but we can certainly paddle upstream by thinking we are. So relax. Be. We don’t earn or win or think our way into Tao.
The flowing will be what naturally happens as long as there’s no ‘I’ being created by a habit of personal thoughts. We don’t learn how to flow. We learn to let go of our identity and then relax into the flow.
Surrender your argumentative, judgmental, unaccepting thoughts. Stop clinging to the rocks on the bottom in fear. Dissolve your self by going so quiet inside that you can actually sense the larger flow of which we have always been a part.
We can feel the world around us. We can’t stay there forever because for there to be flow there has to be not-flow. But whenever we feel out, the way in is always the same. Go quiet, stop thinking, and experience.
The Tao is always present. We only need to realize it. It does not require anything from us but our presence. We only need to stop creating ego-based narratives of separateness, (the ones you use to define who you believe you are).
We can easily do that because our ego builds things out of words and stories. If we’re quiet inside —if we’re listening rather than ruminating— then we will literally have stolen the energy from our ego and we’ll have used it to expand our awareness instead. Brilliant!
So remember, Tao is not some place any of us has to earn our way into. All we need is the presence of mind to be able to recognize and quiet our thinking. By becoming aware of that powerful silence, we will find ourselves floating comfortably in the wise and profound flow of Tao.
A serious childhood brain injury lead Scott to spend his entire life meditating on the concepts of thought, consciousness, reality and identity. It made others as strange to him as he was to them. When he realized people were confused by their own over-thinking, Scott began teaching others to understand reality. He is currently CBC Radio Active’s Wellness Columnist, as well as a writer, speaker and mindfulness instructor based in Edmonton, AB where he still finds it strange to write about himself in the third person.