I’m learning about Taoism. How would you describe Tao?
How is it that the shortest questions need the biggest answers? 🙂 Indeed I can describe it. Whether or not I can do so in a way that effectively transmits the idea to you is potentially another thing. But here it goes:
Think of the Tao as the flow of life. You imagine yourself separately from this flow but in fact you and it are one in the same. It’s like vegetable soup. You 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. They are both cause and effect. And so you can imagine yourself as separate from the flow of Tao, but it is your own psycho-spiritual motion that serves to create that flow.
If we look at your life it is made up of fates and choices. Of course the fates are derived themselves from previous choices so really it’s all choice, but to your individual piece of carrot or corn it can feel like some things happen to you, whereas other things are things you cause to happen. Where people trip themselves up with The Tao is that they argue with what’s happening.
Rather than being accepting of the fates and remaining focused on their choices, egos will lament the fates and forgo the choices. That 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 must accept reality by silencing our rejection-narratives. And then we can take the energy we were wasting on struggling and instead we can focus it on spotting our opportunities.
I’ve referred to him in the past. There was a big US tycoon around the time of the Depression and he was said to have a “disorder” that caused him to believe the world was conspiring in his favour. This is kind of like a belief in a generous personal God. So it didn’t matter what happened in this man’s life he viewed it as a gift. He saw everything as 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. Your arguments feel like resistance because they are resistance. Each collection of individual words that you assemble into a larger idea that pushes against the current of what is, is like you paddling upstream. It feels harder because your ego is swimming against a much larger motion—a motion that is far from personal.
The Tao is the flow of Oneness, meaning our little thought-created senses of separateness are already an act of defiance. Our thoughts are egotistical because they purports to know better than Oneness in which direction Tao should flow.
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, and 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, instead invest your being in seeing the best in your situation and then manifest whatever comes naturally.
Do not stop to judge. The moment you stop and create time so that you can judge another time you can be assured that you are out of the Flow of Tao. There are no word-based questions in that flow. There are only your natural reactions.
There are forces and truths in this world. Gravity, viscosity, momentum etc. Water does not question that is-ness it merely flows. Do not divide the world up into words and then glue them together into concepts. Dissolve those thought-borders and simply Be the Flow of Tao. No arguments, no wants, no desires.
Without a self to advocate for, you naturally rejoin the Flow. Not that you can ever be out of it, but you can certainly paddle upstream by thinking you are. So relax. Be. You don’t earn or win or think your way into Tao. The flowing will be what naturally happens as long as there’s no you being created by a habit of personal thoughts. You don’t learn how to flow. You let go of your 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 you have always been a part. Feel the world around you. You can’t stay there forever because for there to be flow there has to be not-flow. But whenever you feel out, the way in is always the same. Go quiet, stop thinking, and experience.
The Tao is always present for you. You need only realize it. It does not require anything from you but your presence. You only need to stop creating ego-based narratives of separateness, (the ones you use to define who you believe you are). You can easily do that because your ego builds things out of words and stories, so if you’re quiet inside—if you’re listening rather than ruminating—then you will literally have stolen the energy from your ego and you’ll have used it to expand your awareness instead. Brilliant!
So remember, this is not some place you have to earn your way into. All you need is the presence of mind to be able to recognize and quiet your thinking and, in becoming aware of that powerful silence, you will find yourself capable of swimming comfortably in the profound Flow of Tao.
Scott McPherson is an Edmonton-based writer, public speaker, and mindfulness facilitator who works with individuals, companies and non-profit organizations locally and around the world.
Following a serious childhood brain injury Scott McPherson unwittingly spent his entire life meditating on the concepts of thought, consciousness, reality and the self. This made him as strange to others as they were to him. Seeing the self-harm people created with their own overthinking, Scott dedicated part of his life to helping others live with greater awareness. He is currently a writer, speaker and mindfulness instructor based in Edmonton, AB, where he finds it strange to write about himself in the third person.