I discovered and resonated with the beautiful writings of Lao Tzu and the Tao Te Ching, when I entered seminary in 2004. The Tao Te Ching is a compilation of paradoxical poems greatly influenced by the wisdom of nature. It is nature’s inherent wisdom that can provide us with a ‘blueprint’ towards actualizing peace and acceptance.
Lao Tzu wrote this classic text on the heels of abandoning civilization, which disillusioned him. He removed himself from proselytizing and was ‘insular,’ and mysterious in his elusiveness. He chose solitude and appeared esoteric.
Tao is the notion of nature in its untainted form. Lao Tzu espoused that we are one with nature, and nature’s wisdom offers us all the guidance we need.
He conveyed that our natural intuition is the source of inner and outer peace and that enlightenment is a process of accepting oneself, and life with all its polarities.
We arrive at this place by abandoning knowledge and desire so as to spontaneously return to the simplicity of instinctual knowing. Lao Tzu referred to this state of being as wu wei; a state of letting go of resistance as animals do in nature. Here we find peace in acceptance and stillness. Lao Tzu believed this to be our true essence.
The Taoist philosophy is primarily concerned with having access to one’s own nature and being who you are in your natural state. There are a variety of ways in which a Taoist can clear internal pathways through inward looking. Clearing internal pathways of superfluous tension held in the body enhances the ability to drop into one’s authentic self. Meditation, martial arts, and acupuncture are but a few prescribed ways to achieve this intention.
When I studied Eagle Claw kung fu a profound centeredness resulted from replicating forms and movement emulated from animals. Likewise I often feel a sense of inner cohesion when communing with nature. When visiting the rainforest region of southern Brazil my spiritual practice involved meditating on the teachings of the tao.There were many insights brought to me, and a connection to Sprit that felt exhilarating and complete. My innate pull towards accessing the fierce mother within was amplified by my presence at the powerful ‘womb’ of Iguassu Falls.
As a trauma survivor and trauma therapist the Taoist insight of clearing internal pathways coincides with contemporary bodywork methods for treating PTSD.
Animals in the wild instinctually shake off trauma so as to release superfluous tension/energy. Given the complexity of the human condition and differences in brain structure, we internalize traumatic memory and store it symbolically, somatically, and energetically in our bodies. Hence a variety of techniques designed to physically discharge traumatic energy and memory are incorporated into the treatment regimen for those afflicted with trauma.
My main critique is that although like Lao Tzu I struggle with disillusionment as it relates to the human condition, I believe his idealism failed to factor in the reality of our complex nature.
The internal split between animal and Spirit, which Taoist philosophy aspires to bridge, is noble, but fails to appreciate our perennial struggle with reconciling lower impulses with a higher understanding.
We exist in a world of duality. Our ego attaches to the sensory world of pleasure, and we are driven to resist pain.
It is not within our make-up to abandon desire and knowledge. Pain takes on abstract and complicated dimensions for us humans, and paradoxically it is this capacity for abstraction that also compels us to ask the deeper questions.
Perhaps if Lao Tzu were able to make peace with the inherent struggle within our own duality, he would have remained tethered to this world which he rejected. This is certainly a dilemma I continue to grapple with.