HAVE YOU EVER FELT COMPLETELY LOST?
IF NOT: GET LOST, THEN YOU CAN FIND SOMETHING.
These are some thoughts about what I have in tongue-in-cheek style been referring to as ‘Sinister Taoism.’ I’m gradually working on a book on the subject, but felt that a few of the notes from that process will be of use and interest to Reality Sandwich readers. So here we go:
No seeking attainment, enlightenment, or other illusory goals: setbacks are inevitable. They are, in fact, a part of the process. If your mind is set on attainment you will constantly be stuck in a feedback loop attending to failure, loss, disaster. This is a problem for me personally with my creative work rather than meditation, which has made the meditative process a good alternative when other creative outlets are stymied.
Most people think about conquering problems. About overcoming them. They think of power in terms of a show of force.
There is an idea that often appears in Taoism of dissolving. We dissolve physical, mental and emotional blocks simultaneously, we get out of the way of our selves through a process of dissolving, so that a natural expression is possible. Our rational mind is not seen as something with value above and beyond the hand, the toe, the eye.
We are bodies in time that are in one sense tied into a larger superstructure, layers of micro- sub- and overarching cultural narratives feeding into us, into our families, into our dreams, into our relationships, into the rules and definitions that we draw these very things with.
Are you brave enough to dissolve them, to give them all up as universals? It’s an interesting idea, but we must take a step beyond ideas, and that is where the practices come in.
All practices that can be called Taoist at once demand and produce a dissolving effect. It is the universal solvent. The more it is applied, the more programming that came in from without is washed away, and the nature beneath may show.
How is this any different than a Rousseau or even Luddidite style return to nature? In many original Taoist sources, historically, the impulse is not all that different. Many Taoist traditions can be seen as a reaction toward Confucian ideals of order. But many of us are not Chinese, and none of us are living in the Han Dynasty. You must be where you are, not appropriate a culture from another place and time and expect it to operate the same here and now.
This process of dissolving does not occur with a particular ideological agenda in mind beyond what you brought with you.
So it’s a constant process of dissolving within ones self, building patience by the application of patience. Accessing stubbornness if that’s your vice to stick with it. Accessing purity if that’s your vice. And so on.
This is not an easy thing to talk about. All I can say is that if you put the intention of dissolving into your practice, you will in my experience find some interesting results. Though it is certainly not as if one dissolves away what one is.
To the contrary, one can only remove the things gunking up our system: the narratives that people have loaded on us that block us from being who we are.
This is where we first catch a glimmer of how the practices I’ve been discussing relate to Shamanism. But we’re not there yet.
2. The Process (Not The Goal)
Every day the practice is different. Where you are is different. What you are capable of is different. Let no one else set what is too much or too little, what is right or wrong. Guides that move through mutual compassion are to be listened to; teachers that set themselves above you to bolster their own ego, (you are wrong, they are right) are to be avoided. This unfortunately rules out almost all traditional martial arts teachers. Beware most of all “friends” who always seem to have advice and judgement for others, and bear no attention (or affection) for themselves.
NO CENTER WILL HOLD:
NOTHING TO HOLD ON TO
3. Feeling Intuition First (Let Logic Come Second)
Wait. Let the intuition lead. Interpretation, rationalization, etc is at best a curiosity. Don’t let it lead you around like a donkey on a leash. Move from your own center, without need for analysis. Cultivate a compassionate awareness of yourself that you can always return to. Logic and the rational mind are masters of deception.
4. Develop Flexible Openness
What avails you today will hold you back tomorrow, if you hold to it. The process is the closest we can come to a formulaic guide. The emotions and intuitions are the true guides, though we must use patience to hear what they are actually saying to us. There are no rules.
5. Seek Light Through Darkness (Not Avoiding Negativity)
It is a New Age trap to think that by avoiding anger, or anything else that we associate with negativity, we have somehow attained some rarified psychological state. This is instead called repression. Like all emotions, anger seeks to tell you something, and can be your guide through dangerous paths. What would you do without it?
Worst of all are those who would through therapy or other means strip you of your anger, stubborness, or other “faults.” In them reside your greatest strengths.
6. Redefining Strength
In these “faults” begin the root of strength. Strength that is flexible, that does not pretend, that is grounded in weakness. Strength that shows off, that is rigid, that does not feel- that is true weakness, and a sign of a spirit that has grown both deaf and dumb.
How do we get there?
Who knows. But here is where we start:
So let me be bluntly:
- Lose all systems that blame you for feeling bad, negative, spiteful, broken, those that say a guru, a spiritual person, a “good” person does not feel such things. They are lying. Some people feel these things more than others, and more at some times than others. If there is even such a thing as spiritual progress, and I think it’s a dangerous idea to believe that it does, depends on being honest about where you are first and foremost, and learning to explore or integrate what you perceive as the negative and the positive.
- Lose all systems that say you are to blame for the things that other people did to you, especially if it was along the lines of abuse or assault (which can take many forms.)
- Take responsibility for the You that You choose to be. Your responsibility is to try to heal, and to try to minimize these things happening in the future if you can. (You may not be able to. That is always a possibility.)
- Lose all systems of spirituality that make you feel guilty for having an off day, or for being in the midst of a complete breakdown. It is in breakdown that you often come closest to your true face, especially if you have held a self image based on what other people have fed you for years.
- Lose all people that try to make you feel guilty or try to make you own their own emotional baggage because they can’t handle it themselves. In this category go all the people that don’t know us at all but who are willing to think they do based on a single post or comment on the internet, and make statements like “people like you.”
- Lose all systems of thought that try to make you feel badly about your genuine self and any consensual expression thereof. This is especially true in uptight America, where movies are considered equally disturbing that contain people being sawed in half, and those that show a nipple.
- Finally, Lose those that try to make you own what isn’t yours, and use emotional manipulation to make it seem like it is. Your emotions and your choices are your responsibility to live with, as rough as that can be. Don’t make it any harder by letting other people control that narrative. This is one of the ultimate benefits of yoga and internal arts: they seek to teach you the art of redirection, and this is more often useful with energy and emotion manipulation ploys than it is in fist fights.
TODAY YOU’RE SOLD FREEDOM: TOMORROW A CAGE.
INVEST IN LOSS.