The Circle Of Tao
We have all had the experience of being “plugged in”, deeply connected with something greater than ourselves.
Watching a sunset or hiking in the woods, enjoying music or some other work of art, experiencing a special relationship with another person, whether through love, friendship, or compassion – any of these events can evoke a feeling of expansion and well-being.
Such occurrences are most often deeply meaningful. We encounter a larger reality where the boundaries between us and the outer world seem to vanish. We are totally present and feel whole and complete. We have entered the Circle of Tao.
All is Tao
All things arise from Tao.
By Virtue they are nurtured.
Chapter 51, Tao Te Ching
The word Tao has several meanings and many applications. It essentially refers to the interconnectedness of life and its constant transformation. Tao signifies all that exists. Tao is the universe, “the mother of all things”. And it manifests itself as a flow of unceasing change continuously moving toward a state of balance and harmony. We are all Tao and part of this natural process of change.
Our current scientific view of reality, quantum physics, concurs, asserting that all phenomena, such as our bodies and the distant stars, are constructed of the same basic particles of energy and that this energy is always in motion. Imagine everything as part of a vast, never-ending, always-changing grid or sea of energy. Tao is that energy and “all is Tao”.
As humans we are, by our very existence, a part of that continuum of life. However, we generally don’t experience ourselves that way. Rather, we perceive ourselves to be separate entities, or “individuals”. Albert Einstein once described this perception as “an optical delusion of consciousness” and urged us to see ourselves as part of the larger whole.
Actually, humans have sought this realization of interconnectedness throughout history. In order to attain this state and achieve our full potential, over the centuries we have developed an array of practices and belief systems. Taoism, as one such tradition, provides us with a vast array of tools, including ideas for contemplation, mind/body disciplines, and even specific behavioral guidelines, to direct and support us in this quest. The writings of legendary Taoist sages Chuang Tzu and Lao Tzu, by acquainting us with the various characteristics and functions of Tao, help us recognize and fully experience our true nature.
The Realization of InterconnectednessThe greatest Virtue is to follow Tao and Tao alone. Chapter 21, Tao Te Ching
Why is it so important that we realize our oneness with the Tao, with all of life? Such a realization is critical to our natural development because it is part of an innate drive toward wholeness, a basic need which reflects our essence. Just as a seed matures and reaches its potential by becoming a full-grown plant, we become psychologically or spiritually whole by experiencing our true nature.
We are already one with the Tao whether we recognize it or not. By training our awareness to open to deeper levels of existence and to our own natural processes, we make this knowledge part of our conscious experience and gain all of the benefits that such an awakening offers.
Freeing ourselves from the limiting delusion that we are separate and isolated being provides us with the opportunity and the power to totally enter life’s flow. We become fully-grown and whole, part of the harmonious and natural change that is the Tao. Recognizing the various attributes and principles of the Tao guides us in this undertaking.
This experience of oneness applies both outwardly and inwardly. Externally, we are an inseparable part of the natural world, sharing space and air (oxygen and carbon dioxide) with other beings and with the vegetation of the earth And as we have learned so dramatically, our behaviors, our interactions with our environment can have great impact.
Internally, the importance of psychological wholeness, knowing who we truly are, is recognized in both Western psychology and spiritual traditions as fundamental to well-being and healthy functioning. Rather than disowning or denying parts of ourselves because they are painful or offensive, we learn to accept them as part of our current process and to cultivate the skills necessary to bring ourselves into balance. To fully know ourselves is to experience ourselves as part of the Tao. To be whole is to heal ourselves.
My own experience might serve as an example. Earlier in my life I often felt angry, hopeless, and confused about the state of the world. Everything seemed overwhelming – environmental and social crises with pollution, war, and poverty. How could I equate this with the “natural and harmonious way” of the Tao?
Through contemplation, study, and wise guidance, in time I was able to see myself as part of this larger dynamic. This allowed me to connect with life more fully, rather than rejecting it because of my feelings of anger and powerlessness. In turn I was able to see how I might contribute to a more harmonious balance in the world. After all, I, too, was part of the Tao!
Today, aside from doing whatever I can personally – using water wisely, recycling, respecting others experiences – I include environmental awareness and social cooperation in all of my teachings.
On a personal level I have become more accepting of myself, seeing my challenges, my struggles, and my “failings” as part of my own natural path of growth and development. I try to understand my own process with kindness and patience rather than judging or denying it. “All is Tao”, I often remind myself – including my neuroses or bad habits (which are hopefully moving in a direction of harmonious balance)!
The Tao Flows Everywhere
“The great Tao flows everywhere,
Both to the left and to the right.
It nourishes the ten thousand things.”
Chapter 34, Tao Te Ching
We continue to face significant challenges regarding life on this planet – politically, economically, and environmentally, as well as individually. Yet only by embracing these experiences and seeing ourselves as part of the process – “no man is an island” – can we align with and positively affect the flow of natural change. Taoist teachings can help us to develop an accurate awareness of what is currently happening in our lives, on both global and personal levels. Then we can see ourselves as part of the process and, by extension, part of the solution.
Remember, all is Tao – both “the left” and “the right” (a political challenge, if there ever was one!). Our ancient sages tell us that as human beings we have some choice as to how to live our lives. We can learn to live in accord with the environment, with the Tao. Or we can remain ignorant, out of harmony with the natural flow, and not achieve our potential. Life itself will continue on. As a species, we are an expression of the Tao, and we can contribute to the balancing of life energies. This, in turn, brings stability and the most profound meaning to our own lives. The Tao acts through us. We become the Circle of Tao.
Here are some thoughts for your own contemplation based on the idea that “all is Tao.” How can you create a life that is more balanced, connected, and whole?
- Do you feel a part of your environment? Do you notice your environment – the air you breathe, the street you walk or drive on, the park you enjoy, the home in which you live? How do you relate to these different aspects of your life? Note the ways in which you split off from your surroundings.
- As individuals we tend to see others as different on the basis of skin color, geography, or attitudes and beliefs. Yet scientists tell us we are 99% genetically identical! How do you separate yourself from others? What are the underlying beliefs that cause you to do this? What are the feelings involved?
- To be psychologically healthy we must understand and honor all parts of ourselves. What parts of yourself do you reject or deny? What are the feelings and beliefs involved?
- What needs to happen in your life so that “all is Tao”?
- Take 2-3 hours and allow yourself to “wander” in some natural setting (a park, the beach, your backyard). Silently repeat to yourself: “All is Tao” as you walk or sit. Whatever you experience – sights, sounds, your own thoughts and reactions, your breath, other beings – simply repeat, “All is Tao.”
This is the first of several articles to explore the nature of Tao as presented in the writings of legendary sages Lao Tzu and Chuang Tzu, and to investigate how we might understand and apply these ideas in our daily lives.
Also in this series:
- Mystery – The Gateway To The Tao
- The Glass Is Empty
- Beyond Right And Wrong
- Purposeless Wandering
- Wandering In The Land Of Nowhere – Musings On The Tao
About The Author
Ted has been a practitioner of Tai Ji and Qi Gong for over 30 years. In 1983 he was ordained as a Taoist Priest after completing a two-year program of studies at the Taoist Sanctuary of San Diego under the auspices of Master Share K. Lew, a Taoist Priest from the Yellow Dragon Monastery in China.
Following Ted’s ordination, he taught classes in Tai Ji, and Qi Gong at the Sanctuary for 20 years. He also created and taught a popular 28-week course in Taoist Philosophy.
In 2004, after several years of practicing Vipassana meditation, Ted completed the Dedicated Practitioners Program offered through the Spirit Rock Meditation Center in Woodacre, California.
For the past 20 years Ted has been a faculty member at the Pacific College of Oriental Medicine in San Diego. He is the director of the College’s Clinical Counseling program and also teaches classes in Tai Ji.
Ted’s advanced degree is in Clinical Psychology. He is a licensed Marriage Family Therapist in practice since 1989. He brings a blend of Taoist and Buddhist spiritual principles, combined with contemporary Western psychological concepts, to his work with his clients.
Ted feels most fortunate and grateful to have been introduced to the writings of the Lao Tzu and Chuang Tzu. Their ideas and principles continue to be a guiding force in his life to this day.