Holotropic Spontaneity and Carl Rogers XVII

Taoist Byways — 1 of 2

There’s an interplay of all this psychology with ancient Taoist thinking which some will have noticed already. The Humanistic psychologies deliberately played off Laozi, whom Rogers mentions in A Way of Being (1980). Taoism forms a direct bridge of these ideas with mysticism, but you can get in early and think Taoistically from the start if interested.

Acceptance of what arises spontaneously within is the key in both traditions. This allows one to become who one really is and removes aggravating artifice designed to ameliorate something “unacceptable”. The accent is on naturalness. At the time Taoism came into being, the very formal Ruist way of correct behaviour (that eventually became mostly mainstream in China) was also first being proposed, as a response to a general cultural crisis which deeply ruptured the realm. Taoism by contrast represented a rejection of formalised societal relations, considering them to be a way of surface harmony only, without sincerity, and suggesting a totally different solution favouring authenticity over acting a role.

In Taoism the sage, the shengren or achieved person, is thus very emphatically (and often eccentrically) him- or herself. I haven’t seen in other wisdom traditions this strong emphasis on the spontaneous individuality of sages or “saint”-figures as key to their attainment of the Ultimate. Of course this “self” is not like what conventional psychology thinks of as “self-image”. Last post we saw how even an initial accomplishment removes any straightforward self image in favour of an identification with self-process. In Taoist mysticism this is then taken much further, and joined to the great Ultimate process that moves through all things, called the Tao.

This can have a paradoxical cast, as one realises that static judging can create conflict even if it is “correct”, and learns instead to flow with the entire pattern, accept winter with summer, accept the difficulty of distinguishing good and bad, and so forth. This is about a complete change in the manner of human perception of the world, one that definitely distinguishes a person from the normal human way.

In the West, Heraclitus taught very much the same doctrine — I really should write about him one of these days — but his Way didn’t come down to us as a cultural wave like Taoism, didn’t become associated with a school. Breath practices were never known in the West either. Early practices in Taoist systems can be intensive, because human beings seem to begin so far from their natural state. In practice, being natural involves a lot of work rather than the laissez-faire many Westerners chose to mistake it for initially…

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