In Taoist cosmology/philosophy, there are four states leading to “being”:
Zero – “The Tao” or Huntun (and/or see this entry by Scott Phillips)/Wuji – formlessness, undifferentiation (“none”)
One – Condensation (“one”)
Two – Taiji – differentiation (“two”)
Three – The “two” give birth to three…not sure what this one is “specifically”
Four – Reality/”naming” – 10,000 things
Here’s a quote from Chapter 42 of the Tao Te Ching:
The Tao gives birth to One.
One gives birth to Two.
Two gives birth to Three.
Three gives birth to all things.
In my recent experience, I’ve encountered the distinction between these.
There seems to be a realm we can inhabit, mentally, of undifferentiation. Though it may seem like apathy, it isn’t the same. It is a state of ease with the fact that all things are just as-they-are. Some people call this “alchemy.” This would be level zero in the above model.
Then there is an “ideal-state” mode of thought, where we reside in how we wish things were. There is only one idealized future. I would say this is level one above.
The next level is polarity. The place where we make abrupt/acute distinctions between things – either/or. This is level two, Taiji.
Level three is the place where “naming” begins. Once you’ve identified a polarity, you begin to make discriminations. Yes, something can be black or white. But there are also shades of grey in between. This is the place where you recognize grey. Not all of the shades, that’s next. Level three is similar to level zero, in that it is a transitional state between Two and Four. It is the realm of the trichotomy – the either/or/and situation.
Level four is somewhat easier to identify. I’d say it’s when we’re in the “state-chaser” frame of mind/being. We’re smelling the flowers, getting drunk, doing feats of physical endurance, swimming in really cold water, going to rock concerts, moving to an ashram in India – in order to experience all of the diversity that life has to offer (as opposed to doing those things with specific ends in mind).
What I realized in my personal life was that I’d been spending too much time in the Undifferentiated and Ideal zones, and had begun taking those as reality.
Or, I would vacillate between Relativism, Idealism, and Polarity.
It made it hard to figure out what to do next.
The solution has been to understand nature as, ultimately, undifferentiated, and accept that. Leave that where it is. Then, to understand my own desired “utopian state.” What is my “ideal” in xyz situations? Then, to leave that where it is. Finally, to come to “reality” and take actions that seem best for me right now, based on my past experience, and the ideal(s) I have in mind for a particular situation.
We don’t have to do anything in particular in order to play (be in the play-state), other than to release certain inhibitions we have about ourselves, others, and “rules.”
To do that, it may be beneficial to practice identifying the other states we assume throughout the day. For most of us, these other states will be characterized by certain “selves.”
For instance, I’ve already discussed The Victim. There are also the roles of “the persecutor,” “protector/rescuer,” “coach,” “challenger,” “cynic,” “skeptic.” And above those there may be others, like the “controller,” the “buddha/enlightened one,” etc.
For more information on this, check out the book (or videos) TED –
We each have our own unique cast of characters. And, though they’ll often assume similar roles, our cast is unlike any other cast. Each role may be played by a different person, depending on our own personal history.
As we go through the day, and experience emotions of different sorts, different characters come in to play.
In order to witness these folks, it is necessary to learn to notice shifts in our energy state – in our emotional or attentional state – as they occur.
When we feel “high,” who is in charge? When we feel “stressed,” who is in charge? When we are in love, who is in charge? When we are angry, who is it? If we feel like we’ve failed at something, who is the voice, the character, that comes up to the front of the stage of our mind?
This process requires awareness and attention, which requires slowing down.
It’s just like learning any new skill. Think about the first time you played a new game of some sort. You had to slow down to learn the technique. You may have “frozen” certain parts of your body or movements in order to work on the technique in pieces. In motor learning it’s called “freeing and freezing degrees of freedom.” You may have moved very clumsily at first, and felt awkward.*
Now aware of this – that learning requires slowing down, and that awkward and clumsy is normal at first – we can begin to play with these selves when they arise.
Here’s a scenario:
I’ve failed at a big task. The “persecutor” self steps forth and begins his monologue about worthlessness, about me being crappy at this thing, about me not being good enough.
But something has changed. I’m aware that it’s the Persecutor talking. And I say to myself, perhaps, something like, “That’s interesting.”
He begins to get anxious. He looks around for help. He tries to find things to distract me…where did I leave my car keys? What time is it?…so he can continue his act.
But I stay aware, calm, slow, breathing, watching him.
Aight…if you’ve been reading recently, you may be wondering what all of my recent posts have to do with physical activity, health, or athletic performance.
It has come to my attention that most people seek personal trainers for motivation, support, or encouragement, over/above knowledge, instruction, or learning.
First, I think that this is a culturally-based bias. I think that because of the way we treat what we call “physical education” in this country.
Children (at least when I was a kid, in “one of the best school systems in the country” – Fairfax Co., VA) in PE classes are “taught” extremely little. The only instruction we received usually had to do with “rules” of various games we played.
There was one section of the class on “health,” which covered sex education, drug awareness (scare tactics), and something else I can’t remember.
But there was no real physical education happening. If I learned the names of any muscles in high school it was either in a biology class, or through my own readings. We didn’t learn anything about human physiology.
Worst still, we didn’t learn anything about our bodies from a somatic awareness perspective. For instance, what happens in our physical bodies when we experience a trauma (whether it’s an accidental bump or fall, a major accident, or the experience of abuse from some external source), how to trace that experience, how to allow our feelings to happen without judgment or restriction…
And then, how to help ourselves to heal, by playing between the feelings elicited by that trauma within ourselves and the natural healing responses our bodies create.
This is not “touchy feely” bullshit that I’m writing about. We can point, using “science,” to everything good about a somatic awareness practice.
For instance, it is well known that the body responds to distress with chemical flows that, if lasting, are incredibly destructive. Adrenaline and cortisol, while helpful in emergency situations, are killers if they are present for too long.
This type of ability, and the practice of it, go to the heart of everything we do. This ability is the foundation for the creation of lasting self-worth, self-respect, and ultimately self-responsibility – all of which are, in turn, the foundations for deep feelings of others’ worth, respect of others, and the holding responsible of others for their own selves.
As I’ve said before, emotions are physical states. They are characterized by particular postures/expressions (that is, muscular patterns), and by internal chemical profiles.
The body is always a two-way street. So, similarly (and again, as I’ve said before), if we hold certain postures/expressions, we reproduce internal chemical profiles associated with those postures, and “create” that emotional state in ourselves.
If you are in a “stressed” state, your body cannot perform optimally. The longer that state continues, the less-optimally you can perform.
If you experience a trauma that you do not resolve, your body sets into a self-sustaining cycle that, while it is attempting to resolve the trauma, reinforces the fact that you were unable to resolve it.
Play is one way out of this. Play is the ability to creatively approach situations. I don’t mean “play” as it is commonly construed (another problem with our society). I mean play as creativity, openness, vulnerability, expression.
As the cycle continues, it becomes a habit. Soon, your reaction to certain things (relationship problems, conflicts, physical challenges, etc.) “just happen,” and you “have no control” over them.
The only way to break the cycle is through an intervention. And the way we intervene in our own psycho-physiology is through awareness.
This awareness requires the ability to focus internally, on feelings as they are occurring, observing them as they happen, and sitting quietly with them. When we feel those patterns occur, of reactivity to stress, and can sit with them, we can feel their usefulness. We can feel their reality (are they still applicable to the now, or are they representative of a past event).
Oftentimes, athletes (or others) succeed in spite of the mental/physical/emotional blockages in their lives. But equally often, these successful people eventually – and when it happens, always tragically – succumb to these restrictions. It may come in the form of a torn ACL. Dog-fighting charges. Rape or murder. Suicide. Depression. Etc.
I have yet to see a single discipline that encapsulates all of the areas needed – physical, mental, emotional/spiritual – to address these issues. And perhaps such a discipline is impossible, due to the sheer amount of information needed to work in all of those areas…or useless, due to the incredible variety of individual experience in the world (i.e., “one size cannot fit all”).
But I encourage (and implore) you to explore your life in this way.
In addition to your “physical education” of working out, building muscle/strength/size/shape, or performing well, find a somatic practice that encourages deep awareness of your body and its movement, such as:
Qi Gong/Chi Gong, Tai Chi, Yoga, and some other martial arts
Here’s an example of what Network Care is about:
Similarly, seek out a method of psychological awareness that allows you to attune, listen, feel, release, and ultimately accept yourself, such as:
Meditation – Zen, TM, Buddhist, Taoist, Eckart Tolle’s works, etc.
Psychotherapy – Psychiatry, Psychology, Coaching, Therapy, etc.
Group Practices – Toastmasters, Religious groups, Wo/Men’s groups, etc.
Here’s an example of what Somatic Experiencing is about:
One size does not fit all, so you’ll have to do some searching to find what works for you. But please search. You can find videos about any of the things I’ve mentioned above on YouTube.
It’s worth it.
The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.
Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you.