How Taoist Philosophy Deals with Anxiety… Anxiously!

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Every 30 years, a generation, the skeletons stored in the closet of philosophical and spiritual alternatives reappear –aliens, mysteries of Egyptian pyramids, flying saucers, “new” findings in parapsychology and oriental shamanism; plus Yoga, Buddhism and Taoism as lead stories. It’s the main course for the present-day young who, like those of yesteryear, are anxious to know the world, its geography and proposals. For them, the issue is new; for their parents it’s about reminiscences and melancholic memories. Yet, the skeletons are at it again –books, seminars, retreats… and thousands of articles and TV programs that incite new broods to the exciting, apparently, journey through the mysterious topography of the human mind.

In this particular article by Mike Colagrossi, published in BIG THINK, Taoism is presented as the most effective remedy against anxiety and a philosophical therapy with which to put out the scorching fire of stress caused by our fear of the future.

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ANXIETY DOES NOT EXIST FOR SOMEONE WHO LIVES IN THE PRESENT.

Our worries about an uncertain future feed anxiety. The Taoist philosophy teaches us a new way of living.

Varying degrees of anxiety awash over millions. Whether it’s stress from the workplace, fretting for a future that never comes or getting tangled in the ceaseless political drama of the day. At the root of this issue is the constant need to live for the future and it is here where our anxiety stems from.

One of the solutions for anxiety, and other assorted mental ailments, set forth by Taoists is the idea of mindfulness or being within the present moment. It is from within this philosophy which emerges the art of meditation. The concept of presence flows throughout the Eastern idea of being within the now. It’s been repeated so many times that the words often read as platitude and banality. But the concept cannot be overlooked because it is the missing key toward living a fulfilling life devoid of angst and anxiety.

Here’s how Taoist philosophy rids us of anxiety: Taoism takes us back to what is real 

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In theory almost all proposals, no matter their type, work. So much so that Tycho Brahe, renowned mathematician and astronomer, claimed that, mathematically speaking, it may be as true that the Sun rotates around the Earth as that it is the Earth that goes around the Sun. In fact, until his death in 1601 he continued to support the theory that it was the Sun that revolved around the Earth. By contrast, his disciple Johannes Kepler preferred to adhere to the heliocentric theory.

To solve the problem of the inconsistent compatibility of opposing theories, we have only two options: 1) to observe the phenomenon; and 2) to put the theory to the test. No solution exists to the cosmic dilemma, because we cannot observe the universe from the outside, not even the so-called “solar system”. Therefore, we will have no choice but to look for the correct model in sources other than modern astrophysics. By contrast, philosophical and religious theories, such as Taoism, may become the object of practical verification which will allow us to elucidate if what they propose is feasible and practicable or, on the other hand, it is mere speculation.

The first element of the Taoist practice and its basic element is meditation, as it is in Buddhism, Yoga or Tantra. It’s a means of obtaining inner emptiness and peace, the presence, here and now. And yet, there is nothing that generates more anxiety than sitting in the lotus position with closed or semi-open eyes, and letting one’s thoughts pass and follow one another vertiginously before one’s attentive yet inactive gaze. It’s enough to ask some of the adepts in order to find out, not without certain astonishment, that there is no-one among them who has managed to meditate half an hour a day for three months in a row, teachers included. There are many reasons for this state of affairs.

The first of them is the fact that in the Chinese Taoist world, manifested in the West in the form of parody for snobs and neurotics, there was no meditation. Instead, there was use of drugs, which made adepts believe that they had attained spiritual realization. Despite drugs and certain shamanic procedures no Taoist master ever flew, sat on ambers without burning himself or felled a tree with a single blow, except in legends and pedagogical anecdotes with which teachers entertain their disciples. In fact, no one seeks any sort of spiritual realization. What the followers of any shamanic system passionately yearn for is power or, to be more precise, powers. This is what Buddha was looking for and this is what Greek Stoics were looking for.

Upon arriving in the West, all those shamanic practices morphed into quasi-religions and, in many cases, have been associated with Christianity –this phenomenon is seen above all in Zen Buddhism and the retreats with Catholic monks it has sponsored.

Another reason why meditation does not work is because inner peace, lack of anxiety, full satisfaction with what we are and what we have do not originate from ascetic methods, shamanic practices, meditation or use of drugs, but are the result of a clear existential understanding, followed by full acceptance of and submission to this understanding.

Let’s consider it from another angle. Taoism tells us that the past and the future do not exist, that only the present really exists. Exactly the opposite was found out by Agustine of Hippo (Aurelius Augustinus), who applied experience and observation of the effects of time and found out that the only thing that really exists is the past and the future, since the present is a fluid instant in constant motion and therefore inapprehensible. Any act or thought becomes instantly part of the past or the future. However, if we alleviate the Augustinian theory of its sophistic element and turn to our experience and to what we feel and understand, we will be able to affirm that the past, the present and the future, do exist, since we experience, differentiate and understand all three of them. Taoism, however, is right to denounce that the present, the time that extends both into the past and into the future, is neglected by most people and that makes them unaware of whatever they are at, and this “being absent” constitutes their present, albeit false. Yet, we are not situated correctly with respect to the past or the future either. Unfortunately, we ignore in which existential structure we should confide our memories or future expectations. We ignore it because we are oblivious to the meaning of life and, therefore, whatever position we assume and whatever method we apply will result in dissatisfaction, confusion and the absurdity of not knowing the reason why we exist.

Taoism, like all shamanic theories, takes existence as something granted, no matter its origin or end; the same shamanic position adopted by astrophysics and biology with respect to the origin of the universe and life.  When did they begin? Where? How? Who gave the order to start or originate them? Are they going to end? What about afterward, if anything at all? Our cognitive ability cannot answer these questions with any rigour. Nobody was there when the universe started or when life originated from inert matter, and then become conscious. Here we encounter the same problem as that of mathematical results –if observation fails, no definitive proof can be provided.

Therefore, the first thing that a theory calling itself philosophical, spiritual or both should provide is the description of the origin and the end of existence itself, since it is the absence of information about these two extremes that is the real cause of anxiety.

We have eliminated the only entity that could answer our questions –the Originator, the Designer, the Creator, the One who was there, the Only Witness. We have eliminated Him because humanists convinced us that if man takes charge of creation, everything will work much better. We accepted it gladly and willingly, and have struggled to live our lives in metaphysical orphanhood which ensued. We thought we could find by ourselves the origin of the universe, of life and of consciousness. We thought it would be easy to imagine the last existential scenario. They deceived us, we let them deceive us –it was so tempting to become gods. Now we need to meditate to fight the anxiety, the anguish, the depression which our rebellion has imposed on us. It does not matter if we live in the past or in the present, as long as we unable to give meaning to our existence, we shall be devoured by time without us having had the first idea of what it was all for. This is the true cause of the anguish, the anxiety and the depression that plague present-day societies, especially in the West.

The past inflates our memory with reminiscences in the form of ideas, images and sensations, but in vain will we delve into it to look for the meaning of existence. The only thing we find in this malodorous sack will be frustrations, paths we didn’t take which might have led us to happiness –we wish we could start again and again, failing to understand that each existential possibility tried, if we could try it, would lead us to the same questions and the same silence, since the meaning of existence is not to be found in this life, but in that which awaits us beyond death, beyond the grave… after resurrection.

The only way in this world to momentarily cover up anguish, anxiety and depression is with drugs, increasingly more powerful and devastating. How then, in this scenario of today, in which time rotates vertiginously and drags us towards its center, can man be told to sit down quietly and meditate in order to live the present? What is he going to find inside himself? A desolate landscape of disconnected and incongruous scenes whose contemplation will only increase his anxiety and dissatisfaction.

We have eliminated the original existential plot assuming we were able to design a new, more convenient one. In the end, what we have is a baroque array of sketches full of blots. The raiders, the homicides, the teocides offer us two solutions: 1) a life without prohibitions, limits, morals, taboos, reproaches or condemnations; 2) a life that is ascetic, lived with a view to attain unreachable objectives.  Neither seems to be particularly flattering.

The problem, however, does not end there. Even if we knew the origin and the end of the existential plot, other questions would remain: What should I do while in this world? Should I meditate? Shouldn’t I rather look for a good job, get married, have children, be a perfectly respectable guy? Could be, but the answer does not lie in action, but in consciousness. The fact of having perceived the reality and the fact that we are creatures would immediately lead us to look for the news about our Creator; to observe the world around us, which we barely noticed before; to look at the sky and marvel at its geography.  This return to consciousness would make us re-read; investigate the proposals; reject those that do not contemplate the existence of the Creator; in broad terms –discriminate by using our cognitive capacities.

The shamanic path of Taoism is the reverse, or the opposite, of the prophetic system. The latter directs our attention to the Lord of all dominions, whereas the former stops at the master since there is nothing and nobody above him and his “spiritual realization”. He marks the end of the path. Shamanism cuts the rope and launches us out of the divine orbit. In some cases it proclaims reincarnation –coming back time after time to life in this world– and thus covers up the concept of the resurgence after the Final Hour and the ensuing Judgment are established, leading to punishment or reward. However, reincarnation is not a conscious process of ascending the scale of knowledge since there is no trace of perception of our previous reincarnations; no memory of having existed in another time and body. Whatever there is, is here and now, for the first time.

In a way which sounds like “made in Hollywood” and in a nutshell, Taoism, stoicism, shamanism look for perfection in this world since there is no other –all we desire will have to be achieved during this our lifetime. It is of little importance if tomorrow the wheel of transmigration launches us again to life since our memory will begin its work anew. Thus, what we really have at our disposal to achieve this perfection and those powers is the 60, 70 or 80 years of life in the earthly biology. It is this race toward an uncertain, dim and mobile objective what causes our anxiety. Yet, living “in the present” will not solve anything. The primordial question won’t cease battering our intellect. At peace or in anxiety we shall keep asking ourselves why on Earth we exist. This question will make void any effort at being rich or able to meditate quietly and peacefully the absurdity of being alive.

Like the rest of shamanic doctrines, Taoism is a door which conceals an unsurpassable wall. Basically, what we are looking for is not to improve the conditions of the prison we live in, but to get out of it.

(56) I have not created the yinn and the men, bot that they adore Me.

Qur-an 51 – adh Dhariyyat

To “adore” here means to be aware of our condition of creatures, not entities that arose by chance from the evolution of a bacterium, which, once it has reached the stage of consciousness, has to meditate to avoid anxiety.

(16) But no, you prefer the life of this world (17) in spite of the fact that the Ajirah (Hereafter) is better and enduring.

Qur-an 87 – al ‘Ala

To live fully and without anxiety our lives in this world we must be aware of the Other World and of the Hereafter. To live this perception, this memory, is to live in the real present, in the true reality. This is the great triumph and the greatest of meditations.

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