Taoism is an ancient Chinese tradition that has shamanistic roots. Its philosophical underpinnings are illustrated in the 81 chapters of the Tao Te Ching, presumably written by Lao Tse (Master Lao). This book has teachings regarding the attitude and philosophy one should engage in when doing meditation and movement practices to effect healing. It also has insights into the results of disciplined meditation and energy work, now known as qigong.
One can look at the Taoist tradition from ancient China in a philosophical, religious or a practical way. Most people see it as a philosophy and some followers in Chinese communities have made it into a religion. Many in the West think of it in a way similar to other ancient philosophies. However, the best way to know Taoism is to combine philosophical and practical aspects, because its practices are meant to engage the whole person, not just one’s mental activity.
These Taoist internal practices include various types of meditation and qigong – and the more recent practices of T’ai Chi and Ba Gua. The philosophy of Taoism sprang out of the early practices. To different degrees, each of these arts/sciences can enable participants to reach an internal awareness of their internal energy that can ward off disease. To go even further inward, these methods can bring about spiritual realization.
What follows are essential aspects for a disciplined practice that will further you in your progress towards health and inner spiritual realization:
Being Present. Meditation methods that use the breath as a focusing device help train you to be present. And this is a necessary beginner’s goal, being in the present moment to themselves. Nothing is more essential and indicative of our present state of being than our breath. Attaining consciousness of the breath provides a gateway for access to what we are normally unconscious of within: our emotions, amount of muscular tension and other less definable sensations that are held in the body. Without presence, awareness of these different internal aspects of our being is unattainable. Presence allows you to see things as they are, getting past your illusions and habits. It thus opens the door to the possibility of change.
Humility. Humility helps keep our illusions and habits in check. It permits progress and it allows emptiness to happen. It makes letting go easier. Lao Tse said:
“The Master doesn’t seek fulfillment. Not seeking, not expecting,
she is present, and can welcome all things” (ch. 15)
Progression from the Crown of the Head to the Feet. This progression helps move the excess, stagnant energy downward through the body and into the ground. Usually a scan of the body is done first, with a more detailed meditation of blocked places done during the second progression downward. It is also important to view the progression as a circle going down a cylinder, with all 360 degrees of its circumference being within your awareness.
YouTube video by TaiChiGreg that discusses the use of progression.
Recognition. By fulfilling the first two conditions you prepare yourself to encounter energetic blockages that exist in many different forms, blockages that lead to imbalances and eventual health problems. Recognition of a blockage is an art, because they take many forms. As stated before, they can be initially manifest as tension, areas of strength or even areas where you may feel numb. Other manifestations are possible and many times it is difficult to put a label on what you encounter. We all carry tensions that are locked into our bodies, some of which we carry from birth and early childhood, thus labels are insufficient to describe what happened to us when we lacked verbal consciousness.
Breathing into the blockage. Once your awareness is fixed on the blockage, breathe in and out of it. Allow the movement of the breath to change the state of the blockage, loosening it up and releasing. Some Taoist masters call this the dissolving stage of meditation. The ultimate goal is to allow space to be created where blockages are encountered. Dissolving is the first step in the meditation.
Pursuit. Dissolving is something like peeling the layers of an onion. The blockage can have an energy behind it, so after dissolving, can you pursue that courageously to open it up? Emotional aspects of physical blockages are often hidden behind.
Reiteration. Sometimes blockages have to be revisited. As noted above, the cycling up to down of the body is essential, and sometimes the depth of attention needed to overcome a blockage requires more time than is allowed in a meditation session. So, we revisit tough spots, like water running through a river, the rocks are eventually worn away. It is faith in the process and daily persistence that helps propel us forward.