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Taoism: The Philosophy of Flow

Looking at different philosophies help expose one to different ways of living. Western culture borrows many ideals of what dictates a good life from different cultures. The Eastern philosophy of Taoism may seem slightly taboo upon first glance. However, after looking closer into the practice with an open mind, there are enlightening lessons to be learned. 

Quick History

“Taoism,”  also known as “Daoism”  is a Chinese philosophy, with its founding attributed to the great Chinese  philosopher Lao Tzu, who lived from the 6th-4th century BCE. Lao Tzu is seen as a legendary sage figure in China and a great master of philosophy. 

Like many Eastern philosophies, Taoism originated in China, but then came to other Asian countries like South Korea. The famous yin and yang symbol originates from Taoism, and is incorporated on the Korean flag.  along with its cousin Confucianism  emerged around the 6th-4th century BCE.  These two philosophies are some of the most notable in Eastern teachings. Although Taoism may have a similar heritage to Confucianism, they are nothing alike in philosophy. Confucianism lends itself to more structured philosophy while Taoism focuses on how to  flow

Korean flag hanging on building side

A Look at Today

Although Taoism seems like an enjoyable philosophy to live by,  Western culture seems to struggle with wrapping its head around it. In Western culture, there is an emphasis put on working hard and pushing forward aggressively to get where one wants to be. It holds money, status, and power as the most desired forms of success. Decisions must be driven by pure logic, and a reverence for high levels of education. Things are seen as mainly good or bad which we see expressed in polarized black and white cultural ideals like politics for example, in America.  Things are very rigid and categorized, which are  reminiscent of Confucianism. 

Taoism sees knowledge, intellect and education in a very different way. It thinks of the heart the way the West thinks about the head. More emphasis is put on using emotion and intuition as opposed to pure logic in decisions. Instead of learning through education, Taoism says learning can be attained through unlearning. Taoism believes that people already have answers and knowledge within them, and it is not a matter of learning new things but unlearning things we think we know based on what society has told us. One must step away from the mind, to understand the mind. Taoism puts emphasis on not trying. Instead of plowing forward in a bellicose manner to get what one wants, Taoism says that one is more apt to achieve their desires by actually doing nothing. It does not refer to doing nothing as being complacent and sedentary. It means following what one loves, and the effortless flow of living that can bring. Taoism emphasizes  the flow state  or the “Wu Wei.” This is when instead of doing an act, one becomes it. To find this flow state or peace, Taoism advises living in  “the middle way” which the whole of philosophy is referred to at times. Separating things into good and evil only creates them as entities. There is no good and evil in “the middle way,” just being.   

A Different Kind of Mindfulness

To even entertain different philosophies of how to exist may seem difficult due to fixed views of reality.  Culture, family, and personal experience can subconsciously shape and shift our views. To keep an open and curious mind creates a more well informed life . To a Westerner with a closed mind, Taoism may sound easily dismissible. However, for an open mind, it can be a different kind of mindfulness and perhaps even the path to enlightenment. 

 

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Written by Isabella Cammarata 

 

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