The Sage Acts in Accord with Nature
I have heard of letting the world be, of leaving it alone; I have never heard of governing the world. You let it be for fear of corrupting the inborn nature of the world; you leave it alone for fear of distracting the Virtue of the world. You let it be for fear of corrupting the inborn nature of the world; you leave it alone for fear of distracting the Virtue of the world. If the nature of the world is corrupted, if the Virtue of the world is not distracted, why should there be any governing of the world? (ChuangTzu, 1968, XI, p. 114)
Philosophical Taoism may have begun as a movement for retired functionaries, who had been followers of Confucianism while they were working for the state.17 Because their retirement pay is low, they want to learn to live as serenely as possible in such conditions. They think this is feasible only if they acquire a better ability to listen to the dynamics of nature that course through them. The Taoist helps nature help him because he supposes that nature has a restorative energy often inhibited by an attitude that prefers to accommodate to the current mores rather than to nature. Humans are not capable of comprehending or voluntarily mastering this restorative power. But an individual can benefit from it if his attitude and his way of acting create a space within him to permit these forces to express themselves more freely: by meditating, for example. This is the famous let beâ or let goâ of the Taoists that oppose the more voluntary initiatives of yoga.
Consciousness and the Reactions of the Organism
To create this space in which nature can express itself for the good of the individual, the Taoist elaborated a practice of awareness that permitted him to forge an alliance with the energies that enliven him but that he cannot comprehend. The theoretical frame of philosophical Taoism is minimalist but sufficiently powerful to combat the propensity of consciousness to want to understand and master everything. It consists in learning how to perceive as precisely as possible without interfering. The Taoist sage actively listens to ever-changing atmospheres produced by his organism and his environment like someone who listens to music without telling the musicians how they should play. Once the mind of a Taoist has established a lasting and constructive form of contact between consciousness and the dynamics of chi in the organism, it can finally make informed decisions and use its will to influence the dynamics it perceives with tact. Such voluntary actions are applied in interaction with what is being influenced. The aim is synergic improvement, not an attempt to impose a theory, a desire, or the opinion of others.
The psychotherapist who reads this probably immediately grasps how this way of conceptualizing the dynamics of consciousness can enrich models like Freud’s free association proposed in 1912. He [the doctor] should withhold all conscious influences from his capacity to attend, and give himself over completely to his unconscious memory’â (Freud, 1912a, pp. 111-112). The psychoanalyst lets himself be permeated by what is going on. The nonconscious regulation systems of the therapist thus have the time to integrate the complexities of the regulatory systems that develop between the therapist and the patient. The flow of conscious thoughts and impressions that inevitably emerge within the therapist can thus stabilize around an emerging theme, which he can explore when he has the impression that it may help him understand the patient. This letting goâ is not a spontaneous property of the mind. It gradually develops by constantly listening to what happens when explicit thoughts interact with implicit impressions. These implicit impressions allow explicit thinking to contact atmospheres that float in the organism and in the space that surrounds the therapist and the patient. We are much closer to the apprenticeship of a musician who sharpens his ear and his virtuosity through practice than to what can be acquired by rigidly applying a set of rules. These Taoists live in nature, are supported by nature, respect nature, and integrate themselves in nature.18 From the point of view of a Taoist, an individual may learn to know oneself better, but he will never be able to comprehend how he functions.