I became a Taoist by accident. I suppose I was exposed to the ideas years ago but I hadn’t thought about them seriously in years. What I had been studying was Jungian psychology and the phenomena of synchronicity. What follows is an overview of the evolution in my thinking over the last year.
I engage with synchronicity to a rather extreme degree. At this point I would actually have trouble making decisions without it. In my engagement with it I came to the conclusion that these synchronous occurances weren’t separate but interconnected into a web structure. More importantly these occurrences seemed to have distinct intentions in terms of my actions and my life. If I was following the promptings of these meaningful coincidences things went almost ridiculously in my favour but if I did the contrary, well… My friend and I made a saying to explain it. “One should not attempt to leave the synchrotrain whilst it is in motion.”
We also noticed that the patterns we were subject to related to the hero’s journey or monomyth. What we called jumping from the synchrotrain Joseph Campbell had called rejecting the call. The intention of synchronicity distinctly seemed to be that I engage with my mythic story and work on becoming who I am, individuation. It was shortly after recognizing similarities between the hero’s journey and the synchronicity experience that I began sweeping life changes that have only intensified in the year since. I am shocked at how different I am from who I was even four months ago let along a whole year.
I got more into Jungian psychology reading about how he structured the psyche, how libidinal investment works, and what roles the main archetypes play. Unfortunately Jung was not very systematic in the presentation of his ideas. He was more like an explorer in the land of the mind, describing things as he encountered them. The best book I’ve yet found on his ideas is The Jung Lexicon by Daryl Sharp, which lists key concepts and defines them using excerpts of Jung’s own words. A little work on my part to understand the connections between concepts has given me an understanding of Jung’s thought that I am quite happy with.
Analyzing situations in terms of Jung’s style of libidinal investment, as opposed to say Freud’s, and using the myers-briggs typology system based on Jung’s work lead to me making quite a number of stunningly accurate predictions about people’s behaviour. I noticed also that the symbolic communication of synchronicity and the investment analysis told me the same things. I came to the conclusion that they were both ways of looking at the same underlying structure. That there was a sort of internet structure of unconscious communication of libidinal investments and their archetypal expressions underlying our experiences and leading to the irruptions of meaning we label synchronicity. I called this structure the infranet, stealing a term from comic book writer Grant Morrison.
I lived by this combination of accelerating self growth and understanding of others, trying to stay on the path indicated by the “synchrotrain.” Over time I noticed a kind of pulsing in the flow of events. Sometimes I was really going and things happened with ease and other times there just didn’t seem to be any energy to get anything done. After observing this pattern for a while, I started to call it ebb and flow. I realized that in addition to the situation conditions of ebb and flow, I had a choice of attitudes of action centering and extending, which were terms I borrowed from Aikido. I found that when things were in a flow condition I was best served by an attitude of extending or going with the flow. When things were in an ebb condition an attitude of center was most effective, conserving and concentrating my energy.
After practicing matching my attitude to the conditions for a while, I began to realize that I could feel ebb turning into flow and flow turning into ebb. Ebb turning and flow turning gave rise to two new attitudes, willing and setting. This gives us a four phase and cycle of action: willing, extending, setting and centering. When ebb turns into flow is when willing the direction that you will extend in will be the most effective. When flow is turning into ebb it is time to set or solidify your gains rather than pouring more energy into achieving more. The system of the I ching also has these four phases.
It was shortly after this point that I realized that at any given moment the conditions could be described in terms of three ebb or flow conditions. There was the condition of the moment, the condition of the day and of the period. The period length shifts around a bit but it seems to hover somewhere between a week and a month. I realized that my personal model had a high degree of overlap with the trigrams of the I ching. This lead to me doing some rereading of Taoist texts. I discovered that between my ebb/flow observations and my intuitive interactions with synchronicity my personal model was essentially Taoist. For that matter so was Jung’s.
I’ve since been getting into Taoist internal alchemy which syncs up nicely with the ideas of Wilhelm Reich and I’m beginning to see how the ideas of Reich and Jung can be reconciled, a project I’ve been interested in for at least a year.