Taoism sees Life as one big process in which ‘things’ or ‘happenings’ are related and progress in a single flow. That movement follows one principle called Tao. Tao is how reality unfolds.
Despite this underlying unity, everything we observe is part of a duality. This is down to our faculties of perception and cognition. Presented with an undivided whole, a person cannot discern an ‘inside’ without simultaneously discovering (or creating) an ‘outside’. Any ‘left’ must have a space to its ‘right’. No ‘X’ appears unaccompanied by ‘not-X’ as the background against which it stands out.
These seemingly individual elements or qualities don’t exist absolutely, but only in relation to one another. They arise mutually in a conceptual parsing of unbroken reality.
Life’s fundamental relatedness means that I am not independent of nature. The myriad physical, emotional and psychological processes within me are really sub-routines of Nature’s one process. My activities as I observe, decide, act and learn are complex, but they are no more separate from Life’s larger flow than an eddy is from the stream in which it swirls.
It is a matter of realizing that oneself and nature are one and the same process, which is the Tao.
– Alan Watts
Yet… I feel separate, and I seem to take independent action. That is part of the game. As a person, an eddy in the flow of Life, I act based on who I am (my beliefs, abilities, habits, energy, etc) and the situation in which I find myself. ‘Who I am’ is the ‘inside’ and the ‘situation’ is the ‘outside’, but they are in constant interaction. For instance, my habits adjust based on the situations I face, and my routines influence what situations I wander into. Put more simply, inner and outer events are one flow.
This applies to all people. The actions of the ‘unenlightened’ are just as surely resonant with Tao as ‘awakened’ ones. Tao informs all of Life equally, with no preference for the aspects that seem more ‘Taoist’ or ‘flowing’. There is no moral duty to follow Tao; you cannot do otherwise.
Finally, Tao doesn’t announce its intentions. Understanding that events progress in keeping with Tao doesn’t give us any special idea of what will happen or what we should do. It may, though, grant us peace in uncertainty and equanimity during intense experiences. These in turn may allow us to make better decisions.
You and I are part of one flow. As you read this note from ‘the outside’, perhaps it, guided by Tao, impacts ‘your inside’ in some small way. Inside, I hope so.