Tao Lin is the author of the new book, Trip: Psychedelics, Alienation, and Change. He is the author of the novels Taipei and Richard Yates and Eeeee Eee Eeee, the novella Shoplifting from American Apparel, as well as collections of poetry and short stories. Tao was born in Virginia, has taught in Sarah Lawrence College’s MFA program, and is the founder and editor of Muumuu House.
We are living in a time of accelerating change and uncertainty, which can feel chaotic and threatening. Animals, including us humans, have an instinctive tendency to automatically react to sudden changes as threats. Throughout most of humanity’s existence, life-threatening dangers were prominent and a hair-trigger reactivity served to protect us in a world that included saber-toothed predators. Humans haven’t changed much biologically in the last hundred thousand years. Our nervous systems are wired to fight, flee, or freeze at a moment’s notice.
When triggered by fear or anxiety, we react as though we are face-to-face with real danger even if there is none. This may be our automatic way of operating, but it is not the only way. We can learn to intervene with a beam of conscious awareness and interrupt our automatic reactions. We can train our tricky brains to go beyond fight-or-flight. There is another way, however.
The situations we face nowadays rarely, if ever, involve life-or-death, split-second decisions. In the absence of real life-threatening danger, we are free to become more creative and develop potentials that go beyond merely ensuring survival. Rather than feeling threatened, we can come to regard change as a friendly force. “Change is my friend,” is a visionary belief that is promoted in the Belief Engineering chapter of my book, Great Decisions, Perfect Timing.
People who see change as a positive force are more optimistic and can enjoy the up-and-down flux of life. In order to embrace change, we need to develop a more fluid relationship to time. People who fear change essentially want time to stand still. Their subconscious wish is for the illusory safety of a fixed and stable universe. The mechanical division of time into hours, minutes, and seconds – brought about by the recent invention of clocks – clogs the spontaneous flow of life energy. In order to fully relax, visionaries find ways to free their minds from the domination of linear time. They understand the value of “time outs” to intentionally loosen that domination by society’s over-controlling mechanical approach. This is good, but in actuality, there is nothing to escape, because if we take our eyes off the clock, our experience of time has a natural plasticity to it.
When we enjoy life, time seems to go too fast. When we are in resistance to circumstances, it seems to crawl. As so many great teachers have shown, the secret of joyful living is to maintain awareness of what is happening in the one time that is real – the present moment – and forget about future and past. To improve our strategic thinking and decision-making, we need to let go of trying to control things long enough to give our intuition a chance to be actively receptive.
Visionary decision-makers stay aware of how life is always in flux. The ultimate solution to “time management” is to develop a lifestyle where we can better transcend the measuring and parceling of time, and strengthen our intuitive sense of timing. Good timing, a fundamental component of every strategic decision, is the secret of surfing unpredictable waves of change. When we come to regard change as a friendly force, the success brought about by our improving sense of timing will provide encouragement to cultivate intuitive intelligence all the more … and life becomes an adventure rather than a hunkering down.
The symbol of the Tao — a circle enclosing two equal interlocking paisleys — is referred to as the “tai chi” symbol, or sometimes as the “yin-yang.” The outside circle represents the universal Tao, the “way” or “path” associated with a life lived in harmony with the cycles of change. It is also the closest thing in Chinese metaphysics to western concepts like ‘God,’ because the Tao also implies infinite potentiality. The dark paisley within the circle is the yin energy, which contains a white dot in the middle representing a yang aspect, to remind us that nothing is all yin or all yang. The same but opposite is true about the white paisley with its black dot. The circle is shaped like a wheel to convey cyclical movements, such as seasons and orbits, but also karmic returns.
Yin is conceived of as the feminine principle, (soft, tranquil, dark, receptive, flowing and containing) while yang is the masculine principle (hard, aggressive, light, focused and solid). Everything, including every individual personality, contains elements of both. The world, or the ‘Tao,’ is a mixing of black and white into myriad shades of gray.
The Chinese call the world’s oldest book “I Ching”, which translates as “Book of Changes.” This greatest of the surviving Taoist classical works was designed to serve as a divination system — for reading and interpreting life changes wrought by the constant interplay of the yin and yang universal energies. (Incidentally, I composed my first modern version of the I Ching text in 1989.)
The Taoist/Confucian tradition posits that juxtaposing a set of the possible permutations of yin and yang with elements of Chinese creation mythology produced the foundation of the I Ching. Pairing up the various combinations of yin (the literal ancient meaning of which is the shady north side of the hill) and yang (meaning the sunny south side of the hill) gives you four primary symbols. With the addition of another yin or yang line, the eight trigrams emerge.
The earliest composition of I Ching interpretations is attributed to King Wen. Toward the end of the Shang Dynasty, when the unjust emperor Zhou Wang imprisoned Wen, he reportedly used his confinement to meditate on the trigrams, pairing them up to produce sixty-four possible hexagrams. Each pair of trigrams took on a meaning specific to their combination. In what we might assume was an enlightened state of mind, King Wen assigned each of the sixty-four hexagrams a name, adding a few sentences to explain its meaning. It is said that his son, King Wu, added additional interpretative text, bringing the I Ching closer to its current form.
In every chapter of the I Ching, we have six lines consisting of a unique mix of yin lines and yang lines, making up 64 patterns. Each of these 64 hexagrams is an archetype of the human condition or human situations, based on the placement of yin and yang lines within it. The I Ching has for thousands of years been considered a sacred tool, a system that was originally only used by the nobility and sages to coordinate human activity with the natural rhythms of the Tao, the cycles of change. When I first incorporated Visionary Software in 1989 to publish Synchronicity, the first ever I Ching software, we developed a company logo that incorporated the Tao symbol, knowing that our business had to be about balance and integrity if it were to be of real service. The pioneering subatomic physicist Neils Bohr also used it when he was knighted in 1947. His family had no coat of arms, so he created one. He chose the yin-yang symbol and inscribed it Contraria sunt complementa (opposites are complementary).
The yin-yang symbol of the Tao is always good to have around, for it provides a clear visual reminder of how change, which is the only constant, operates in the world. As human beings have a special role to play in this world, the I Ching was encoded to help us interpret the patterns of change in society as well as our individual human lives, giving us a greater ability to anticipate and, indeed, play a co-creative role in positive or ‘lucky’ changes that sometimes just seem to happen. It is said that the symbol of the Tao and the use of the I Ching support within us the “Three Jewels of the Tao” — love, humility and moderation. Here’s to the emotional intelligence of Taoism, one of the most uplifting and practical philosophies of all time!
Sonia Miller is the author of The Attraction Distraction: Why the Law of Attraction Isn’t Working for You and How to Get Results- Finally!. Sonia has helped seekers around the world to realize their greatest aspirations since 1983. By sharing her expertise as an international life coach, teacher, speaker and energy healer, seekers discover how to reclaim their true nature as the Ultimate Manifestors of their lives.