What is Taoism – part 2


Making the body conscious

The Taoists found several millennia ago that obvious and very subtle factors disconnect us from our bodies. In the agricultural and industrial eras proceeding our own information age, people naturally engaged their bodies during the course of a normal work day. For most of us today, economic pressure to use and feel connected to our bodies is all but gone.

For example, regular physical activity provided constant reminders of the degree to which ancient peoples’ backs were connected to their neck, legs, hips and arms. Sitting and typing on a computer doesn’t provide the same feedback. Even everyday appliances that previously weighed one or two pounds now weigh ounces. The more we become dependent on information technology devices, the more we lose the connection with our innate sense of how our body should naturally function and feel.

On a more subtle level, we live in a culture of passive viewers, inundated with a ceaseless array of media images divorced from any sense of felt bodily experience. Television and film create unrealistic expectations about how we should or can manipulate our bodies without any realistic physical or emotional sense of the ongoing, patient training involved.

Commercials depict children begin a sport, grow up and win a world championship all within the space of a minute. Then, we wonder why exercising regularly is so challenging and downright impossible.

From another perspective, we are bombarded by scenes of unending violence in television and movies from war to action films to seemingly innocuous children’s programs. We become inured to this violence and the emotional tone it creates in our society, yet we don’t feel the pain of violence–whether emotional or physical. Real pain hurts and has nothing to do with an image. If we are then unfortunate enough to encounter real violence in the real world, we are severely shocked and unprepared for what it does to our bodies and the deeper levels inside our psyches.

Photograph by Eric Pickersgill from his series ‘Removed,’ in which he shows his subjects’ attachment to their cell phones and other handheld devices by asking them to ‘hold their stare and posture’ as he removes the devices from their hands and then takes their portrait
Photograph by Eric Pickersgill from his series ‘Removed,

Computers further contribute to the process of divorcing our bodies from our minds and spirit, making life for many people a completely cerebral event. The ever-accelerating pace of life in the computer age causes a profound alienation from ourselves, others and nature. The human body is a precious asset more precious than disembodied bits and bytes of information stored in some database.

Just as humans were constantly comparing their bodies with machines during the Industrial Revolution, so are people misidentifying their bodies with computers in the new Information Revolution. An extreme example of misidentification is the preoccupation with cybersex on the internet, where a live, vibrant, physical, emotional and psychic experience is turned into a dead simulation that teaches us that we are not human beings with living spirits, but merely disembodied images.

In an era of rampant overpopulation, cultural change and amorality, it is easy to disconnect from our hearts and souls. Societal expectations of how we ought to behave and what we should say and feel, along with the public images we feel we must project, are often at odds with our deeper honest feelings and spiritual aspirations.

With severe economic competition, and with so much to do and so little time in which to do it, there doesn’t seem to be enough space for meaningful personal relationships, deep reflection or prayer/meditation. Yet these are the fertile soil that allows our true spirituality to grow.

If we can’t be honest and open to what we genuinely feel within ourselves, how can we hope to connect to our spirit, which is intrinsically honest and open?