How to make this easier for yourself, this ride on the planet round the sun and the sun round the galaxy, how to optimize your enjoyment and along with that, effectiveness and productivity in any given moment, how to make the best life-changing decisions, how to remain free of self-created traps involving obligations to others, how to divest yourself of the worry over what others will think of you, how to feel true satisfaction in every moment despite how tricky any challenges to hand may be, how to arrive at the end of the ride knowing you received and gave the most possible value and so feeling replete rather than cheated, how to attain and maintain harmony in your relations with all others – these are the questions Taoism addresses and specifically your writer as one avid explorer of the Taoist ways – there are many angles and avenues of experimentation but perhaps one of the most crucial is developing the capacity to retract instead of react.
By which I mean when the pressure of life, in whatever form that presents itself, makes you feel you're under attack, you don't react like a mad monkey, you retract your center of gravity and the point from which you're observing and hence experiencing it all, backwards so you're gazing out from the back of your head instead of the front, and the weight of your inner presence is gathered in and behind your spine instead of allowing it to habitually fall forwards into the front of you.
While this is the simplest thing to do, it's challenging because we're more used to using the mind to think with, rather than for this kind of proprioceptive awareness, but once you get the hang of it, it's as easy as falling off the proverbial log.
Start/restart now very simply by concentrating on the physical sensation of your lungs working, but as the breath gets expelled and inducted instead of focusing on how it feels in the front of you, concentrate on how it's feeling in the back. Two or three breaths and it draws your attention backwards, then all you have to do is follow it and you're in your back.
Then lean into your shoulder blades, push back into your kidneys to warm and comfort them, and let your mind sit leaning up comfortably against the interior of the rear wall of your skull.
Allow your heart some space in the front – imagine your breast bone opening from the middle outwards, like a pair of sliding doors opening in the front of you to reveal the unique beauty of your soul (because this enables you to maintain a connection with everyone and everything at soul-level, and thus precludes alienation and disassociation).
The discipline then is merely to remember to keep doing it, especially whenever experiencing internally or externally generated interference to your equilibrium.
And why is this such an important key?
Because the front of your body, aside from the protection offered by your breast bone, pubic bone and forehead (frontal) bones, is mostly exposed and hence vulnerable, and hence insecure.
Meanwhile, due to millions of years of programming to be afraid of and on the alert for real-life danger (wild animals, cavemen/women with clubs etc), that survival fear produces a fairly constant tendency to contract the muscles around the solar plexus, which in turn contracts the lower abdomen, chest, throat and face. This contraction inhibits circulation and the natural functioning of your vital organs, depletes your immune system, and interferes with your innate enjoyment of being alive.
And the heat produced by friction caused by this contraction, rises into the front of the brain and stimulates it.
Meanwhile because there aren't many wild animals or people with clubs around these days, i.e. no immediate actual danger, doesn't really know what to make of the fear impulse.
The front-brain, and specifically the lateral prefrontal lobes, is dedicated to fictive thinking – it creates stories to make sense of reality – and it's expert at doing a convincing job of it.
So as the rising heat stimulates it it creates fear-based stories to justify the fear in the solar plexus.
The solar plexus then reacts to those stories by contracting even more, and so on, and a vicious circle is instituted.
Chemically speaking to support this, your adrenals release cortisol, the fight/flight/freeze hormone, into the system every ten to twelve seconds because that's how long its effect lasts in the system.
Cortisol as a stimulant is highly addictive so without realising it you keep pumping it and pumping it.
That's the front of you – it's essentially a fearful, insecure, busy, noisy, overstimulated environment, and spending your time in there, you too become fearful, insecure, busied, noisy and overstimulated.
The reason you got stuck in there in the first place dates back to the first time you were required to perform for others in a way that went against your natural flow – ie, when your started school and were required to adapt and modify your behavioural repertoire to accommodate what would have been an alien culture to you at the time.
And on account of all your sense organs facing the front, hence giving the illusion of life occurring in front of you, and because life was suddenly demanding an unprecedented level of attention, you came forwards inside to get a closer grasp of it, and essentially forgot by and by to return to your natural position in the back.
And then the cortisol addiction kicked in and there/here you are in the front.
Because the front is dominated by the fictions created in your forebrain, the drama of being a person, being in the front with all that, you became the drama – you became a fictional character. You became the personality (from the Greek persona meaning mask), rather than the character informing it. And you learned to reference your whole experience of being you to external factors – specifically other people and their myriad doings, seeking your happiness in external achievements and the approval of others.
In summary as your societal conditioning took root and grew inside you, you progressively lost your connection to the true seat of power within.
As an embryo growing in utero, at a cellular level, you grew from the spine outwards – your back in other words is your original self.
And what made you grow, what made you be able to know you're here at all, was and is that primordial life-force and consciousness the Taoists call Tao. It was the Tao, meaning the Great Way (of everything) there in your back.
And the Tao has remained in your back all the while.
And now as you continue breathing in your back, you can feel yourself how the back environment has a totally different tonal quality to the front.
The back is relatively protected – the shoulder blades, rib cage, spinal column, hip bones and sacrum provide good protection - the kidneys and back of neck are the only exposed areas – and the muscles running down either side of the spine are strong.
As a result, the back is a secure environment – secure, not afraid, not busy, still, silent, soothing and filled with the original life-force and consciousness. And rather than being dominated by the fictive conscious mind with all its crazy tension-generating stories, the back is the realm of the subconscious mind.
The subconscious mind is the true intelligence – it is all-knowing, omniscient – its scope limited only by the limited parameters of the conscious mind, which serves as interpreter between the two.
Sitting in the back you have instantaneously all the wisdom, all the answers, all the knowing you need to succeed each step of the way in optimizing your experience and your chances – you are thinking with the mind of the Tao.
Sitting in the back, you feel still, silent and strong – you are seeing things clearly free of preferences for the action to turn this way or that, on account of being able to see the innate cycles of yin and yang governing all phenomena, hence willing to let yin turn to yang and vice versa without meddling.
Yet you are able to maintain an intention for life to be and feel the way you want it to and life will respond to your intention.
So when it seems you're under attack, rather than react to whatever extent like a mad monkey, retract – retract yourself into your back, and then with your heart open in the front, allow the Tao inside to impel your actions, let that inform your response, and you'll be delighted with the results.
This is one of the most important things a person can learn, so spend a bit of time exploring it and feeling it out and observe how it radically transforms the quality and content of the experience of being you.