Carl Rogers meets taoism...
Carl Rogers meets taoism...
Whenever I feel stuck working with a client or in personal life, I remember Carl Rogers’s notion of acceptance: “The curious paradox is that when I accept myself just as I am, then I can change.”
It has been my mantra and worked many times as a restart and reminder of the fact that I am pushing too hard and that sometimes it is enough just to accept without the need to change things.
Do you think ‘just accepting ourselves’ is too simple to be a useful philosophy of life? We often feel things must be complicate to be effective. However, accepting whatever we feel, think, or how we act is not easy at all. It is difficult. The reason being, our brain makes sure that we are surviving (it is not that much invested in our thriving), and part of the survival mechanisms is to avoid any uncomfortable feelings, thoughts and attached judgments to it. As a result, we find it hard to 'just accept'.
In Taoism (or daoism is you wish) there is an important principle called ‘wu wei’ used in meditation, qi gong or tai chi exercises, translated as ‘action of non-action’. Being familiar with qi gong, I realised that 'wu wei' has a lot in common with Rogerian requirement of the acceptance before any change can happen.
Acceptance means ability to ‘receive’ or ‘take in’ without judgments and impeding the effect of the receiving entity has on us. In psychology, we talk about accepting feelings, emotions, thoughts despite what judgments we have pinned to it.
For example, you may have no work to do and suddenly you feel intense guilt about it and are compelled to do anything (however unnecessary it may be) to avoid the feeling of guilt. Or you may feel insecure, but because you have learnt (perhaps from your parents) that being confident is the only way to win in life, you feel the need to hide your insecurity. You feel the urge to modify your feelings or thoughts.
This way, you will always be anywhere else than in the moment. Knowing that our brain’s priority is for us to feel safe, is an important step to learn about how the survival mechanism works and that we can change the repeating thought-feeling pattern. Through ‘wu wei’ (in other words, acceptance) we can achieve these changes, rather than eliminating anything that brings us discomfort.
Allan Watts uses an analogy of a rowing boat. He explains that rowing requires immense strain and hardship to move against the current of a body of water. On the other hand, sailing uses the forces of nature, namely the power of the wind, to move the boat forward.
Sometimes we cannot move on, because we are stuck in the past, in the survival's rhetoric. We are disconnected from our physical and emotional bodies. Our inner parts hide from us, because we scolded them for being ‘too angry’, ‘too vulnerable’ or ‘too sad’. We don’t want to feel them. They are not fun. So we keep hiding them, using justifications, rationalisations, avoidance, judgments that we project on to others. We use anything that helps us keep these uninvited guests silent. And it feels sensible and intuitive. Because we have been taught by our parents, teachers, the society this is the way to do it. But then perhaps anxiety, panic attacks, issues in relationships creep in our life...
In my practice, I encourage my clients to adopt the principle of ‘wu wei’ and go with the wind rather than trying too hard against the current. You too can try to feel whatever occurs. Try just for a moment... It may surprise you that the anxiety you are getting in touch with is not so scary anymore if you understand the mechanism behind it. Without letting it in, you cannot gain a deeper understanding... Understanding of what your survival-thirsty brain tries to sweep under the carpet and why.
The benefits of 'wu wei' will be an increased awareness about the workings of your survival, ability to decipher the connection between your thoughts, feelings and actions, gaining more control over your responses, emotions and ultimately an opportunity for a big transformation. Because when we 'wu wei' we 'see' whatever presents in front of us and with letting it be without any judgment, it can unfreeze and transform.
In other words, we cannot change what ‘does not exist’ in our consciousness. So first we have to face it and be with it. For just a little moment....
Photo credits go to Francois Genon from Unsplash.