The Tao of Insight

The Tao of Insight — I’ve been thinking lately about how conditioned we are. Let me quickly set a couple of parameters about this — Normal, Marginalized, and the Fringe

The willingness to be self expressive is the very thing that leads to insight.

And I use the word willingness intentionally. It requires force of will to be self expressive, as opposed to conducting your life by rote.

I’ve been thinking lately about how conditioned we are. Let me quickly set a couple of parameters about this.

Normal, Marginalized, and the Fringe


Let’s play follow the leader!

Normal might be thought of as our socialized self. Attempting to be normal is one, strong point on the polarity of self.

I’m convinced that part of the socialization project is to teach us to have amnesia, to not notice, the depth and breadth of our socialization.

Not only have webeen taught how to behave, think, and feel, but we’ve been set up to miss the fact that this is going on.

In Zen, this process is described as, “The fish does not notice the water it swims in.”

The whole process of waking up is about noticing.

It’s not about, necessarily, rebelling against our socialization. As a matter of fact, the kinds of rebellion that most people go through are socially sanctioned. Teenage rebellion, for example, is “contained” within the system. In a sense, teenagers are simply exchanging one set of behaviors for another, marginalized set.


Marginalization happens within the system. When we look at the marginalized in any society, we see that members of the society somehow manage to work around, or walk around, the marginalized person.

It’s like what happens in big cities, as people pass pan-handlers. If you watch, you see that there are certain behaviours performed over and over. A few give the pan-handlers money. Others walk by and pretend the person isn’t there. Some even go out of their way to move away from the pan-handler — across the street, or at least to move toward the curb. While it seems intensely personal, all of this is socially sanctioned.


If you observe, you see that this dance is not a ton different from elevator behaviour. You get on the elevator, turn toward the door, and look up the numbers — no eye contact, typically no conversation, or only conversation with people you know. If you don’t believe that this is socially conditioned behaviour, the next time you’re on an elevator with other people, turn and either face the back or side walls. See what happens.

What happens is that you’ve stepped outside of the allowed behaviour for elevators.

You’ve even moved beyond marginalization. Somewhere, out there, is the realm of, “This does not fit in.” Now, there’s no question that the other people in the elevator will figure out a way to adjust to the way you’re standing. However, if you allow yourself to pay attention, you’ll see all sorts of signs of their discomfort. And, because this experience is likely “one off” — in other words, something that isn’t happening regularly, the adaptation will only last as long as the elevator ride does. It does not get incorporated into “the norm.”

You might say then, that behaviour designed to be disruptive or simply strange (think weird fashions, protest marches, generation-based language, etc.) if it is deemed harmless, is incorporated into society’s definition of “out there but acceptable.”

You feel a bit of discomfort when you first confront the behaviour, and then you “let it in.” All of this is happening outside of your consciousness. Until you choose to notice!

The Fringe is my take on the term fringe dwellers, which comes from Stuart Wilde. Wilde is a semi famous Taoist. I’ve been reading and appreciating his stuff for decades. He is responsible for one of the lines I quote a lot – “The way it is, is the way it is.” He calls the people who awaken, who “get it,” fringe dwellers. I suspect he means the same thing that Saint Paul did when he wrote about “being in the world but not of the world.”

In other words, the person has learned the tools and techniques for operating within the culture, while not buying into the siren song of the culture.

We might, then, say that waking up and being self expressive means that you notice, or become aware of, the mindless numbness that comes from not paying attention.

From an internal perspective, this means that you are capable of seeing through the game. Emphatically, what this does not mean is that you become pain-free, or otherworldly, or bounce around in a state of relentless happiness. You become aware of the way things are, you become aware of your emotions, and you put no judgement or restrictions on any of it. The way it is, is the way it is.

Let’s use the present swine flu situation as an illustration. First of all, notice the socialized, herd mentality reaction. Mostly, what you see is hyperbolic writing, an underlying panic, and the famous demand, “They need to do something about this!” They, meaning the government, the medical establishment, the drug companies — someone — to make the thing all better, so that the herd can go back to grazing. Now, I’m not saying that the awake position is to ignore the situation. The awake person asks,

What, exactly, is going on right now, and what can I do to maximize my chances of avoiding the swine flu, should it actually amount to something?”

At the end of the day, all that you can do is what you, personally, choose to do. Panicking, getting upset, stomping your feet, demanding that “they” do something — all are behaviors that fit with what you have been trained to do — panic, then look outside of yourself for rescue.

The awake person knows that all you can ever deal with is what is actually happening. As of April 29th, for the vast, vast majority of us, right now, nothing is happening. Good diet, good hygiene, some vitamins, reducing your stress — these are the things you can do right now–things that are good for you anyway. And if swine flu turns into something bigger, all each of us can do, individually, is to look after ourselves as best we can. Annoying yourself over this does not change the situation. The way it is, is the way it is, until it isn’t.

This is not nihilism

Nor is it denial. What it is, is simple acceptance. It is simple, because it lacks drama — it lacks panic, game playing, and demands. It is living by using self responsible insight. It is acceptance, because wishing something wasn’t happening, or screaming “It’s not fair!” changes nothing.

Once I accept, simply, what is, I free myself to act.

You might say that insight means seeing into. The opposite, obviously, is outsight, a word that doesn’t even exist. And yet, outsight is the norm. Outsight is what the top part of this article is all about. Outsight places your point of reference, outside of yourself — looking to the field, to others, to define yourself and your behavior. Centering — insight brings everything both into your own awareness and under your own responsibility.

Fringe dwellers operate from insight

If you don’t understand that total self responsibility is a characteristic of the fringe, you just don’t get it. Insight means mastering the ability to know yourself. Knowing yourself requires asking the question,

What, specifically, is going on for me right now, and what, specifically, can I do to move in a direction I choose to move in?”

The answer you come up with is yours, and yours alone. Others on the same path may resonate with what is going on for you, or with your decision, but basically, this is about landing in yourself and staying there.

The sixth Chakra (the third eye Chakra) is the home to insight, self-awareness, and intuition.


The kicker here is that we are all intuitive. We all have a sense of the truth of the matter — of what is. The path of intuition is that of acceptance of the totality of our experience.

We use the expression “gut feeling” to describe an aspect of intuition, for example. What this really means is that we sense in our bodies what we ought to be doing. In all my years of counselling, I’ve never met anyone who was totally surprised by the results of their choices. They all had a sense that their dumb behaviour was going to head south, and rapidly, and they did it anyway — usually thinking that they were so special that they ought to get away with the dumb behaviour. Being bit on the ass often brings people running into therapy.

Society hates intuition and insight

It has to. Intuition and insight often lead us to act, to be, different from the norm — and society is all about conforming. Fringe dwellers get the joke. They wear a button that reads, “Run, Lemmings, Run!” If the huddled masses want to run off in panic, or sit down in the middle of a huge pity party, fringe dwellers simply walk rapidly in the opposite direction. No matter what they experience, they immediately ask the question, “What’s really going on here?” They dig deeper. They realize that they’re always going to have a socialized reaction to what’s going on, but have no investment in actually doing what society dictates.

When you see through things, leaving your mind and your body open to the possibility of something new emerging, something new emerges.

Insight requires paying attention, while having a light touch. Insight requires paying attention to all of you — to body mind and spirit. Next week, we’ll look at ways to do this.

Make Contact!

So, how does this week’s article sit with you? What questions do you have? Leave a comment or question!

About the Author: Wayne C. Allen is the web\‘s Simple Zen Guy. Wayne was a Private Practice Counsellor in Ontario until June of 2013. Wayne is the author of five books, the latest being The. Best. Relationship. Ever. See: –The Phoenix Centre Press

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