Tao in the Woods

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Tao in the Woods

When I lived in Atlanta, our property backed up to a wonderful forest preserve. Going through our back fence we could walk miles and never know we were in the middle of a major metropolitan area.

Shortly after we arrived, we got a Border Collie puppy we named Tao because he was so calm and wise. As he grew, Tao loved more than anything to see someone put on boots or gym shoes and head back toward the gate. The woods were like a dog Disneyland.

But Tao had an interesting characteristic I soon discovered on these walks: He had to lead. This was a little inconvenient, because he never knew where we were going, but he would spurt out in front of us, checking back over his shoulder every 10-20 seconds to make sure we were following.

Absolutely nothing was as great for him as when friends would visit and a whole bunch of us would go for a walk at the same time. He was in heaven, leading us all to wherever we were already going to go.

One day I came up with an experiment. I told everyone, as we prepared to go through the gate, when I make this signal, everyone turn 90 degrees left; this signal, 90 degrees right; this signal, everyone do an about-face and walk in the opposite direction. (Fortunately I never thought of splitting the group so it was walking in 4 different directions at the same time.)

So we started off, Tao in the lead, his tail like a flag, checking back over his shoulder from time to time. After a hundred yards or so, when he was pretty confident things were going as expected, I waited for him to check us, then I gave the signal and everyone marched off in a different direction. When he checked again, he was horrified to see he wasn’t leading us anymore, and he had to race to get back in front of us.

When I started training brains, I realized that Tao was a great analogy for the conscious mind. Our ego voice will do everything to convince us that if IT doesn’t understand or agree, no good can come of what we are doing.

Clients—usually early in training—especially when they are self-training—are constantly saying, I don’t “understand” the feedback. What’s “supposed to” happen? What am I supposed to feel? This doesn’t make any sense!

I ask them who is making those comments or asking those questions. Eventually they figure out that it is their conscious minds. Then I tell them the story of Tao in the woods.

The moral of the story is:

When you go for a walk in the brain-training woods, you need to leave the dog behind. He’ll whine and bark at the gate, warning you that you’ll get lost or eaten by a bear or something without him, but you have to leave him behind.

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