One of the core tenets of Taoism is an idea called, “The Uncarved Block,” or, as it’s written in Chinese, “Pu,” (not to be confused with The Tao of Pooh although it IS the Tao of Pu.)
It refers, quite simply, to a piece of wood that’s never been touched, never been carved into a statue or an ornament or a utensil. It’s just the wood, as it came into and grew into this world. It’s in its’ primal, original state of being.
When the term is used to refer to the human experience, it means the primal state in which WE came into this world, untouched by experiences, prejudices, or dualistic thinking. And, of course, it implies that there was a SOMETHING that arrived when we were born, other than just a tiny little human body. There was a primal NATURE that came into the human body. Some people call it a Soul.
This has actually been a pretty hot topic for philosophers and psychologists for hundreds of years. Are we just reducible to the sum total of our bodies and brains, or is there something else that’s greater and somehow inhabits our bodies and brains? Another way of putting it is, “nature versus nurture:” are we born with a certain nature, an essence that existed before our birth, or are we simply whatever we learn as we go along in life, whatever we learn by being nurtured by our culture?
Aristotle came down firmly on the nurture side of the equation, saying that we are born as a, “tabula rasa,” a blank slate that life and culture writes upon. There is no soul, no pre-existing essence. The idea was later picked up by the English philosopher John Locke and thus made its way into modern psychology.
New Thought writers, of course, are advocates of nature, of the idea of our having a Soul that, “arrives,” in this world using the vehicle of our bodies. What’s more, they see the Soul as being pretty cool when it dances into the physical world. To quote Esther Hicks/ Abraham in Ask and It Is Given: Learning to Manifest Your Desires:
“You are eternal beings who have chosen to participate in this specific physical life experience for many wonderful reasons . . . You are eternal Consciousness, currently in this wonderful physical body for the thrill and exhilaration of specific focus and creation.”
In other words, when we first get here we are beautiful, spiritual beings, full of joy, who have come here on a mission that INCLUDES having a lot of fun. To use a phrase from AA, we are happy, joyous, and free. We would feel a lot like The Sun Tarot card looks.
We arrive as beautiful, innocent, children, full of elation and radiating the euphoria of being alive in this enchanted garden that we call the Earth. We are naked and unadorned, and our original nature, our essence, our, “uncarved block,” is love. Pure love.
But then something happens. Perhaps we forget our original nature in the process of transitioning from being Spirits to existing in physical bodies. Perhaps, as some children do, we remember our original nature and still see the angels and the fairies, but our families and society soon beat that magic out of us. As Don Miguel Ruiz put it in The Four Agreements: A Practical Guide to Personal Freedom (A Toltec Wisdom Book),
“We are born with the capacity to learn how to dream, and the humans who live before us teach how to dream the way society dreams . . . we learned a whole new reality, a whole new dream. We never had the opportunity to choose what to believe or what not to believe.”
And we find ourselves wandering in Paradise, lost in the collective dream of our existence, with no memory that we are something far, far greater than our mere physical bodies. As the bible expressed it – in a phrase that christians never, never, never EVER quote – because then we wouldn’t need preachers: “You are gods, sons of the Most High, all of you.”
Or to use Joni Mitchel’s riff on it, “We are stardust, we are golden, and we’ve got to get ourselves back to the garden.”
That’s the rub, that’s the rough part for most of us: just remembering that we ARE spiritual beings and getting back to that garden. It’s not as if society exactly encourages us to act like we’ve all got Souls. If we really believed that we’re all part of the Divine, we’d treat each other with a shade more respect, wouldn’t we? If we actually looked at killing as killing a part of the Divine, we’d have a lot fewer wars, doncha think?
It’s actually become quite fashionable to laugh at the idea of a Soul. Many people view it as an anachronistic belief on a par with the idea that god is an old man sitting on a golden throne. Just silly crap that’s left over from our primitive religious views.
Can we PROVE that there’s a Soul? Of course not. Can materialists or atheists prove that there ISN’T a Soul? Of course not. What we CAN do is to intuit that there is a something that lies beyond and beneath our ordinary consciousness and reality.
In discussing the difference between the ego and what we really are in A New Earth: Awakening to Your Life’s Purpose (Oprah’s Book Club, Selection 61) Eckhart Tolle says:
“What a liberation to realize that the ‘voice in my head’ is not who I am. Who am I then? The one who sees that. The awareness that is prior to thought, the space in which the thought happens.”
In a similar vein, Jeffrey Schwartz, who is a neuropsychiatrist and uses very strict scientific standards of proof, argues in You Are Not Your Brain: The 4-Step Solution for Changing Bad Habits, Ending Unhealthy Thinking, and Taking Control of Your Life that there is something beyond the mere thoughts that our physical brains generate, something that directs our focus and can override our thoughts. He calls it, “The Wise Advocate,” and it sounds very much like the description of a Soul.
“The Wise Advocate knows what is best for you, it loves and cares for you, so it encourages you to make decisions in a rational way based on what’s in your overall best interest in the long term.”
That Wise Advocate, that space that exists between our thoughts, is where our Soul lives. It’s where our Soul is still naked, beautiful, innocent, and playing. It’s our original nature, our uncarved block.
All we have to do is find it again. Or at least try to be a chip off the old block.