"What do we need? What does the Earth need?"

Carsten Dohnke interviewed by the Frankfurter Ring, June 2021.

(Interview conducted by Brita Dahlberg from the Frankfurter Ring)

Frankfurter Ring: Can you explain the concept of your training, “Tao and Qigong – The Art of Living”?
Our training concept, “Tao and Qigong – The Art of Living,” offers a unique journey of inner transformation, healing, and spiritual development. Our aim is to foster a deeper connection to oneself, to others, and to life. We strive to provide each participant with the opportunity to unfold their creativity, potential, and inner wisdom, while also becoming healthier and more vibrant. Central to this journey are Qigong, Tao meditation, and healing practices.

Why did you choose the Tao approach as your life path?

The wisdom of Tao has fascinated me since childhood and is more relevant today than ever before. Taoism emphasizes the appreciation of nature and the idea that as humans, we are part of a larger whole that should live in harmony with nature. The Taoist wisdom offers a comprehensive system that values physical strength, flexibility, and vitality, as well as energy work, meditation, and healing. We have integrated these diverse Taoist practices into the image of the elephant to illustrate their mutual support, particularly the interplay of physical practices, meditation, and traditional Chinese medicine.

Why is Taoist wisdom so pertinent in our time?

In our digital age, many people have lost touch with their bodies and with nature. They are constantly in a mental mode, feeling overwhelmed by the hectic pace of life and subjected to constant stress. In my opinion, it is not enough to simply meditate and unwind, although that is a wonderful practice that I am happy to teach. We must also rediscover our bodies and cultivate our life energy to experience inner transformation, vitality, and healing. Qigong, Taiji, and Taoist meditations help us to arrive at ourselves, strengthen our center, and be well grounded. Given the significant challenges of our time, such as climate change and loss of biodiversity, inner changes are as important as political measures. Only when we feel ourselves as part of life and nature are we ready to support necessary changes from within.


You often talk about healing on the five levels of being. What do you mean by that?

We are complex and multi-layered beings. To enable inner transformation and spiritual growth, it is important, in my view, to integrate all levels of our being. This is a key point of our training and all seminars. These levels are also levels of healing and integration. It is an ancient “inner map of our existence” from the Asian tradition that corresponds one-to-one with the Taoist wisdom. Our various levels of being, such as the physical or emotional realm, are referred to as “bodies” here. Concepts of modern therapy forms, such as Dr. Klinghardt’s neurobiology, are also based on this map.

Can you explain this “inner map” in more detail?

This map explains the connection between our body and mind. It states that working with our physical body and our energy is the basis for healing and change. Our physical body corresponds to our basic level of being. The life forcewe feel within us is our second level of being. This is also called the energetic body. For example, one can be quite healthy but still exhausted. Then one would have a deficit on the second level. In the long run, this would also affect us physically and emotionally.

Our mental body, also called the emotional realm, is our third level of being. It sounds complex, but it’s simple: this is where our personal experiences are stored. Thus, it is also the place of our emotions, unresolved conflicts, and traumas. Our beliefs also originate here. Including this level is of great importance because if we cannot integrate and resolve our shadows and conflicts, it’s like constantly pressing the brakes while driving. We won’t get anywhere. Therefore, this level is one of the biggest blockages on the path of growth and realization. Many inner practices specialize in this level.

The fourth and fifth levels of being are called the intuitive body and the level of mind, spirit or unity. In guided and silent meditations, we can connect with these levels. In the fourth level of being, one experiences a melting of one’s own boundaries and a connection to the forces of the cosmos. This level can resolve old issues in the ancestral lineage and family network while simultaneously connecting us to cosmic energies. Sometimes there are out-of-body experiences, visions, or similar phenomena here. In many Taoist meditations, one consciously enters this dimension. On the one hand, because old issues can be resolved here, on the other hand, because it allows cosmic forces and information to be stored in one’s own cells “like a download.” 

The level of mind is also called the level of non-duality. The central element of this level is, as the word suggests, that we experience “unity experiences” here, i.e., a merging with “being,” with “Tao.” In silent meditation, this dimension can sometimes shine through very subtly, like a taste. Here we enter a kind of timelessness, like a return to our origin. In other words: “Because we become inwardly empty, life can fill us.” Therefore, this dimension can profoundly change us. It often awakens a primal trust in existence and thus dissolves fears and the “inner drivenness” that many people carry within them. Moreover, here unfolds an inner joy and gratitude that we are alive. And at the same time, a deep humility, because we realize that we are part of something greater. All mystical experiences, regardless of the spiritual tradition, occur on this level. Because they go beyond our personal existence. The entire Tao Te Ching, the classic of Taoism, is permeated by the level of mind. The character “Tao” also means “primordial beginning” ,”non-duality” or “being.”

How do the five levels of being work together?

The five levels of being are all interconnected. And this interconnection holds some interesting insights for us: As already mentioned, our body and our life energy form the basis for healing, unfolding, and growth.

However, real inner transformation occurs on the higher levels of being, which also belong to the realm of the unconscious and transcendence. Here, 99% of our decisions are made. The experiences and insights we gain here act as new impulses on the level of the soul and have incredible power. However, they can only be brought into the world and lived if our body and our energy play along. Otherwise, these experiences in us fade away like a beautiful dream and will have nothing to do with our everyday life.

Working with the third level of being, the mental body, is of paramount importance. Because unresolved emotions, traumas, and denying beliefs such as “I may not and cannot be healthy” unconsciously determine our entire life. This is essentially about working through our life story. Blockages on this level severely limit our life energy and physical condition. Moreover, they also act as a lid for the higher levels of being. They sever our connection to our inner wisdom, to hidden potentials, and “to the Tao” within us.

The first three levels of being concern our personality, the fourth and fifth levels go far beyond. Both deal with the big questions of life like: “What is life,” “Who am I,” “How can we dissolve suffering” or the great questions of mysticism such as: “Is there something that was never born and never dies”? Therefore, they contain enormous potential. The Taoists and all spiritual systems consciously emphasize meditation and inner reflection. Disharmonies and deficiencies that we perceive on one level did not necessarily originate there. So many physical weaknesses or illnesses have their cause in emotional conflicts on the third or fourth level. Consequently, the solution or healing is also on these levels. Experiencing this physically is like a “game changer” for many people.

There are impulses from bottom to top and from top to bottom. Changes in the physical or energetic body create a new opening for impulses and energies from the higher levels of being. Meditative experiences in the intuitive body or on the level of mind also have a healing effect on the lower levels.
As a symbol for the interaction of the five levels of being, we have chosen an iceberg in the ocean. The ocean symbolizes the level of non-duality or the Tao. This level transcends our current life but has nothing to do with our individuality. Interestingly, the iceberg is essentially just frozen water or “frozen ocean,” i.e., vitality in structured and sometimes stagnant form. In the West, we like to call this “personality.”


Why did you also integrate Western approaches to stress reduction and self-development?

Because the third level of being, i.e., the level of our emotions and inner wounds, is immensely important. Even in the Taoist wisdom, this level is acknowledged. However, not every seminar participant can meditate endlessly to resolve inner issues. Moreover, many people in this digital age are trapped in their stress patterns and thought worlds. And modern Western techniques in the field of stress reduction, therapy, perception, or coaching are very effective because they are specifically tailored to this level and designed for us.

An example of this is Tao communication, which we like to integrate into all seminars – a meditative form of communication in which one listens from the heart to another person for an extended period and at the end shares what positive qualities one sees in them or what the next step in life might be. Many participants are deeply touched by this, and often it leads to healing of old issues and new creative processes.

Although this is not intended to be a therapeutic practice, it has very healing qualities. Because our emotional wounds generally arose in relationship with other people, due to feeling unloved, hurt, overlooked, unaccepted, or unseen. Therefore, they can also be most easily healed in the relational space. However, this requires the compassionate presence of another person. A communication form in which someone perceives us from the heart, listens to us, and appreciates our inner qualities is therefore invaluable.

Allow me to give an example: Many spiritually interested people like to travel to Asia or other countries to visit a master or spiritual teacher there. And what do they wish for when making such a long journey? That the master is very busy when they meet him and then gives them a book with many exercises to do over the next few years? No one wishes for that. Because it doesn’t touch us. We wish to be recognized and appreciated in our being. That someone listens to us, recognizes our suffering and our potential, and also bears witness to it. This can be life-changing because only this loving contact allows hidden qualities of ours to enter into a larger field and make them alive. And a quick question: who can really listen nowadays?

What relationship exists between the Five Levels of Being and the social level?

In summary, processes of healing, transformation, and spiritual insights are easier to achieve when all levels of being work together in a supportive manner. This makes the seminars and especially our training “Tao and Qigong – The Art of Living” very interesting. At the same time, we are also social beings. Therefore, healing generally also requires a social level, a “we-level,” as the modern philosopher Ken Wilber said. Because healing also means wholeness. As individuals, we couldn’t even survive. And the closer the relationships we enter into, the greater the problems often are. Practices in groups or with a partner are therefore very beneficial for our “unfolding” – practices in which we touch, feel, or perceive. This is particularly interesting on a spiritual level.

Does the social level also support spiritual progress?

Many people think of spiritual experiences in terms of light and energy experiences. Or states of deep silence. But that alone does not hit the core: All spiritual traditions emphasize that we are touched and permeated by something greater than our personal existence. That’s why terms like “Tao,” “divine,” etc., are always used. In a mystical experience, our personal self dissolves. What touches us is not something outside of us or far away but, in other words, “being” itself. Therefore, practices in which we learn to perceive and feel others also have a preparatory mystical quality. Because a person who deeply touches us, simply because we listen to him or her, symbolizes life in this moment.

In reality, however, I often experience a split here: unresolved issues of the “wounded child” and the inability to form healthy social bonds often lead people to seek scomfort and redemption in the divine, with a guru, or in the seclusion of meditation. Or they cover up the inner wounds with physical strength, constant doing, and striving to prove oneself. Often so skillfully that they no longer perceive them. But that’s not how it works. One has landed in a projection. The result of this inner split is then served to us again and again in life. Close and intimate relationships are the best teachers here, as all therapists know.

And to what extent does our spiritual development influence our actions?

Let me return to the beginning: We no longer live as we did 2000 years ago and are facing the greatest upheavals in human history: the climate crisis, the dying oceans, and the loss of biodiversity. That alone is sad enough. Even sadder is that we would only need to collaborate and communicate from the heart, both on a small and large scale. But apparently, we cannot. We revolve too much around ourselves, trapped in our conflicts and fears, without a deep version of who we are. Since we generally have no real inner contact with ourselves, we also cannot experience deep relationships with other people, with nature, or even with life, with the “Tao.” Not to mention feeling 20 or 50 years ahead. That’s why many people, companies, and governments, as long as they have not been directly affected, have so far tried to ignore the changes in the world, climate change, and the loss of species. Or postponed all action. The core sentence has always been and still is for many: “The important thing is that we get away with it cheaply!” We have not experienced ourselves as guests on this earth and as part of nature. Therefore, we do not feel a genuine connection to nature in our hearts, which naturally leads to new ethical actions. If our perspective does not change quite quickly, this will have dramatic consequences for our life on earth, as we all know. In this respect, spiritual practices offer us a huge opportunity. And because the wisdom of Taoism in all its facets emphasizes this connection to ourselves, to nature, and to life so much, I believe that the teaching of Taoism is more relevant today than ever before.

Have these insights influenced your training?

Definitely! All of this has motivated me and my partner Dewi to create a new training. Even the seminars have changed as a result. In summary, it’s all about each of us and about life. In other words, health, Qigong, strengthening the body and vitality, as well as working through our shadow side, are immensely important to us. But even more important to us is that we gain a new inner vision of who we are and experience ourselves as part of a larger whole. In mysticism, this is referred to as the discovery of our true nature. From this higher perspective, embedding, inner touch, and perhaps even humility, our actions can then more easily change. And besides, we can live our inner wisdom, creativity, and previously hidden potentials.

What is particularly close to your heart in the seminars or in the training “Tao and Qiong – The Art of Living”?

How something begins. This is also referred to as the law of the beginning. “Every beginning holds a secret,” as Hermann Hesse said. Therefore, how something begins is important. The character “Tao” consists of the elements “head” and “foot,” literally translated as “The beginning that manifests itself.” Our true nature, the level of mind or the Tao, is already there. The Tao does not need to be newly created. Our personality only obscures it. It is already here, now. Therefore, if we start with a focus on “doing and practicing,” with the desire to “get better,” we generally end up in practice. The soul then quickly withdraws, and our personality takes over. So we stop perceiving the presence, feeling “what is.” However, if we start and continue with presence and valuing the moment, we start and end in being. Only then does life reveal itself in its depth. But that takes some time and also silence. Because the “Tao” doesn’t speak so loudly. All wisdom and deep insight begin here.