The Tao of Elvis

Elvis Presley's life-from innocence to addiction, obscurity to fame-was a quest to balance opposites.

BY: David H. Rosen, M.D.

 
Excerpted with permission from The Tao of Elvis published by Harcourt Books.

The Tao is the divine principle of Taoism, the oldest Chinese religion, dating from the sixth century B.C. Taoism concerns confronting, containing, transcending, and transforming opposites-the task of all individuals. Elvis Presley was a man of Tao who struggled to balance opposites: poverty and wealth, female and male, old and new, good and evil, joy and sorrow, water and fire, dark and light, stillness and movement.

By the time Elvis was twenty-one (the midpoint of his life), he had lived out the American dream. Yet, Elvis did much more. He foreshadowed the sexual revolution and women's liberation, and as a nonconformist and revolutionary, of sorts, Elvis's style of civil disobedience broke down racial barriers in the music world, which prefigured the civil rights movement. Alice Walker wrote in her novel "The Temple of My Familiar," "In Elvis white Americans found a reason to express their longing and appreciation for the repressed Native American and black parts of themselves." When you consider that Elvis had Scotch-Irish as well as Jewish heritage, we see just what a multicultural icon he really is.

When we see Elvis, we see ourselves. Elvis symbolizes the battle between the true and false selves in us all.



The discrepancy between Elvis's true self and celebrated exterior caused him immense pain and agony. He became extremely despondent and sought refuge in drugs. Nevertheless, Elvis was on a spiritual quest, which is surely related to his later being seen as a religious figure. His favorite songs were gospels, and central to his spiritual life were the books "The Prophet," "The Impersonal Life," "Autobiography of a Yogi," and the holy Bible. He also practiced meditation and belonged to a worldwide yoga organization, the Self-Realization Fellowship.

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