Introducing Daoist Philosophy & Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM)
Daoism was born out of Ancient China around 600BC by Lao Tse and inspired by the observation of nature and the external world. Daoist sages saw everything in a state of transition and through this impermanence, were wholly engaged yet unattached. The practice of wu wei, which translates as action of non-action, is considered the highest form of virtue and refers to the cultivation of a state of being in which our actions are in alignment with the ebb and flow of cycles of the natural world. It is a kind of “going with the flow” that is characterised by great effortlessness and wakefulness, one that is in no way premeditated but instead arises spontaneously and selflessly. ‘Dao’ translates as ‘way’. Daoism is of the way of living in harmony with the natural rhythms of the cosmos.
Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) is at its core based on Daoist principles. It’s strength lies in its holistic view of the body; using a metaphorical language it is a system whereby one can treat any disease – through acupuncture and herbs - by aiming to bring about a state of balance and harmony in the mind, body and spirit.
Yin & Yang, depicted in the commonly seen Tai Ji symbol in the image above, represent the dualistic nature of the material world we live in and shows the cycle from unmanifest (yin) to manifest (yang), things materialising and dissolving into nothing. The symbol is in actuality spinning. A key facet of Daoism is the understanding that these polar forces, yin and yang, are necessary in a material, dualistic world and to embrace the paradox reaching equilibrium of the two opposing forces. It is here we find the ‘way’, the point of Dao, where the illusionary veil of duality disappears to reveal oneness behind all phenomena.
Sages were particularly fascinated by water. They believed qi, energy, an animating life force, to flow through the body in the same manner water moves through and nourishes the Earth. When all is flowing, there is nourishment and all is well. However where there is tension, restriction and blockage, stagnation occurs. In our daily lives when we, like water, choose the path of least resistance, no longer clinging onto our thoughts, emotions, beliefs and patterns our qi can flow freely.
In TCM the body is seen as a microcosm of our environment and the cosmos. As a self-regulating organism, we are in constant communication with our environment. The meridian channels move through the whole body, through the connective tissue and each channel and point along it relates to an organ, an element and specific quality. The meridian network is constantly striving for homeostasis.
The Five Elements are a subdivision of yin and yang. They are a comprehensive template organising all natural phenomena into five master groups or patterns in nature. Each of the five groups—Wood, Fire, Earth, Metal, and Water—include categories such as a season, a direction, climate, stage of growth and development, internal organ, body tissue, emotion, aspect of the soul, taste, colour, sound etc. The Five Elements reflect a deep understanding of natural law, the Universal order underlying all things in our world.
It provides a master blueprint that expresses how nature interacts with the body and how the different dimensions of our being impact each other. When studying the Five Element Framework it is important to emphasise that this multi-dimensional view of life offers a diagnostic framework to recognise where imbalances—body, mind, emotions, and spirit lie.
Living in Harmony
Daoism and TCM highlight the value of living in harmony with nature, the rhythms of the seasons and being fully aware of the body for - as the sages would say - “when the host is away, guests enter”. Meaning without internal awareness, all sorts of illnesses can come in. It is an ancient discipline that holds much value to the world we live in today where increasing urbanisation, technology use and global consumerism can result in a disconnection with nature, over emphasis on the thinking mind and mis-alignment with the seasonal energies.
Bringing the principles of wu wei into ones personal life facilitates harmony, acceptance and fluidity. Furthermore it reminds one not to grasp onto anything, as it is through the grasping and lack of acceptance for what is, that we suffer.
Through our life we have a tendency to be attached to and hold onto our experiences, beliefs, thoughts, emotions, habits and possessions instead of letting go and walking into the unknown we cling to the past ultimately stopping ourselves from having space and moving forward into a new phase of experience. From a Chinese Medical standpoint this is what causes dis-ease; a lack of movement and resistence to change with nature’s rhythms. Becoming stagnant and set in ones ways - one doesn’t allow for the movement that’s fundamental for life to thrive. This will lead to the flow of Qi becoming impeded within the body and channel network. As soon as you have a thought, emotion or experience that is recurring in your life, that you are unable to transform or let go of, your Qi is becoming stagnant creating a state of dis-ease.
Ideally emotions should not be held onto or repressed. Be like the tree, when all is turbulent and the wind blows it shakes its branches. And when the wind ceases the tree falls back into stillness not holding onto anything. Unlike the tree, we as humans have become socialised and conditioned not to fully express and release emotion and trauma as it may have been or is deemed unacceptable or socially inappropriate.
The one constant in life is change, yet we tend to resist it Becoming stuck prevents the necessary movement that is fundamental for life to thrive. So as we embrace change and bring about harmony, clarity and restoration to the microcosm of our bodies, minds and spirits; in turn we too can resolve the issues humanity faces collectively in the macrocosm through better alignment with nature, sustainability and harmonious relationships. Both microcosm and macrocosm reflect each other.
Essentially as we heal ourselves, we heal the world around us.
By Jack Weaver
Acupuncturist & Co-founder of The Shanti Space