TAO TE CHING TEACHINGS: Living in Stability

desolate

“The best places to live are level.”

This is also usually  translated as ‘the best place to live is the earth.’ Or ‘Where the Way dwells becomes good ground.’ Either way, it is not a literal teaching. Many Taoists favored living in difficult mountains and terrain that were anything but level! So what does this phrase mean?

In Taoist alchemy, Earth represents our centre, which, like the earth, should be stable and balanced. It becomes our internal crucible. A large portion of alchemy consists of generating and preserving energy or chi. If our centre is not stable, then as soon as we are upset, or our emotions arise, then our energy flies off. It is like pouring water into a cracked bowl – not matter how much we keep filling it up, energy will just keep leaking out of it. If we want to stop that energy from leaking, we must nurture our stability as much as possible.

What is stability? Stability is a harmonious state of inner strength. Remaining calm and placid at all times, we take precautions to prevent anything that could destabilize us. As Ancestor Lu taught:

“When you do not get confused,

Your nature naturally stabilizes;

When your nature naturally stabilizes

Energy naturally returns;

When energy naturally returns

The elixir spontaneously crystallizes

This is what we meant by living in stability

Meditation Exercise: Cultivating Tree Energy

Tree

This is an exercise taken from the Chi Kung Cannon, but it can be practiced by anyone interested in energy work, who wishes to attain a closer relationship with nature.

Firstly, you need a tree, preferably one that is large, strong, vibrant, and in an isolated, naturalistic environment, where you do not have to worry about being interrupted by strangers. For those who are particularly interested in cultivating vitality and longevity, a very old, but still living tree, is ideal. These are generally typified by their enormous height and prodigious girth, often possessing a hollow trunk, and an accumulation of warty, twisted growths known as ‘burrs’. Though, so long as you have access to a healthy, living tree, don’t worry too much about that at this stage.

Tree Gung

Once you have selected a tree, stand in front of it, with your body erect and relaxed, feet shoulder width apart, and your knees slightly bent. Place your hand onto the tree, relax, and just take a few moments to be with the tree, clearing your mind, and becoming one with the present. Then, when you feel you are ready to begin, close your eyes, or keep your gaze firmly fixed in front of you.

Take a long, deep, gentle breath inward, and, as you inhale, visualize vital energy being drawn in through your palms and through the crown of your head, and, retaining the breath briefly once you’ve reached maximum capacity, bring it to centre in the energetic chamber of your heart. Then, as you exhale slowly, smoothly, and gently, push this ball of energy down your abdomen, pelvis, down your legs, and into the ground, visualizing roots sinking deep into the energetic belly of the earth as you do so, nourishing you with its life-engendering soil, drawing nutrients, moisture, and energy back up into you.

Tree spirit

    Repeat this sequence as many times as you wish. I often like to intensify the visualization, by imagining myself as a tree spirit, with my skin made of bark, my limbs made of branches, and my hair whorled out of leaves and vines; though you can tailor it anyway that you feel deepens your sense of connection.

According to the theory of the five elements of Chinese Traditional Medicine and Taoism, as trees are symbolic of the wind/wood element, this is exercise is good for your liver and eye chi, helping to infuse you with a lively, gentle, interpenetrating, and care-free spirit. It can also to unify you with the other four elements, grounding yourself in the soil of Earth; nourishing yourself on the Metal minerals within; drawing up the moisture of Water with your roots; and connecting you with the sun in the sky which imbues you with the Fire energy both plants, animals, and humans need to live and photosynthesize.

Once you have finished, thank the tree for sharing its energy with you, and treat all life with reverence. It is good to reflect on the many virtues of the tree. As Lao Tzu said in the Tao Te Ching:

Well planted – Never Uprooted

Well embraced – Never lost

I hope you enjoy this exercise, and I’d love to hear about whatever results you experience!

Accepting Obstacles: The Serendipity of Delay

Sisiphus

Mercury has been in retrograde for at least a week now, and Saturn has been sticking his disruptive fingers into all of my pies. Over the last two weeks, I been beset by constant delays, aberrations, changes of plan, cancellations, obstructions, and complications; and, I’ve no doubt, many of you reading this have been too.

But the serendipity of obstruction and misfortune should not be overlooked. It is very easy to meet frustrations by becoming frustrated; very easy to meet complications by allowing our thought patterns to become complex. What these trying times really demand are patience, fortitude, clarity, acceptance, and farsightedness. If you are able to cling to these five virtues, no matter what, then no disruption will be able to unbalance your stability, no delay will be able to obstruct the free-flow of your spirit.

Delays and obstructions only upset us because we get too attached to our self-created notions of how the future should be. We tend to order our idealized futures very precisely, like a Japanese Zen Rock Garden, with every event, occurrence, and happenstance in its perfect place. So, if something happens that we have not planned, we find it difficult to compute. Our minds struggle to comprehend it, because, logically, it goes against the structuring of our beautiful, perfect plans.

But nature is not structured. Or, at least, not structured in the way we think of structure. Nature moves at its own pace and by its own set of immutable laws. It understands the serendipity of destruction and delay; it knows that every event and occurrence has its part to play in the never-less unfolding of the cosmos.

If a tree grew to its full height in a day, it would likely be lacking in complete strength and stolidity, and tumble down as quickly as it arose.

Plans function in the same way. Very often, we are impatient, and as soon as we visualize a new plan or aim for ourselves, we want it to come into effect immediately. But just how think how dangerous it would be if our intentions worked that quickly!

Imagine you want to be a rock-star. How would you cope with the transition from being an unknown amateur playing empty pubs to performing for millions overnight, and being hounded everywhere you go? Or say it’s your ambition to be great businessman and entrepreneur running a global conglomerate. How you would deal with from being self-employed on a small basis, to suddenly being responsible for thousands of employees, and billions of dollars worth of investments and business transactions? Very likely you would be overwhelmed in a moment, and feel like shitting your pants. Dreams that haven’t been properly prepared for can often seem like nightmares. We need delays and slow developments sometimes so that we can mentally develop the patience, fortitude, and responsibility necessary to bring these long terms goals into fruition. It also gives us time to consider if we truly want the thing we believe we are striving for.

One good example is in a story from the Hare Krishna cannon, told to me by a monk friend of mine.

There was once a young prince who was the scion of a prestigious ruler. But his talents went largely unnoticed by his father, who much rather fancied his brother to be his kingly heir. Upset at being thwarted so, the prince renounced courtly life, and determined that he would one day become the ruler of his kingdom, and that it would be far greater than his brother’s or father’s ever was.

But first, he realized, if he was to be an effective ruler, in control of many people, then he would have to learn how to control his own mind.

So, he gave up his possessions, and disappeared into the forest to spend years meditating and practicing austerities. Eventually, his hardship and effort paid off, and he became enlightened. Krishna was so moved by his devotion, that he appeared to him personally, congratulated him, and gave him a kingdom of his own, even more glorious than that of his father’s.

But the young prince was enlightened now. He had no interest in becoming a ruler. He knew the external world was but an illusion and a fist full of dust. Why would he presume to have the wisdom and power to rule the lives of others?

But Krishna insisted, and he became his own king, imparting the lesson that: only once we have disciplined ourselves, and overcome all selfish ambitions and desires, are we truly in a fit state to live out our dreams.

So do not despair at delay. Accept it, and let it be the weight you lift to improve your strength and fortitude. If you ride it properly, things may turn out far more joyously than your mediocre and silly plans ever could have allowed.

I leave you with these words of Lao Tzu:

The way forward seems to retreat

The level road seems rough

The bright road seems dark