Tailoring Change

There is an intriguing phrase in the Dazhuan, the Great Treatise, the largest of the ten ‘wings’, or primary commentaries, of the Yijing. It is about the nature of change. It reads:

Hua and cai are called bian.1Dazhuan 1.12 化而裁之謂之變。

Translated directly it says:

Transformation and tailoring are called change.

The standard words for change in the Yijing are bian and hua.2The character Yi 易 also means ‘change,’ as well as ‘easy’ and ‘chameleon’. As well as being used separately, they are often employed together as a cover-all term (bianhua) for all forms of change. While there is a great deal of overlap between the two, hua generally means ‘transformation’, the changing of one thing into another, whereas bian generally means the less permanent change associated with alteration and alternation, such as that of the seasons.

The phrase is interesting because it introduces a third, less common and seemingly more specific term: cai, which means ‘to cut out cloth’, ‘to make clothes’. Clearly, the ramifications of this use of cai require some exploration. From the basic meaning of ‘shaping cloth,’3The cloth/clothing radical yī 衣 is embedded in the character 裁 cai. cai came more generally to mean, ‘to fashion’, ‘to fit a pattern’, ‘to trim, pare, cut out’, and subsequently, ‘to regulate’.4The Analects uses cai in the sense of ‘to prune and shape’ behaviour (Analects 5.22). The Huainanzi uses cai in the sense of ‘to measure or judge the appropriate degree’ of something (Huainanzi 9.27 & 10.118). The Guanzi uses cai in the sense of ‘to fashion, to make’ (Guanzi《形勢解》3:34:13, 64/7b6 ), and in the sense of ‘adjust appropriately to’ (Guanzi《心術下》2:67.6). Xunzi uses cai in the sense of ‘to regulate’ (ICS Xunzi 9/39/12).

Tailoring is about making and adjusting clothes to fit someone specific. When the Dazhuan says that ‘transformation and tailoring are called change,’ it is highlighting the importance of adapting to circumstances. ‘Change and transformation’ (bianhua) is not random. It is about adjusting very precisely to the present conditions, internal and external.5This is one of the many meanings of the phrase ‘neiwai xianghe’ 內外相合, meaning ‘the internal and external unite,’ from the Taiji Classics. It is about finding the right fit, right here, right now.

If we consider the metaphor more closely, the paring away aspect of tailoring also resonates with the dropping away of all that is extraneous, which is so important in Daoist practice:

In practising Dao one loses daily.
Lose and lose until you arrive at not-doing
Not-doing, yet nothing is not done.6Laozi 48. See Study Not Studying.

In this sense tailoring is about trimming away whatever does not allow a person to fully adapt and move with the current situation, whatever that may be. The answer to the question, ‘what is it that gets in the way of the ability to change in this way?’ is: whatever is not natural (ziran 自然, literally ‘self-so’).

One of the classic descriptions of adjusting to conditions is in the Zhuangzi. It is most likely the first recorded iteration of the now hackneyed slogan, ‘go with the flow’:

Confucius was at Luliang contemplating the water falling thirty ren (forty fathoms), its froth flowing for forty li (fourteen miles). Turtles, alligators, and fish could not swim there. He caught sight of a gentleman swimming there. Thinking that the man was bitter and wished to die, he sent his disciples down to the flow to rescue him. However, several hundred paces further down the man hopped out and leisurely strolled along the bottom of the bank, singing, with his hair draped like a blanket.
Confucius followed and spoke to him, saying, ‘I thought you were a ghost, but clearly you are a man. May I ask, do you have a special way of treading water? ’
The man answered: ‘No, I have no way. I started with what was familiar; I grew with what is natural to me; and am fulfilled with what has been man- dated (for me).’ I go in where it swirls together and get out where it rushes and tumbles everywhere, I go along with the way of water and do not do my own thing to it. This is how I tread it.7 ICS Zhuangzi 19/51/27 – 19/52/1.

The key terms come at the end of the passage, the swimmer ‘goes along with’ (cong 從) the way (dao 道) of water without any interference, without doing his ‘own thing’ (si 私) to it.8Si 私 means ‘personal’ or ‘private’. He has no way of his own, he simply follows the way of the water. Not imposing one’s private agenda on the world is an important element of the Daoist understanding of naturalness (self-so-ness), which confers the ability to follow along with reality and by so doing remain healthy and whole.

It is precisely the ‘personal’, all of our likes and dislikes, our expectations, that get in the way of our perceiving reality as it is. It is only by seeing clearly that we can adjust to and go along with what is actually occurring.

What is so challenging to us is that this cutting away, this removal of what is not natural to us, is the removal of all the ‘personal’ desires and aversions that we mistakenly believe we are. It is only by going beyond the personal, beyond ‘yes’ and ‘no’, ‘like’ and ‘dislike’, that we can get out of our own way and properly become ourselves.

In the context of practising the internal arts, there are many ways of making adjustments to best suit external and internal conditions. For instance, externally, seasonal adjustments are crucial. There are at least three main ways to make them:

First, and most obviously, the size of our movements can be altered to suit the season. Everything being equal, our bodies are relatively more open in the spring and summer and more closed in the autumn and winter. If we make use of the middle – the 70% rule – the size of our stances will change as our ‘Goldilocks range’ naturally follows the seasons.

Second, within our forms, we may move our emphasis to the relevant element as the seasons change. A Taiji form done to accentuate the water element (kidneys, lü jin, absorption, fluidity – tong 通) in winter, will feel quite different to a wood element form (liver, peng jin, expansion, rising, springiness – tanxing 彈性) in spring.9And just to complete the list, fire element (heart, ji jin, projection, twisting and spiralling – zhuan 轉) in summer; metal element (lungs, an jin, compression, alignment – zheng 正) in autumn; earth element (spleen, zhongding, smoothness – shunli 順利) in long summer and throughout the year.

Third, one might emphasise different neigong forms with the seasons: Fundamentals (Energy Gates) in the winter, Heaven and Earth in the spring, Spiralling Energy Body in the summer, Immortals Cloud Playing (Gods) in long summer and throughout the year, Bend the Bow in the autumn (Dragon and Tiger also works very well in the autumn, but since it is not as elemental it is not as seasonal).10We should remember that, while seasonal adjustments are the general context for our practice, there are many, more subtle levels of change, such as that made for more immediate changes in the weather, for different times of the day, and even for different phases within one’s practice. For instance, exactly where we change from opening to closing through a particular movement in the form can change depending on what produces the optimal flow of energy (qitong 氣通) at that moment. Eventually bianhua can be manifested moment to moment.

Adapting our practice to the seasons is an effective way to tune back into the world around us. It allows us to move with the currents rather than being drowned by them. Returning to the world, becoming more present and being able to see what is in front of us as it is, is the much needed antidote to the hi-tech, distracted age of anxiety that we are presently living in.

Internally, there are three primary contexts that will transform the way we practise: health, the martial arts, and meditation. These three fundamental applications can and should interweave with the external adjustments that we make.Which is also part of ‘naiwai xianghe’.

Bruce, a natural fighter himself, reminds us regularly that, ‘not everyone wants to fight, but everyone wants to be healthy and strong’. The health applications of these arts apply to everyone and are the reason why the vast majority of people take them up in the first place. This being so, and since physical strength and stability are the foundation of the martial and spiritual applications of the internal arts, we’ll focus on health here.11For information on the martial side of the internal arts see: Frantzis, B. K., The Power of the Internal Martial Arts, revised edition (Berkeley: Blue Snake Books, 2007). For information on the spiritual side, the realm of Daoist shengong, see Frantzis, B.K., Relaxing Into Your Being (Berkeley: North Atlantic Books, 2002); Frantzis, B.K., The Great Stillness (Berkeley: North Atlantic Books, 2001); Frantzis, B.K., Tao of Letting Go: Meditation for Modern Living (Berkeley: Blue Snake Books, 2009).

In terms of the body, one of the most important aspects of tailoring is that of the form itself. One’s form needs to fit one’s body and its specific capacities. This is the opposite of the ubiquitous ‘one size fits all’ approach to teaching forms, where people try to force their bodies into a stylised configuration, usually that of a specific master. What is forgotten with such stylisation is that the master’s form is correct for his or her particular body and skills. This is why different masters develop different looking forms. For instance, Wu Jianquan had an extraordinarily open body and was particularly skilled at throws, and both were reflected in his Taiji form.

Tailoring the form in this way does not mean that anything goes, one cannot just do one’s own thing, but within any form there is far more possible variation than most practitioners realise. Taiji is an embodiment of certain principles, not an external shape.

An important aspect of realising the nature of change and transformation is that it can help us let go of the desire for perfection and the inevitable frustration that accompanies it when we never get it ‘right’. In a world of constant flux, how can there be a single, perfect configuration that holds true for all time? Doing a form correctly means get- ting as much neigong working as possible, given our present level of integration, here and now. It will be different tomorrow.

Beyond fitting the form to one’s capacities, particular health conditions require additional modifications. Doing a form generally for health will not necessarily be the same as doing it for a specific ailment, although there is likely to be a great deal of overlap. The way one does the form to tonify or heal an internal organ, for instance, is not precisely the same way that one does it for improving blood flow, or healing joints, or nerves.

Transformation and tailoring are called change, and change is the way that we constantly adjust and pare away what would otherwise get in our way. Change is the ability to go along with reality, with that which is so-of-itself. The internal arts are essentially bianhua practices. They teach us how to change and transform along with circumstances. Initially, the tailoring is physical: how to move from one position to another with- out getting stuck. Gradually our practices show us how to change in ever more subtle ways.

If we learn to tailor change we can be like the swimmer at Luliang, leisurely strolling next to the turbulent rapids that he has just effortlessly negotiated.

Text and translations © Matthew Brewer, Daoist Internal Arts, 2017.

Notes   [ + ]

Making Use of the Middle

or
Goldilocks was a philosopher

 

There is a short phrase in the Taiji Classics that is easily glossed over. If we take the time to look at it a little more closely, it reveals surprising richness, depth and relevance to our practice of the internal arts and, beyond that, to the art of living. The phrase is: wú gùo bù jí 無過不及, which we will initially translate as:

Neither gùo nor bù jí.

A standard translation for gùo 過 is ‘excess’ and for bù jí 不及 is ‘insufficiency’. Translating these terms in this way is accurate, but it does not tell the whole story. Any traditionally educated Chinese reader will immediately recognise this phrase as a reference to a passage in the Confucian classic, much loved by the Daoists, the Zhongyong 中庸.

Zhongyong is often translated as The Doctrine of the Mean.1Following Legge’s 1861 translation. Later in 1885 he opted for The State of Equilibrium and Harmony, for the “Sacred Books of the East” series, but returned to Doctrine of the Mean for the second revised edition of “The Chinese Classics” series of 1893. Zhōng means ‘middle’, ‘centre’. The Chinese name for China is zhōngguó, ‘Middle Kingdom’. Yōng, means ‘ordinary’ as well as ‘use, employ’ and ‘constant’. A very direct translation would be ‘the middle of the ordinary’ or ‘the constant centre’. Both terms evoke the central place (zhōng) of balance in any situation, place or state. What is ‘ordinary’ (yōng) if not the absence of extremes, whatever the circumstance? It is also possible to read this title as ‘making use of centrality’. The phrase zhōngyōng first appears in the Analects where it seems to follow this last meaning: ‘Becoming virtuous by making use of centrality (zhōngyōng), that is attainment!’2Analects 6.29.

Our phrase from the Taiji Classics is actually a direct quotation of the explanation of the meaning of the phrase zhōngyōng by the Neo-Confucian scholar Zhuxi. He says:

Zhōng is the name of that which is not one sided, does not lean (bù piān bù yĭ), which neither gùo nor bù jí. Yōng is level and constant.3Zhong Yong Zhang Ju 1. The phrase bù piān bù yĭ also made its way into the Taiji Classics. Swaim translates it as: “No leaning, no inclining.” (in Fu Zhongwen: Mastering Yang Style Taijiquan). Oddly, the two phrases of this sentence do not appear together in the Taiji Classics.

Let’s look more closely at these terms before turning to the Zhongyong. Gùo 過 means ‘to pass by, to go beyond’, jí 及 means ‘to arrive at, to come to, to reach, to attain’. Bù jí 不及, then, means ‘not reach’. Our phrase from the Taiji Classics now reads,

Neither go beyond nor do not arrive.

The Zhongyong, can fill out its meaning for us:

The master said: ‘The Way (dào) is not traveled (xíng), I know why: those who are knowledgeable go beyond it (gùo); those who are foolish do not come up to it (bù jí). The Way is not made bright (míng), I know why: those who are worthy go beyond it (gùo), those who are unlike (the worthy) do not come up to it (bù jí ). No one does not eat or drink, but few are able to know flavour.’4Zhongyong 4.

The dominant metaphors of this passage are of travelling along xíng 行, and illuminating (making bright and clear) míng 明, the way dào 道. The word translated as ‘attainment’ in Analects 6.29 above, zhì 至 ‘arrive’, is the same word that Zhuangzi uses for one who has attained the Dao: literally, ‘one who has arrived’. Arriving somewhere necessarily involves neither going beyond it nor failing to get there. The language of ‘going beyond,’ ‘not coming up to,’ and ‘arriving in the middle’ is intimately bound up with the fundamental metaphor of Chinese philosophy and practice: that of the Way.

Those who acquire knowledge and the worthy are usually exemplars and paragons in the Confucian tradition, but in the Zhongyong Confucius warns that such people fail to attain the way because they go beyond it. Theirs is the mistake of overreaching, of excess. The foolish and those unlike the worthy (usually just translated as ‘the unworthy’) fall into the opposite error of not coming up to the Way. Theirs is the mistake of falling short, of deficiency.

If we are in any doubt about this reading of the Zhongyong, there is a passage in the Analects where Confucius makes it absolutely clear that gùo and bù jí equally miss the mark:

Zigong asked, ‘Who is more worthy, Zizhang or Zixia?’ The Master replied, ‘Zizhang gùo (goes beyond it), Zixia bù jí (does not come up to it).’ (Zigong asked,) ‘So then is Zizhang better?’ The Master replied, ‘Gùo (going beyond) is the same as bù jí (not coming up to).’5Analects 11.16.

The pursuit of the middle is equally important to the Confucian and Daoist traditions, though the focus of each is somewhat different. Confucians emphasise the Dao of man, which to them means the realm of human relationships. They employ the mean within the lĭ 禮, a term usually translated as ‘rites’, but which includes what we would recognise as etiquette. Greeting your friends and how one behaves in public are equally part of the Confucian rites.

Daoists, emphasising the dao of Heaven, make use of centrality on all levels of one’s being: the physical, energetic, emotional, the mental, and so on. Our passage in the Taiji Classics is primarily concerned with the application of not going too far and not falling short physically, energetically and martially. It is unlikely that it is being used in reference to the rites, despite the phrase having been borrowed from one of the greatest of the Confucian masters of the Song dynasty renaissance.

In the Daoist classics, one of the most important images of tending towards and attending to the middle is that of drawing a bow:

The dao of Heaven is like drawing a bow.
What is high it draws down, What is low it lifts,
What has too much it lessens, What does not have enough it adds to.
The dao of Heaven lessens what has too much
while adding to what does not have enough.
The dao of men is not so, it lessens what is not enough by offering more to what has too much.6Laozi 77.

Making use of the middle, then, is directly related to the art of knowing what is enough:

Calamity: there is none greater than not knowing what is enough
Error: there is none greater than desiring gain
Thus knowing enough of what is enough is always enough!7Laozi 46. For an application of this principle see, The Great is the Enemy of the Good.

Considering these passages from the heart Chinese philosophy, it becomes clear how true to tradition Master Bruce Frantzis is when he refers to making use of the middle as finding the ‘Goldilocks point’: neither too much nor too little, but just right. This is what he means by the 70% rule. In this regard Bruce often tells the story of the man from Sung, the classic version of which is found in the writings of Mencius:

Gongsun Chou asked Mencius, ‘May I ask in what you are most developed?’
Mencius answered, ‘I understand words, and I am good at cultivating my flood-like qi.’
Gongsun asked, ‘May I ask what you mean by ‘’flood-like qi”?’
Mencius answered, ‘That is difficult to explain. Qi can be developed to great levels of quantity and stability by correctly nourishing it and not damaging it, to the extent that it fills the space between Heaven and Earth. […] One must work at it, but not rigidly. Do not forget about it, but do not help it to grow either. Do not be like the man from Sung.
There was a man from Sung who was worried that his crops were not growing, so he pulled on them. Wearily, he returned home, and said to his family, ‘Today I am worn out; I have been helping the crops to grow!’ His sons rushed out to look, but the crops had already withered.
Those in the world who do not help their crops grow are few indeed. Those who abandon them, thinking it will not help, are those who do not even weed their crops. Those who help them grow are those who pull on their crops. Not only does this not help, but it actually harms them. Mencius 2A.2.

This is a beautiful illustration of finding the Goldilocks point in any endeavour: neither helping our crops grow, nor neglecting them; neither going beyond what is needed nor not coming up to it.

While Goldilocks may not set a very good example when it comes to breaking and entering, she is a great exemplar of the principle of avoiding the extremes of too much and too little.

Making use of the middle is the ultimate principle of balance that we can apply to any aspect of life: from exercising or working in the garden, to finding the balance between work and home. Within Tai Chi, neigong and qigong, finding and maintaining balance is practiced on progressively more subtle levels. The first concern is with physical balance, which is not just about standing on one leg but also includes balancing the left and right sides of the body, the top and bottom halves of the body and the blood, lymph and nerve flow throughout the body etc.. The next level is energetic balance, followed by emotional and mental balance and so on. At each level of refinement the principle is the same, only it is applied to more of who and what we are.

The seemingly innocuous phrase from the Taiji Classics with which we started, ‘neither go beyond nor do not arrive’ is truly one of the most important subjects in our practice of the internal arts and in life.

 

Text and translations ©Matthew Brewer, Daoist Internal Arts, 2011 & 2017.

Notes   [ + ]

Why So Slow 2

There is a sentence in Wang Bi’s essay on the Laozi,1Laozi weizi lilüe The Structure of Laozi’s Pointers, translated in Wagner, A Chinese Reading of the Daodejing pp.82-106 and Lynn, The Classic of The Way and Virtue pp.30-41. which beautifully expresses the importance of not rushing. It is actually a direct reference to the Great Commentary (Da Zhuang 1.10) of the Yijing.2The original passage reads: 唯神也、故不疾而速、不行而至。(繫辭上 10). Only (through) spirit (can one) thus not hurry yet be fast, not go/force yet arrive (my translation). Lynn’s translation: It is the numinous alone that thus allows one to make progress without hurrying and reach goals without forcing one’s way. (The Classic of Changes p.63). Wilhelm’s translation: Only through the divine can one hurry without haste and reach the goal without walking (I Ching or Book of Changes p.316).

Wang Bi’s sentence is: 善速在不疾,善至在不行。 We shall initially translate it as:

Being good at sù 速 lies in not jí 疾, being good at zhì 至 lies in not háng/xíng 行.

Because of the nature of the Chinese language the key terms in this sentence have a broad range of meaning. Exploring these meanings and producing and extended translation proves to be surprisingly rich. If we take the first phrase,

Being good at sù 速 lies in not jí 疾,

The meaning of sù is fairly straight forward: to move, fast, rapid. Although, interestingly, it also means to awaken. Jí, however, has a more involved set of meanings: urgent, swift, rapid; be anxious, detest, hate, anger; to burn, to smoulder, destroy by fire, be inflamed, feverish, to be in rut; sickness, pain, disease, suffering. The root meaning of this word is to do with inflammation of all kinds, from physical speed, to having a fever, to being hot headed etc.

While the primary meaning of jí in the phrase is clearly ’being urgent, rushing , hurrying’, echoing the primary meaning of sù, there are many relevant overtones in the root of the word: Our progress will be hindered by the negative emotions of anxiety, anger and hate, such emotions inflame and disturb us, they are a sickness from which we suffer. Thus an extended translation of the phrase could read:

Being good at being fast lies in not rushing, in not being inflamed and made ill by anxiety, anger or hate.

An interesting secondary reading, which ties into the second reading of the second phrase, which we shall consider below, is:

Being good at being awake lies in not rushing.

Let’s move onto the second phrase:

Being good at zhì 至 lies in not háng/xíng 行.

Zhì has the range of meaning: to come to, get to, arrive at, reach; to bring about, effect; accomplish, achieve, establish, settle. While 行 when read as háng means: hard, strong, force. Hence the phrase can be translated as: Being good at achieving (things) lies in not forcing one’s way, in not being hard or forceful.

However there is also a more subtle reading. Zhì can be seen as an echo of Zhuangzi’s 至人 zhì rén literally ‘person who has arrived.’ This is in the same realm as Laozi 47:

No need to leave your door to know the whole world
No need to peer through your window to know the way of Heaven
The farther you go, the less you know.
Therefore the Sage knows without going
Names without seeing
And completes without doing a thing.3Henricks, R. G., trans., Lao-Tzu Te-Tao Ching: A New Translation Based on the Recently Discovered Ma-wang-tui Texts, p.116

One who is completely present, who has arrived, does not need to leave his house in order to know all under heaven. The arrived man is, literally, everywhere. There is no need for him to go anywhere. With this reading, 行 can be read as xíng: to go, to walk, to do, to travel. Then the phrase reads:

Being good at arriving lies in not going.

‘Not going’ here means both ‘not leaving the present’, and ‘not doing’ as in wu wei, non action, which is so highly prized by the Laozi. Hence, our extended translation can read:

Being good at being fully present lies in not leaving the present, in practising non action.

As indicted earlier, the secondary reading of the first phrase as ’Being good at being awake lies in not rushing or not being inflamed’ fits well with this reading of the second phrase. Wakefulness has long been a metaphor for being fully present.

Our unpacked translation, while lacking the elegance of the original ten characters, gives some indication of the multiple meaning the sentence carries:

Being good at being fast lies in not rushing, Being good at being awake lies in not being inflamed and made ill by by anxiety, anger or hate. Being good at achieving (things) lies in not forcing one’s way, in not being hard or forceful. Being good at arriving lies in not going: being good at being fully present lies in not leaving the present, in practising non action.

Wang Bi, following the Yijing and the Laozi, associates speedy progress and wakefulness with a lack of haste, which is at the same time a lack of dis-ease, a lack of emotional inflammation. This is the yin method of the Daoist tradition that does not force or push. It is as relevant to achieving our goals in the world as it is to becoming present and arriving here and now at that which we truly are.

Notes   [ + ]

Why So Slow 1

When people first join my classes they often comment on how slow they are, even compared to other Tai Chi classes, punctuated as they are by regular tea breaks. There are several reasons for this deliberate lack of haste.

The first reason is obvious enough. The breaks give your nervous system time to absorb whatever we have just done. It makes it much easier for the body to retain the new information and then to integrate it. If the class just kept moving on to the next thing without any pauses, only a fraction of what was taught would be retained. It is the equivalent of the famous tea cup that, once full, overflows. There is only so much that it can hold and until it is emptied, the tea is drunk and made part of the drinker, it simply will not be able to hold any more. The least beneficial aspect of such a way of doing things is the impression left that you have learned much more than you actually have. Being in the room when something is being taught is not the same as truly learning and embodying it.

The second reason for the easy pace is to encourage us to let the mind slow down. We live in a frantic world, in a culture where everything is rushed: everything must be done instantly. We have reached the point where we get frustrated at waiting a couple of seconds for the computer to perform tasks that would have taken hours or even weeks to accomplish just a few decades ago.

These days, we rarely even stop for a cup of tea . Instead we drink it on the run, in the car or while we are working. And we view this a progress! Pausing in class for a cup of tea is the opportunity to do just that: it is a chance to become present, even if only to enjoy a cup of tea with no other demands on us.

Being present is one of the fundamentals of Daoist practice. The first step is to be in the body. The more present we become to the body, the more our minds penetrate and merge with it. This can only be achieved by slowing down the mind to the same speed as the body.

The mind can move much faster than the body. Think how quickly your mind can move even from one end of the room to the other; much faster than you could run the same distance. Your thoughts can run so far ahead of something you are saying that you fall over your words.

In order for the mind to saturate the body it must first slow down to match the speed of the body. Otherwise its attention endlessly flies off in other directions. These other directions are most often into the future or the past: thoughts about what you’ll do next or this evening, or next week or on the other hand memories of this morning, yesterday, last week, last year. These days people spend most of their lives in the past and the future and very little of it in the present. It is one of the contributing factors to our age of anxiety.

I regularly have students who want to know what’s next before they have engaged with what I have just shown them. This is the mind racing into the future and neglecting the present. Overcoming the ‘what’s next’ syndrome is part of the antidote to our lack of ease in the world. Slowing down the mind to the point where in can saturate the body with awareness brings us into the present and brings about calmness and stability.

The third reason for going slowly follows on from the first two. Once we have allowed our nervous systems to absorb the new pattern and our minds have slowed down enough to be in the body to whatever degree we are able at the moment, we can begin to integrate what we have learned. This involves making the new element that we have learned a part of the way the body works rather than something we do only when we focus our attention on it. It is of course only through practice that we are able to integrate new skills.

On a deeper level, integration (the sixteenth element of neigong) involves bringing together all of the different parts of ourselves. At first it is physical integration; aligning and connecting the limbs and torso to the point where the body works as one thing. The root meaning of the word ‘health’ is ‘whole’. Using the body as an integrated whole makes one healthy. This same principle applies to all of our other bodies: the energy body, the emotional body, the mental body etc.. As each body becomes integrated within itself and with the other bodies we move towards ever greater wholeness, balance and presence.

These are the reasons why in class we do something and then have a cup of tea and a chat. It allows our nervous system to absorb what we have just done before moving on to the next layer. It gives us the opportunity to relax into the present and over time it gives us the space to integrate the various elements of our practice and ourselves.

 

©Matthew Brewer, Daoist Internal Arts, 2010 & 2017.

Being Way Oriented

The beauty of Tai Chi is that anyone can do it. There is an old saying: “Tai Chi can be done by anyone: male, female, young, old, strong, weak, intelligent and slow, healthy or ill.” It is one of the few forms of exercise at which you can improve continuously as you age. Tai Chi masters are not found in their teens, twenties or thirties, but in their sixties, seventies and eighties. Traditionally, one cannot be recognised as a master until the age of sixty. Of course you do not need to become a master in order to gain profound benefits, physical, emotional, mental and spiritual from this practice.

As well as proper instruction, there is only one quality that anyone needs in order to benefit from Tai Chi, and that is perseverance. While perseverance sounds rather hard and dogged, it really doesn’t have to be. All it means here is that one continue to attend classes. Just keep coming.

Sadly, this is what many people do not do. Even though they obviously enjoy and benefit from the classes many people stop. There are all sorts of reasons why this happens, circumstances change etc., but there is one reason in particular that accounts for a large proportion of those who drop out.

The way it goes is something like this: Someone joins a Tai Chi class and enjoys it. They find it is interesting and challenging, and that it shows them a new way of connecting and moving their body. They begin to let go of some of their tension. They make friends and enjoy the tea breaks. But some way into the form they have to miss a week or two and when they return to class they find that they have missed a move. Now they have a gap in their form. This gap flusters them and they begin to feel lost in the sequence. Fairly soon they decide to stop attending the class and to wait for the form to start again. They are never seen in the class again.

People hate having gaps in their forms. They would rather stop than keep going and fill in the gaps when they go through the form the next time, or when there are revision classes. This attitude points to one of the dominant fixations of our culture: the desire for perfection. If you can’t do something right it is not worth doing at all. Ironically, Tai Chi is an antidote to this fixation, but you have to give it time. Or rather you have to give yourself time to adjust and recognise the benefits of letting go of perfection.

Tai Chi is not a perfection practice. It is a letting go practice.

After studying Tai Chi for some time, it will gradually dawn on you that there is actually no end to the form. Just like the seasons, each round allows the opportunity to explore further the nature of change and free flow. Learning the sequence of the form, beginning to end, without obvious gaps does not mean that you have completed the form, only that you are ready to explore the next layer. This is true of everyone, no matter how many times they have been through it. Each round shows you that bit more, allowing you to get connected at deeper and deeper levels as you let go into yourself.

At the same time, you come to realise that there will always be gaps in your form, the only thing that changes is the level of subtlety involved. At first the gaps are large and obvious with whole movements missing. Then the gaps start to shrink as you notice that only certain elements of a move are missing. Once you have the moves clearly, you notice more subtle gaps: places where all or parts of you stop moving. More subtle still, you start noticing that various elements of the sixteen basic components of Daoist neigong are missing. Then within each component aspects are missing and so on. As you penetrate deeper inside, you find gaps in your emotions, in your mind and your spirit. Consider the Daoist maxim that if you could stay fully present (without any gaps) for the time it takes a leaf to fall from a tree, you would be enlightened.

Becoming aware of these gaps is only disquieting or off putting if you maintain a goal orientation, which is to say the doing of something to have done it, finished, perfect. Such an orientation is not conducive to being comfortable, at ease and happy in the world. With such an attitude one misses out on enjoying the world, on enjoying the banquet rather than eating on the run.

One of the phrases that Daoists have for the alternative to being goal oriented is xiao yao 逍遙, which means ‘happy wandering’, ‘free and easy rambling’ or ‘sauntering carefree, at one’s ease’. It is, in fact, the title of the first chapter of the Zhuangzi, one of the great Daoist classics.

Xiao yao is about being way oriented. It is to find the value of something in how you go about doing it as much as in the result. It takes into consideration the state you are in during and after each cycle. It also makes clear that where you end up has a great deal to do with how you went about getting there, and who you are when you get there, because you become what you practise.

Paramount in the internal arts is not getting stuck. Thinking that you have done the form, completed it, mastered it, is to get stuck. Just as demanding or expecting that you be perfect at anything is to be stuck. As you get comfortable with this practice that has no end, but which is endlessly fascinating, you can apply it to the rest of life. Life is not a race to the end. The first one there does not win. It is a journey to be enjoyed. Tai Chi can show you how to relax into the journey.

Here are some useful questions to ask yourself about your practice. Is what I am doing moving me in the direction of letting go of my tensions and frustrations? Or am I winding myself up further? Plenty of people use Tai Chi as a torture device, as another reason to beat themselves up and practise their usual tense habits. There is no sense in getting stressed over your relaxation practice.

Continuing with your Tai Chi, neigong or qigong, regardless of the gaps, can help you let go into life and to enjoy your stroll along the way.

 

© Matthew Brewer, Daoist Internal Art, 2009 & 2017

Nurturing Life

or Paying Attention to Why We Act

Why do we do what we do? This is rather a big question. If we get into specifics we’ll be here forever. However, one answer to the question is that generally we do what we do because it is necessary or because we think it is a good thing to do. Put another way, we do things because they make life better than if we did not do them. In the Daoist tradition, the subject of making life better, yangsheng 養生 or ‘nurturing life’, is considered to be rather important.

Fundamental to nurturing life is knowing what to be careful about:

Those who do not know what to be careful about have not yet begun to make the distinction between those things that lead to death and those that lead to life, those things that lead to survival and those that lead to destruction, between what can and cannot be done. … This is called great delusion.1Lü Shi Chun Qiu 1.3.

Whether we move in the direction of life or in the direction of death is a matter of understanding what is of true value and what is of value only when put in the correct perspective. Warnings such as the passage above from the Lü Shi Chun Qiu, China’s earliest philosophic encyclopaedia written c. 250 BC, are also found in the Zhuangzi, one of the great classics of the Daoist tradition. The following anecdote concerning ‘making the body whole and nurturing life’ is found in both texts:

In today’s modern world people do too much with their bodies and throw away their lives, martyring themselves for things. Is this not sad? Whenever sages make a move, they are sure to consider why and how they are acting. If today someone were to use the Marquis of Sui’s pearl (a famous jewel) to shoot at a sparrow eight thousand feet away, they would be laughed at. Why? Because that which they used was important and that which they sought was unimportant. How much more precious is life than the Marquis’s pearl!2Lü Shi Chun Qiu 2.2; Zhuangzi 28. The word I translate throughout as ‘body’ also means ‘life’ and ‘self ’.

Another passage that is shared by these two texts is more specific about what to be careful about:

One who can honour life, though noble and wealthy, will not allow the pursuit of that which nourishes to injure the body; though poor and humble, will not allow the pursuit of that which profits to tie up the form. People of today, who hold high office and honoured rank, all think only of how serious it would be to lose them. Eyes fixed on profit, they recklessly destroy their bodies. How is this not delusion?3Lü Shi Chun Qiu 21.4; Zhuangzi 28.

Guarding against the pursuit of profit at the cost of our health and well being is a fairly straightforward and clear message. We see people chasing money and burning themselves out all the time. It’s the all too familiar competition to be the ‘richest man in the graveyard’. The Japanese have even coined a word for it: karoshi 過労死, which means ‘death from overwork’. The term is now international and was added to the Oxford English Dictionary in 2001; an ominous word for the beginning of the new millennium.

However, the idea of not allowing the pursuit of that-which-nourishes to injure us, needs a bit more reflection. ‘What is it that nourishes us?’ is a question with endless answers: food, exercise, work, shelter, music, art, things that we like; which is to say, anything that enriches our lives on all levels. How is it that going after such things can cause injury? The answer is: through lack of moderation. Even the best things, if taken in excess, can cause harm. Water, the most life-giving of substances, will kill you if you drink too much if it. This is one of the primary laws of yin and yang: if you take yang to its limit it will flip to yin and vice versa. For instance, if you do too much, it will exhaust you and you will find that you cannot do anything at all: yang has changed to yin. Extremes damage.

If we use up our bodies, our energy, our lives in chasing those things that nourish us, we achieve exactly the opposite of what we intend. This is because we have reversed the relationship: rather than using things to nourish life, we have spent our health, our lives, on acquiring things. These ‘things’ that damage our lives are not simply material possessions. It is the same with exercise. Take the present craze for extreme sports such as marathon running and Iron Man events. After a marathon a person’s immune system is suppressed for about a month and, more seriously, the heart is damaged. It is the same with everything from food and sex to study and meditation. Too much of anything comes down to one thing: the delusion of using a pearl to shoot a sparrow, of not knowing what to be careful about.

Yao yielded the rule of all under Heaven … to Zizhou Zhifu, who said, ‘To make me the Son of Heaven, that would be alright. However, just now I have a worrying illness, which I am trying to put in order. I do not yet have the leisure to put all under Heaven in order.’ All under Heaven is of the utmost importance, but he would not harm his life because of it. How much less for anything else! Only one who would not use all under Heaven can be entrusted with all under Heaven.4Lü Shi Chun Qiu 2.2; Zhuangzi 28. See also Laozi 13.

If we cannot be trusted to take care of our own bodies then we cannot be entrusted with anything else. Such a lack of care demonstrates that we have a distorted relationship, not just with our own bodies and selves, but with the whole world. One that is out of balance and extreme. This is what Laozi calls the ‘dao of man’, the opposite of the ‘dao of heaven’:

The dao of Heaven is like drawing a bow.
What is high it draws down,
What is low it lifts,
What has too much it lessens,
The dao of Heaven lessens what has too much
while adding to what does not have enough.

The dao of man is not so,
it lessens what is not enough
by offering more to what has too much.
5Laozi 77.

The ‘dao of man’ is a distortion that compromises one’s perceptions and interactions with everything. This is delusion indeed! The Lü Shi Chun Qiu, makes this point with particularly vivid and unambiguous metaphors:

The body is that for which things are done, all under Heaven is that by which things are done. Attend to that by which things are done and an understanding of the light and the weighty will be obtained. Now, if there were those who cut off their heads in order to change their hats, or that killed themselves to change clothes, everyone would certainly consider them confused. Why? Because hats are for adorning the head, clothes are for adorning the body. If you kill that which you want to decorate and make the decoration all important, then you do not know the reason for acting! These days those who go after profit are like this. They endanger their bodies and injure their lives, cut their own throats and chop off their own heads in order to chase profit. They also do not know why they act!6Lü Shi Chun Qiu 21.4.

A surprisingly common instance of not knowing why we are acting can be found in the internal arts. It is very easy for us to get stuck on making a posture or movement absolutely correct. All too often we push or force our movements and postures in the attempt to do them flawlessly. The result is that we injure ourselves or we simply rob our practices of all benefit and enjoyment, and we give up. This is the equivalent of cutting off one’s head to change hats. The whole point of our practices is to nurture and enhance our lives, not to do them perfectly for their own sake.

Doing neither too much nor too little is the path to making the body whole and nurturing life:

Wrong: there is none more abundant than excessive desires,
Cause for blame: there is none more grievous than desiring gain,
Calamity: there is none greater than not knowing what is enough,
Knowing enough of what is enough, this is constantly enough.7Laozi 46. This is the Guodian version (the oldest extant edition c. 300 BC), which, in my view, is the most complete and internally consistent, though it is not as regular as the received version. This passage builds its series of warnings in a way that the later versions do not. The first caution is against the all too common misdeed of having too many desires. The next is against the source of immense suffering: the error (jiu 咎 means both ‘fault’ and ‘blame’) of desiring gain. The final warning is against the disaster of not knowing what is enough. The last line of the passage offers the antidote to these closely related ills: know when enough is enough.

Text and translations ©Matthew Brewer, Daoist Internal Arts, 2015&2017.

Notes   [ + ]

Do Not Let the Great be the Enemy of the Good

I don’t know whether Bruce is intentionally referring to Voltaire’s famous phrase, “Le mieux est l’ennemi du bien,” “The best is the enemy of the good” but he often warns students, “Do not let the great be the enemy of the good.”

By this he is cautioning against the trap that many fall into of not doing what they are able to do, because they cannot to do it perfectly or at least as well as they would like to be able to do it. In this way the ‘great,’ which is to say the desire to do something much better than one’s capacities presently allow, prevents people from gaining the benefits of the ‘good,’ which is doing what they can.

This impediment to practice is not new. The Huainanzi, the most sophisticated articulation of the philosophy and statecraft of the Han Dynasty, considered this very question over two thousand years ago:

If someone waits to harness a Yaoniao or a Feitu [legendary horses], then in this age they will not drive a chariot; waiting to be matched with a Xi Shi or a Mao Qiang [legendary beautiful women], then to the end of their life they will not have a family. So, without waiting for the brave and talented of ancient times, people themselves are enough, because what they have they also use.
Indeed, Qiji [a legendary horse] could cover a thousand li [over three hundred miles] in one day; a tired, old nag needs ten rest stops, but it ten days it will also get there. 1Huainanzi 11.17.

We of course have not heard of Yaoniao, Feitu, Xi Shi, Mao Qiang or Qiji, but it is easy enough to replace them with modern equivalents, such as the most expensive sports cars for the horses and our favorite actress or actor for the beautiful women: If we waited until we owned a Koenigsegg CCXR Trevita (I just looked it up) we would never drive a car, and if we waited to date Gisele Bündchen or Dwayne Johnson (also just looked up) we would remain single.

Qiji, the fastest and strongest horse in ancient China, is a particularly good metaphor in the practice of the internal arts. In our instant, want-everything-yesterday culture many want to cover a great deal of ground at once, and when they find that they are not progressing as quickly as they would like, they give up. This is a great shame. In order to progress, all that any of us needs to do is to use what we have. That will be enough. This brings us, as always, to Laozi:

Calamity: none is greater than not knowing what is enough
Error: none is greater than desiring gain
Knowing enough of enough is always enough! 2Laozi 46.

In this context, the error is to desire to accomplish our goals faster than we are able to and then to give up when we cannot do the impossible. This is not to know enough. Such an attitude will guarantee that we fail. That is the calamity. The remedy is simply to do what we can. By using what we have we will get there. This is to know enough. It is much better to do something than nothing. And it is only by practising at our present level that we will ever attain the level of skill that we desire. The attainment of any skill is like climbing a ladder: there are no short cuts. It is impossible to miss out rungs. The good news is that, whatever rung of the ladder we are on, provided that we have adequate instruction, we have enough to make progress. What we need is always right in front of us: the next rung. It is the only step that we can actually take. This view is encapsulated in a saying from the Tai Chi Classics, which is found throughout Chinese philosophy and practice: “Many mistakenly forsake the near in pursuit of what is far away.” It is only by doing what is near at hand that we will get anywhere.

The internal arts are not fast practices. It is not possible to go on a weekend course and become a master, this is true of any authentic craft or art, but with regular practice the benefit to our lives can be profound. One of the keys to success is not to let the great be the enemy of the good.

 

Text & Translations © Matthew Brewer, Daoist Internal Arts, 2010 – 2017.

Notes   [ + ]

Winter: the Dao of Storage

藏之道

The three months of winter are called closing and storing.
Water freezes, earth cracks.
Do not disturb the yang at all.
Early to bed, late to rise. (You) must await the daylight.
Make that which is of the heart/mind as though hidden, as though concealed,
as though (you) have a secret intention, already obtained.
Leave the cold, seek warmth.
Do not leak the skin.
Urgently hold onto the qi.
This is the winter compliance of qi;
the cultivation of the Dao of storage.a
To oppose these principles injures the kidneys.
(Consequently) spring will bring paralysis and fainting
(and) there will be little to offer (your) sprouting.1Neijing Chapter 2.

Winter is the time of the kidneys, which are the basic source of energy in the body. They act very much like batteries. At this time of year we need to recharge them by protecting and nourishing them. This is done by storing our energy rather than expending it.

This is the most yin of the seasons. When the weather turns cold, everything in nature goes to sleep. As the Yellow Emperor’s Internal Classic, the Neijing, tells us, ideally we should reduce our activity, go to bed earlier, and get up later, so as not to ‘disturb the yang at all’. Like fish sinking to the bottom of an icy pond, or like a daffodil bulb in the cold ground, we should let our energy sink deeper inside us. It is only by storing its energy in winter that the daffodil can flower in spring. Similarly, it is only by resting and storing our energy now that we will be able to ’sprout’ – have the energy to increase our activity – when spring comes. So, this is not the time to start jogging, doing aerobics or anything else that will bring our energy to the surface and make us sweat, or, as the Neijing puts it, ‘leak the skin’. We should avoid rushing around. Instead we should go to bed early, get up late and stay inside where it‘s warm.

The mind also needs to rest. The kidneys are closely associated with the fundamental drive that is called zhì 志 in Chinese. Zhì is often translated as ‘will power’. At its most basic level, it is the survival instinct; that which keeps us going in the darkest times. In less extreme situations it is that faculty which identifies and works towards goals and towards attaining the things that we want. It is the zhì that is spoken of in the line: ‘Make that which is of the heart/mind (zhì) as though hidden, as though concealed’. Now is not the time to activate the zhì. To do so would call on the energy of the kidneys. Rather we should put away our desires in winter and let them rest. In this time of letting go and quietening desire, chapter 46 of the Laozi, the great text of Daoism, is worth contemplating:

Calamity: there is none greater than not knowing what is enough,
Offence: there is none greater than desiring gain.
Thus knowing enough of what is enough is always enough!

Knowing enough of enough is reflected in our passage from the Neijing in its instruction that we should make the heart/mind ‘as though (you) have a secret intention, already obtained’. It is usually with the attainment of our desire that we are, if only briefly, satisfied and able to truly relax. These passages point to a more subtle option, that of letting go of desire itself, which leads to a much more profound and enduring stillness.

Basho, the great master of the Japanese poetic form now known as haiku, who was deeply influenced by writings of the Daoist master Zhuangzi and Chinese Chan/Zen Buddhism, beautifully invokes the importance of stilling the heart-mind at this time of year in his winter poem 1687:

First let us cherish
the plum blossoms’ heart
winter dormancy.2No. 341. The original is: まづ祝へ梅を心の冬籠り (mazu iwae / ume o kokoro no / fuyu-gomori). My thanks to Rachelle Allen-Sherwood for her help in translating this poem. Any mistakes are my own.

Just as in Chinese, the ‘heart’ in Japanese is also the ‘mind’. It is the core of who and what we are. This poem celebrates the flowering of plum blossoms in the spring, which is possible only because they conserve their essence through the cold of the winter. In the terms of the Neijing, by observing the winter compliance of qi and cultivating the dao of storage, the plum blossoms have plenty to offer their sprouting when spring arrives.

Autumn is, ideally, the time when we gather that which nourishes us and let go of that which is no longer of use to us. Now, in winter, it is time to store what we gathered and to allow our systems to rest in stillness.

The dominant element now is water, which naturally flows downward, cleanses, nourishes and goes very calm and still when not disturbed. When water becomes still, it is able to let go of what it is holding in suspension, allowing the sediment to settle out of it. It then becomes clear and reflective, like a mirror.

Both Daoism and Buddhism use this image of still water becoming clear and reflective as a metaphor for the stilling of the emotions and the mind through breathing and related mindful practices.

Tai Chi Fundamentals (Energy Gates) is a powerful winter practice. It activates the water element in the body. Standing is very yin, as is Cloud Hands when we focus on the downward flow of energy. Both practices strengthen the kidneys and help them to store energy better. One way of complying with winter in our Tai Chi or Qigong, is to allow our form to go as smooth and liquid as possible, attending more to the inward and downward flows. To this end we should avoid stopping to correct ourselves. Instead, we should simply note any mistakes to adjust the next time around while maintaining the flow of our movement as best we can, without strain. The closing and bending actions of any form are the ones that encourage the storing of energy. It is also useful to focus on allowing the hands and feet to become very soft. This is the time to let go of the desire to accomplish anything in our practice.

At this time of year, it is best lie down and rest for a while after practice and gently put our attention on the kidneys, letting all of our energy collect there. During the day 3.00-5.00pm is a particularly good time to rest as it is the time that the kidney system is strongest.

Eating what is in season is always a very good way to comply with the qi of the time. Nuts, especially walnuts and chestnuts, are particularly good for the kidneys, as is lamb. Avoid cold food and drink as your body must burn energy to warm it up before it can be used. This is part of ‘leaving the cold and seeking warmth’.

Text and translations ©Matthew Brewer, Daoist Internal Arts, 2017.

Notes   [ + ]

Autumn: the Dao of Gathering

收之道

The three months of autumn are called containment and balance.
Heavenly qi is quick, earthly qi is bright.
Early to bed, early to rise: all participate with the rooster.
Make that which is of the heart-mind peaceful and tranquil
in order to weaken the punishment of autumn.
Gather and collect the spirit and the qi.
Make the autumn qi balanced.
Do not direct that which is of the heart-mind outwards.
Make the lung qi pure.
This is the autumnal compliance of qi
and the cultivation of the Dao of gathering.
To oppose these principles injures the lungs.
(Consequently) winter will bring diarrhoea
(and) there will be little to offer one‘s storehouse.1Neijing Chapter 2.

In autumn the predominant element is metal, 金 (jin). The two systems in the body that are most strongly activated at this time are the lungs and the large intestine. Both organs have the function of gathering in what is essential and of letting go of what is not needed. In the cycle of the five elements, metal is traditionally the first, as much as any circle can have a beginning or end.

After the growing and lengthening out of summer (the element of fire), and the centring and integration of long summer, or Indian summer (the element of earth) it is now time to soften and draw our energy back in.

This is the best time to get back on track and to lay the foundations of our health for the next year. The way to do this is not to start dieting or running ten miles a day, as these are spring and summer activities; though even in summer it is better to walk. Rather, as the Neijing tells us, it is time to still our hearts and minds and to gather and collect the spirit and the qi. This is the appropriate yin response to this yin season. Just as the trees are drawing in and letting go of their leaves, it is time for us to let go of what we have been carrying around all year, which is no longer of any use to us.

Breathing is a very powerful way to let go of our tension, whether it is physical, emotional, mental or spiritual. It is one of the primary cycles of yin and yang in the body. Having inhaled we must let go of it before we can take any more in.

Just five minutes spent focusing on the breath each day — ‘making the lung qi pure’ — can have an extraordinary effect on your health and peace of mind through autumn and winter. Those who have learned longevity breathing are very well equipped to make the most of this time of year. But even if you haven‘t yet learned the full method, just sitting and focusing on your breath can make a big difference. Ideally keep your chest relatively still and allow your belly to move with the breath (out on the inhale and relaxing back in on the exhale), keeping the breath as smooth and quiet as possible with no stopping between the in and out breaths. Chapter 5 of Opening the Energy Gates of Your Body explains the method of longevity breathing in detail. 2B.K Frantzis, Opening the Energy Gates of Your Body, 2nd edition (Berkeley: Blue Snake Books, 2006).

Dragon & Tiger Qigong is also a very good way to strengthen and support the lungs. One of the primary references of ‘dragon’ in the name of the set is to the health of the lungs, because, as everyone knows, dragons are creatures of the air. Hence the potency of the dragon movements for the lungs.

The lungs are responsible for the distribution of the protective wei qi 衛氣 around the body. The stronger the lungs the better our immune system and general vitality.

The organ that is most responsible for letting go of what cannot be used in the food we eat is the large intestine. In Chinese medicine this organ is closely related to our ability to discriminate between that which nourishes us and should be kept, and that which does not and should be discarded. This faculty works on all levels: the physical, emotional, mental and spiritual.

Just as there is yin and yang in everything, autumn is not just about letting go of what we no longer need or what is holding us back. It is also about gathering in that which nourishes and strengthens us. In England apples and pears now hang on the trees. The crops that grew through the spring and summer are being harvested and stored for the winter. These two sides, letting go and gathering, must be balanced.

While in hotter places, such as Bermuda, autumn is not quite so apparent, the very beginnings of the cooler, dryer weather of November can occasionally be detected as the days shorten.

The very beginning of something is the best time to prepare for the coming change. It makes the transition easier. This accords with the Daoist principle of doing what is easy before it becomes difficult. Laozi 63 says, ‘chart the difficult when it is easy, act on the great when it is tiny’. While chapter 64 advises us to, ‘act when something has not yet come to be, regulate when it is not yet disordered’. 3See also Laozi 52, ‘To see the small is called enlightenment’. It is the hallmark of the wise.

In the same vein the Neijing, later in the same chapter as our Autumn passage says:

The sage does not treat those who are already sick,
but treats the not yet sick,
does not treat those who are already disordered,
but treats the not yet disordered.
The person who is already sick and then takes medicine,
or who is already disordered and then seeks treatment,
is comparable to one who is thirsty and then digs a well,
or one who forges weapons only after the war has begun.
Are not these measures also late!4Neijing Chapter 2.

Small, relatively easy adjustments at the beginning of a time of change can eliminate the need for making drastic alterations later on. The appropriate activities of each season prepare us for the next so long as we make the necessary adjustments at the right time. This is why people visit their Chinese doctor at the change of each season, even when they feel well, to nip any imbalance in the bud by adjusting their diet and activity. In this way they avoid getting ill later.

The reason many people fall sick in the autumn is because they do not adapt to the change of season. Now is the time to begin protecting ourselves from the cold and especially the wind with scarves and wind-breaking coats. The activities of the summer are over. Rather than spending our energies, it is time to start saving. If we continue to act in the autumn as we did in summer, we can expect to get sick. The Neijing warns us that if we do not act according to the dao of gathering, which is now underway, it will lead to diarrhoea in the winter. If this happens, at precisely the time when we most need to store and conserve that which nourishes us, our bodies will be unable to distinguish properly between what we must keep and what we must let go. And if we let our nourishment go we will become depleted and ill in the winter.

This, then, is the time to practise containment and balance, to let go of what we do not need and to gather and collect the spirit and the qi, and make the lung qi pure.

Eating what is in season is always a very good way to comply with the qi of the time. Eat more warming foods and drinks. Jasmine and, later, oolong teas should replace your green tea. It is a great time for fruit and vegetables: blackberries, plums, apples, pears, pumpkins, squash, leeks, courgettes and parsnips etc. Pears are especially good for the lungs. It is also a good idea to cut down on those ‘dampening’ foods that congest the lungs such as beer (anything made with yeast), sugary foods and especially dairy products.

Text and translations © Matthew Brewer, Daoist Internal Arts, 2017

Notes   [ + ]