Previously, I wrote about being guided by a teacher to engage with Nature, and how I came to recognize how essential this is for whole health and a deeper understanding of ourselves. My grad school experience until then had been about trying to accumulate as much information as possible, so I started taking smaller bites of life and chewing for longer.
I turned to the poetic Daoist texts of ancient China – Zhuang Zi and Lao Zi (the Dao De Jing or “Tao Te Ching”) – written a few centuries B.C. by sages who spent most of their lives observing and contemplating nature. These books aim not so much to discuss the subtle and majestic dynamics of the natural world, but to illustrate how these dynamics exist in human psychology, behavior, politics, business, and relationships.
Besides noticing all of the many things that happen in Nature, they noticed something unseen yet ever present, which they called Dao. The natural order of the world – the force and character that emanate and unite all of the different expressions, and the manner in which natural phenomena occur – this is Dao. Sort of.
When we speak of it and write about it, we run the risk of reducing it to something much less than it is. Since the Dao De Jing is a collection of writings about Dao, the first few lines of the book are devoted to explaining this innate limitation. It is intended only to point us in the right direction, to plant seeds in our consciousness that we can water by watching, listening, relaxing, and being open.
One of the lines from the Dao De Jing that stuck with me throughout this time of reconnecting with Nature was: “In pursuit of knowledge, every day something is added. In the practice of the Dao, every day something is dropped.” Since there was so much data for my professors to convey, there was little emphasis on the simplicity of Daoism, despite its being a major philosophical foundation of East Asian Medicine.
Simplicity is, in fact, one of the main emphases of Daoism, whereas the human tendency, especially in medicine, has been toward increasingly complex explanations and systems. While it may be useful to have someone tell you that a specific gene that codes for a specific protein in a specific cell is disrupting your health, I find that most of our departures from health originate much more simply with an “anti-Dao” lifestyle.
If you spend enough time in Nature, you get a sense of how things move and change, the rhythm and balance of it all. And what the ancient Daoists were essentially saying is that the more we allow our affairs in the human realm to operate by the same rhythm and balance, the happier and healthier we will be. Only humans try to make life unfold faster than its natural pace. Only humans seek to muscle their way to a destination we would have arrived at effortlessly.
When do we act? When it’s time to act. When do we rest? When it’s time to rest. How do we know? By tuning in.
Have you ever been in the woods, and all the stimuli that usually seem random and disunited – the songs of the birds, the movement of the wind, the swaying of the trees, the cheeping of the frogs, and the ebb and flow of your own breath – suddenly feel connected and synchronized? It’s a magical thing, and I believe that spending time in this space integrates and tunes us. The more we practice falling into this groove (practice is kind of an unfortunate word, but probably necessary for modern humans), the more we naturally stay there, and soon, without even thinking about it, we begin to perceive the groove in our home, and on the highway, and in the office. We slip into it, we do our thing, and before we know it, we have a magical life.
Here’s to your magical life,
Dr. Peter Borten