The Way of the Tao
Paul Cavel, Contributor
Taoist Have Trained In Nature throughout the Ages
Human beings, with all our complexity and potential, have diversified, populated and thrived around the globe. Since the breakthroughs of the Industrial Revolution, we have spent 200 years becoming specialists in manipulating our environment and making radical changes to the way in which we experience the material world. The wonders that have resulted from man’s triumph over nature will only be surpassed by those of the Information Age , capable of producing yet more dramatic and astounding changes than witnessed in its infantile 30 years, such as the ability to decode the human genome and influence the genetics of various life forms—science that seeks to uncover the mysteries of our very existence.
The Way of Reconnecting
Yet amongst our awe-inspiring discoveries and extraordinary accomplishments, we find ourselves driven by mass consumption—greed and fear cycles so powerful that they are ingrained into our subconscious with little awareness. Our focus is bordering on becoming totally external, which is illustrated by people taking better care of their material possessions than their body, energy or emotional well-being. Quantity has become more important than quality, keeping many on a treadmill chasing after more, more, more without pause to relish in even a moment of satisfaction from that which they have already acquired.
Somewhere along The Way we have lost our way from the initial drive towards survival and development, and entered the realm of too much is not enough. Many people are disconnected: disconnected from their body and inner wisdom; disconnected from their food source; disconnected from the planet; and disconnected from their fellow human beings. Some are content to maintain the status quo while even those with the best of intentions must endure tidal waves of misinformation and the challenges of sailing against the wind. We need a reality check, a way to pass through the dark of night into the light of day.
Throughout the ages, Tao meditation and energy arts have been a means by which anyone can become a creator of positive change and reconnect: reconnect with nature; reconnect with their body and that which sustains it; reconnect with their essence; and reconnect with one another. At the heart of training internal energy arts is awareness training, to understand and learn from experience in body, mind and qi energy. As each aspect of Tao meditation and energy arts is developed over time, it reinforces and magnifies the effects of all others, creating a positive feedback loop—not only during practice, but in all facets of living. This is possible because, as consciousness is heightened, people begin to make healthier choices, whether applied to their well-being, business, sport or any worthy pursuit in life.
The Supporting Roles of Nature, Nutrition + Community
Tao arts, including all Five Element, I Ching and nei gong training has always included a wholly integrated system. That is the qi gong, tai chi or bagua practitioner does not only seek to become an adept in his/her art form, but to apply their knowledge and skill set to every aspect of life. Ultimately, all Tao arts practices become a means by which a person can pursue the questions of spirituality.
However, working towards such a lofty goal as enlightenment —or even ordinary goals such as stress reduction, better health, healing and well-being—is not easily achieved by the most dedicated internal energy arts practice alone. There are other essential and supporting threads that intertwine with Tao arts training to make the practitioner’s goals possible or more readily available. Three of the most fundamental aspects are the roles of nature, nutrition and community. Without development in any one of these areas, it becomes dramatically more difficult to create balance in your body, mind and qi energy, and yet more challenging to live in harmony with all and everything that encompasses your surroundings.
Nature: Renewing + Invigorating
Immersing yourself in the natural energies of the environment make training in nature a totally different experience to indoor practice–whatever form of exercise, sport or art you train. However, when specifically training Tao arts, in the beginning natural energies stimulate your qi energy, and thereby allow you to feel and contact your qi. Later, through dedicated and sustained practice, you can use your qi to contact and manipulate environmental energies, dramatically amplifying your skill and overall vitality. The process isn’t metaphorical, but rather progressive and systematic, capable of producing visceral, real and clear transformations in how you experience your body and the environment. Ancient Taoists were Eastern pagans–that is to say they developed their practices in nature, based on the laws of nature, and whole-heartedly regarded nature as having intrinstic value that superseded its use by or relastionship to human beings.
Each year, I offer at least one nature retreat for the very purpose of helping people reconnect with the energies of the environment and the planet, as all Taoist energy arts have been taught throughout the ages. Comparatively, the results people gain from this level of training is far beyond what I’ve ever witnessed in more than two decades of internal energy arts training in the city. Natural resources come to your aid and make it easier to tune into and feel subtle energies. From my experiences teaching and training in nature, I’ve come to the conclusion that it’s not only one of the most natural human behaviours, but absolutely fundamental to our ability to live healthy, stable and spontaneous lives.
Nutrition: Essential Ingredients for Life
When we train to reconnect with our body, we begin to feel more deeply, perhaps even more profoundly. It then becomes easier to tune into the ways in which the body responds to external stimuli, specifically whether functions are upgraded or downgraded. One of the most important factors is what we eat and the nutritional value of any food source.
Jing, which translates as “body essence” in Chinese, is absorbed through digestion of food, providing the material and energetic basis of the body. Although jing is the lowest vibration of energy in the makeup of your being, it supplies raw energy that can be cultivated and transformed into qi through internal energy arts practice. A nutrient-rich diet is therefore required to maintain not only regular practice, but also the essential building blocks that feed, renew and develop the cells of your body. During the Cultural Revolution in China, many lineages died out because people were starved of sufficient food to sustain regular training, exemplifying the importance of the nourishment-training feedback loop.
There are many dietary programmes available to you in the West. Nutrition is quite individual and each of us must be in touch with our own body to know what is best. That said there are simple things you can do—whatever dietary programme you choose—to ensure you consume foods that provide you with sufficient jing, so you can efficiently and effectively apply your training to everything from healing your body to achieving high-performance results in your work, hobby, sport or life in general.
Community: Magnification of the Human Experience
Community is about the magnification of the human experience. We are social animals who grew up for millions of years in tribal groups or clans. This not only ensured the survival of our species, but made chores easier, life more enjoyable and perhaps added meaning to what could otherwise be seen as a treacherous existence.
In terms of Tao energy arts, fundamental to the training sequence is the oscillation between attending a class to learn methodology and training at home to hone your techniques. In ancient times, the teacher would start class just after dawn and leave students to train together for much of the day. This worked for thousands of years as a daily regime not only because it gave students plenty of time to develop while under the guidance of a knowledgeable teacher, but also because students supported one another’s growth and thereby learned more in the process. Again, it’s a circular self-reinforcing training progression. The best teachers are those who remain students themselves.
The lineage teachings I offer regard partner exercises as critical to training because they teach you what to look for in both yourself and your partner; you can encourage your training partner (and vice versa) to move beyond obstacles and find ways of helping each other to embody greater understanding. Also, when you guide others, you often solidify your knowledge and discover new perspectives that may not have been immediately apparent, thereby propelling you towards a deeper understanding. (See my video clip on partner exercises to learn more about why they are so heavily emphasised in our system.)
Finally, training in a group can make it easier to feel what is happening and pick up on subtle energies. The group energy is far stronger than what any one person could generate in their solo practice. I’ve seen those who put in the extra effort to team up and train together advance much quicker over the years. Internal energy arts are social arts, inextricably linked and woven into the very fabric of training benefits. And, of course, these principles are no different in other sports, hobbies or crafts.
Making Positive Change
Dedicated Tao meditation and energy arts training can be extremely rewarding. However, the point is not only to lay down burdens and become a clearer, more relaxed and vital individual during practice sessions, but to carry over that which you cultivate in your training into your daily life. Taoists talk about building on small successes—starting with that which is easy and allowing each accomplishment to lead to the next. In the process, you become more stable and open to looking inside to discover your inner wisdom. Then, you can grow your power to reach out to your fellow human beings for their benefit, rather than to further personal agendas.
With a little ongoing, individual effort, we can tune into, support and join the many positive forces trending towards a more relaxed and sustainable way of living that is in harmony with the well-being of our planet and the other beings that inhabit her. In this way, we do our part to slow down the disintegration of society and drive towards materialism, greed, fear and anxiety. Ultimately, we become the creators of positive change in our own realities.
Paul Cavel is the founder of Tao Arts London, editor of the monthly Tao journal, Inner Quest , life coach and senior Tao meditation arts teacher. Since 1987, Paul has studied nei gong science, the I Ching and Lao Tzu’s Water tradition of Taoism in-depth, including qi gong, tai chi, bagua zhang, Taoist breathing, Taoist yoga, qi gong tui na energy healing and meditation. He offers free training tips on his blog, www.CircleWalking.com .
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