We will all experience times of crisis in our lives. In my practice, it is often the reason a person seeks treatment in the first place. It is often precipitated through illness, or external factors such as losing a job or the end of a relationship. But it can also arise when a client reaches an impasse in their treatment, – indeed, their symptoms may even be worsening. They are distressed, desperate. They may be angry or blame me for the fact that “it’s not working”. In these moments, the energy in the room is charged, tense, uncomfortable. The feeling of desperation (not just the client’s for I feel it now too), – the urge to do something, to ‘fix it’, can feel overwhelming and be very hard to resist. In this charged atmosphere, it is all too easy for me to be pulled into this vortex. My intentions may be good, – what could be wrong with wanting to alleviate the suffering of the person sitting right here, face to face with me, the person who has come to me and asked for my help? After all, I’m supposed to know what to do, am I not?
Am I? Well, yes, – it’s true that I’ve trained long and studied hard to attain the knowledge and skills and indeed the art of Chinese Medicine. I am into my third decade of this kind of work, and I should know what I am doing by now, shouldn’t I? Yes, I should. And I do. But that’s not the issue here. This is not about whether I have the ‘nuts and bolts’ clinical skills I need to treat this person effectively. No, – something else is going on.
So, – just what is happening in this moment of crisis? At such times we often say things like “my world has turned upside down”, “everything is falling apart”, or “I don’t know what to do”. We come face to face with the Chaos, and it is terrifying. The paradox is that this very dissolution, this darkness, this ‘not knowing’ is ripe with the possibility of change. It is at this darkest hour where the polarity between yin and yang reaches its extremity. In Taoist thinking, this crux, or weiji, is the critical turning point which holds the greatest potential for transformation, – if we can only hold steady.
This is the challenge, – to wait; – to let go of yang activity, and surrender to yin receptivity; – to relinquish the effort to impose order, and be willing to descend into chaos; – simply to ‘be’ rather than to ‘do’. For this to happen, we must be willing to let the light of the Shen, the illuminating conscious mind, be submerged in the darkness, and have faith that there is another kind of knowing. When we can do this, when we can be in the darkness, not knowing, we can let go of the struggle and reach a still point, the calm at the eye of the storm. We allow for a reconnection with Tao, with the instinctual wisdom of the unconscious body, and new possibilities can arise. This is what the Taoists called wuwei, ‘doing by not doing’. If we can but trust in the mysterious gestational power of the yin, the spark of yang light miraculously emerges and we can again know our way, our tao, and be aligned with the great Tao.
In the pursuit of learning, every day something is acquired.
In the pursuit of Tao, every day something is dropped.
Less and less is done
Until non-action is achieved.
When nothing is done, nothing is left undone.
The world is ruled by letting things take their course.
It cannot be ruled by interfering.
-Lao Tzu, Tao Te Ching, chapter forty-eight,
transl. Gia Fu Feng and Jane English