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Daoist Tips for 21st Century Living

by Vicki McKenna(more info)

listed in chinese oriental medicine, originally published in issue 148 - June 2008

Wanting to be Perfect

I remember many years ago my acupuncture mentor, Professor JR Worsley, drawing a picture of a cream bun on the blackboard at the College of Traditional Chinese Acupuncture. Next to it he drew a bowl of brown rice. “Which of these,” he enquired with an impish grin, “do you think you should eat, and how do you feel when you think that way?”

Now, he was not suggesting (and neither am I) that we should indulge ourselves with a daily diet of cream buns, but he was saying that if we restrain ourselves in order to fit an idealized picture of how we think we should be we are going to feel exactly what the word restrain implies – strained. The aim for Daoists is neither strain nor over-indulgence, but instead a balanced way – one where we can be ourselves – relaxed, in harmony with nature – in one word – authentic. But so often we want to be perfect, and feel we should be other than we are.

Meditating, drinking carrot juice regularly – these things are good for you, but as the song says “it ain’t what you do it’s the way that you do it”. We can have counselling for years, always eat organically – do all the things we think we should do, but if we do them because we feel we ought to, because we are aspiring to be perfect, we will find ourselves strained and uptight – 10,000 light years away from what the Daoists call living authentically.

Living Authentically

To be authentic we need to simply be ourselves, open and relaxed. Most of the time we are closed off and aware only of the chatter of our busy minds with its likes and dislikes, its ‘shoulds’ and ‘should nots’. Authenticity means letting go of this fearful internal chatter, our constant straining to fit an idealized picture of who we think we ought to be. Historically for the Daoists, this process towards authenticity required integrating the physical body’s sexual essence (jing), the energy body (chi) and the spirit body (shen) into a state of openness (wu). There are many esoteric Daoist practices that have been developed over the centuries to help attain this state, but ultimately, they all involve letting go into a state of relaxation.

Relax, open and go towards everything in your life, the good, bad and ugly. Surrender and let go of the voices that tell you to be other than you are right now in this moment. If you feel that you, or those near and dear to you, should be thinner, richer, more positive, enlightened, or that you should not crave that cream bun, then ask yourself what it is that you are actually feeling – is there sadness, anger, worry, fear, underneath your dissatisfaction or craving?

Craving a cream bun? Relax and treat yourself to one. But if your craving or discontent continues then see it as an opportunity to open to your emotions, and acknowledge them. If you are feeling sad, angry, worried or fearful, for whatever reasons, let go of wanting yourself, and everybody/everything in your world, to be ‘fixed’ and, instead, simply accept how you feel in this moment, let go of trying to be other than who you are, so your chi can relax and flow. This is the first and most positive step towards authenticity and good mental and physical health.

Body Scan

The body scan is part of mindfulness meditation formulated by Jon Kabat-Zinn but sits well with Daoist practices. The body scan, helps you to be aware of muscular tensions as they arise in the body, and encourages deep relaxation. As you learn to witness with compassion any physical tension through the body scan, you can apply this process emotionally, and so learn to live authentically – present, open and accepting of yourself.

Wear loose comfortable clothing and sit or lie in a comfortable position. Take some relaxed deep breaths and then turn your attention to the entire body as you breathe.

Focus on the toes of the left foot, and put all your attention there. Then move the awareness to the left foot, ankle, calf to the knee, the thigh, and up to the left hip. Next, allow awareness to move across the pelvis and down to the toes of the right foot, then to the whole foot and up the calf to the knee, the thigh, and to the hip and pelvis. From here, move awareness up through the lower abdomen and lower back, to the chest, upper back, and shoulders.

Next, focus awareness on the fingers of both hands, moving up the hands, wrists, arms and shoulders. Then on to the neck, throat, all parts of the face, the ears, and then top of the head. Now breathe in through the toes, up through the entire body, and out through the crown of the head. Then let the breath flow in through the top of the head down through the whole body, and out of the toes. Now feel yourself totally present, authentically here now.


Kabat-Zinn, J. Full Catastrophe Living: Using the Wisdom of Your Body and Mind to Face Stress, Pain and Illness. Delta.


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About Vicki McKenna

Vicki McKenna BA Lic Ac trained at The College of Traditional Chinese Acupuncture in Leamington Spa with Professor Worsley from 1981 gaining her Lic Ac. in 1984 and has been practising acupuncture in Scotland since then. Her book A Balanced Way Of Living; Practical and Holistic Strategies for Coping with Post Polio Syndrome is available from 


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