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Drawing on the Dao: A Capsizing World

by Vicki McKenna(more info)

listed in chinese oriental medicine, originally published in issue 120 - February 2006

Throes of Upheaval

We live in troubled times; ecologically, socially, politically and economically, our planet seems to be in the throes of upheaval. In a constantly changing world many of us may feel that life is increasingly out of our control as we struggle to maintain a sense of order and harmony. Nevertheless, in times where everything seems to be falling apart, we can regain control by deciding to live according to the Dao.

Living according to the Dao means living a simple life, respecting the resources of the planet rather than overusing and wasting them. The seasons show us that all times of expansion are followed by contraction and to disregard this law and endlessly expand leads to a massive contraction causing great suffering. Thus we need to stop recklessly consuming and head instead for the secondhand shop, become greener in our outlook and recycle, stop using chemicals in our houses and gardens, use the car less or not at all, and try to take our holidays locally rather than using up gallons of aviation fuel. In these small but significant ways we can take responsibility and positively affect our capsizing world. Feeling as if we can make a difference we will have a greater sense of control over chaotic outer circumstances.

Being at Ease

But however much we may change our behaviour we may continue to feel a strong underlying sense of uncertainty as we face these troubled times. When reacting with fear and confusion to a rapidly changing world we need to remind ourselves of the words of Chuang Tzu, the Daoist sage, who said in response to his own era of upheaval; "The ten thousand things may all be capsizing and turning over at the same time right in front of him and it can't get at him and affect what's inside – so where could he go and not be at ease?"

Changes that come at us unexpectedly, whether due to sudden loss, ecological upheaval, illness or to any of the 'ten thousand' things that life throws at us, may naturally provoke our inner uncertainties. We may try to protect and insure ourselves against unforeseen changes and fear anything that threatens our security, but ultimately we need to accept life's ever changing nature, live simply and cultivate being 'at ease'.

At times of upheaval the Daoist will focus on being at ease by practising centering techniques such as the Chi Kung exercise below. By aligning with the centre we are able to feel grounded and stable in body, mind and spirit whatever the outer conditions of the world. We may never control all the outcomes of our efforts to change the world, but the one thing we do have control over is our attitude towards our feelings of insecurity. And as we feel more at ease so, like ripples from a pebble thrown into a pond, our calmness will radiate outwards and help others to calm their anxieties.

Balancing Heaven and Earth.

If you are feeling anxious and off-centre – be reminded of the Daoist way and simplify your life as much as possible to help yourself and the planet as a whole. Having made outer changes, take the opportunity to practise the following Chi Kung exercise daily. Working inwardly with the life-force in this way will help you to feel more fully present, grounded and connected to handle all of life's changes more easily. Furthermore, by doing this exercise and bringing your inner capsizing world back into balance, you will make a further positive impact on the chaotic conditions of the outer world.
• With feet parallel and knees slightly bent, imagine you are holding a ball in front of the naval, the right hand under the left;
• Breathe in, on the out breath stretch the right hand above the head, pushing upwards with the palm, and push the left hand down by the left side with your palm facing the floor.
• Breathe in as you bring the hands to cross in front of the navel, pushing the right hand down by the right side and the left hand over the head;
• Repeat evenly and rhythmically matching breath to movement and affirming that whilst one palm connects with the earth the other connects with heaven. Visualize 'heaven' as your individual human consciousness uniting with the 'earth' – the outer collective world. In this way remind yourself that these two aspects work together – as your individual inner state feels calmer, you will positively affect the outer collective world.


Tolle E. A New Earth. Penguin. 2005.
Hill S. Reclaiming the Wisdom of the Body. Constable. 1997.
Ody P. Practical Chinese Medicine. Godsfield Press Ltd. 2000.


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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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