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Stop Constantly Thinking and Start Consciously Living

by Vicki McKenna(more info)

listed in chinese oriental medicine, originally published in issue 246 - May 2018

The thirty spokes unite in the one nave; but it is on the empty
space (for the axle), that the use of the wheel depends. Clay is
fashioned into vessels; but it is on their empty hollowness, that
their use depends. The door and windows are cut out (from the walls)
to form an apartment; but it is on the empty space (within), that its
use depends. chapter 11 of Dao-de Jing.



Courtesy of tao te ching daily

Veneration of the Intellect

Western philosophy for thousands of years has developed the belief that thinking is the foundation of existence - “I think therefore I am” according to Descartes. Thinking is certainly viewed as the ground rock of our current educational system whereby parents are encouraged to accelerate learning by drilling even pre-kindergarten toddlers on vocabulary and numeracy before the child’s mind is ready to take in this knowledge. American Valerie Strauss covers Education in the Washington Post and writes of the current education system in the USA; “schools continue to use entrance testing regardless of its unreliability…. Parents themselves begin ‘teaching to the test’ by drilling their toddlers on vocabulary, numbers, letters, and other items usually encountered on kindergarten readiness tests, well before babies’ and toddlers’ minds are ready to appreciate and integrate this knowledge.”[1]

Cover The Intuitive Parent

This encouragement to emphasis and overload the intellect starts when we are young and continues throughout our lives as generally, in our western culture, we hold in high esteem those who are intellectuals and academics. We often start by accelerating learning for infants and then move on to fill growing minds with judgemental beliefs and opinions. As adults of the current electronic and digital age we further overload our thought processes  with news, information and opinions from an overuse of computers, tablets and phones.

Daoists understand that we are more than our intellects - our ability to think is just one manifestation of the Void from which the ‘ten thousand things’  arise. It is the Void that is in fact the true basis of our existence and from it manifests Energy as Yin and Yang, the Five Elements and the elemental cycles. Instead of focusing so heavily on cultivating thought processes we instead need to enlarge the gaps between thoughts. When we enlarge the gaps between thoughts we allow ourselves to relax and come back into harmony with the Void - the true ground of our existence. As we go beyond thought, as we let go of chewing over ideas, judgements and opinions,  we align with the Void and thus  a profound sense of clarity and wellbeing arises from deep within us.

Thinking is of course completely necessary and obviously very useful but it is not something to constantly cling to as it is a transitory and fleeting process - thoughts, synaptic impulses, the processing of information - all of these are,  by their very nature, impermanent arising from the Void and returning to the Void. We have a tendency to hang on to thoughts - often obsessively clinging to ideas and perceptions, labels, value judgements, aversions and preferences and it is this clinging  that causes us problems. By yielding and relaxing, our noisy, clamouring, thought filled minds return to their natural state - a conscious state of awareness - of emptiness, flow and simplicity. This is the Void from which everything arises. To do this refreshes and regenerates us - we become more consciously alive whereas clinging to the intellect, constantly thinking, will exhaust our health and wellbeing.

Xin Zhai

Accessing ‘empty space’ as described above in chapter 11 of the Dao de Jing is essential if we are to thrive mentally, emotionally, spiritually. When our minds are full they can easily become exhausted, burned out. When we give the intellect a well-deserved rest, we touch base with ‘empty space’ - the Void, the wellspring of all our potential creativity. We might think that without thought processes we become vacant and dull but of course this is far from the truth. It is true that if we are semi consciously performing a task such as driving or cooking then we are not necessarily thinking but neither are we necessarily fully awake and aware in those semi-conscious states.

As we access ‘empty space’, this state of conscious awareness, we can regard and handle life and our circumstances without all the baggage associated with thinking - the labels, value judgements, aversions and preferences that we have become so attached to. Daoists realize that when we are attached to constant thinking we cut ourselves off from the Void, from the wellspring of the Dao and in this way we become stressed and suffer. Instead we must clear our minds of judgements and theories and become still, accepting and open - flexibly ready to go with the changes life presents. In this way we are fully awake and are living consciously rather than half asleep and burned out. Daoists call this process Xin Zhai.

Cover Dao de Jing

Xin Zhai is a term coined by the Daoist sage Zhuangzi (Chuang Tzu). Literally, Xin means heart and Zhai means vegetarian diet, so the literal meaning of Xin Zhai is "vegetarian diet of the heart." As vegetarianism cleanses us physically, so the purpose of Xin Zhai is to cleanse and empty the mind. You can practise Xin Zhai in any situation -  breathe slowly and deeply from the diaphragm, let go of all your worries, angry thoughts, grievances, just be quiet and still, simply witness, open  and accept - yield to everything in this one moment with the entirety of your being. Xin Zhai is about freeing your mind of continuous thoughts so that you may listen with your entire being, without judgements or theories, preferences, aversions. In this way we are aligning with the Void and in this totally relaxed state we will find our thinking processes actually become clearer - we are more engaged, more switched on, more fully alive. Now, no longer stressed we are able to meet whatever arises in the moment as we stop our constant thinking and start consciously living.




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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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