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Drawing on the Dao: Happiness

by Vicki McKenna(more info)

listed in chinese oriental medicine, originally published in issue 133 - March 2007

No summits, no NATO,
No instant mashed potato
Just winkle
A twinkle
From that gloomy face.
No DJs, no jingles,
No dreadful charity singles.
Teeth gleaming,
Get beaming
And smile all over the place.     Victoria Wood


Lightness of Heart

Often we look for happiness outside of ourselves – through material things or by wishing that our lives were different in some way. Daoist philosophy teaches us that the path of happiness lies within, and certainly one of the defining traits of Daoists Masters is the way they exude a state of happiness, a sense of light-heartedness and fun. Much of Traditional Chinese Medicine theory is derived from Daoist philosophy and tells us that happiness depends on cultivating the chi (energy) of the Heart whose corresponding element is Fire, and this balance of Fire energy in the Heart will increase our sense of inner joy and happiness. Thus when the Heart chi is deficient or in excess and Fire is out of balance we may find ourselves experiencing unhappiness and feel agitated and off-centre.  Furthermore there is an aspect of the Heart that is the wellspring of all our happiness.  

The ancient Chinese text the Nei Jing, ‘The Yellow Emperor’s Classic of Internal Medicine’ tells us that the Heart is the spiritual and emotional centre of the body and on its deepest level is residence to the Shen – the eternal spirit and source of joyful serenity. Most of us identify with the habitual self – that heavy collection of habits, likes and dislikes that we call ‘self’ and take far too seriously. Instead we need to align ourselves with the joyful lightness and radiance that is the natural state of the Heart Shen and in this way come to view ourselves and others with good humour and compassion.

Let go of the burden of the habitual and serious self with its rigid opinions, its likes and dislikes; relax and find contentment in all that life brings. Daoists tell us to lighten up by embracing without resistance all the events of our lives and all of our reactions towards those events – both pleasurable and painful. As we open our hearts to embrace life, we connect and align with the Shen, balance the Heart Fire and return to our innate state of happiness.

Daoists’ created practices that translated their spiritual insights to the physical body, and these exercises help us to cultivate a sense of being whole in all of body, mind and spirit. Daoist exercises traditionally use breathing, visualizations and meditation to quieten and open the heart, and so connect with its natural sense of happiness.

Although there is a Chinese saying “laughter is the best medicine” and research shows that laughing lowers the blood pressure and keeps the heart healthy, Daoists might say that smiling – particularly the practice of the Inner Smile goes deeper to cultivate a lasting happiness. It is this  exercise that can align the practitioner with the Shen and so connect him with his true source of inner happiness.

The Inner Smile 

•    Sit on a chair with straightened spine and closed eyes. Inhale slowly through your nose and gently exhale through your mouth. Do this several times;
•    As you inhale, feel a movement all the way down to the Dan Tien – the energy centre just below the naval. Allow your abdomen to expand as your diaphragm moves down in a full breath, then let your abdomen relax as you exhale completely. Breathe continuously, with no pauses between the exhalation and the inhalation;
•    As you breathe, smile into your naval and Dan Tien and then bring your awareness into your heart area;
•    Feel the flame of love deep within your heart – a  warm light that is your deepest, most real Self. Smile into your Heart Centre and feel the healing light of the Shen radiating out to all the cells of your heart;
•    Now turn your awareness to each of your organs in turn – stomach and spleen, lungs and intestines, kidneys and bladder, gall bladder and liver, and smile into each organ whilst breathing deeply and feeling calm and peaceful;
•    Come back to the heart and rest there feeling the Inner Smile harmonizing and balancing your energy and be aware of the serene happiness of the Shen – your eternal spirit.
*    Affirm “With a smile in my Heart I embrace my life.”


Reid, Daniel. Chi Gung, Simon and Shuster 1998
Hill, S. Reclaiming the Wisdom of the Body. Constable and Company 1997


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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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