The Three Paths and Your Three Selves

Daoism is one of the oldest living Spiritual traditions in the world. Originating over 10,000 years ago with the Indigenous people of Asia, Daoism has gradually evolved from a Shamanic Hunter/Gatherer tradition to a contemporary and practical religion.

If Daoism has an underlying truth to understand or believe in, it would be simply this. ‘You are Nature. What brings peace and helps life flourish in Nature will bring peace and abundance into your life.’

Being a practical tradition and very ancient tradition, Daoism understands this abundance to mean Vitality and Longevity.

10,000 years ago, abundance meant something different than today.

Originating deep in human history and experience, Daoist practice begins with imitating and understanding Nature. Some practitioners imitate animals, while others study storms and the seasons. Qi Gong is one of the most popular methods of participating with and imitating Nature. In Qi Gong practice, we play with what is coming down from abve and what is coming up from below.

Between the Sky and the Land, there is Life and the Laws of Nature.

What is the season and the quaility of interaction between the Sky and the Land right now?

Go outside and find some trees. Try Qi Gong, see what you feel.

The first teaching in the Huan Yuan tradition of Daoism is called the San Dao – or the Threefold Path of Dao.

In this teaching, you are asked to see your journey as a human being as three journeys, ways or paths. There is the Way of Soil (Earth/Land), the Way of Beings (Society/Intimacy), and the Way of Sky (Spirit/Heaven). I will discuss these further below.

Each of these journeys is a winding and personal path that will return you to your innate experience of Being Human (Huan Yuan – Returning to the Original Way).

 I encourage my students to see these paths as constant companions and reminders that we are all here to learn and grow. If you had three legs and wanted to go somewhere you would have to take a step with each leg, placing each foot on the Land, finding your balance, moving with collaboration and purpose, athenticity and playfulness. Taking the next step with another foot.

After three steps, you have taken one full step along your way.

In Indigenous Daoism, each step forward happens in three worlds, and to three Selves. That may sound like more work, but it is really about conscious progress and flow.

Your Three Selves

Imagine that you are riding a horse or a dragon.

You are on a long journey and you need all of your resources. You also need to feel confident about where you are going, so you have some binoculars to see as far as you can.

The horse or dragon represents how you feel in your body – right now.

How did you sleep? Getting enough fiber in your diet? Feeling up to carrying your burdens for another day? Or, are you so fit and happy that you cannot wait to get moving and return to your adventure?

The rider represents how you feel about your journey as a person – right now.

Who are you closest to these days? Do the people in your life understand where you are going? Who keeps you motivated and inspired? Is your heart full of love, or does it feel broken and trampled? Or both?

If your life had a theme song, what would it be?

Your binoculars represent the ways you look at, and look into the world to find meaning – right now. 

Is there life after death? Does the Universe keep score? Is there a point to going through life? What is Truth? What is Consciousness?

Daoism and Qi Gong mostly exist in the present moment. Having three imaginary and symbolic selves is a playful and honest way to explore your life and your San Dao.

Check in with your horse, rider, and binoculars often.

They are great mirrors and guides along this journey.

The Way of Earth

地道   Di Dao

The Dao of Earth, Land, or Soil, is simply the way of organic life

Di Dao is also the path your body is on. Experientially that feels like your physicality, strength, vitality, instinctual awareness, and your sensual reality.

This path is unique to each of us depending on your age, lifestyle and health.

Getting to know your body requires great attention and patience, as well as the willingness to accept things as they actually are.  In the western world, we are extremely body-conscious, especially about having an idealistic appearance, and heroic physical abilities.  This aspect of our culture compels us to try and look like, run like, dance-like, and attract sexual partners like we are extremely competitive twenty-year-olds.

If unity with oneself is the beginning of unity with the universe, then trying to be someone else seems, well, a little off of the path.

How does your body feel right now? How is your posture and your breath? How old is your horse (body)? What has your body been through? Injuries? Illness? Trauma? How can improve this relationship?

Di Dao is the foundation of Daoism. Honour the gift of your life by enjoying your vitality for as many days as you have.

Qi Gong, Dao Yin, Tai Ji, Martial Arts, Yoga etc, are all paths of Di Dao.

Each of these embodied practices involves cultivating your awareness of life through the experience of your body’s sensations, capacities, and limitations.  Please take a moment to consider and accept that each of us experiences our body very differently, so each of us is going to move along at our own pace – in our unique direction.

If you find yourself experiencing some discomfort by comparing yourself to someone else in a class or in another environment, just settle into the truth of feeling insecure and/or competitive.  As your practices progress you will have ample opportunity and skills to resolve this within yourself.

The Dao of Soil is very close to the Dao of Spirit. 

The Spiritual path in Daoism (Tian Dao) begins by relaxing into the nature of your mind. The Way of Soil begins with relaxing into your instinctual animal body. In all of the physical, sensual, sexual and energetic practices of Daoism, we always begin with, “feel what you feel”.  This, of course, means to feel the source of your feelings as well.  To discover, layer by layer, your habits, your defences, your hopes and fears, and then to acknowledge these uncomfortable places as opportunities to learn is fundamental to cultivating an open awareness.

Being in nature is a great way to experience your inner Landscape.

A day alone in the forest, or by the lake, or on top of a mountain is a chance to have an undistracted relationship with your physical and sensual experiences. Being in Nature every day was a default setting to life, not that long ago. Learning to feel the changing seasons, the Yin and Yang and the Feng Shui (Wind/Water) of every mountain and beach is a potent part of Di Dao and of Qi Gong practice.

Being physically intimate with another person is also a profound opportunity to explore your embodiment.  Giving and receiving intimacy and pleasure can be one of the most joyful experiences in life.  It is a tradition in Daoism to explore sexuality as a form of Qi Gong practice.

Becoming present and aware of yourself as a body and your life as an embodied instinctual and intuitive experience is very freeing for the talking mind.

It is the same feeling that you get just before you start dancing!

Your Body has Needs

      • Your instinctual animal body needs to be met and heard
      • Your ‘horse’ needs sleep, water, and food
      • All bodies need boredom and play
      • Your muscles and bones need challenges
      • Your skin and nerves need pleasure
      • Your body does not speak in words, but it hears your meaning
      • Being unhappy with your body is like being unhappy with the Earth

The Way of Beings

人道  Ren Dao

The Way of Beings is your social or inter-personal path. 

On this path, you are on the journey to find harmony with others and with your sense of self.

This is found through listening to and noticing the nature of your daily behavior.  This path presents a great challenge because each of us has to learn to be more objective and less subjective, more patient and less reactive.  By understanding your subjective reality you can cultivate a more wise, compassionate and unconditional way of relating to others.

As you begin to trust your patience and intuition you will naturally become more appreciative of your self and the person you are becoming.

Most students of Daoism find this path to be the most challenging. It is understandable to be drawn to the attractive and profound Spiritual Path (Tian Dao).  Experienced practitioners always describe Ren Dao – the path of Authenticity in all relationships is the most important to learn from at the beginning. It is wise to be aware of ‘who’ is meditating. As the ancient ones say,

“Without freedom from the habits of one’s disposition, one is closed to universal possibilities and truths.”

Grooming is a fundamental practice of Ren Dao.

Grooming is the act of one person helping another, without the condition that they reverse roles in the same, or some other, way.

Imagine a couple of primates. One will pick the twigs, leaves, and maybe even bugs out of the other’s fur.  Then they might switch, some more often than others.  If you actually observe monkeys, the one who gets the least and gives the least grooming are often the most violent and the most shortest-lived.

It is probably uncommon for you to have to pick bugs out of someone’s hair, but there are always people needing a helping hand, a back rub, a shoulder to cry on, or just some humanity.

Perhaps the most important quality of Ren Dao and Qi Gong practice is the awareness of the who is practicing.

When you practice, what is your motivation? How do feel if you miss a practice? How is your discipline?

Most of the suffering that we experience as beings is due to a feeling that we are separate from each other, the natural world and even reality itself.  You must be supported by and connected to the Universe or you wouldn’t be able to read this, because you wouldn’t exist. Ren Dao reminds and encourages us all to place as much Spiritual value on your personal authenticity and freedom as any other aspect of Daoist practice.

There is an old saying, “Between Heaven (Yang) and Earth (Yin) there is Life (Qi), and their natural laws of interaction”.

There is another saying, “If you can breath, you are already one with everything”.

Breathing is the greatest metaphor for living, it is how we give to and receive from all other life.  The depth, pace, and attention to each inhalation and exhalation is like a mystical gateway to exploring your inner world, your boundaries, your experience of separation, and the belief that you do not belong.

Every Being and Self has Needs

      • The ‘one’ on this journey is here to learn
      • All Beings change – trust your intuition
      • Every Self needs meaningful social connection
      • Authentic communication is where Selves are met
      • Emotional Intelligence is personal freedom
      • Self Regulation becomes confidence
      • Self Awareness and Self Intimacy create personal growth

The Way of Heaven

天道   Tian Dao

The Way of Heaven is the path of connecting to the Celestial, the Existential, the Spiritual, and the ‘Great Mystery’. 

Tian Dao is the most subtle, playful, and gradual aspect of Daoist Spiritual Cultivation. This journey begins with the practice of meditation and the gradual relaxation into the nature of your mind.

If Spiritual practice is about improving consciousness or being aligned with a higher consciousness, then most of us will need to start with some housecleaning.

In Daoism, a Spiritual Journey begins with self-acceptance – complete and total acceptance of who you are and the world you live in. This is not a passive experience.

It will take every ounce of patience, compassion, and forgiveness that you have.

The mind is like a mirror and each of our lives is like a mirror. As your inner growth becomes confident, your outer life will become fulfilling and wholehearted.

Spirituality is a tricky subject. 

The quote, ‘The Dao that can be described is not the reality of Dao’ sums things up rather nicely.  Daoism is rooted in the observation of, and reunification with Nature, its cycles and extremes.  To live a human life and experience the Sky, the Land, and all Life as your home and your family.

If nature is cyclic that means that every up and down is equally important to the whole, there is no best or worst, only reality and the choice resist or flow.

Once you have embraced and experienced the natural state of existence as a Body and as a Being, look up.

Consider that the animating Life Force of all things may have a source in the Sky.

In Daoism, this ‘Wind of Heaven’ is called Ling.

With practice and patience, it is believed that one can interact with this subtle force directly.

Your Existential Needs

      • Dissolving boundaries
      • A collaborative Universe
      • A balance of the predictable and the chaotic
      • More questions, less answers
      • Humility, patience, compassion, and forgiveness
      • Unsolvable mysteries

This article is an excerpt from the soon-to-be-released ‘The Foundations of Qi Gong, Breathwork, and Meditation.’

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