David James Lees, Guest Writer
In my last Wu Wei Wisdom workshop at Peak House Practice I shared with my students the concept of the ‘power of three’, which is the most fundamental Taoist teaching I received from my Master in China and which is as relevant today in the West as it was in ancient China many thousands of years ago.
The power of three, or chicken foot as it’s sometimes called in China, has a great significance and insight within Chinese Taoist philosophy, however, this triad of energy is not only a Chinese concept as it’s been referred to in differing forms since ancient times, with many cultures, religions and philosophies attempting to define the ‘magic’ surrounding the number three and its relationship with the triads of mind- body- spirit or past-present-future.
In Taoism the Three Treasures or Three Jewels of compassion/love, modesty/simplicity, and restraint/humbleness are often described as basic virtues and discussed on several occasions in the classic Chinese text the Tao Te Ching.
Within traditional Chinese medicine practice the Three Treasures are also referred to as Jing, Qi and Shen, translated as essence, vitality, and spirit respectively – the energies cultivated through the practice of Qigong and Tai Chi.
The ‘powerful three’ I wish to focus on here, however, are Yin, Yang and Wu Wei, and their relationship with the energy and potential our lives…
An ancient teaching
I first encountered the concept of the chicken foot in China when asking my Taoist Master when would be the correct time to return home from my studies and, with a nonchalant shrug of the shoulders, he presented me with this unusual term.
It wasn’t until much later when receiving a teaching on Chapter 42 of the Tao Te Ching that I began to realise the significance behind this seemingly ‘throwaway’ phrase and how it relates to our modern world in a very powerful and profound way.
My own translation of the chapter is as follows:
gave birth to the one;
the one gives birth to the two;
gives birth to three;
the three gives birth to every living thing.
All things are based in Yin and carry Yang,
and are held together in the Qi of dynamic energy.
Therefore your greatest strength
becomes your greatest weakness.
The way you live, the way you die,
this is the fundamental teaching.
Stretching your perception and facing your fears
The beginning of this verse teaches the idea of accepting the mystery of the eternal Tao and the concept of blending and harmonising seemingly polar opposites and contradictory forces (Yin and Yang) to achieve a true singular harmonic energy vibration (Wu Wei) with the Universe.
Doing this apparently impossible task by shifting or broadening your perception allows you to grasp the reality that all energetic roots and origins are one of the same – everything is interconnected.
And so begins your journey into Taoism and the understanding that you cannot successfully protect or separate yourself from Source, or any ‘energetic’ encounter you are experiencing, whether it is the dynamic of your energetic relationship with an individual, situation or event.
In accepting this universal truth the fruitlessness of any emotional or physical ‘fight’ or ‘flight’, or other avoidance techniques you may have developed to bypass awkward, uncomfortable and fearful energetic situations, may become apparent.
The only ‘authentic’, way of being is therefore to confront and find the Wu Wei, the harmonious, balanced and centred way, through the energy field.
I spend much of my time working with my clients on this principle: teaching them how to face their fears and navigate the Wu Wei of life situations that are troubling them, allowing them to develop confidence and trust so that they may shine as individuals.
Embracing Oneness and navigating your Wu Wei
No one can fully explain the beauty or profoundness of the Tao in words as it vibrates on a higher energetic frequency (this is explained within the first lines of the first verse of the Tao Te Ching: ‘The Tao that can be talked about is not the true Tao. The name that can be named is not the eternal name.’). Yet by teaching that everything originates from a mysterious eternal source, which cannot be verbally explained, is perplexing to Western minds which always need an answer for everything!
Nevertheless, what you can understand and study is the The Way (Tao) of that source or Universal energy and attempt to align and harmonise with it, in the same way a sailing yacht harmonises with the sea currents, prevailing winds and weather conditions.
This fundamental teaching allows you to consider the challenging Taoist concept of Oneness or wholeness, and how a seemingly simple change in perception can dramatically and positively impact your daily life, thinking and core belief system.
We came from Source, we return to Source, therefore will we are Source.
(this is one of the fundamental ‘power of three’ Taoist teachings)
With this in mind,‘human-centred’ perceptions of good or bad fortune, right and wrong,just and unjust etc. cease to be important as now they can be perceived as only two extremes (Yin and Yang) of the same energy.
Focusing your attention on either of the two extremes, or only seeing the two extremes as possibilities, severely restricts your ability to make considered, rational and authentic judgements, and thus finding the harmonious balance within the energy you are encountering becomes ever more challenging.
This narrowly defined, human-centred perception of opposites also disengages you from the harmonious flow of Universal energy (Qi), limiting your potential and committing you to a life of imbalance, separation, stagnation and subsequent Ego justifications and excuses as to why you are ‘stuck in a rut’.
This is where the power of three comes to the rescue!
The harmonious ‘Tao-centred’ way is to consider the whole of the energy, from a perspective of Oneness, balance and harmony.
So, as verse 42 teaches, Yin and Yang are held together in the Qi of dynamic energy, and when in harmonious balance this is Wu Wei, and from Wu Wei everything exists and flows.
From the power of three to personal empowerment
When you embrace the whole of the energy of any given situation or event more harmonious and balanced judgements can be made and authentic outcomes achieved.
A teaching that I often give to my students which reinforces this concept is as follows:
With one option you have a problem,
With two options you have a dilemma,
With three or more options you have authentic choice!
I’m reminded of the idea of changing your perception and paradoxical thinking in the Dalai Lama’s response to someone’s lament of how sorry they were that he had lost his country. His reply was along the lines of “I may have lost my country, but I’ve gained the world”!
Such insights and teachings underscore your unique ability to change your thinking patterns and belief systems, and your ability to define and believe in other, sometimes unseen, outcomes.
In the midst of enormously difficult challenges it can be all too easy to wrongly perceive that there are no successful or authentic outcomes available, yet it’s during these times of great personal and emotional challenge that opportunities for dynamic life changes are presented for you to embrace, learn and grow.
I believe Taoism to be a spiritual not religious practice and these concepts gently guide our way through energetic situations and challenges as would a compass. In the same way it’s inappropriate to brag or ‘show off’ when your life is going well, equally you should not be downhearted when the challenges seem tough and unresolvable.
As the verse 42 highlights: your strengths become weaknesses and weaknesses strengthens so be mindful not to let your human-centred thinking fool you into believing any energy or situation will last, as nothing lasts, everything changes, transforms and flows.
This is The Way (Tao) of the Universe, embrace it don’t fight it! This insight and change in perception has the potential to dramatically affect the energy of your life. It’s the only verse in the whole of the Tao Te Ching that mentions ‘fundamental teachings’ so I understand it to be just that – an extremely important fundamental Taoist teaching.
As for my encounter with my Taoist Master, I realise now he was just empowering me (in his usual brusque Chinese way) to take responsibly and make my own authentic decisions…as we all should do!
Meditate and consider the following:
- Are you embracing life from a human centred or Tao centred perspective?
- How is this affecting your potential?
- When was the last time you were in your authentic Wu Wei?
- What did it feel like?
- What can you do today to reclaim that harmonious position?
- Is there anything blocking your energetic flow right now?
- What are three (or more!) possibilities/outcomes of the life situation you are currently facing?
- I am a spiritual being having a human experience – I am Source.
- I choose to follow my Wu Wei in all that I do.
- I embrace life’s possibilities, both seen and unseen.
- I am One with everything.
About the Author
David James Lees is a spirituality and wellness author, Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) practitioner,
This article is offered under Creative Commons license. It’s okay to republish it anywhere as long as attribution bio is included and all links remain intact.
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