‘Distancing Desires’ – The Taoist way to longevity

“Relish oblivion and obscurity, think less, have little desire and practice economy of speech in order to nourish the Qi.” – Li Dong Yuan (pictured)

This quote is from a short chapter in a book by Li Dong Yuan (1180-1251 CE), an influential figure in the development of Chinese Medicice. The book is the Pi Wei Lun which is quite a technical medical text, aimed mainly at Chinese herbalists. Yet in among the detailed descriptions of herbal formulas and the discussion of the finer points of the working of Qi in the body, Li thinks it important to have a chapter entitled ‘distancing desires.’

Li is expressing Taoist thought – the importance of being calm and ‘going with the flow‘ in order to maintain health and vitality. According to Li, not following this philosophy will lead to degeneration of the body and mind.

In my opinion, Li is emphasizing the importance of calm and withdrawal, the yin qualities of life. These days we’re all so busy. We have so much to do and so little time. We do what we need to for our work and our families but have little time left over for ourselves.

Put simply, we are stressed and overworked!

No wonder then that most people feel tired all the time, and suffer from a variety of ongoing ailments and ‘niggles’.

Li says “when I respond or attend to human affairs, all my symptoms of disease get worse.” This says to me that the problem is giving out too much energy, being too involved in external affairs. This could mean too much emotional involvement, too much mental involvement or simply doing too much physically.

In the terms of Chinese medicine, over-activity depletes the Qi and Blood, leading the way for various health issues. In the long term, burning the candle at both ends causes depletion of our Jing, the deepest and most vital of our energies. In fact, in traditional Chinese Yang Sheng practice, conservation and development of Qi, Blood and Jing is considered one of the main aims.

The answer is to find time to withdraw, to nourish oneself, to have ‘me time’. Be less Yang and more Yin.

Or in other words:

Don’t give importance to things that don’t deserve your emotional energy.

Practice of deep breathing, relaxation techniques, yoga, qi gong, tai chi or meditation can help to develop this skill. And as we all know, to attain physical and mental relaxation really is a skill, and it takes practice! Reading taoist books, either classical or modern, can also help you to find ways to ‘think less and have little desire.’

I’ll leave Li to say the rest….

“Refrain from unnecessary taxation in order to nourish the form, and empty the heart to protect the spirit. Take longevity or death, obtaining or losing without attachment, being at peace with their number, and take bereavement lightly. Then Blood and Qi will naturally be in accord and harmonious, evils will find no place to lodge, and disease will quiet and not increase. If one keeps to all this, one follows the Tao, and one can obtain the true purpose and delight of life.”


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