My community recently suffered the most devastating wildfire in California history, with more than 6,000 homes burned. As the community recovers, I am reminded of a phoenix rising from the ashes.
In Greek mythology, the phoenix is a bird that regenerates itself by dying in flames and emerging anew from the ashes. It thus serves as a symbol of hope, recovery, and rebirth after disaster. Let’s consider this image from the perspective of wuweidao.
People typically celebrate birth & growth and want to avoid decline & death. In Laozi’s practice, we see these phases all as part of one continuum happening within an unchanging context. Birth & growth inevitably lead to decline & death; decline & death inevitably lead to birth & growth.
In Laozi’s practice, we recognize all aspects of natural process as the unfolding expression of Dao. We yield to whatever arises. Struggling to maintain growth or to avoid decline brings about exhaustion, stiffness, & internal blockage – ironically increasing the power of decline & death.
Disaster happens; rebirth & recovery happens – like a pendulum. Wuweidao means staying with things as they are – relaxing aspirations for what we want and resistance to what we don’t want. Hoping to obtain, maintain, or avoid particular conditions is not really part of the basis of Laozi’s practice.
Wuweidao is about continuity – the continuously renewing stream of reality has no beginning, no end, and no interruptions. To stay with reality, we have no choice but to experience birth, growth, maturation, decline, & death as they come. Sometimes we need to go through destruction in order to continue.
Although one may expect such a laissez-faire view to lead to some kind of complacent stupor, if we engage this view in meditation & qi-cultivation, we find that something quite different emerges.
Yin darkness gives birth to yang radiance. Zhuangzi thus described Laozi’s practice as “cold, dead ashes”. While some Daoist arts look impressive and exciting, Laozi’s practice looks anything but. We are relaxing yang-expression, letting the fire calm down to nurture the radiant embryo inside.
Laozi says: “Dao is wide-open, but people like narrow paths.” The character for wide-open (夷) suggests barbarian tribes leveling a village to the ground. This image is similar to wu (see What is Wu-Wei? post). Laozi is reminding us that although we may prefer particular conditions, the field we are actually abiding in is wide-open and unconditioned – the unborn and undying field of reality.
Not only do death & disaster happen from time-to-time, but things are in a sense continuously dying and being born. The stream of reality is like a standing wave – stable yet continuously flowing – out with the old, in with the new. When we let this current flow, letting ourselves die moment-by-moment, we likewise find each moment fresh and new – continuously-arising inspiration. The ten-thousand things are continuously being destroyed; the phoenix is continuously emerging.