(By Paolo Propoto, LAc) A few weeks ago I watched a documentary called Bill Murray Stories. A filmmaker travels the globe to find out the truth about urban legends surrounding Bill Murray. These stories revolve around him doing out-of-the-ordinary activities with common folk, like showing up at a frat party and washing their dishes, crashing a wedding, or working as a cashier at a gas station/bait shop in the middle of nowhere. These seemingly spontaneous acts are great examples of moving ourselves in ways that feel uncomfortable and out of routine, and brought to mind an important Daoist concept known as ziran 自然, which can be translated as "spontaneity" or "naturalness."
According to Daoist philosophy, the struggle to maintain ziran in one's life plays a role in the origin of pathology and disease. It's like a horse on a farm, saddled and fenced, versus the horse able to roam freely according to her nature. The longer she is subject to artificial restraints, the harder it is for her to rediscover her spontaneity were she allowed to roam free. If her nutritional, physical, mental and spiritual needs are met she may live a good ol’ life on the farm, but if she is locked up all day in solitude or overworked, pathology may ensue since these conditions are so far removed from her state of ziran.
If we follow this pathology back to its beginning--the horse no longer being free to roam--we will find what is called in Chinese medicine “Qi stagnation.” Knowingly or not, the family you were born into, the location and time period, the experiences as a child and throughout life shape your thoughts, create your actions, and become habits and lifestyle patterns, which in turn affect your mental and physical health.
Sometimes the resulting patterns do not agree with your naturalness, creating blockages and stagnation, like a creek hitting a dam. The flow will stagnate and lead up to a build up of debris and pathogens, or the water will go off course, flooding some areas and drying up others. If we can get into a state of ziran, blockages can be released and peace and joy can become once again our natural state.
This brings us back to Bill Murray. At first doing something different may create pensiveness and fear.That fear is the blockage of Qi, but once you go through the experience that block may be liberated. An analogy on the physical level is during first five minutes of a jog you feel heavy but then you hit that point where something shifts, lightness comes over you and you get into a zone. In acupuncture we call this "dredging the channels." By doing something out of our norm and challenging that part of us we are freeing the accumulations from lack of ziran.
This is very important when we look at the Spring's energetic nature: that of moving outward. After the hibernation of the Winter, Qi begins to make its way from the hidden interior back to the surface. This is a time many people begin to feel ill or out of sorts. This can be from pathology lying dormant and suddenly flowing outward, or from Qi trying to move to the exterior but being impeded. Why pathology; why impeded? From our mindsets and habits that we have been living out for many years.
By adding naturalness and spontaneity to our lives we can create new avenues for the Qi to pass. Allowing yourself to try different ways of eating, interacting with different people, experiencing different places, even exploring different postures and types of movement, you may discover modes of feeling joyful, energetic or peaceful. Sometimes acupuncture will liberate that state for a time, helping guide your discernment to the activities that feel in harmony with a state of free-flowing Qi.
The awareness that you may be something else than what you have been accustomed to may bring a sense of fear, curiosity or ecstasy into your mind and heart. This is an invitation to look deeper into your body and mind and ask, “Who am I?” Do not fear the answer but try to enjoy the process of all the possibilities. If you are moving naturally there is no conflict. There is a saying in Daoism, “There are 36 million ways to the Dao.” Find your way, no one else’s, even if that means washing dishes at some frat house at 3am.