Just about everyone I know has been, at some point in life, confused about their purpose or life direction. It seems to be part of the human condition to loose our way; so much a part that we humans have devoted entire categories of mythology, literature, and art to the subject of getting lost, having adventures, and finding our way again, not to mention entire sections of bookstores that are now devoted to the subject of finding your life purpose. It makes me wonder how the ancients managed with nothing but instinct, curiosity, and life’s unfolding drama to guide them.
Well, one answer is they had fewer choices. It could be said that our current angst about the purpose of life is a luxury born of prosperity and advanced technology. I doubt I would be worrying about it if I had to spend the day running down a deer so my family could eat. On the other hand, isn’t that exactly what many of us are doing in our stressful 9-5 jobs? The modern version of running down a deer to feed the family?
Throughout history, humans have cultivated methods to help them discern the best way through life. And there have always been specialists to help them with their quest. We call them shamans, astrologers, diviners, counselors, ministers, and life coaches. But what about doctors? A doctor might be the last person we would think of to take up this spiritual role, especially today. But in Chinese medicine, this is clearly in the doctor’s purview, especially if we look to the ancient medical classics for guidance about the doctor’s scope of practice.
China’s most ancient treatise on medicine, the Nei Jing, instructs the doctor that “above all, one must not miss the rooting in the spirits.” It goes on to describe the function of each organ and its relationship to the spirits. In a lengthy section on the “art of the heart,” we find the vital instructions: “Within the heart, there is another heart…. And the art of the heart is knowing how.” This heart within the heart is described as a place of serene quiet, a place that hosts each person’s shen, otherwise know as consciousness, spirit, or unique curriculum in life. In modern day parlance we might call it our life purpose. It’s right there, like a treasure waiting to be uncovered.
The Chinese doctor, one who has not missed “the rooting in the spirits,” knows how to cultivate the patient’s connection with this inner knowing, and helps them stay in alignment with the precious pearl of true self. The thing is, it requires stillness. It can only be glimpsed in those moments of deep quiet that are without an agenda of pursuit. The true medicine for all of us is in this “heart of hearts,” the place of knowing how.
It is a worthwhile experiment to take some time each day– in your qigong practice, meditation time, or just sitting by the fireside musing–to empty your mind of all its chatter and listen to your own heart. Forget everything. Stop striving for information and direction. Stop planning and setting goals. You might just begin to hear a faint whisper. Keep still. Don’t pounce on it and go running off with ideas and stories. If you keep to this long enough, you might just begin to discern the quiet tide of your own destiny, simple and clear. This is what the ancients called “knowing how,” and it is there for all of us.