Taoism has been likened to our “original spirituality,” what we did as hunter-gatherers, before there were mosques and synagogues. It’s how we attune with Nature––slowly with harmony and awareness. Taoism adds “Long Summer” to create five seasons to the cycle of Nature, rather than four. Why?
Five is a sacred and mystical number, particularly in how it relates to human beings. Using our arms, legs and head, we point in five directions like a pentagram. We have five fingers and toes, five senses and therefore five sensory organs. We also have five major internal organs, according to TCM. The Chinese pentatonic scale–black notes on the piano–consists of five tones, instead of eight, to align with these organs and natural rhythms. The number 5 is mathematically unique in that, while there are infinite prime numbers that end in all the other odd digits (1, 3, 7 and 9), there is only one that ends in 5–and that is the number 5, itself.
In alchemical terms, Taoist philosophy breaks down nature into five elements, metal, wood, water, fire, earth, which combine to form everything in the visible universe. Rocks, for example, are combinations of earth and metal. Trees comprise of wood and water. The five elements interact with one another in specific ways, either constructively or destructively. In the generative cycle, water feeds wood (helping trees grow), wood is fuel for fire, fire turns into ash, which is good for the soil, earth, in its mines, produces metal, and metal produces water, in the form of condensation on cool, metallic surfaces. It’s a circular cycle, like the season, that never ends.
Conversely, the five elements also have a destructive cycle as follows: metal (in the form of an ax or saw) chops wood, wood (in the form of trees) depletes the earth of its nutrients, earth can be used (in the form of dams) to block the flow of water, water quenches fire, and fire melts metal. Here’s where the ontology gets interesting. Mapped out in their destructive cycle, the five elements create a pentagram–the symbol of man, meaning we are at the center of this vortex. Depending on how we act, either in attunement and harmony with Nature or at odds with her, we will be contributing to the generating cycle or the one that destroys. The natural world is constantly in flux: evolving, growing, creating new life, destroying what is no longer needed, helping it rot and decompose, so it can nourish the next generation.
Nature’s ever-whirling merry-go-round can be dizzying if we resist it. Conversely, it is wondrous and amazing when we go with the flow. The best way to find our ground–one place of perfect stillness and calm–is at the very center of the wheel, where we can watch all the passing phenomena, without getting caught up in them. It’s like the eye of the storm; the only place that remains quiet. We can get there by simply closing our eyes.
That was an excerpt from Whole Body Prayer: Five Seasons of Healing, a daily-practice book which is coming out Fall, 2022
— after the release of Yan Ming Li’s memoir, Whole Body Prayer: The Life-Changing Power of Self-Healing which you can order now.