Who would have thought that an ancient wisdom text like the Tao Te Ching talks about essential self-care? Ok, that’s at least how I interpret this line in chapter 36.2:
Fish must not leave the stream.
In a way this line is humorous since it is obvious that fish must not leave water, because if they do, they are dead very quickly. With other words, if we explained self-care to a fish, not leaving the stream would be the essential guidance. Fish needs to know that they need water. Water is the basic element fish cannot do without.
Ellen M. Chen writes in her commentary: “Fish must not leave the stream” means that creatures must not stand apart from Tao.
In other traditions we have different names for Tao: Ground of being, inner being, source of all life, pure consciousness or the absolute, just to name a few.
If we talk in terms of self-care that means we cannot disconnect from the ground of our being if we want the experience of well-being in our lives.
When I started my spiritual journey about 5 decades ago, I felt deeply lost. Luckily even before I started meditating, I had experiences of ‘connection to my ground of being.’ It was always wonderful when it happened. I was totally unconflicted and naturally joyful. As the experiences of my inner being came more often, I could feel the difference of being connected to being disconnected immediately. For a fish lying on land leads to slow suffocation, we all know that. But are we aware of what happens to us humans when we are disconnected from the ground of our being?
Our form of suffocation looks different than that of fish and we can hold on much longer in our disconnected states, but one thing is certain—we don’t feel well.
Meditation offers a good starting point for connecting to our inner being. That’s why meditation is my first recommendation for every woman’s self-care practice.
In my long years of meditation, I learned that for women sitting meditations are good but walking or dancing meditations while feeling and sensing into your body are also effective approaches to connect to the ground of being. It is certainly up to you to find out what works best for you.
Here are my three favorites:
- Walking in nature and consciously connecting to the trees, bushes, branches, leaves… while being present in your body. I often combine that with deep breathing.
- Moving, dancing—ideally with your eye’s half closed. Again, sensing and feeling into your body.
- Sitting comfortably, closing your eyes and remembering a moment of total connectedness—and bathing or resting in that state of pure awareness.
If your body wants to move gently, let it happen.
The everlasting Tao that you cannot be without is a place of natural well-being, a place that is never disturbed because it is not of this world. It is the origin, the source of existence. It can be experienced in many ways: As pure bliss, as rightness of being, as love, as benevolence…
Once you experience the difference you will never again want to be without the Tao; as Chen mentions in her commentary: Tao sustains all beings as water sustains fish.
And doesn’t that make ‘connecting to the ground of being’ the essential self-care practice after all? I certainly made it the key element in my life.