The ancient wisdom of the Tao Te Ching tells us:
"The Tao moves by returning
In endless cycles.
By yielding, it overcomes,
Creating the ten thousand things,
Being from nonbeing."
(Tao Te Ching, 40)
The Tao Te Ching teaches a vision of life as a process, constantly moving, changing, and growing as cycles of energy circulate throughout all creation.
We experience these cyclical patterns by getting close to nature. We can watch an apple tree blossom in springtime and bear fruit in summer. In autumn, its leaves fall to the ground. Slowly disintegrating into humus, they enrich the soil, bringing new energy to the tree in spring.
The cold winter weather is part of the pattern. The "chill factor," a prolonged period of temperature below 45 degrees, is essential for apple trees to blossom and bear fruit. The trees must spend enough time in a state of dormancy (yin) to spring forth with new life (yang).Reconciling opposites in endless harmony, the seasons turn and the cycle begins again.
For centuries, Taoist and Buddhist monks have regarded cyclical work—gardening, cooking, housecleaning—as spiritual exercises. In our daily lives we too can participate in nature's cycles of renewal by doing something cyclical like:
- Planting a garden,
- Growing herbs on a sunny windowsill,
- Planting a tree and tending it,
- Recycling our cans, bottles, and newspapers,
- Making a compost pile—recycling kitchen scraps into natural nutrients for the soil.
Each of these practices affirms our participation in a pattern far larger than ourselves. Each practice physically benefits the planet while renewing our vision of the cycles of life.
On an individual level, each of us has our daily energy cycles or circadian rhythms. We have peak periods during the day when our energy flows the most strongly. This is our prime time, or yang. During our lag time our energies diminish and we feel tired as the cycle turns to yin.
Becoming aware of our daily cycles can help us live more creatively. Years ago, my friend Bill, a wise physics professor, taught me an important lesson. Optimistic and productive, he scheduled his day around his circadian rhythms, doing his research and teaching during his morning prime time and saving routine work like opening the mail for his lag time, 3:00 in the afternoon. I've followed his example over the years, realizing that, for each of us, our personal energy cycle is a vital natural resource.
- Take a few moments now to reflect and identify your own daily cycle. When is your best time of the day? When is your prime time when your creative energies are the highest? Are you a morning, afternoon, or night person?
- What time of day do your energies decrease?
- Can you track your daily cycle? Where are yin and yang for you?
This month, as we begin the cycle of another new year, I'm excited that Penguin Random House is publishing a new audiobook edition of my book, The Tao of Inner Peace, which offers more lessons on living in harmony with the cycles of nature.
I wish you joy in this new cycle of your life.