Daoism: Transcending Limits or Embracing Them?
One need not look very far to find evidence of Daoist monks shattering our conception of what is possible through their dedication to living a mindful and spiritual existence. Their abilities include fasting for long periods of time (months to years), along with alleged abilities such as levitation and even flying.
Our material conception of existence does not make room for the possibility of these abilities, so Western culture often dismisses these accounts as hearsay. What if these accounts are true? The nature of our bodies and minds is ever-changing, so it seems that we fail to acknowledge an entirely new paradigm simply because we are used to a more comfortable one.
We are used to recognizing that our body has palpable limits, and requires a great deal of maintenance. This gives us a sense that the body is not to be trusted, and must be tended to regularly to maintain its current state, and to give us a predictable outcome. As much as this seems antithetical to the mindset of a Daoist monk, they are well aware of the rhythms of the body and mind.
Daoist monks traditionally awaken at 4am and spend countless hours practicing different rituals to strengthen their Qi: the vital life force of the human nervous system. These rituals include meditation, hugging trees, chanting, qi-gong, yoga, and tai-chi. Daoist monks also use nutrition as a form of medicine; they eat mostly vegetables (sometimes fermented) and ancient grains. This allows them to maintain low levels of inflammation and oxidative stress.
All of this is to say: what is possible when we have a fully functioning body and mind, and little to no professional or lifestyle stress? Perhaps pushing ourselves to our perceived limits during a time of stress and poor nutrition is one of the most dangerous things we can do. Therefore, our own belief that we could accomplish these arcane feats is unimaginable.
However, if all of our basic needs were met, and we were in tune with nature's rhythms like Daoist monks, it is possible that this would free ourselves of the attachments and limiting beliefs we have regarding our bodies, allowing for a new way to experience the body that does not involve the same kind of compulsive maintenance and craving.
It is not true that Daoist monks simply neglect their attachments in order to transcend them. As I previously mentioned, this is dangerous without a deep caring for the body and mind. Only with years of experience caring for the body and mind in the way Daoist monks do, would a person be able to relinquish their attachments in order to experiment with the freedom of mind and body that these monks possess.
Daoist monks transcend their attachments BY embracing their limitations. This is not a binary scenario. Only by acknowledging the body's true needs for living in tune with nature, can we then free ourselves from needs and desires altogether.