The universe, the earth, human beings
Most of the time 天地人 is simply literally translated as heaven, earth, man. The way I perceive Daoist philosophy, I now personally prefer to translate the concept as the universe, the earth, human beings. In the context of the philosophy of the Daodejing, 天 tian, heaven refers to the world of the stars, the universe, the larger unit that 地 di, the “earth” is just a part of. In this concept we human beings are not at the center of the universe. We are simply looking at the earth and the universe from, and “for” our human perspective. Human beings like other beings and things are part of life on earth. The earth is just one other piece of this immense world you can easily observe when looking at a starry night sky. This, and of course many other concepts, link the thought of the Daodejing to indigenous world views. I also mention this in one of my prior blog posts and recommend the reading of or listening to Robin Wall Kimmerer’s Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge, and the Teachings of Plants for a better understanding of the thought of the Daodejing in this respect.
In the concept of 天地人 the universe, the earth, human beings you very obviously have the world of the macrocosm observably interrelated with the microcosm, and the Yin and the Yang enveloped in oneness. By the way, this is also where the idea to cultivate the inner landscapes depicted in the 內景圖, the map of inner landscapes, or the idea to reorder inner energetic constellations in the segment 摘星換斗勢 picking a star to change the constellation in the 少林易筋經 Shaolin tendon strengthening method originally derived from.
Just because of the undeniable interrelatedness of macrocosm and microcosm you strengthen the connection and the bond with earth and extend towards the universe in every single movement practice that uses the Daodejing as its guiding light. Such movement practices mirror and consolidate the visual, other sensory, and intellectual experiences presented in the Daodejing. Besides many other energy hubs you link and extend beyond the 湧泉穴 bubbling well acupuncture point at the bottom of the feet and the 百會穴 Baihui, the hundredfold confluence acupuncture point on the top of the head. Both energetically prominently open up to and link to what the human body is a part of. This means that the internal unity is always linked to the surrounding unity.
Movement methods based on Daoist philosophy do therefore not only focus on balanced circulation of energies within the body for health benefits, and these kinds of practices are definitely not about egocentric goals or power. The physical practice is intended to strengthen the bond between the self in all of its different facets and all of existence. Such a movement practice accordingly is also not just a simple physical practice. It involves our emotional states as well as our mind. The inner smile 面帶微笑· in these so-called internal practices balances our emotions and personalities and carries over into the well-functioning of our inner organs. The physical experience of an increasing and widening unity, then again continuously reinforces the mindset that brought these practices to life.
A question I was recently asked in a seminar about choosing and picking preferred elements out of a well-balanced set of a traditional movement practice also fits in with this topic: The choose and pick approach often comes from a mindset that focuses on individual choices and segments, rather than on the network mode of being. When you have an old Daoist movement practice like the 五行功 Five Elements method intended to regain or reinforce an equilibrium of the complex, unified functioning of the inner organs, it generally does not make much sense to pick out one sequence that you particularly see fit, neglect the other sequences in this network and practice a singled-out sequence in an isolated fashion. An old medical movement tradition addressing the whole of the inner workings of the body has a holistic approach as a design function. If you have particular or acute issues with digestion or the respiratory passages, for instance, additional “isolation” here makes sense, on top of doing the 五行功 Five Elements method as a complete set. Otherwise, by just picking pieces you lose the benefits of a holistic approach on several levels: Physically, you support just one aspect of the complex functioning of the body, neglecting the support function of the other aspects to the one aspect you select. Emotionally, you detach yourself from the experience of interconnectedness. Mentally, by neglecting the whole you reinforce a mindset of individualism, of separation and separateness.
You cannot overstate this: The main focus of the philosophy of the Daodejing and any profoundly affiliated movement practice is not on any special ability. The main focus is on the ability to connect.