The Joy of Dissolution

Dissolution is the core practice of Taoist Qigong.

What can this possibly mean?

Actually the preferred term is Dissolving but we also use melting, softening, evaporation, dissipation, disintegration, unraveling, disentangling, etc. Probably the most communicative terms for us in the West are deep relaxation or letting go, but these still don’t convey the complete sense.  I will give just a short description here because much has been said about it elsewhere, e.g.  

The practice involves scanning through your body and feeling for any sense of tension, contraction, excess strength, etc. and doing whatever you can to soften and let go.  It’s a deceptively simple yet immensely profound exercise, one which is never fully completed and which continues into even the most advanced practices.  The general theory is that constrictions of all kinds, starting with the body,  block the flow of energy and vitality at all levels and the most efficient solution is to dissolve them into neutrality.

We could say there are two general ways to have better health and well being, the one is to minimize the negatives and the other is to accentuate the positives.  Dissolution of negatives is the main though not the only Taoist way.

Students of the Water Methods where Dissolving is the quintessential practice are taught to stand and dissolve for extended periods, say 30 minutes for starters.  But if you don’t quite get it just right this can be dreary and tiring.   Ideally it’s as effortless as ice melting yet the mental focus should be constant. Too much effort creates more tension and too little spaces you out.  The mind is quite active but the practice is passive. It is the ultimate Yin coupled with lots of Yang.  “Striving toward non-action” is confusing and difficult.  

After maybe a decade of dithering with these dilemmas it dawned on me that I was missing a powerful motivator:   It feels really good!  Pleasure, of course, why didn’t that come up before?  Usually we are taught to move toward neutrality, an absence of pleasure or pain.   As feelings and emotions arise, pleasant or not, we unravel them.  I can think of only one of my colleagues who’s ever said  “I LOVE dissolving,”   and I love him for saying it.

The best analogy is a hot shower, which I think is one of the better inventions of our modern society.  When you really need to let go of some dirt, getting clean feels especially good.  The warmth makes you soft and melty.  The water is gentle and cleansing.  The downward flow carries it all away without effort.   Because it conveys the feeling so well I would do all my water/dissolving practice in a delicious hot shower, but alas there is the need to conserve water and who needs to dissolve more guilt?

Consider how physically good it feels to recover from an illness when the grip of the ailment finally lets you go.  There’s a mental relief when you realize you don’t actually have to learn an upgrade because the old version still works just fine.  We often feel emotional relief, even ecstasy when an apparent tragedy such as death or divorce brings an end to a difficult struggle.

There is a great sense of freedom and liberation when we let go of anything that holds us back, that impedes our flow of life.  One of the joys of aging is, if we’re lucky, maturity which we could also call the casting off of immaturity.   Who would not be happy to be free of the emotional and mental baggage of their earlier years?  What we thought we had to do, what we felt we had to express, who we thought we really were, how we had to present ourselves, what we wanted the world to be, so much that seemed important, can all be rendered dissolute.   Much of what we once considered positive we later see as negative or no longer useful.

Indeed if that’s true of the past isn’t it equally true of the present?  There is a Taoist principle that says once you’ve got it all figured out you’ve begun to solidify, to become inflexible, to put yourself in bondage, to bring on the miseries of getting old and stuck in your ways.  The key to youth and vitality is unraveling all that, or being willing to unravel what doesn’t serve you, making way for flexibility, spontaneity and happiness.

No one who’s tried can claim that letting go is all that easy (although what else could it be?)  but  when a little letting go makes us a little happier it certainly helps.  And it helps that there is a subtle, unseen, cleansing, yin force always descending from the heavens which the Taoists call the “gentle rain.”  In Christendom this is ever-present, benevolent Grace.