Ancient Chinese Philosophy

Part Four

The text of The Daodejing, especially Chapter One, feels like breathing to me. Ideas are presented with their contradictions, in the same way inspiration and expiration follow each other – such different experiences and yet connected in the same life-supporting action. Breathing is simple on the surface and endlessly complex when you look deeper into its processes. And there’s the way breath deepens and softens when you arrive home in your body and settle there.

There’s so much I wrote and thought to share about the differences in translation of just one of these poems, the contrast with The Analects,comparing this to ancient Greek and early Christian thought, etc. But sitting with this text makes me less interested in “contributing to the discourse.” Over and over the text says its central concepts are beyond words. “This is why the sages abide in the business of nonaction, / and practice the teaching that is without words.” (2) “To be sparing with words is what comes naturally.” (23) “But talk about the Way – how insipid and without relish it is!” (35) 

The whole point of a paradox is that it’s beyond words. We can learn from each other, and yet there’s nothing important to learn that we don’t already know in our being. That’s where I’d like to center our conversations. Strengthening our inner knowing and weakening our tendency toward self-interest may be the two best reasons for people to come together. 

    Cut off sageliness, abandon wisdom, and the people will 
        benefit one hundred fold.
    Cut off benevolence, abandon righteousness, and the people will     
        return to being filial and kind.
    Cut off cleverness, abandon profit, and robbers and thieves will
        be no more.
    This might leave the people lacking in culture;
    So give them something with which to identify:
        Manifest plainness.
        Embrace simplicity.
        Do not think just of yourself.
        Make few your desires. (19)

Some people say that Daoism advocates for a return to some mythical early way of being in harmony with nature. But Chapter Thirty-two says, “When unhewn wood is carved up, then there are names. / Now that there are names, know enough to stop!” I would argue that there is a cusp, unique to each individual in each moment, between analysis and synthesis (because what is yin-yang theory if not the original dialectic of cosmology), where we are meant to live in dynamic balance. This is where we flourish. “To embody the Way is to be long lived, / And one will avoid danger to the end of one’s days.” (16) 

This is where my faith rests most naturally, in the ongoing expansion and contraction that breathes life most abundantly through the minutes we spend open and unattached to outcomes, full of curiosity and wonder and informed by kindness. “Is not the space between Heaven and Earth like a bellows? / Empty yet inexhaustible! / Work it and more will come forth.” (5)

This letter is an invitation to take time with the knowledge you have, and to fully embody what you know. This is deeply healing work, leaning into learning more about your life. Just this is the source of human flourishing, beneath and through all the layers of socialization- which is curious because it is best done in community, with someone you trust. I hope you find good companions to join you for parts of your journey, and if you consider me to be one of those, know that I’m deeply honored. 

Those who revere their bodies as if they were the entire world can be entrusted with the world. 

Chapter Thirteen, Daodejing

Ancient chinese philosophy

Part Three

“Having studied, to then repeatedly apply what you have learned – is this not a source of pleasure?” These are the first words of the Analects, and the theme carries through to the last entry: “Someone who does not understand the propensity of circumstances has no way of becoming an exemplary person; someone who does not understand the observance of ritual propriety has no way of knowing where to stand; a person who does not understand words has no way of knowing others.” (20-3)

Confucius was familiar with the art and literature of his time, but he was also a student of people. Zigong says about him, “The dao… lives in the people. Those of superior character have grasped the greater part, while those of lesser quality have grasped a bit of it… Who then does the Master not learn from?” (19-22) 

In a way, reading the Analects feels like moving along in a large crowd of people. Many of them say similar things, and a few of them are outliers speaking nonsense. Everyone is advancing from their own unique angle, but somehow the general direction of the crowd is toward a better understanding – of ourselves, each other, and the natural tendency of things to happen as they do. There are lots of cheerleaders in this crowd, constantly reminding us to pay attention, to choose wisely. There is an emphasis on exercising our free will at the level of where we place our attention, and an often-unspoken de-emphasizing of things we can’t know or control – in keeping with his teachings on modesty. “Zilu asked how to serve spirits and the gods. The Master replied, ‘Not yet being able to serve other people, how would you be able to serve the spirits?’ Zilu asked, ‘May I ask about death?’ The Master replied, ‘Not yet understanding life, how could you understand death?’” (11-12)

Confucius lived through widespread social chaos and upheaval. It makes sense that he focused on unambiguous hierarchies and traditions, such as filial piety. These come with the reassuring structure of authority and clearly delineated responsibilities, which can result in a sense of safety and comfort. He seems to have realized that was the highest aspiration for most people, and most of his teachings are aimed at helping others achieve that. “The common people can be induced to travel along the way, but they cannot be induced to realize it,” (8-9) he says, and also “if those in high station cherish the observance of ritual propriety, the common people will be easy to deal with.” (14-41) So much of the ritual propriety and governance advice are all about reminding people of their place and how to flourish in their prescribed bounds. At one point, one of his followers asks about learning to farm, and Confucius tells him to learn to be a good leader (be trustworthy and promote justice and reverence for life), and others will help with the farming. (13-4)

The centerpiece of Book XVI reads like a collection of listicles for how to stay safe and happy: there’s the three kinds of friends, the three kinds of activities to enjoy, three mistakes at court, three things to hold in awe, a taxonomy of knowledge acquisition, and three kinds of conduct to guard against. The list of lists culminates in a grand list of nine things that exemplary persons always keep in mind: “in looking they think about clarity, in hearing they think about acuity, in countenance they think about cordiality, in bearing and attitude they think about deference, in speaking they think about doing their utmost, in conducting affairs they think about due respect, in entertaining doubts they think about the proper questions to ask, in anger they think about regret, in sight of gain they think about appropriate conduct.” (16-10)

There are multiple attempts to essentialize his teachings into three or less pithy suggestions. Some of these lists tell us that “the way of the Master is doing one’s utmost and putting oneself in the other’s place,” (4-15), “to take doing one’s utmost, making good on one’s word, and seeking out what is appropriate as one’s main concerns, is to accumulate excellence,” (12-10) “do your utmost to make good on your word, be earnest and respectful in your conduct.” (15-6) Some passages are repeated verbatim, which seems to underline their importance: “I have yet to meet the person who is fonder of excellence than of physical beauty.” (9-18, 15-13) “A person who for three years refrains from reforming the ways of his late father can be called a filial son.” (1-11, 4-20) “Learn broadly of culture, discipline this learning through observing ritual propriety, and moreover, in so doing, remain on course without straying from it.” (6-27, 12-15) “It is a rare thing for glib speech and an insinuating appearance to accompany authoritative conduct.” (1-3, 17-17) And his version of the golden rule: “Do not impose on others what you yourself do not want.” (12-2, 15-24)

I think applying these insights and recommendations would benefit most people. AND. There are small passages scattered throughout that reveal the possibility of moving beyond day to day safety into something more creative and possibly fully human. “Since none can go out except through a gateway, how is it that none go out from this dao?” he asks. (6-17) “Keep your mind on the way things work, grab at inner clarity as a tiger lays hold of a pig, that you’ll act with humanity.” (7-6 for one of my favorite jarring images of all time) “Tradesmen wanting to be good at their trade must first sharpen their tools. While dwelling in this state, then, we should serve those ministers who are of the highest character, and befriend those scholar-apprentices who are most authoritative in their conduct.” (15-10) “Human beings are similar in their natural tendencies, but vary greatly by virtue of their habits.” (17-2) These passages point toward an expansion into our full potential that’s anchored in reverence for our whole being – the facts and the possibilities. 

What I’m taking from the Analects is a deeper reassurance that the more attuned we are to our own and others’ humanity (translated in Ames as authoritative conduct), the more we can transcend our earth-bound circumstances to achieve a greatness beyond social recognition, that’s even more valuable than life itself. “For the resolute scholar-apprentice and the authoritative person, while they would not compromise their authoritative conduct to save their lives, they might well give up their lives in order to achieve it.” (15-9)

It is the person who is able to broaden the dao, not the dao that broadens the person. 15-29

Ancient chinese philosophy

Part Two

Do you remember the first time you were paid for your work as a kid? Maybe you mowed the lawn or shoveled snow or watched someone’s kids. I hope you had the experience of getting a bundle of money that felt generous, maybe even extravagant. There are so many subtle messages tied up in that exchange: you are valued, you belong in a reliable community of caring, you have the power to make the world better for people around you, you deserve to be safe and celebrated. 

Maybe, too, you’ve encountered mean and stingy people, who think it’s a virtue to pinch their pennies and get the most they can from people – even kids! – for the least investment. They keep track of all the ways people owe them and never stop to consider that we are each born onto this beautiful planet with no rights, but with a duty to take care of each other however we can. 

Confucius lived in a world that looked much different from ours on the surface. Work, family structures, travel, healthcare, government, communication were so much more rudimentary. Certainly society is brighter and shinier and more temperature-controlled now than it was 2500 years ago. But Confucius was a student of human nature, and much of what he observed is just as relevant today as it was then. I’m not even sure we’re further as a species, for all our history and knowledge and increased connectedness, than we were then. 

What a person had then and what we each have today is just one little life, no more and no less, to work out the best way to live with others and with ourselves. What we are each surrounded by are temptations to skip ahead, to choose whatever feels good fast over what our hearts need. (We are also surrounded by teachers who devote their lives to offering what our hearts need. Two of my favorites were Thich Nhat Hanh, who died this week, and bell hooks, who died last month. Hereis a conversation between the two of them on love, if you want more to read after this.)

Confucius was talking about exactly the same choices, in essence, that we have today. Reverence. Honor. Holding to our truth. Twice in Book Twelve he talks about staying rooted in the family. We might feel so modern with our child labor laws and compulsory K-12 education, but what does it mean if our children don’t learn that they are cherished and that the way they conduct their lives for themselves and others matters? 

Excerpts from this week’s reading that influenced my thinking (jumping between Ames/Rosemont and Pound translations):
Book Five, XXV: I would most like that the aged have quiet, and friends rely on our words, and that the young be cherished.
Book Six, II: If a man’s home address is reverence he can be easy-going, and thereby come near the people, that’s permissible. But if his basic address is: take it easy and he carries that into action, it will be too much of a take-it-easy.
Book Six, XI: Observe the phenomena of nature as one in whom the ancestral voices speak, don’t just watch in a mean way.
Book Six, XVIII: Those who know aren’t up to those who love; nor those who love, to those who delight in
Book Six, XXI: The wise enjoy water; those humane in their conduct enjoy mountains. The wise are active; the humane are tranquil. The wise find pleasure; the humane get long life.
Book Seven, XI: If I could get rich by being a postillion I’d do it; as one cannot, I do what I like. 
Book Twelve, II: In your public life, look on others as if you were receiving great guests; employ the common people as though you are overseeing a great sacrifice. What you don’t want (done to you) don’t do to another, settle in a district without fault-finding, take root in the home without fault-finding.
Book Twelve, V: I have heard it said, “Life and death are a matter of one’s lot; wealth and honor lie with heaven.” The man with the voices of his forebears within him is reverent; he gives others respect and observes ritual propriety, everyone in the world is their brother.  
Book Twelve, X: To get to the centre (what it is all about), making good on one’s word, and seeking out what is appropriate as one’s main concerns, is to accumulate excellence/ raise the level of conscience.
Book Twelve, XX: The far-effective man is solid, upright, loves justice; examines people’s words, looks into their faces, thinks how, in what way, he is inferior to them, roots in the state and goes far; roots in his family and effects things at a distance.

Ancient chinese philosophy

Part One

The Analects of Confucius, translated by Ames and Rosemont

Kierkegaard wrote that faith is the highest human passion, and I think whether we measure it by either its difficulty to attain OR its benefits to the human spirit, mind, body, and heart, he was absolutely right. If it’s wild and dangerous to live without faith, or to live with bad faith, there’s so much wilderness to wander through these days! There are so many ways we’ve been failed in the process of growing up. The world is full of adult babies running around, responding to chaos with more chaos, performing “wellness” and “being present” when they are anything but that- there’s so much wilderness to get caught up in. 

But we have the capacity and responsibility to become truly healthy grownups. It’s not easy, and I’m most skeptical of anyone who thinks they’ve “arrived,” but we can reparent our inner selves, little by little, into people who embrace the full coherence of reality instead of being triggered in an endless cycle of falling apart and picking up the pieces. That is where my faith lies.

All of this is to say that my deep dive into philosophy continues (hooray!), and along with Spinoza, Kierkegaard, and Eliot, the next few months will be a study of ancient Chinese philosophy, starting with the Analects attributed to Confucius. 

Since there are so many threads of influence shared among the ancient Chinese philosophers and classical Chinese medicine, and since the purpose of philosophy shares an aim with the clinical work I do – namely, as Sartre put it, to grasp our time in thought – I’m planning to do a series of weekly contemplations on the Chinese texts.

Let’s start with the Confucian concept of sincerity: the willingness to “look straight into your heart” and act from there. We are told that “sincerity is the goal of things and their origin… the inborn nature begets this activity naturally, this looking straight into oneself and thence acting.” The character used to convey this concept is 中 or zhōng, which translates directly to the center, or within or among. Others translate it as loyalty.

The difference between our highly individualized culture and the very relationally oriented society of ancient China is important to remember here. When we think about having integrity or being true to ourselves, it’s not just about one person alone. Our truth actually shifts as we interact with our children, our parents, our supervisors, friends, and others. Our truth encompasses the place and circumstances of our birth, our innate talents and challenges, the way our environment influences and changes us over time.

“What heaven has disposed and sealed is called inborn nature. The realization of this nature is called the process… You do not depart from the process even for an instant… The person of noble character (君子 or jūn zî) comes into harmony with the process and continues his way… he pivots himself on the unchanging and has faith.” Our truth is a shimmering, undulating thing that we can nevertheless devote our energy to observing and following, even if we can’t completely grasp it and nail it down. Loyalty to yourself necessarily includes loyalty to those you love, and we know when that loyalty has been split and when it’s whole.

Your experiences and even your truth may change, but the part of you that continues to observe yourself through those changes will carry you through to the best possible outcome. It takes sincerity to stay close to that central part of each one of us, and faith. 

And these are best maintained in conversation with other sincere people. If you follow along over the coming weeks, I hope you’ll share your thoughts and responses!

We are all together in developing our characters into true grownups. Thank you for sharing your journey with me!

The noble person’s way consists in sincerity and sympathy, and that’s all.
– Confucius, The Analects, Book Four, XV

Your Acupuncturist Keeps Getting More Subversive

The way things are working just isn’t working. People are dying, isolated, lying to themselves and each other. Everyone is more anxious or tuned out.  Much of this is fabricated and enhanced to benefit a powerful few. Some people think they’re on the brink of everything working out for them, but they’ve always been on this edge and they will never get to the other side doing and believing the same things that have kept them here.

We’re stuck in old patterns. The social contract we’ve been handed is corrupt and frankly unenforceable. 

I don’t have the ability to properly identify and intervene in all the patterns, but I know we can’t let the immensity of the problems paralyze us. Wherever we can reintroduce some gentle, easeful movement into the system, that’s where healing begins.

And what is healing but becoming more comfortable with the truth – with the way things are? What is healing but becoming friends with time as it bridges who you are, how you’ve come to this moment, and what the future holds. 

My practice is healing. It’s welcoming life as it is, and opening up the pathways life needs to flow and flourish. Expanding the quantity and quality of available options. 

This is work most of us can’t do without help. How can I stand for liberation when it’s only accessible to a few? I went on retreat last week (see pics!) and came back ready to stand by some fiery changes. The biggest change is financial: if you have been rationing your care for financial reasons, let’s talk about changing that. Becoming yourself is healing, and it takes dedication and courage – I like doing that work with people who show up fully. If it’s easy for you to send money via PayPal or CashApp, please do that and choose gifts to a friend. Even better is cash.

The other changes are about clearly and publicly stating some of my political views and the ways I see them intertwined with personal health. You can see the details on the website. They aren’t big changes in my outlook, and they aren’t big changes in the scheme of things worldwide. But I’m moving with what I have, in my own small way, in the direction of a better world, together with others. We need more people moving from their deepest truth. People are born inherently good. 

I’m looking forward to any conversations this brings up, and probably some unsubscribes! That’s okay – I’m happy connecting with people who know their freedom is bound up with everyone’s. 
Our deeds are fetters that we forge ourselves… but I think it is the world that brings the iron.
– George Eliot

Nourishing Body, Mind, Spirit

I recently discovered a service that delivers a variety of fresh produce to my home every week. I love being surprised by their selections, and letting that novelty stimulate my creativity in the kitchen. At the same time, I love the consistency of a weekly infusion of fresh fruits and vegetables, no shopping necessary. It’s also customizable and affordable, with a mission to improve access to healthy foods in underserved communities. Check them out at and use the code FRIEND for 20% off your first delivery. I think I will get a discount, too, if you mention my name.

What fuels your life these days?
Where is your day-to-day physical sustenance coming from,
and also what inspires your sense of wonder in every moment?
Who supports you, as you are?

It’s normal to feel uncomfortable as the ground beneath our feet continues to move and shift. But…

Uncertainty is the most magical state, where anything can happen!

(If you’re having trouble accessing that sense of magic, it’s not your fault. We all need help and encouragement to realize the best of who we are.)

Thank you to all of you who trust me to support and nurture your health. Wholeness is not an easy path in a world that is deranged in so many ways, and it’s an honor to walk with you. 

New Year, and What Will Change?

If happiness is the experience of unfettered access to whatever matters most,

I wish you clarity to know what that is for you,

and courage to release all the things that keep you from receiving it with open arms.

You need the time it takes, and the space, to know what you really love.

Your courage roots down stronger when you can trust the person next to you.

Some of my appointments have been moving away from structured, one hour, indoor sessions. 

Listening for the hidden truth of what people need has always been my thing. 

Clarity and Courage!

We can embody this, together.

I believe that the community – in the fullest sense: a place and all its creatures – is the smallest unit of health and that to speak of the health of an isolated individual is a contradiction in terms.

-Wendell Berry

The Way Cracks Let the Light Shine Through

Sometimes on the journey, it’s necessary to compartmentalize and focus on one emergent section, but it’s always connected. It’s important to take a step back occasionally and see the bigger picture. Now, with so many veils ripped away, the picture is A LOT to take in. An individual can’t heal without their community. It demands a lot of time, and I’m taking my time with it as much as I can. I’ve been giving the whole picture my fullest attention, which has often been actually very fragmented. 

This letter has a lot of densely-packed ideas and information. Please take it at your own pace, and reach out if you want to process some of it with me or someone else you trust.

There are three intertwined pandemics I’m holding right now, and we need to pull together to address all of them:

The information about the longterm effects of COVID-19 has continued to come into fuller focus. This is a serious virus that can be deadly, but even when it’s not, it can change lives. Put simply, inflammation is one of the top causes of disease and aging, and this is a very inflammatory virus. Do everything you can to avoid getting it.

There is evidence that wearing a mask reduces viral load and therefore reduces severity. Please always wear a mask when you are indoors with others! 

And rest as much as you need to even after you think you should have fully recovered. The post-viral phase is crucial as your body works to clear out pockets of viral material in multiple organ systems. Common longterm symptoms include debilitating fatigue and inability to concentrate, and may seem to be intertwined with anxiety and depression. They resemble the same multi-system mystery conditions that I’ve studied and successfully treated for years.  

Ideally, you will get herbs early, or not, and have a mild two-week case, end of story. But for anyone who is struggling with symptoms long after, I can help them get through that. This work is deeply rewarding for me. No one should experience these symptoms without relief and support. 

The beautiful and terrifying thing about this virus has been the way it has revealed the severity of other, ongoing pandemics. The way it is creating opportunities to address them, and creating immediately harsh consequences for trying to ignore those opportunities. Why do some of us feel such rage right now? In my own case, it’s coming from a part of me that doesn’t want to change. I see people denying the reality, and it reflects back an image I don’t like of myself, denying reality for the sake of convenience and ease. It’s a lot of f***ing reality in our faces right now! Especially if we’re white and have had ways to stuff it away (onto others) without really noticing. But we need to take back our share, and chew through the reality, tough as it is, one bite at a time. 

Systemic racism is a health crisis that has been mismanaged in this country, with its effects suppressed and lied about. We all have struggles, but the color of our skin shouldn’t be one of the reasons we struggle. We can all get sick, but the color of our skin shouldn’t automatically increase our chances of dying. The way to address it is to keep educating ourselves – I’m speaking as a white person to a group of people who are mostly white. Keep examining our roles and assumptions, keep centering Black leaders, and keep showing up when there’s heavy lifting to do. 

July 20th has been set aside as a day to strike in support of Black lives. If your absence at work would make an impact, please consider joining. In my work, my presence makes more of an impact, so I will be working that day, and making a donation to support BIPOC families in need. Visit for more information.

The third pandemic is one I’ve been banging on about for years, mostly ineffectually. Isolation and loneliness are killing us. Trauma is isolating, capitalistic stratification is isolating, heteronormativity and cisnormativity and all the ways we feel different and othered are isolating. Post-viral, amorphous, longterm disabilities like I described earlier are isolating, as is white supremacy in all its explicit and implicit forms. And then, like a snake eating its own tail, isolation is itself traumatizing, making us feel helpless and frozen and unable to reach out. 

I know how powerful it can be to feel seen and heard. For some, the epidemic has meant profound touch starvation, and acupuncture is a safe way to nourish that very human need. Consider making an appointment for that. My hours are still very limited, but if you’re reading this letter, we have a connection that’s important to me, and I’m here for you. We’ll work together to work together. 

Another way to connect is around the Refuse to Return movement. Acting with others is profoundly healing, and standing up together in recognition that life is valuable in itself is healing. The lives of children, teachers, healthcare workers, and their families are more valuable than the economy. Insisting that schools should only open when there have been no new cases in an area for 14 consecutive days is a way to say that we choose to care for each other over caring for companies and profits. There can be no economy without healthy people interacting with each other. You’re welcome to join the movement on facebook or twitter, or, as always, to talk with me about it if you want. 

Finally, if you’re interested in reading some of what has been influencing me lately, please enjoy the following (with frequent breaks to stretch and breathe and drink water and listen to your body):

The Political Consequences of Loneliness and Isolation During the Pandemic by Masha Gessen
The Pandemic is a Portal by Arundhati Roy
Teachers: Refuse to Return to Campus by Harley Litzelman
An Open Letter About My Health by Elena Delle Donne
COVID-19 Can Last for Several Months by Ed Yong

Connect if you want! Twitter @katiamcampbell and Instagram @ricegrainmoxa and K.M. Campbell Wellness on Facebook.

Shouting “self-care” at people
who actually need “community care”
is how we fail people

-Nakita Valerio

Holding Space

Do you feel like you’re getting all the space and support your system needs to process and unfold into this dramatically changing world? With so much outside of our control, I’ve been experimenting with new ways to address those needs that are more focused on the details we can change and influence in our daily lives.

The I Ching is literally The Book of Changes, and I’ve returned to studying it daily and sharing those insights with people in 20 or 40 minute bites that are really about holding space for the process of change. Thank you to everyone who’s joined in those conversations! Please email if you’re interested.

And thank you to all of you who have engaged with me in response to the last newsletter. These are tough times, and if we can pull together, we’ll be so much stronger.

Acupuncture is back, too, and I know a lot of you are needing that level of care. I’m at a beautiful new location in south Minneapolis (4100 Grand Ave S), in a very part-time capacity.

I’m looking forward to seeing your faces when the time is right!