In the 1920s, Carl Jung was told a story by Richard Wilhelm, a Chinese scholar and theologian, which influenced him greatly, and which he repeated often through his life. It’s the story of the Rainmaker.
In the ancient Chinese province of Kiaochou, the story says, there was a drought so severe that people and animals were dying. Religious leaders asked for relief from their gods. The Catholics made processions, the Protestants said their prayers, and the Chinese fired guns to frighten away the demons of the drought. Finally, out of desperation, the people of the town called upon the Rainmaker. From a province far away there came a shrivelled old man. The old man asked for a small hut on the outskirts of town, and then locked himself up there for three days and nights in solitude. On the fourth day, it rained.
Wilhelm, who said that he was allowed to interview the Rainmaker, asked him how he made the rain. The old man replied by exclaiming that he did not make the rain, that he was not responsible. Not satisfied with this response, Wilhelm pressed him further. ‘Then what did you do for these three days?’ The old man explained then that he had come from another province where things were in order with nature; but here, in Kiaochou, things were out of order – and so he himself was also out of order. And so, he told Wilhelm, it took three days to regain Tao – and then naturally, the rain came.
In Chinese philosophy, the word Tao can be thought of as the natural order of the universe: that which keeps the universe in a state of balance. It’s similar to the idea of Ṛta in the Vedic religion. We don’t have a single word in English for such a concept; we have to use several to convey the same idea. But when I think of conveying Tao in my own language, two words always spring to mind: those words are grace, and flow. ‘Flow’ is easy enough to explain, in that the concept of Tao incorporates the idea that the natural order of the universe is always in flow – it is not in any sense a static condition which might one day be ‘achieved’. And that’s why the concept of Tao is so often associated with water.
And ‘grace’? Well, that’s a more difficult word to crack. Historically, it’s had several meanings, but it’s most often used in a Judaeo-Christian religious context, as ‘God’s grace’ – the notion that God might grant you something which is unexpected, or undeserved. I’m not much of a fan of Judaeo-Christian religious concepts, but I’ve often, recently, found myself using the word grace in a sense that is in some ways similar – but in other ways quite different, Grace, to me, is a condition not only of being in harmony with the natural order and flow of the universe – of being in something like Tao – but a sense that this condition is indeed an extraordinary, unexpected gift: one that is given not in return for ‘good behaviour’ or ‘right thinking’, but just because that is the nature of this particular universe – to offer up life as a gift.
But I can only catch myself in that state of grace – that state which is a remarkable mix of wonder, balance, harmony – when I let go of my grief and anger at what is going on in the wider world. When I stop focusing on the drought that is modern existence, when I stop feeling my determination to call down rain at all costs. When, instead, I simply sit by the stream which borders my garden and watch the water drift by, or creep down to the village loch and listen to the reeds whispering in the wind.
Grace happens when I stop striving. It happens when I tune into what is around me here and now, rather than constantly agonising over the state of the world, and how angry and hopeless it makes me feel. That state of grace answers all my questions about how it might be possible to live well in such intolerable times. Being in grace – being, if you prefer, in Tao – is the answer we need to begin with; the answer without which no other answer can make sense. And in the story that was told to Jung, the Rainmaker brought rain not by striving, not by demanding, not by weeping and wailing, or berating the drought for having the audacity to exist. The Rainmaker, simply by being in Tao, created the conditions in the world around him into which the necessary rain could finally come.
On the one hand, it seems wonderfully obvious – but on the other, simply being in a state of grace sometimes feels too small. It feels as if it isn’t enough of a response to a world which is spiralling into chaos at every level. I’ve come to believe, though, that actually, it’s the only thing that is enough. What we do in the world counts for little or nothing if we don’t know how to be; if we don’t understand that the energy we put out – the vibrations we put out (yes, all these words carry too much baggage, but they’re the only words I have) – affect the world around us in absolutely fundamental ways. Again: the most fundamental way we can affect the world for the better is to attend to our own state of mind – to cultivate the mindsets which bring us into Tao, rather than into chaos. We can choose which gods we serve. And whether we know it or not, we’re always serving some god.
So that’s my commitment to this world and this life, over and above anything I might write, or say, or do. To be, as much as I can, in a state of grace. For me, that means exploring and trying to travel alongside the natural flow and order of the universe. Within that over-arching idea, to be aware (my traditions, after all, are thoroughly Irish) of the flow and order and the need to be in balance with the otherworlds which run parallel to this one. All of that also means a commitment to living mythopoetically: to living in full conscious awareness of the mythic patterns and energies which underlie and inform each of our lives.
The curious thing is that this commitment is undertaken in the full understanding that I’ll never know how much it mattered; I’ll never be able to count the consequences. If my ‘energy’ contributes to the maintenance of Tao, or the natural order, in a radius of just six feet around me, maybe that will be ‘enough’. If it reaches out its Tao-tendrils and helps conditions in the wider world, all the better. The truth is, I’ll never know – but I plan to keep doing it anyway. There’s a curious sense of rightness in that. Because it’s when I detach myself from wondering always what is ‘enough’ – when I detach myself from the need to know what happened in the end – that the Rainmaker inside me is most fully in a state of grace, and the much-needed life-giving rain is finally free to fall.