Category Archives: Chi and Chi Kung

2 Connections to Bigger Patterns

Firstly, those following the wider process of death and rebirth that on a narrow level is currently playing out in Ukraine will probably be highly interested in this typically bravura lecture by Immanuel Wallerstein:

… since Ukraine currently exemplifies his “chaos” rather perfectly (its companion “bifurcation” is harder for me to swallow theoretically). Comparing the behaviour of this world system since 1945 with the one in Bali from the J. Stephen Lansing lecture I linked recently, I find it fascinating to see where they intersect. Competing myths. Wallerstein’s cycles of hegemony are bang on. He was turned onto systems by Prigogine. He and William Irwin Thompson might get on somewhat since they somewhat similarly see expansion and contraction.

(BTW the organisation Wallerstein mentions at around 31 mins is the Project for the New American Century — which I had somehow missed until now. Interesting!)

Secondly, and especially for those who haven’t yet looked at it, I’d like to speak again on behalf of acupressure. My fave books, as in the qigong reading list, are beginner-friendly, and there’s nothing like a little resilience and hardiness amidst all the world-system weirdness:

Acupressure’s Potent Points

Acupressure for Emotional Healing

I bring it up because of a scientific discovery which I’ve been meaning to post for ages. Over the last few years Joie Jones and Young Bae have actually been detecting the changes in stimulated acupoints using fMRI, and now they’re able to animate them on a screen so you can see them happening all along the meridian. EDIT: Sorry, forgot that the major breakthroughs actually involve ultrasound not fMRI. Jones demonstrates this here:

After you see, literally, the steadiness of the wave of chi moving through a meridian, you’ll never again wonder about the length of time you have to hold acupoints.

The connection again is self-organising systems. The meridians as a whole constitute one such system; acupressure, one way to adjust it. In order to link this with mythology and Kundalini you need a few more patterns. For now I’ll note that Carl Rogers-style psychology is about allowing self-organisation to occur. You yourself are a world, as the world-system is a world. Worlds interpenetrate.


Holotropic Spontaneity and Carl Rogers XIX

Final Thoughts

The way that I like begins, not with some creed, but with a possibility, to gradually discover and transform into something much more like one’s best self. (In a way this seems to involve healing all the damage done by creeds.) Rogers really has a great approach the human levels of this and gives a lovely modern guide into the process.

The atmosphere is one of complete supportive non-judgmentalism which creates a safety of thought and expression. So one moves from being trapped within feelings and attitudes to being able to notice and understand them, and frees oneself from habitual interpretations. One builds a new self-system and lives in it in a renewed context.

Quiet enables recovery from a hundred minor traumas and perhaps some major ones. The sweet rest of the parasympathetic comes to predominate in the nervous system. (Peace also turns out to be strongly linked with invigorating aliveness, whilst unpeacefulness inculcates deadness at rates which should be sobering but sadly rarely are.) No body is ungrateful for having its tendons transformed.

As Glenn says, the result of discovering meaning and meaningfulness is to exist in “calm connectedness”. This means normal life would otherwise be disconnected (estrangement). The recovery process thus leads somewhere one couldn’t consciously aim, therefore one gradually learns to trust it. Whoever one “is”, whatever the life one is entrained to, the process takes in all of its elements and begins to reveal the underlying connection between them, the person who is doing that living, who would be lost if focused on objects. One expresses this in one’s own way, learning to know where the ups and downs naturally come and when to push or relax. This is part of what Rogers called “being process”.

I don’t mean to imply in this series that seeing a therapist (or indeed a healer) isn’t a good idea. One might uncover difficulties emotionally, and whilst there are some people who find it possible to get over that by themselves, there are others who don’t. Follow your heart. But whether one sees a therapist or not, the process is the process, and it is your process. You be the judge of what is needed as you make your moves and allow spontaneous action/reaction. Success often lies in taking the highest promptings seriously.

Meditation actually improves the Rogerian formula even at the beginning. Silence, that ultimate answer to all earthly questions, is not usually used in a non-transpersonal therapy. When combined with Rogerian technique, it brings a deep balm, ease and peace to the person who has probably been without it for a long while.

The stillness of meditation starts to manifest the deeper meaning of the person’s life which begins to be directly felt. This creates an atmosphere that forms the basis for realisation, for awareness of depth. It is totally natural and comes unsought. It simply needs to be allowed to come, needs the space in which to come. Although it may not have the mighty luminosity of transpersonal experience at first, the solidity, selfness, reality of the result still comes to be valued more than anything else which could disturb it, and thus life changes suggest themselves to preserve and deepen what one is becoming. There may be considerably less sayable in the new identity than in the old.

To my mind this all concatenates with chi kung. I should mention shen, a hard-to-translate word rendered variously as “spirit”, “mind”, “daimon”, “all-embracing love” or “awareness”. Shen as it first manifests in chi kung tends to give the feeling of a deep heart-peace and acceptance, intimately quiet and relieving, that gradually reveals an inner illumination which is the beginning of (re-)encountering the real. It also, in the Chinese conception, is the result of natural processes, which harmonise and unblock chi whilst jing, life essence, is allowed to build. Shen later is spirit or consciousness itself, and therefore the signal of realisation.

There are obviously many transformations after this, on the path I like, many things that reveal themselves beyond this initial stage. Spiritual truth is not “psychological” in the modern sense and the quest reveals itself on levels that (I believe) we all know, but in practical terms, have mostly forgotten if not for the promptings we all feel towards those levels. Gopi Krishna attributed those holotropic promptings to the Kundalini process making itself known on a quiet level to everyone, I think correctly. Our lives wish to deepen.

But as long as this initial understanding has been attained, it can be developed in daily life as well, and forms a sign of what is to come as well as a doorway to it. Everything that happens becomes part of its flow. One always has an awareness, a place to which to return. One is just oneself, after all.

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That’s the end of the series — many thanks for reading and welcome to all the new subscribers!

The reading lists all need a huge amount of redoing… I hope to get that done later on… I know I keep saying that…

The problem is that the next series has made for a huge amount of research, and I’d like to make as much of it available as I can. In fact that research is still ongoing, so there’s going to be a gap before the series begins, but fear not as I’ll be doing short posts on various other subjects as they take my fancy.

Answer to the question: do I still use hypnosis? Yes. Didn’t mean to imply otherwise at all. More on that in a sec. Does hypnosis tie in with this series? Absolutely can. The Ericksonian unconscious works by the same kind of spontaneity. (EDIT: Just saw this book combining Erickson and Rogers.)

More recent work in the vein of Maslow and Rogers has been done by Czikszentmihalyi and Seligman, and there are various other things out there of interest in the same direction. More on them as I fill in before the next series, but I won’t be writing about psychology in any depth for a while now as we need to venture into the wild.


Holotropic Spontaneity and Carl Rogers XII

The Rogers ideas go very well with many further approaches to fine-tune.

Obviously the addition of moving chi kung or yoga, or both — anything that harmonises chi/prana/energy and promotes healthy strength/flexibility — is wise, and for someone planning on awakening Kundalini should go without saying. But one does not have to be too serious at first. I have always learned best by playing, as psychology predicts. Natural additions are acupressure, Jin Shin Jyutsu, 6 Healing Sounds etc. Sources are on the Reading Lists. I’ve always enjoyed a little Feldenkrais, a system with very interesting points to make on body-mind connection. Having someone else work on you now and then can be good too. This kind of purgation and harmonisation does on the energetic level precisely what Rogers-style awareness does on the identity level — allows flow and builds integrity.

A lot of people seem not to want to believe that something as simple as acupressure can profoundly relieve, say, depression. Find your points and they will make the point better than I can, especially if you’ve developed a little chi. This process is partly about pleasure, as the body becomes more comfortable in everyday life. Without getting into Epicureanism again, pleasure of this, let’s say, unproblematic kind can be a very important signal and guide. Happiness is no mere snare, and all of these methods do actually inculcate it in my experience, especially when one thinks in terms of regularly lowering stress over a period of time.

A Rogerian attitude emphasises not over-extending oneself and really listening to the body. Expanding to bigger challenges (which of course increase satisfaction) only after one is comfortable is the way of the person without much to prove, as opposed to he who attempts to scare death off with perfect asanas and ligament blowouts. (This was Glenn’s advice in the “thanatos” chapters of Martial Arts Madness, 1999.) A good diet and time spent in nature are valuable.

Since this series will be my last featuring normal-level psychology in any major way, as I move into more mystical territory, I’ll give greater depth in these following posts on helpful psychological ideas to couple with Rogers on the journey. Various experiences (or whims) may arise which need a specialised approach, but I doubt most people will need everything on the list, and certainly not all at once! Apologies if it seems over-long, but I want to give as much as I can that I know has value. Something might jump out as interesting, now or later. All of this does connect to the Kundalini work and that will become very clear too. Meanwhile treat it as optional and remember it all works with Rogers. Room only for one this week with more to come over the next few posts.

– Herbert Benson, the discoverer of the Relaxation Response, later came up with the Breakout Principle (2004), which uses processes like meditation and other forms of awareness to trigger spontaneous inspirations and answers to just about anything, without conscious processing. Of all these approaches I highly recommend experimenting with this one at some point, since essentially it is holotropic spontaneity in action. Experiencing it in this context makes it very easy to trust that spontaneity as a general process. The method involves letting go. It triggers genuine and delightful moments of enlightenment which can even be peak experiences. It even has neurochemistry attached.

The book is suitable for complete beginners; see two previous posts here and here for more.

[It is interesting to contemplate, after having a few of these inspirations, that meeting with their source is a great goal of spiritual practice. But that deeper question must wait for future series.]


Holotropic Spontaneity and Carl Rogers XI

Moving to application now. We’re exiting the therapeutic context completely, and meditation of some kind becomes the basis. The initial stability and peace necessary can perhaps be achieved with the help of a class, workshop, teacher etc. I personally prefer a chi kung-style meditation as you won’t be surprised to hear. The instructions I like best for beginners come from the old medical chi kung books Glenn made use of. This one has been a favourite, but I recently noticed how ridiculously expensive it’s somehow become. This one, which he also recommended, has an even funkier 80s presentation and I like it a lot; it seems to be holding a lowish price for now. It has no moving chi kung to speak of but otherwise is the equal of the first.

I probably should do a post or two on the basics of this form of meditation at some point, but what I think makes it the best for a beginner is its effortlessness and dedication to making you feel good — it’s intended for self-healing after all. It dovetails perfectly with the Rogers ethos since the idea is to attain rujing (“entering into stillness”), which is a natural process. It operates in all of us, if allowed to do so, just like holotropic spontaneity, as an organismic inheritance. You attain an easy posture, breath pattern, focus, and your thoughts gradually start to slow down, a definite peace and clarity appearing as they become distant.

On the other hand, many different types of meditation might be useful for this process as there is no goal other than initial peace, acceptance and heightened awareness. Glenn’s initial instructions in Path Notes could be enough for many, and he also got things from Herbert Benson’s Relaxation Response initially, for example (now that is a cheap book). The varied emphases in the books can be revealing. Everyone is different and scientific research suggests that clicking with your way is the most important thing to begin with. I only recommend that there be nothing forceful, that it feel easy and natural, with no kind of competitive spirit or achievement agenda.

Rogers-style techniques examine whatever’s in the mind and heart at the moment, whatever occupies the consciousness. To start with it’s the emotions and beliefs that rise amidst or get triggered by life that get the attention, but with that peace, and the other resources, as a background. You don’t do this in meditation necessarily, but a regular meditation practice forms a foundation from which it can be done in time set aside. There’s no particular analyzing, especially not to begin with — accepting and describing and understanding and getting in tune with what one really feels and thinks and experiences is the process, which itself turns out to generate a number of stages of change — again, naturally and spontaneously. The only necessity is to become aware and then see what arises as a result.

It can be useful to start with a general atmosphere of lowering stress. Some may want to treat the whole thing as a break to begin with, a brief but regular/necessary time of rest with a smile on its face that gradually fills with realistic peace and honesty in an unhurried unfolding and noticing. It is the process itself that matters. This becomes subtle and creative and new views or layers can arise out of nowhere, along with unexpected transformations. Everyone will respond in a unique way, in fact this is exactly the idea.

Peace and/or neat resolution every single second is far from necessary or likely but if this process is established with some kind of positive regard behind it — even an imagined positivity is sufficient at first! — then continually re-established over time and seen as a way to understand, or perhaps better to say, an environment in which to understand, then the issues, stories, and beliefs will spontaneously link up and make a more global or unified or patterned sense. This however will not be stiff or over-categorised, but loose and alive and deepening as one goes, enabling confidence in one’s own judgment, solidity, viewpoint, openness, and perhaps most of all, acceptance of self-process.

Thus one ceases bracketing some aspects of self-experience as unthinkingly “bad”, meaning “not to be experienced”. Only then can something which is not as one would wish be changed.


Spiritual But Not Religious in 2012 – VIII

To a great extent, mass-movement SBNR is what happens when spirituality encounters the idea of free society, and when spiritual events occur to people whose identity has been formed in a modern secular context. Thus, as the secular spreads, so does SBNR.

It was the secular and free-market milieu opened up by the Chinese Communist Party which allowed the qigong movement to happen.

In Japan, SBNR is usually quite strongly separated from the religious. In America though, the large religious population implies more common ground. Interestingly the UK is mostly far closer to the Japanese situation.

Seeing that, I understand some of the conversations I’ve had with my American pals, who don’t perceive as strong a line between spiritual and religious. This is just one example of the currently increasing divergence between Europe and the US.

SBNR may thus be more European than American, especially since the US Enlightenment was not anti-religious in the same way as the French. But probably not much more. (Glenn was totally SBNR and they don’t come much more American either.)


Best of Self = Way Beyond Self

It’s not actually that easy to illustrate the concept of “Peak Experience” without cliché

You at your best are good for you, because you do glimpse some truth in that moment. Concentrating on your peaks, moments when you have felt at your best (not necessarily when others would assume you to be at your best, although usually there are all sorts of resonances going on) feeds through your life and makes peak Breakouts more frequent. This is good prep for serious energy work not dissimilar to the Smile. Here again is the list from last week of the S-terms or B-values; one can meditate on how various of them are reflected in peak experiences and learn from these contexts how the best “you” feels and what it does, keeping it very personal to one own actualisation.

A collection of these can be dipped into for purposes of shifting mood, which can happen quite easily, especially when emotional arousal has dropped off. When bad emotions have been somewhat processed, they tend to linger for lack of a way to shift. Going to peaks and may produce a near-magical transformation.

Brief qigong exercises will make it doubly effective. An appropriate technique like qigong breathing can spread feelings through the system, or they can be gathered in the saliva and swallowed to the Tan Tien, Glenn-style. The more advanced with open meridians can run the feelings through them to see what they do. This practice is key to many of Glenn’s statements about energy, such as his comments on checking out the healer, Lisa:

I took some of her healing energy and ran it through me using the internal witness to observe. It was nice and pink and lit up all the meridians and organs. She knew her stuff.

Path Notes (1993, pp. 145-6)

Becoming a connoisseur of energy is a key to sensing people and situations. Glenn taught the martial way but it can be used in so many not-overtly-martial situations. These practices can help develop that awareness as can a few things in Chia’s Healing Light of the Tao (2008). Rob Williams gives excellent instruction in chapters 6 and 7 of his Hoshinjutsu (2009).

Over time of meditating on peaks people may get memories of ones that are very close to the kinds of thing Glenn recommends for the Smile — achievement, love, etc. — but may also get very different stuff. Many of my peaks didn’t look very interesting from the outside. It’s all good if it seems to be what really matters to and about you. This is not such a long step from meditating on the questions, “Who am I really?” (Maharshi), “What is my original face?” (Zen) and so forth, practices which if approached consistently can bring results in themselves, although the smoothing-out of Kundalini egoless states is very useful.

Having some way to understand things from this perspective really seems to cut out the bs, and I’ll advocate this more later, showing how it matches up with other systems but in a secular way. A whole theory is coalescing now around Maslow that also revises the Pyramid of Needs into a useful tool, plus systems of Shadow acceptance come from his self-actualisation approach… this is a great way to relate one’s experiences to ordinary life, because Peaks are seeded by ordinary life.

This gets to why Glenn so often said, follow your heart. He meant, follow the flavour of the feeling and learn to distinguish the subtlety thereof, to trust what you sense and get information from it:

… conscious love is created from the exploration and opening of one’s own heart through diligent meditation and introspection. It is only through knowing yourself that true love and compassion evolve… ninjo… is the concept of human feelings [B-cognition] being vastly more important than what is logical and profitable [D-cognition]… Start paying attention to what other people feel like in various situations… Don’t rationalize the feelings, just build your catalog… run hot angry emotions through your meridians and see if you like the migraine feeling… if you’re going to kick in the more intuitive side of your brain, which also processes feelings, you must remember that we feel before we think. Since most of us, particularly men, have had a lot of training in ignoring our emotions, finding them in charge can have interesting consequences…

– all from Path Notes

Continually strengthening and radiating your peaks through yourself starts the process of recreating and recoalescing towards what matters and what aligns all body and soul functions. As qi builds this spreads naturally to others around you via resonance, changing life in interesting ways. The work looks private, but no work giving instant access to the energy systems of others, as well as one’s own, could ever be private. Its results spread through everything you have ever entrained to, changing the world one person at a time.

Use of one’s own experience is I think a vital ingredient, one I’m going to design in more strongly. Peak is the psychology of the natural high. Given how I feel these days I still think it could and should change world, and it reminds me that Glenn used to say, “this is what people should be doing” — meaning, some form of it, not one form in particular, but a form that works.

However, there’s no denying that the Peak concept, in democratising, also was used in an irresponsible and ungrounded way. This is the 60s and 70s we’re talking about, that outburst which made so much possible, including stuff that led in unproductive directions. Maslow himself wrote excellently on that. The dangers of irresponsibility and selfishness, of needing to escalate the high, of impatience, the shadow of Peak, were well seen by him in his new 1970 Preface to Religions, Values and Peak Experiences (1964). In this and so many other things his patient voice was not always heeded. Not everyone used LSD the careful way Grof did. Meditation takes dedication, even if the methods are extremely efficient. Peak-hunger could get too frenzied.

A lot of things got winnowed out, which may be for the best considering the immense power added to these theories by qigong and Kundalini. But the unfortunate side of that in turn, as mentioned last week, is that much science has actually given up trying to understand human beings in this way. We turned to wishing ourselves numbered patterns. The attempt to master humanity by dehumanising reached to healing and life itself, and tried to snuff out the spirit that does indeed still keep us all alive.

Glenn seems to have nonetheless based himself in the older Humanistic and Maslovian approach quite strongly, using it to understand what had happened after his unexpected awakening. This was a big part of what he called ‘strategy’, which in turn focused on enjoyment and the investigation of feeling, yet could also be scientifically investigated with work on the chakras. That takes a certain amount of sophistication. Chakra openings are peaks of a different kind, but they are peaks. One finds instinctively one’s style, the archetypal push and flavour of the chakras, of the organs and meridians. Subjective hooking into the eternal makes meaningfulness of a uniquely self-actualising kind even as it breaks down the social masks, and with each new pattern of understanding you make a step into “becoming part of it” as the Navajo say.

The universe is a huge spontaneous poem written in feelings and images that course through the soul. Anyone who wants to make the run for the grail just has to get the meditations and peaks into gear. When the meridians and the chakras open properly there is no need to depend so much on memories of peaks, because the flow of energy clears conscious access to the living source of them, a step at a time. The job becomes to continually plateau-Breakout into the living truth of constant peak.

The qigong systems I use (see Reading Lists) are about flow. Those who haven’t yet experienced it, especially Westerners with their lack of much tradition concerning it, may not get that qi is as obvious and easy to feel — and later to see — as anything physical. Qi in motion on the level of the meridians can literally be felt clearing and refreshing all areas of the system, everything that was clung to can be let go in favour of flow with reality. These are not only physical-type blockages. Blockages of the soul, of trauma, of crisis, of meaning, are also dissolved. The beauty of this is hard to relate but easy to enjoy.

It becomes clear that everything one experienced was experienced through this, through this mind-body system which the energy is causing to zing and flash. Each area opened opens a level of the cosmos to one’s mind, and one’s mind to that level. Peaks at this stage have coalesced into the neutral guiding star of spontaneous persistence and beauty that continually lights the personal way to the universal. The seed planted by those peak moments grows to flower in the cosmos. The Taoists call this “becoming a real human”.

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I’m off to play with what I’ve got here for a while, and will probably be posting in a slightly differently pattern and style when I return, including more details on a secular psychological basis for these qigong realisations, and other stuff. Meanwhile I’ll be adding to the Reading Lists and dealing with the Webster rebuttal… enjoy. :)


Ataraxia — movement reveals stillness, stillness harmonises movement

In multiple traditions, the soul that is peaceful is said to be “balanced” by means of a system of elements. The Western training of Franz Bardon uses a 4-element system for this which corresponds to the five-element Chinese system. But bizarrely these two modern approaches are opposites, and even more so, the Chinese one is much closer in spirit to Ancient Greece than the Western one. I’m still not quite sure why that should be.

Katchmer’s great book, The Tao of Bioenergetics (1993), offers what I see as the basic view. Glenn applauded it as having “a good explanation of the workings of the Eastern methodologies and perspectives, with enough concrete Western examples to keep one scratching one’s head for quite awhile”. It’s built on the contrast between the Western and Chinese approaches to knowing in general. The Western approach is substantial and reified and seeks ‘the right answer’; the Chinese is an energy paradigm valuing flow.

It’s almost not wrong to say that for something to be ‘an answer’ in China, it must be flowing, whereas for something to be ‘an answer’ in the West, it must have stopped flowing (at least until Heidegger and Deleuze). However, when it comes to elements-systems, it would appear that the ancient West — Greece — bucks this trend.

Generative Cycle of 5 Chinese Elements

The Chinese five-element system works in cycles. The “Generative Cycle” arranges the elements in a circle with each element producing the next in turn — Water is said to produce or generate Wood, and so forth. In the job of balancing the elements, indirect action thus becomes possible — to strengthen the Metal element one may strengthen Earth, since excess Earth will become Metal. Metal corresponds, for example, to the lungs, and Earth to the Spleen/Pancreas/Stomach complex, so weak lungs can be strengthened by strengthening the stomach.

Destructive Cycle

In the “Destructive Cycle”, on the other hand, Metal has the effect of reducing or inhibiting the Wood element, of which the organ is the liver. Thus an overactive liver can be reined in by strengthening the lung. Each organ is associated with a complex of emotions, thus these interventions alter one’s psychology.

It’s all about effecting dynamic changes in an ongoing stream. As qi flows through the whole it clings or is overactive or else is weak, in this or that area, and the flow is warped out of true. Systems for getting it back in line using the elemental approach range from the purely meditative — like Chia’s Fusion of the Five Elements, work with the meridians, or stuff by Bi Yongsheng I’ll refer to later in the post — to the book I got those illustrations from, Chang’s The Tao of Balanced Diet (1987) which makes use of flavour, energy level and pH balances in different foods. Healing by eating, a nice thought which has worked for me. (Chia promised a similar system once but I don’t believe he has ever published it.)

When flow is clear, when all elements support each other and none is predominant, when the system is free of blockage, it has then become transparent and favours no direction, so can recover events and expressions. It has a dynamic homeostasis allowing a life of undisturbedness or ataraxia amidst any sort of motion.

What’s very interesting is that (from what we have left to us), the Western four element system seems to have begun with a similar attitude to flow. The elements, says Empedocles, “prevail in turn as the time comes around”. Heraclitus, so often the most Chinese of the Greeks, mentions that “the death of fire is birth for air and the death of air is birth for water” and so on. Anaximenes and Anaxagoras have certain relevant passages and Plato’s Timaeus includes much on the process of cyclical transformation of the elements (49-50), and how they make up the character of souls.

But the European approach has not kept up this interest in flow and Bardon’s 20th c. Western Hermetic technique shows the result. It’s so different that I actually have discovered I’m not able to combine the two comfortably, but it perfectly illustrates the ‘reified/static’ mien of Western European thought as sketched by Katchmer.

Bardon’s system is in the line of Agrippa and Fludd, Western occultism. The technique involves breathwork with four different elements as two pairs of opposite qualities — Fire and Water are hot and cold; Air and Earth, light and heavy, respectively. The practitioner first learns to handle each element separately by breathing it into the body. When seasoned s/he can then inbreathe all four elements simultaneously, focusing them in different areas: Earth in the legs and genitals, Water in the belly, Air in the chest, and Fire in the head. By concentrating the energies strongly, each simultaneously in its area, the practitioner brings the system into balance and harmony. Fludd shows exactly this elemental order. The Indians tend to put Air on top I think… more research coming.

This harmony is entirely static. There is no sense of interaction with the environment, only with a world of ideal qualities, and the four “flowing”, “becoming” elements of old Western lore are not to be found. Where the Chinese system involves carefully balancing motion in order to reveal harmony, the Western system makes a block of harmonised motionlessness to which the ordinary life energies must conform. I find it a telling difference and one that confirms Katchmer, although the latter doesn’t know Bardon.

Glenn Morris fans will note that the ability to run energy hot or cold at will is very much a part of his system. However, working with Bardon’s Fire and Water elements does not help for this as Bardon never runs energy at all — the West is quite destitute of a meridian system through which energy can be dynamic. The only qigong book I have ever seen with good instructions for running hot or cold at will is the one I quoted at the end of last post, which is rapidly becoming my favourite book on medical qigong of all time: Bi Yongsheng’s Chinese Qigong Outgoing-Qi Therapy (1997). (Glenn himself teases but doesn’t give a method for this.)

You can also find in that book a system for generating a form of qi corresponding to each of the five elements, which can be used for elemental balance exercises on the generating-destroying cycle I gave earlier earlier. (Mind you, I haven’t yet tackled the huge work of Jerry Alan Johnson who I believe studied with Bi. But Bi’s book is seriously good anyway.)

It’s interesting to think that the Chinese system reflects much more closely the fluid/becoming nature of the Greek elements, as given by many philosophers, than the later European occult systems seem to. As I say, I’m not sure what happened there, nor when the switchover to the static occurred in the West.

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Sorry for tardiness and linklessness, plus fair warning that as I write the Webster rebuttal which is taking on large proportions, Saturday posts may become shorter/sketchier or occasionally absent. I do have a lot of posts in cold storage I can bombard you with but they may run out. Thx for bearing with me, think it’ll be worth it…


Naturalizing the Breath

The beginning of transcendent wisdom at soul/energy level, in quite a few traditions, is a kind of balance, contained and managed, which allows the motion of life without getting swept up in it. (The East-West difference in conceptualisation of that balance is fascinating, and I’ll get to that next week.) It’s in this context that Epicureanism, or indeed any of the other philosophies in which desire is managed down, are so useful. Not desiring more than one has means being satisfied, content, and peaceful. This is pleasure. That calculus of desire, where what arises is easily satisfied, allows life not to disturb — ataraxia.

It is easy and profitable, like I said before, to retrofit or graft the Chinese sexual techniques, the fangzhong shu, to the Epicurean ethic. Compatibility is the key, as much as or more than similarity. You’ll never find sexual techniques in Epicureanism since Epicurus, along with every one of his successors, was too pessimistic about sex to concoct any. So they never discovered what the Chinese did, which is that sex (with discipline and care) can be all about balance, pleasure, health and ataraxia — exactly the Epicurean aims.

It’s the same with a whole bunch of stuff — the Smile techniques of last week for example. There is nothing similar in Epicureanism but it’s bang on with their goals. Similarly, a big part of what you learn in qigong or kundalini practices is about breathing exercises. These are absolutely essential to what I do, and they are entirely absent from Western ancient records, even though their philosophy is totally compatible with so much Western stuff. The pneuma doctrines the Stoics settled into, especially, are really identical to the doctrines of qi/prana. Aer was important from the beginning with Anaximenes. The doctors of India, China and Greece worked with the energy to heal. But Greece did not develop breathing.

So historically, very few people in the West know what breathing makes possible. You need to experience it. We don’t have any cultural way of describing the change of mind involved in changing breath — nor resulting changes in the matter and energy of the body. Pierre Hadot was very big on ancient philosophy as spiritual exercises which aimed at a way — his contribution is very valuable — but what he meant by “spiritual exercises” was the questioning of assumptions and intentions, along with some asceticism. Good stuff, but the training of breath and mind together is not understood.

(Via the cross-fertilisation of Stoicism with Vipassana now in progress, that may change — although Vipassana is not qigong nor yogic breathing and should not be mistaken for it.)

One person who does get some of this is Thomas McEvilley, whose massive, fascinating The Shape of Ancient Thought (2002) is a beautiful comparative study of Ancient Indian and Greek philosophy. Epicurus and the Pāli Buddha never had a more fruitful and civilised conversation — nor did Pyrrho and Nagarjuna, nor Democritus and Jain atomism, for that matter. Fun at last to see these guys hobnobbing! Academic specialisation tends to maintain a big Berlin Wall between them.

The trap, though, is signalled in the title. It’s a book about thought. It doesn’t touch practice, except at odd moments. And it’s enthusiastic, and the impressionable may see things that aren’t there, like one Amazon reviewer, who said that “Plato’s Academy was a Yoga ashram, in effect”. Perhaps one could get that entirely mistaken impression from statements in the book like: “Every mystical element in Indian thought can be found in Greek thought too.” It’s that word again — “thought”. Thought is not practice. There’s a footnote: “This overlap, however, does not include the practice of yoga, which seems a distinctively Indian accomplishment…” That reviewer didn’t look in the footnotes. Gah! I’ve been there.

Plato was no yogi. Whatever his ‘unwritten doctrines’, which featured plenty of mathematics as I understand, the basics of the academy seem to have been dialectic and geometry, with the new academy meandering to scepticism very soon after his death. There were no real exercises of breath and qi in Platonism, none in Epicureanism, and none in Stoicism, although McEvilley claims not to be sure:

Whether Stoics, like Hindus, attempted to establish the right inner vibration through direct control of the breath is not known; more probably they worked directly on the hẽgemonikon [intent] rather than on the bodily breath … most importantly, the Stoics seem no more than other Greek schools to have taught meditation and bodily discipline in anything like the Indian yogic manner.

And yet — the similarity he mentions between the thought processes of these conversations allows us to retrofit. We don’t need to be naively universalist because there is actual similarity of thought and theory, just as much with China as with India. Along with the theory of breath and qi/pneuma, there are all sorts of compatibilities of thought which allow graftings of practice. (I’m far from the first to notice that Heraclitus is often a Taoist.)

I don’t know why the West never developed breath regimen. It just didn’t. I see more or less nothing major on breath until the 20th century, when Bardon’s system appeared, which does heavily feature breath, but I have no idea where it came from. The system is very different from Eastern methods (more next week), alienatingly so for me, enough that there may be some sort of occult oral transmission I know nothing about. Agrippa hardly mentions breath, although when he does it’s Bardonish I suppose.

Stephen Chang includes information on various forms of Crane Breathing, Reverse Breathing, and Bone Breathing

On the less heathen angle, there’s a page of breathing in Loyola’s Exercises (which would be 16th c.), more or less equivalent to an impassioned Christian version of Herbert Benson (20th) which in a more Humanist mould is where Glenn began too. But of the breathings available on my reading lists — the belly breaths, the reverse breaths and so forth — there is no hint in any Western document of any period, that I have seen yet. I’d love to be shown some.

I’m told the following inscription may well date from 500 BCE, right in the floreat of Heraclitus (or Pythagoras or Xenophanes). Just then, the path we know as Taoism was coming to exist. The Neiye, that masterpiece of early China which advocates the joy and health of quiet practice in a way that would gladden any Epicurean, was still a century off. Laozi and Zhuangzi weren’t born nor thought of. But already there was breath in this inscription whose history remains obscure:

When transforming the breath, the inhalation must be full to gather the magic. To gather the magic, fullness must be extended. When it is extended it can penetrate downward. When it can penetrate downward, it is magic. When it descends it becomes calm, solidifies, and is both strong and firm. When it is strong and firm, it will germinate. If it germinates it will grow and retreat upward. If it is attracted back, then a man can reach both heaven and earth in the same breath. When it retreats upward, it reaches the top of the head. When it falls forward, it can caress the feet and still press down. The secret powers of Providence move above. The secret powers of the Earth move below. He who follows this will live; he who acts against this will die.

CLICK TO ENLARGE
Chinese Breath Inscription, ?500 BCE

That’s Glenn’s preferred translation of it (Martial Arts Madness, 1999). I reproduce the original at right. I have four other translations, found in the 2 Glenn-approved vols. of Jane Huang’s Primordial Breath (2 vols., 1987 and 1990), which translate some intriguing texts on this stuff from the Taoist Canon. The theory there was, we don’t know what a lot of these symbols mean for sure these days so safety lies in numbers. The calm, the solidity and firmness, all relate to the balance and ataraxia with which I began this post. Anyone who thinks ‘magic’ is a poor word doesn’t know breathwork (and didn’t know Glenn!)

It’s by such cultural productions that you know China is going to develop breathwork, but Greece produced nothing of the kind. Maybe Peter Kingsley would tell me there’s the odd word in Empedocles. But it’s thin. What there is, though, is compatibility. Personally, I feel like this stuff fulfills a promise that simply never fruited in the Western past.

Anyone interested in breath will find useful stuff in Glenn’s books — see Reading List. From the Qigong Reading List, I indicate particularly Bi Yongsheng, with Stephen Chang and Takahashi/Brown also relevant.

Since not everyone has caught up with the excellence of the Bi Yongsheng book yet, I’ll end by transcribing a passage I’ve found very helpful. Of course, as recent events on this blog show, I certainly am not always quite as peaceful as I’d like to be! :) But then, I have major experiences going on at the moment which maybe one day I’ll write about. Meanwhile, the following on what you might call the ataraxia of breathing has helped me a great deal:

The ancients laid much stress on the manner of breathing in their practice of regulation of respiration, stating four phases (xiang) of respiration: wind phase (feng xiang), gasp phase (chuan xiang), air phase (qi xiang) and rest phase (xi xiang). With the wind phase, one can hear the rough sound of his own breath; with the gasp phase, though he may hear no sound of his breath, he may feel stagnated and obstructed ventilation of air; with air phase, he may neither hear the rough sound of breath nor feel the stagnated and obstructed ventilation of air yet his breath is not even; and with the rest phase, which is a state of extreme quietness, he may achieve deep, long and even respiration. It was believed in ancient times that “concentrating on the wind phase may derange the mentality, on the gasp phase may cause knotted mentality, on the air phase may strain the mentality, and only on the rest phase can the mentality be set peaceful”.

– Bi Yongsheng, Chinese Qigong Outgoing-Qi Therapy (1997), p. 167


In praise of Cross-Cultural Pleasure, Health and Immortality

Lü Dongbin painted by Sesson Shukei, one of my favourite images of immortality. The dragon upon which Lü stands (what a great depiction!) symbolises his immortality. He has an elixir in his left hand, which he has just uncorked — the cork is in his right hand. This has called or formed another dragon in the air above him.
CLICK TO ENLARGE

This is set off by the usefulness of Epicureanism again…“Pleasure, health, and immortality” sounds too good to be true, but read on.

Glenn reversed serious lifelong arthritis mostly by qigong. It’s not hard to imagine the pleasure that goes with the health there. (Certainly not for me, I have had and am having the same, and more.) At 38 he dropped his baby daughter because of arthritis pain, but at 48 had no pain at all. Pleasure was a big part of the healing, in the form of the Smile technique COMPLETE TEXT FREE . Mantak Chia’s Smile is just as useful COMPLETE TEXT FREE (PAGE 43). You can combine them. I have old CDs of Glenn chuckling at how odd it must seem to some, reaching into their own organs with happiness, but have those beginners read Plato? (Of course not!) : –

When the mind wants to cause fear, it makes use of the liver’s native bitterness and plays a stern and threatening role… By contrast, gentle thoughts from the mind produce images of the opposite kind… and so bring relief from bitterness… making the part of the soul that lives in the region of the liver cheerful and gentle…

– Plato, Timaeus 71, tr. Desmond Lee COMPLETE TEXT FREE (DIFFERENT TRANSLATION)

“The part of the soul that lives in the liver” — this really is pretty Taoist considering it’s Plato. But the spirit of the Western organ is still separate from its physicality to a greater extent than in China. (Taoist priests actually conjure deities out of their bodies to officiate at the rites, which would cause most Platonists to do a double-take or three.)

That brings us to immortality, which does not mean literal physical bodies that last forever. Even the most mundane kind of immortality is interesting. Epicurus stated that the removal of fear and anxiety allowed one to live ‘like a god among men’. He felt self-sufficiency and serenity were godlike and he found them in the gods when he looked at them:

…there are perceptions in our mind — so, at least, Epicurus affirms — of beings brighter and better than man. These images visit us when the mind is no longer besieged by the objects of sense. In the night season, and in quiet reflection, we have visions of the gods, as beings beyond the reach of trouble or of death — beings endowed with immortality and supreme felicity…

– Wallace, Epicureanism COMPLETE TEXT FREE

It’s no secret that immortality has been offered as everything from a kitsch fairytale to a serious result of spiritual practice. Either way, it certainly seems very enjoyable if you manage to attain it. We met before the Chinese god Wenchang, with his autobiography — when he first (re-) attains his own immortality he goes on a holiday which, says Kleeman, is ‘totally Daoist… delighting in nature without a care in the world’:

I happened to find myself atop Mount Monarch in Grotto-courtyard Lake. I loved the magnificent scenery, and so stayed there a while… Transcending the profane inferior world, I came and went alone. The lights on the water and the colors on the mountains were delightful all year round. Humming with the wind and whistling at the moon, what limit was there to this joy?

He has to tone it down eventually, since euphoria is not peace. But here we have a pretty clear confluence of immortality with sheer pleasure.

Empedocles of Acragas

Wenchang actually began as a god before becoming entangled in earthly life, just like our Western Empedocles, for example, whom Peter Kingsley made a little famous. He is another god writing an autobiography — and offering deifying methods too, that is, methods of recovering your own innate divinity. Not that he was recognised as a god in his time, but then neither was Wenchang whilst incarnated. Empedocles is walking around as a “god amongst men”, he does say, and he means it literally. What awaits him after his mortality is renounced but joy at the immortal table, free of human woe? Just so, those achieving immortality or deliverance from the corpse in China lived in celestial paradises with Laojun, Huangdi the Yellow Emperor, or Xiwang mu, Queen Mother of the West.

All the stuff about “going to heaven if you’re good” is a dumbing down of this in many ways, and I include Plato in that. The systems I’ve studied tend to say you won’t actually last in the otherworld without juice and eutonia — the Taoists say, without having become a true ‘yang spirit’, which apparently can take physical form at any time but is not limited to any form.

In the tantric Mahasiddha tradition as expounded by Dowman FREE TEXT, “the result of sadhana is pure pleasure”, with enlightenment its ultimate, and ultimately pleasurable goal. Although such paths require endurance, as Epicurus says, “we believe many pains to be better than pleasures when a greater pleasure follows for a long while if we endure the pains.” The right methods bring health to the body meanwhile — Empedocles promises “remedies for ills and help against old age” and Chinese longevity is legendary.

Epicurus’ attitude to death is interesting for Kundalini purposes. When he says that a major pleasure strategy is to: “Get used to believing that death is nothing to us,” (on the principle of decreasing trouble of mind) he is really talking common sense, but is far from meaning, let’s pretend it isn’t going to happen. Seneca, a member of that supposedly rival sect, the Stoics, records his attitude:

In the meantime Epicurus will oblige me, with the following saying: ‘Rehearse death’, or — the idea may come across to us rather more satisfactorily if put in this form — ‘It is a very good thing to familiarise oneself with death.’

– Letter 26 Robin Campbell tr., COMPLETE LETTERS HERE (DIFFERENT TRANSLATION)

That wouldn’t be out of place in Tibet. Epicurus is a very good ‘naturaliser’ of qigong in the West in the absence of anything I can use from a new age standpoint. In Epicurus, a life of peace is usually to be recommended over one involved in political power-seeking — “Quiet life and withdrawal from the many” is the formula. In this connection I remember the story of Zhuangzi:


Chuang Tzu with his bamboo pole
was fishing in the Pu river

The prince of Chu sent two vice-chancellors
with a formal document:
We hereby appoint you prime minister

Chuang Tzu held his bamboo pole still.
Watching the Pu river, he said:
“I am told there is a sacred tortoise offered
and canonized three thousand years ago,
venerated by the prince, wrapped in silk,
in a precious shrine on an altar
in the temple.
What do you think?
Is it better to give up one’s life
and leave a sacred shell
as an object of cult
in a cloud of incense
for three thousand years,
or to live as a plain turtle
dragging its tail in the mud?”

“For the turtle”, said the vice-chancellor,
“better to live and drag its tail in the mud!”

“Go home!”, said Chuang Tzu.
“Leave me here
to drag my tail in the mud.”

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The attitude verges on what the West would once have called Cynicism, yet another rival Hellenistic philosophy — but more of that later. It’s a mindset that produced many great sages. As Harold Roth puts it in a brilliant essay on the Stanford Philosophy site FREE TEXT, this side of Zhuangzi did become useful for those who “saw within it support for a withdrawal from a life of social and political service into a private life of reclusion and self-cultivation”, no small decision in Chinese literati circles.

For Epicureans that meant retiring, specifically to a garden, usually. The original Garden of Epicurus was outside Athens, a place of quiet pleasure, teaching and contemplation. Many others sprang up later, sometimes turning into Pythagorean-style communities, and gardens remain important to Epicureans now, increasingly so as self-sufficiency becomes crucial to all of us.

This may be a bit of garden in the same place where William Temple was, I can’t quite gather. But it wouldn’t have looked like this anyway, he was big on fruit trees. And there would have been lots more of it.

Sir William Temple wrote an essay on Epicurean gardening in the 17th century COMPLETE TEXT FREE. His garden was rather bigger than most of us will ever access but he was suitably Epicurean in completely ignoring William of Orange’s invasion; he accepted the new regime, refused office, and went back to pruning his fruit trees. (Not all Epicureans are so retiring — Thomas Jefferson was hardly one to lie quietly out of office.) Some Mahasiddhas lived in even greater luxury than Sir William, for example Lilapa who apparently was a King and a hedonistic one at that. There are no rules. ^_^ A lady named Stephanie Mills wrote a book about modern stripped-down living called Epicurean Simplicity — maybe I’ll pick it up sometime.

Just as Epicureans love their gardens, so do qigong players — or parks. Qi flows in exchange with the human energy, and there is always the chance of meeting an interesting tree. A place to be, with a perfume in the air, to notice the deeper changes of the seasons, to protest against the ambitions of the cultural imperialising of the day. Pleasure, health and perhaps just a sniff of immortality…

There’s meat to all this, so more upcoming.


Light Anatomy

I can’t say how this began.

In one early unknowing attempt to rewire what life was disarranging I snarled at my boss that I was going to bed. “Alright!” he said, puzzled at my accusatory tone. I too was puzzled since apart from a mild temperature I had no idea why I was going to bed nor why I sounded so accusatory. I spent all day in my room without eating. I was working in Holland at the time. I can’t remember if it was then, although I think the time after, when during the hours in bed I became simultaneously so hot and so cold and also so confused that I had the window wide open to cool me off and the heating fan on maximum to warm me up.

Anyone who wishes to explain this by Darwinian adaptational advantage can feel free to speak up. It is clearly shamanic illness/spiritual emergence etc. But I had never heard of shamanism and was brought up to assume that it was a fictional category some unfortunates chose to pretend was real. After a day or two at most it would subside. I said nothing about it even to myself. (That wasn’t so wise but I just had no transpersonal interests.)

The process became stronger and more interesting. In one episode in my twenties I again took to my room, knowing this time that I was searching for something. I thought it must have to do with fantasy or myth. I began pulling out books, thumbing them for images. Each one was ‘obviously not it’. They ended up in a pile on the bed with me.

I didn’t know what I was searching for — “something to complete me”, it seemed. But these things did not complete me and I seemed to know that; how? What in me knew this? What was pushing me to seek?

I realised that something in me could actually “see” what I was looking for. I decided to look “where” this thing was looking. I discovered that it was seeing a great light. I don’t think this light was at all external (some can be of course) — it was an inner illumination. I went up into it. Some interesting stuff happened. When the day ended I was chuckling to myself in delight and breathing quite obviously through the soles of my feet, which was odd because I’d never been taught pore breathing or indeed any transpersonal techniques at all; not even so much as the idea of them existed in me consciously.

That light was a good thing to discover. Although it’s not that bad I don’t like the term ‘Higher Self’. Superconscious Light is a term I will use to myself. The light does have content and even form in a way but is not… describable. The older terminology in the West was genius (Latin) or daimôn (Greek). (Inspiration denies mechanism. There is not some mechanism here. Tell anyone who thinks you are a machine to go wrench themselves; they are just trying to control you.) This is all about aliveness but in a massive key. It’s also about love and strength and inspiration, vivification and destination and — yes superconsciousness, consciousness in a higher and more intense key. There are problems with “higher self” because of the word ‘self’ since most people mistake self-concept for self, whereas this light is something which cannot be entered whilst maintaining the self-concept.

The overhead space is The Place You Get To in both Yogic and Taoist Inner Alchemical systems — after a long while of previous opening and harmonising though. It is “where the story really starts”. I’ve learned a lot more down-to-earth stuff to help with the accessing.

Using Ericksonian trance in this highly non-Ericksonian context, I like to join the subconscious mind (which in this form of hypnosis is solution-generating) to the superconscious. In this way I think of first getting into the body below and then getting out of it above, which fits with the Yoga/Taoist stuff again. First you go down then you go up. Trancework is an incredible way to change in preparation because you often don’t even notice it happening. You just find you have changed, and you see that ‘it’ has been creative behind the scenes. Plus ‘it’ can tap into abilities you didn’t know you had. I’ve used this to smooth out the differences between the Taoist qigong stuff and what I do naturally — psychology in general offers a viewpoint from which you can see both things. Cross-cultural confusions can be avoided.

Note the “Ka’auhelemoa Rain” falling from the superconscious. (To me it feels more like the sun.)

It was nice to discover the Huna 3-selves diagram which shows the “first down then up” formula.

What is important though is to see this as mapped on the body in the Eastern style. Victor Anderson’s Etheric Anatomy adapts it, β-body being the conscious, α-body the subconscious, and γ-body superconscious. As you can see he’s relating it to auric layers — also to different substances. His Feri tradition was very Huna-influenced. The subconscious starts around the diaphragm area which is nice to play with if one is not literalist. Anderson calls the γ-body the ‘personal god’ — that’ll do but thinking about badocelot’s comment last week I like to use the g-word as little as I can. It’s just played out, little left of its cultural carcass for the theological hyenas. (Daimonic could also = angelic if that interests you.)

Can I just say how weird it is that this is right there, all the time, and we all have it? It is ordinary but so far removed from the ordinary. It’s said to be immortal — maybe it is but I don’t quite know what that means. (What happens when the universe ends?) Anyway longer than you can count. And yet unaging. Although transpersonal in the sense of being beyond what most would think of as themselves, I am not talking about anything cosmic here. Haloes cross cultures and are related to getting that light entrained to the rest of the energy body.

I’ll give later some very easy ways to use trance with this, but wouldn’t want to tell anyone to “have faith” in some light they can’t see. Nothing I write is about faith — only evidence and experience interests me. I would rather give people stuff they can test for themselves (the subconscious is easy to test) and would never have used the light if I didn’t know about it first. Since it is there all the time there is no point in my pretending otherwise.

The episode where I was first conscious of the light as an adult was in retrospect a Breakout — but with no conscious priming, only subconscious processes pushing. There’s quite a lot of that in my life. There’s a lesson there although it may not do many that much good — simply that because I didn’t talk and think about these experiences they remained separate from my identity. In fact having learned what the word means I can say quite certainly I was dissociated from them, with all that implies about the potential of actual Dissociative Identity Disorder (what used to be called multiple personality disorder).

It’s no wonder one is ‘attracted’ to this or that practice, because the culture squashes things and one is not allowed to think about them, but they are pushing to get out. Often I see that people squash themselves. I can recall that before I knew about kriyas I really thought I had a nervous system problem — but at the same time “I” didn’t, because “I” as normal social mind didn’t choose to know about those funny twitches with any particular clarity. I guess on some level I was sure I was ok, but that level was far from “me”. Maybe there’s a reader or two that can relate.

This also meant I never noticed the synchronisms between altered states and my regular life. In our culture it is actually possible to be dissociated from one’s own soul.

Still it’s nice to have in definite and clear “view” the staggering limitlessness of what underlies even one human being! I don’t know how the anatomy works in non-human beings. I might try to find out sometime… this has unfortunately been the wettest English April in a century. I hope your May has begun well…


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