Tag Archives: qigong

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.


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.”

COMPLETE TEXT FREE

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.


Tales from the Tao

When I was young, I knew something about underlying worldness which I afterwards forgot, or let lie. I knew things had aliveness, including trees and rocks, somehow bound up with their meaning and the meaning of everything. Communication happened with a spellbinding quality in a togetherspace that seemed to evade regular human communication.

What was this? Where did it go? Why did meditation and energy bring it back again, and then some? People like Ken Wilber have been misled by Jean Piaget into believing animism is a charmingly mistaken childhood phase of anthropomorphic projection. This is the worst answer since a schoolboy who was asked “What is ananke?” replied it was for wiping your nose. (Actually quite close to Tao in obscure Greek myths is the answer.)

It seemed impossible to pursue these feelings as adolescence went forward — but difficult to be myself without them. Felicitas Goodman has written beautifully of a similar predicament:

Felicitas Goodman -- she's got over her alienation

On the eve of my twelfth birthday I had a severe headache… The next morning I bled for the first time. I went to my mother… “This means,” she said, “that we now have an adult daughter in our house.”… Very soon I discovered all on my own what being an adult apparently meant, and confided it to my diary: “The magic time is over”… I noticed the impediment first with the fresh, crunchy snow which fell right after my birthday. It was nice, but I could not make it glow…

I believe today that a large part of initiation in wiser societies… has to do with helping the adolescent to reconstitute the waning capacity for ecstasy. The harsh stimulation[s] of the nervous system… are designed, I think, to substitute a different, an adult, form for the spontaneous ability to call up that very special trance…

Obviously I was living at the wrong place. How gladly I would have submitted to whatever trial if only someone could have told me what it was I was losing… Actually, I was coming up for confirmation, which was modelled after ancient initiation rituals, but it was cruelly vacuous… nothing, absolutely nothing happened. I did not even know what I had expected, but it was very clear to me that I had not received it.

Where The Spirits Ride the Wind (1990)

That’s the only sad part of her book as she describes her very clever and intuitive rediscovery of ways to vivify that are still being used. Glenn’s ideas perfectly chime with all this. Note the sexual energy redirected at menarche which corresponds with id and ultimately with kundalini. Also important are those methods of ‘harsh stimulation of the nervous system’ in traditional cultures which engage the same energy and are used in many quarters historically and today — see for example Shadow Strategies p. 286 or Martial Arts Madness p. 18, although, as the latter points out, “meditation seems a clear winner over torture”.

Like Goodman I didn’t know there were ways forward that actually worked. Of course, my culture didn’t always want me to. I’d love to blame materialism and Christianity alone for the deadness of the material world as presented to me, and I wouldn’t necessarily be far wrong, but there are no nature worshippers amongst the Platonists either. Even the Stoics, who valued harmony with Nature above all and knew about ch’i, didn’t write on aliveness. The reason we tend to “grow out of animism” in the “Civilised West” is simply that there has never been a widespread mature version of it to grow into. Being raised on Tolkien and Ursula Le Guin, and seeing how important the idea of an alive nature was to many people, I wondered why.

After Kundalini these things were radically revivified and I began to get answers. The social mind programmes the natural one — right down to the energetic system. It went a lot deeper than I thought.

Big civilisations rarely have strong animist elements; polytheism may help maintain them since perversely monotheism tends to dualism (more on a subject related to that next week.) Some cultures keep more for longer in their learned phases, some less. China in some ways exemplifies the former, Europe the latter. Taoism of course is not mainstream in China since it rejects the Confucian emphasis on the sincerity of ritual in favour of Naturalness, but natural Tao itself in China is usually the basis. Ming era Confucians thus found Jesuit missionaries puzzling since Chinese sages said following Nature was the Tao, but the missionaries said that overcoming nature was the Tao. One may draw conclusions at that point.

Without some way to reconnect the energy, there’s often nothing an individual can do. Society impacts our minds because we need to survive; society is our way of doing so, and we are its. Glenn points out somewhere that the social mind experiences only the reality allowed for it and that includes strong influence on your biology. If a culture likes to manipulate nature as a mechanism it probably can’t conceive of natural aliveness and harmony, at least not without wincing, so it will have a job to perceive it. Individuals must thus know how to accept the Shadow, which includes the socially unacceptable, to experience the deeper truth.

Different civilisations, different rules. André-Georges Haudricourt had a wonderful little theory, interesting and at least somewhat true. He thought that in the Mediterranean and Middle East, herding became archetypal, more than agriculture. Herding involves shouting and prodding and enforcing your will on a bunch of often silly, stubbornly recalcitrant animals, so it made a monotheistic god who shouted and enforced his will on silly recalcitrant humans. The animal, hence nature, became the problematic half of a dualist value system. Shepherd images in Christianity are legion. The symbolism of the Hebrew alphabet, which is pictographic like the Chinese, includes not only an ox, but an ox-goad as well.

Just happens

China developed the more agricultural archetype. You don’t yell at plants. Anyone who has done any gardening knows the magic is that it just happens, slowly, mysteriously, and often completely out of sight. At a certain time, given certain conditions, things know what to do. The principle behind that knowing is part of what the Chinese called ‘Tao’, which is mysterious, invisible, feeds all, and has the respect of everything, fulfilling itself in all natural actions. But without having to yell and try to be ‘in charge’– indeed its silence and mystery in accomplishing everything is a measure of its greatness to both Taoists and Confucians. It remains animism-friendly, since the natural order is its sphere, and it forms the connection between all natural things, including us:

The Great Tao extends everywhere.
It is on the left and the right.

All Things depend on it for growth,
And it does not deny them.
It achieves its purpose,
And it does not have a name.
It clothes and cultivates All Things,
And it does not act as master.

Tao Te Ching 34

The Tao produces;
Its Power supports;
Its Natural Law forms;
Its influence completes.

Thus All Things without exception
Respect the Tao and value its Power.
To respect the Tao and value its Power –
No one demands this, and it comes naturally.

– 51 (R. L. Wing tr.)

Since the Tao ‘does not act as master’, one could not imagine a ‘jealous Tao’ as there is a ‘jealous God’. Tao has the respect of all things whether they know it or not, like any natural law. (Gravity and evolution don’t exactly need to hector you into obedience.)

Spiritual actualisation is a question of optimising and harmonising the natural processes within a human being. People who do have a way to do that will find themselves perfectly capable of sensing similar processes in the wider world. There is aliveness, consciousness, and a motion which communicates in feelings and images. It’s significant that Glenn associated the spirit of kundalini with the id, the creative power running through the human system, a concept which can widen to include “the force that through the green fuse drives the flower,” as Dylan Thomas put it. Poets like him have to work hard to maintain aliveness and often write in image-feeling-metaphors of the kind one finds transferred with ch’i.

The language they write in may also be relevant since the western pictographs have long since vanished. All human lettering systems start out as image-metaphors, poetry in themselves. In the Chinese system these of course remain. Morrissey recently embarassed himself by spitefully calling the Chinese a ‘subspecies’ which is the act of a rather snide and bitchy poet alienated by a thoroughly different linguistic and philosophy. The Chinese are the only massive civilisation with very highly developed thinking in a non-Indo-European, uninflected language. They show little preoccupation with the static ideal beingness that Western philosophy has argued about since Greece, because unlike ours their language doesn’t naturally refer to it. But science’s new numerical language gets flow better and as a result the systems-science view has far more in common with the Chinese one than with the Platonist.

Saturating oneself with ch’i increases the vitality and with that comes awareness. It is natural to be so saturated when young, but requires more skill when older. Qigong is a far calmer way than romantic poetry, which is rarely content since it is always trying to leap for unattainable heavens which could only be actually attained in a state of peace. The feeling I have is often much more like the simple Navajo chant:

The mountains, I become part of it.
The herbs, the fir tree, I become part of it.
The morning mists, the clouds, the gathering waters, I become part of it.
The wilderness, the dew drops, the pollen, I become part of it.

Navajo Chant calligraphy and collage by Tina Fields -- click to see the originals on her excellent blog

Pure materialism will many times not survive long-term quiet. Folklorist Barre Toelken spent time with the Navajo and noticed things happening, writing some of the more extraordinary ones down in a paper for Barbara Walker’s Out of the Ordinary — Folklore and the Supernatural (1995) which is full of good things and includes tales like this:

On many occasions when I was living with my adopted Navajo family in the 1950s, people would begin acting as if they had received some information from afar… after a month or so of herding sheep and carrying water to our corn plants day after day, some family members would suddenly prepare for a trip… I would hear offhand comments like, “Perhaps there’s a sing [curing ceremony] down by Red Mesa”… On our way toward the Red Mesa area… we would encounter other Navajos heading in our direction… A day later we would pull our wagon over the crest of a hill and find a gathering of perhaps a hundred people near someone’s hogan… No phone calls, no maps, no addresses, no written invitations, no messengers… the reservation itself is the size of Belgium, and families often live miles from the next… There is no doubt in my mind that these events… actually “happen”, for they are witnessed by everyone who is involved.

Toelken calls this the ‘moccasin telegraph’. ‘Becoming part of it’ would be an equally good term. Jung’s name for it was synchronicity and it was really working for him since his theories are in the enviable position these days of having some interesting science supporting what he did instinctively. He liked the leaf-cutter ants which are too short-lived to observe mating behaviour in the previous generation but know exactly what to do; it just happens when the time is right. Human males will know that when the time is right to mate (when isn’t it), the anima will provide the appropriate picture to guide that all-important nervous system energy; whatever an ant uses for an anima does the same thing. The ant may have less irony about it and less neurosis. Such flows and timings appear everywhere in nature. There are signs of it in the Middle Eastern religions we’ve inherited — Proverbs 30 for example, with its ‘wisdom of the ants’.

Tree + Ch'i

Exchanging ch’i with a tree on a regular basis will do plenty for you — Liang and Wu do some nice qigong in that line, including clever protection ideas I may try this summer. I know an oak in Regent’s Park who is strong stuff indeed. No two qigongs work with trees the same way. Lam has a different approach as does Chia in this nice video.

The Tao achieves its purpose, spontaneous natural action in consonance with rhythms flowing in an immemorial patterned system… the geese fly West, the ants mate, the sing happens near the Mesa… a girl reaches menarche and begins her longing for spiritual contact. Humans are sometimes overcome by aspects of their delicately complex systems and can deviate from this livingness or from their own voice and identity in a way that causes them considerable pain. That’s the dark side of free will and quiet is often a part of the answer. Accepting one’s own nature, spontaneity, and living in the territory rather than the map, are all pointed up in the of actualised people.

The feeling of being connected back up with kundalini was for me such a relief, like being alive again, and synchronicity goes through the roof as heaven and earth find each other and new relationships open up. Accepting the Shadow matters here partly because you are receiving info with source and intent different from normal, that shapes the system in a different way. Info humans consider important is normally social, verbal, screen-based and other ‘intellectual maps of desired results’ which is useless for this. The ability to accept neutrally rather than to seek to repattern reality is what opens one up to these feelings, images and energies.

Since some may not believe that ants have mythopoeic subconscious minds, I give this next story for them, or anyone who believes animism is for kiddies. Lineage successor Rob Williams told it about Glenn:

Doc liked to go hiking… We drove out to New Iberia, right along the coast of the swamp… I happened upon a large gator… I got as close as I could… took a picture and backed away. Glenn had walked across a narrow foot bridge that was about 40 feet long. He was already on the other side looking out into the water. I noticed a brownish cloud coming up from the river on my left. As it approached I realized it was a swarm of wasps.

Glenn had told me about the Louisiana wasps that were huge yellow jackets. They had a powerful sting. I felt uneasy as they collected into a sphere shaped swarm between Doc and me, over the bridge. I thought back to when I first walked fire. I assumed the go for it attitude and, with no fear and great confidence, walked across the bridge through this swarm of wasps. They were bouncing off my face and body as I walked through them to the other side of the bridge. I didn’t get stung. I walked over to Doc with adrenaline pumping through me. I turned and looked back to see the swarm circle, break formation and fly on down the river. I asked Doc if he had seen the swarm and he didn’t answer… He was such a wizard. He was testing me using familiars in nature.

Hoshinjutsu, pp. 94-5

Says hi to Glenn from me... :)

Animism says we are interacting with Persons. Glenn was in tune with the Tao enough to do that in a major way since he knew Persons don’t all look like your auntie marge. We met talking swords months back. The Tao is a mass of intertwining morphic fields, a way of knowing and communicating, ch’i moving through the world. Each thing has its own identity, its own Tao within the mix, its own lifestream, all accomplishing itself in cycles and flows small and large.

The Tao has no fixed position;
It abides within the excellent mind.
When the mind is tranquil and the ch’i is regular,
The Tao can thereby be halted.
That Tao is not distant from us;
When people attain it they are sustained.
That Tao is not separated from us;
When people accord with it they are harmonious.

Therefore: Concentrated! as though you could be roped together with it.
Indiscernible! as though beyond all locations.
The true state of that Tao:
How could it be conceived of and pronounced upon?
Cultivate your mind, make your thoughts tranquil,
And the Tao can thereby be attained.

Neiye ch. 5 (Harold Roth tr.)


Qigong Heroine!

The "qigong" of Mawangdui

When did qigong really begin? 5,000 years back, in the times of the Yellow Emperor? Yes, we’ve all heard that one, and it could be meaningful. The early 70s Mawangdui excavations brought to light a couple of silk scrolls in tomb 3, recognisably showing 11 of the 12 meridians were known well over two millennia ago. Also an elegant silk painting of exercises we’d call qigong today aimed at opening up those meridians. These things are deeply implanted in Chinese culture.

It wasn’t called qigong though. The nearest equivalent over much of history would probably have been yangsheng, meaning “nourishing life”, which took in daoyin (moving forms), massage, breathing, diet, meditation and sexual practice. That term is in the Zhuangzi so we know it’s old. Qigong as a term is really not. It is actually a 20th century thing, and we owe it all to Communism.

In 1947, when party clerk Liu Guizhen cured himself of ulcers and other longtime sickliness by learning an ‘inner cultivation exercise’ (neiyanggong), the timing was just right for him to catch a rare wave of party support for such a reactionary technique. Liu was actually a friend of Chairman Mao Zedong, for better or, as proved, for worse. Acting on orders, he duly learned the entire method from a master in his native Wei county village and began abstracting out the principles. This was the moment of bud-off, and it was party-directed. Soon Liu was running a sanatorium teaching three qigong forms for general health.

It snowballed, and by the end of the 1950s there were 70 such qigong clinics and sanatoria around China, still teaching a curriculum set by the party. But this proliferation came in the Great Leap Forward period, not China’s happiest moment, and as the famines bit and Mao became marginalised in his own party by moderates like Deng Xiaoping, his answer came in the form of the Cultural Revolution. In this nightmare of cultish revitalisation, all tradition became anathema and qigong a ‘rotten relic of feudalism’. From 1966 Liu himself became a ‘class enemy’– expelled, demoted and sent for “re-education”. (He was lucky not to be killed or even eaten by mobs; that happened.) Sanatoria were hurriedly shut.

Guo Lin

Publicly taught Qigong was now out of bounds… for all save one person who started teaching it independently anyway. Her name was Guo Lin. An artist, she had no fewer than seven unsuccessful operations for her cervical cancer before developing qigong forms based on systems she’d learned from her Taoist grandfather. She designed them specifically to cure cancer, starting with her own. And they worked.

As early as 1970 Guo Lin was teaching in the Beijing parks. Success with cancer and heart disease in students was immediate. Word naturally spread. By 1971 she was a fixture in Dongdan Park and qigong had actually come into existence. Key modern twists like independence from pure religious and traditional settings, and masters who teach anyone publicly for money, all began with her.

David Palmer's "Qigong Fever"

As David Palmer says, in by far the best history of all this, “Guo Lin can thus be said to have triggered the qigong wave of the 1980s”, the fever period he lovingly chronicles, with masters in every park competing for students, and the kinds of scientific testing described last post going on with some degree of official sanction. Qigong is the mix of millennia-old traditions with modern democratising, commoditising and scientising impulses imported from the West. To this meeting we owe bud-off and the worldwide movement, but without Guo Lin, who knows?

The authorities disliked her ‘fooling people with superstitious activities’ at first of course. She was harassed and interrogated, her students imprisoned, her materials confiscated. But she kept right on going, moving to different parks, her groups’ numbers growing. Features we know from modern qigong organisations (trained teaching assistants and books based on the method) began to appear. It was unstoppable, whereas the disastrous Cultural Revolution officially ended with Mao’s life in 1976. As Taoist temples everywhere finally breathed easier and relaxed their nervous watch for the Red Army, official sanction for qigong was also given, not least because party cadres were being healed by it. Under the Deng reforms the ready-primed fever period was simply allowed to explode.

Every person in this picture is cancer-free thanks to Guo Lin's qigong -- they like to get together apparently. :)

By 1980 there were a dozen masters per park, and eventually over a million people learned Guo Lin’s qigong. Worldwide proliferation continues. The medical qigongs alone have revolutionised lives in all kinds of affliction (target adaptability). It’s nice to happen across videos of people completely free of Parkinson’s disease for instance, with no medication. I’ve even seen people saying qigong is the best cure for a broken heart, which makes perfect sense to me. Emotions are profoundly affected by blocked ch’i, and depression can be reversed by building vitality.

For those wanting to try it

Guo’s walking qigong is easy to learn, and recommended to anyone including complete beginners. Suffering from a major illness is optional. :) Benefits are manifold. I really enjoy this qigong myself.

Zhang Mingwu's "Chinese Qigong Therapy"

A great way in is to get the book in English, Chinese Qigong Therapy (1988) by former Guo Lin student Zhang Mingwu. It has everything you need including some nice explanations of the physiology and energetics. You get two sets of walking qigongs, one quite brisk at 45-60 steps/minutes, the other superslow at 2-4. Also a great head self-massage, and a neat qigong using a taiji ruler. Very cheap to buy right now — under 5 dollars or pounds on Amazon.

These videos will give you an idea of what some of the moves are like:

Guo Lin Walking Qigong
Guolin Walking Qigong

… although the exact versions in the book are different. If you want a full video of some the forms it looks like Forest Rock have got them:

Forest Rock

… under “Breathing and Stances”, “Opening and Closing Forms”, “Daoyin Walking Qigong”, “Toe Raising and Qi Transforming” and “Dao Yin Head Massage”, but they do charge a small fee for each. (I don’t see the ruler form there.)

However you learn, enjoy.

Commentary — This Happens All The Time

The moment qigong became a reality was closely followed by the moment it headed West. At that time, the West was where the money was. Mantak Chia was in the states by 1980 and his landmark book on the orbit appeared in 1983. One more important bud-off moment for Western spirituality — the pattern of exotic spiritual masters teaching special powers and methods to groups of students is long-established, indeed there’s a semi-hidden history to it which conventional religion tends to ignore. The yogic guru phenomenon was the previous generation’s version of course, but whirl yourself back to the Alexandria of 2,000 years ago and the portrait painted by Garth Fowden of Hermetic teachers with their circles of students is the same deal. The source there was mostly the Egyptian Thoth cult systems, recontextualised and ‘philosophised’ according to the latest Greek thought, just as qigong has been ‘scientised’ today.

I like the independence of such movements. Sometimes an ancient writer is good enough to give us records of otherwise invisible spiritual characters that make one grin… Plutarch writes (section XXI) of a hard-to-find sage living near the Persian Gulf, for example, who meets with people only once a year and hangs out with nymphs and demigods the rest of the time. Handsome, multilingual, ever free of disease, his mouth naturally perfumed (a kundalini sign, see Path Notes, p. 24) we know little more of this prophet-philosopher who didn’t teach on any wide scale, didn’t follow a particular religion, and didn’t try to build himself a school — not even his name. How many more like him were there, or are there?

The qigong hagiography, too, will be a familiar sight to habitués. Far from Glenn’s charming willingness to blab his foolish mistakes with porn, drambuie, and marriage, which make him seem far more trustworthy to me, these cover their subjects in oozing blankets of conventionalised spiritual praise to build the legend and sell seminar tickets. Many will know the one on Wang Liping, Opening the Dragon Gate (1998), thanks to the English translation it somehow got from Thomas Cleary no less. Not so many will be aware the plot can be found in more or less identical form in Eunapius’ 4th century CE story of Sosipatra, a female philosopher from what is now Turkey.

It’s a tale guaranteed to engage the salivary glands of truth-seekers. Ancient spiritual lineage holders visit a house where lives a model child of great decorum. They impress everyone with their traditional spiritual skills, then offer to take the child away for training. In Eunapius the visitors are Chaldeans rather than Dragon Gate Taoists (Chaldea, like Egypt, was a trove of spiritual wonders to Greeks as Tibet now is to many Westerners) but the result in either case is the same: the child returns saturated with supernatural gifts, and gets written up as an example of lineage powers. I hope no-one thought this stuff was original to our time.

What is different from older times is qigong’s public and fee-based teaching structure — no unmixed blessing, but a setup that has fostered the important virtue of ironic distance. People who complain about the obvious bullshit should be happy the bullshit is so obvious. It’ll always be there so let’s have it where we can see it.

I tend to keep a “some of their pronouncements are not to be cast in stone” box for luminaries such as Gurdjieff, Krishnamurti, Steiner, Jung, Freud, Rajneesh, Einstein, Brunton, Plato, Aristotle, heads of martial art families, any organized religion that requires tithe or clergy…

— Glenn, Martial Arts Madness p, 49

So do I. ^_^

Walking Qigong

For a big training organisation the alternative to this wily caution is a full believe-it religion, and sure enough the qigong movement did produce one in Falun Gong. A ‘charismatic master’ is required for this too. “Having charisma”, defined these days as the ability to wear sunglasses, in fact denotes the demonstration of Catholic ‘charisms’, equivalent to yogic siddhi — supernatural attainments. Glenn was a charismatic by that standard, but never added in the narcissism required to make a cult.

And so, as the man said, it goes. Despite her success and fame, Guo Lin never developed her own (what we call) cult. When she eventually died, it wasn’t cancer. :)


Target Adaptability or The Divinely Potent Influx or “Stop, you’ll break science!”

Associate Professor Zhang Tianbao made a bow… “I fully guarantee the reliability of the experiment. But the results are too terrifying for me to take responsibility.”

– Lu Zuyin, Scientific Qigong Exploration (1994). p. 184

Yan Xin (l) and Lu Zuyin (r) click to enlarge

We know about fear standing in the way; here you have it. The problem was not that the results were unreliable, it was that they were reliable. For years, physics professor Lu Zuyin had been successfully measuring ch’i emitted by Dr. Yan Xin, a qigong master of the fever period, on a variety of targets and meterings. He hit on the idea of seeing whether Yan could affect the decay of atomic nuclei. He could.

The uproar was immense as this was known to be impossible. The vaunted ‘Laws of Physics’ were the legislators here. Yan broke their decrees with aplomb and it was not a one-time thing. The experiments continued over a period of fourteen months with ever more stringent protocols. As the above quote shows, even when no-one could believe it they had to. The effect of Yan’s ch’i was always strongly significant and could speed or slow the emission of α particles, at will. Half-life was shown to have been changed. Yan could happily achieve this whilst emitting with precise targeting from 1,900 km away. As Woodroffe put it, “Impossible. Yet it was so.”

How? What is this “ch’i” stuff anyhow? Some people today are still talking as if it were “mostly electromagnetic” — others like the term “bio-energy” — but this is far from the whole ench’ilada. Sure, ch’i does very importantly connect with electromagnetism in the human body, as anyone with kundalini arousal who hasn’t figured out how to stop blowing light bulbs yet will know, but Lu and others showed far more was going on.

At the time (the 80s) the Chinese scene was constantly absorbing news from labs. Infrasound pressure at around 10 Hz was detected in ch’i emission, increasing with practitioner experience up to 70 dB, so perhaps ch’i was infrasound. Same thing with infrared of qigong practitioners, or the magnetic field sometimes rated at 10,000 to 100,000 times normal.

Yan Xin's bleaching of Bromine + N-hexane mix could be precisely targeted -- click to enlarge

But Lu and Yan began throwing out less straightforward results. Yan’s emission would fade colour in bromine + n-Hexane mixtures, something only ultraviolet light would do at room temperature. Ch’i wasn’t UV light, as the test tubes were covered. UV light could not have reached the liquid. What the ch’i had done was to behave like UV light, to have the same effect as UV light, without being UV light.

It seemed ch’i could do many things physical energies could do, but was not essentially one of them. Lu proved this in the spring of 1987, by asking Yan to emit ch’i at multiple kinds of target simultaneously: bromine + n-hexane mix, liposome, and DNA material. To change each would require different radiations — UV for the bromine + n-Hexane, heat for the DNA. For the liposome, no-one knows.

Yan was 9 km away at the time he successfully emitted the ch’i — he always said distance gave greater leverage, like winding up for a punch. All the substances were incontrovertibly altered in different ways by the same energy. No single physical energy could have done it. And no physical energy could change the half-life of radioactive elements. (Some preferred to suspect Yan was monkeying with the equipment telekinetically rather than contemplate it. Lu controlled for that later.)

Ch’i was a sort of Swiss army knife energy, an effect for every occasion. Lu began to call this ‘target adaptability’. (This may remind some of the wave-particle duality of light.) It acted as if it were high heat even when the thermometer didn’t move. You could record the presence of neutrons and γ-rays in it even when they certainly weren’t actually there.

What is measured is not what ch’i “is”. That won’t surprise those who use it regularly who know it carries ‘information’, which to we humans means feelings, images, sometimes facts and ‘extraordinary knowings’ which no machine could follow. (What Robert Monroe used to call ‘rote’.) It is a gateway to a world some love, others run from. “It seems to scare the living shit out of most people,” says Rob Williams. Qigong, says Lu himself, is “more advanced than science” (p. 246.) Frankly, that is what some people don’t like. Physical experiment yields invaluable information and validation, but will never completely penetrate Mystery.

I’m reminded of the alchemical Philosopher’s Stone, which turns lead into gold, ameliorates the conditions of all substances it touches, and in some cases immortalises the physical human frame. Clearly a form of target adaptability. It crosses cultures too. Materialists have branded alchemy a fumbling and childish physical chemistry manqué, just as they have done their best to kill off soul of any other kind. Even if they are doing the metering themselves, their hands shake like Professor Zhang’s: “The results are too terrifying for me to take responsibility.” If they knew this stuff carried feelings too they might keel over. Science isn’t that good on feelings anyhow, let alone ones carried by strange energies. I have a few ways cooking to relate all this to the Humanistic psychology stuff, because research has gone on — but even there, mostly against the grain of that scientistic desire for a neat mechanical solution to everything.

Still, when the truth is allowed to speak it does so clearly. Ch’i is the movement in our world, in all worlds, of a universal creative power, with which humans have carefully learned to work over the millennia. The establishment of target adaptability as a fact proves ch’i can change myriad states and conditions of matter, mind and soul. These vary with person and practice. Ch’i is not simple.

And since it can certainly change the composition of organic tissues and DNA, no doubt it can change yours. No-one is simplistically fixed by any mindless physical mechanism, no matter what the fearful may say. No-one’s soul and personality is left out of their life either, nose pressed to the window in a Cartesian split.

Putting this kind of creative power into anyone’s hands is what the qigong movement has been about. That’s a fairly interesting thing to happen in itself. Next week more on how it came about (a story which may surprise you) via an intro to the life of one lynchpin figure in qigong history.


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