Week 2: The Art of Meditation and more about Qigong Practice
Welcome to week 2 of the Qigong study group.
This week's focus will be on meditation and the basis of meditation from a Daoist standpoint.
The basis of most Qigong is in the mystical traditions of Daoism and Chinese folk practices and philosophy.
A highly recommended piece of reading is the Daodejing (Tao T'eh C'hing 道德經) written by one Laozi (Lao Tzu) around 500 BC. The title of the book could be said to be "The Book of the Way and It's Power". The exercises we will be doing this week have their basis in this philosophy, so I would like to share a few selections from it that are relevant.
1. THE EMBODIMENT OF TAO
Even the finest teaching is not the Tao itself.
Even the finest name is insufficient to define it.
Without words, the Tao can be experienced,
and without a name, it can be known.
To conduct one's life according to the Tao,
is to conduct one's life without regrets;
to realize that potential within oneself
which is of benefit to all.
Though words or names are not required
to live one's life this way,
to describe it, words and names are used,
that we might better clarify
the way of which we speak,
without confusing it with other ways
in which an individual might choose to live.
Through knowledge, intellectual thought and words,
the manifestations of the Tao are known,
but without such intellectual intent
we might experience the Tao itself.
Both knowledge and experience are real,
but reality has many forms,
which seem to cause complexity.
By using the means appropriate,
we extend ourselves beyond
the barriers of such complexity,
and so experience the Tao.
33. WITHOUT FORCE: WITHOUT PERISHING
Knowledge frequently results
from knowing others,
but the man who is awakened,
has seen the uncarved block.
Others might be mastered by force,
but to master one's self
requires the Tao.
He who has many material things,
may be described as rich,
but he who knows he has enough,
and is at one with the Tao,
might have enough of material things,
and have self-being as well.
Will-power may bring perseverance;
but to have tranquility is to endure,
being protected for all his days.
He whose ideas remain in the world,
is present for all time.
Dao can not be described adequately in words, but it can be experienced, by eliminating the thoughts of the mind. The rational, logical mind cannot explain or comprehend the Dao; the spiritual mind can understand it by shunning wisdom and forgetting knowledge. Only a fool can understand this. The Dao cannot be understood or explained; but through the process of meditation, you may become aligned with it.More on Daoism and the Daoist lifestyle
Why does the bear fish in the stream?
Simply because he is hungry, and he likes fish!
He is not vicious, nor is he friendly.
When he is sleepy, he goes to his cave and sleeps.
When he is hungry he finds something to eat.
When it is mating season, he goes to mate.
When he is provoked he defends himself.
All the time, does he question why?
Is there a thought in his mind?
This is a poem I wrote in 2010.
In Daoism it is often said to "live like the bear". By living like the bear, we become one with the natural Way. This is the true way of the Universe and it is devoid of all attachment, wanting, knowledge, and yearning; it is the the way of the animals. It is a state of being. It is totally empty, yet completely full.
When you are hungry, eat. When you are thirsty, drink. When you are horny, have sex. When you are tired, lay your head down and sleep. When you need the bathroom, use the bathroom. Do these things because it is your nature, but do not become attached to them. Do other things that are part of your nature, such as leisure activities, but do not become attached to them. Paint, draw, write, play games of strategy, spend time with family and friends. Be creative. Do your work and pay your bills so you can live, but do not become attached to your work. Be fully present in family life and love and respect other people. Do not be quick to anger. Do not harm others. Avoid weapons. Avoid politics and religion, unless you find them interesting and they don't stress you out. Avoid drugs and promiscuity and anything else that damages your spirit.
It is said that the Master, or Sage is like an infant child. The baby eats, sleeps, cries, goes potty, and that's about it. His skin is supple and soft. He knows nothing, not even the words we use to communicate. His mind is radiant and unstained by humanity. He knows not deceit or treachery. He is honestly himself. In Daoism, it is often said that the way forward seems to go back, and that we must unlearn and forget our knowledge. This is what is meant by this. Make yourself like the newborn infant. Even Jesus said, "To enter the kingdom of Heaven you must become like a child." ("And said, Verily I say unto you, Except ye be converted, and become as little children, ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven." Matthew 18:3 King James Ver.)“Be like water making its way through cracks. Do not be assertive, but adjust to the object, and you shall find a way around or through it. If nothing within you stays rigid, outward things will disclose themselves.
Empty your mind, be formless. Shapeless, like water. If you put water into a cup, it becomes the cup. You put water into a bottle and it becomes the bottle. You put it in a teapot, it becomes the teapot. Now, water can flow or it can crash. Be water, my friend.”
- Bruce Lee
Additionally, the attainment of a state of understanding like this is common among many spiritual paths. The Daoists refer to one as a Master or Sage, or less often, an Immortal. Buddhism calls it Enlightenment. The Confucians call it Junzi
or "Lord's Son" (as in a feudal lord). Various schools of Magic call it being a Gnostic, Heirophant, and many other names. However, we must be careful in how we define these things as well as understand that not everything said by someone who has attained such a state is true. Also, anyone who has actually attained such a state will not refer to it so colloquially, nor will they ever admit to it. In fact, they will most likely outright deny that they are enlightened or that such a state of being exists. This is because this isn't a state of Sagehood to them, it is a state of normalcy, and absorption into a higher state of being. Thus, one cannot help to be anything but humble, and claiming you are enlightened either directly or indirectly is about as far away from humble as you can be. "If you see the Buddha on the road, kill him." -Chinese proverb
If you are interested in the true Enlightenment and what it really means, I highly suggest you look into the works of U.G. Krishnamurti. Daoism in China
It should be understood by all students that Daoism is, first and foremost, the only indigenous cultural religion from China. Confucianism is more of a political philosophy, and Buddhism came to China from India.
However, the Daoism I practice and speak of in my articles and in this group is not the Daoism of China.
In China, modern Daoism is a temple-run, state sanctioned, religious tradition that primarily involves the ritualistic worship of Daoist deities and ancestors, similarly to Japan's Shintoism. It does include things like Qigong, internal martial arts, herbology, folk medicine, and traditional Chinese medicine. However, it is very cultural and primarily revolves around worship in a pagan manner similar to Hinduism. It is polytheistic.
The Daoism I practice is different because it is mine, and mine alone. It does not revolve around tradition passed down to me by anyone. It is my own path.
Personally, I believe that anyone who reads and tries to embody the principles of a Daoist Sage as laid out in the Daodejing (Tao T'eh C'hing), and practices Qigong, could consider themselves as being Daoist. If anything, they could even consider themselves agnostic or atheist, but inspired by Daoist wisdom.
If you wanted to, you could research and find out about the Daoist pantheon and deities and study the methods used to worship them to bring yourself good luck or reinforce your Daoist lifestyle, but this is not necessary, and it is not my way. Probably the best way to do this would be to visit a Daoist monastery in China. I would be surprised if anyone did, but you never know.
Ultimately, I would consider myself agnostic, as I find wisdom in all religious and spiritual traditions, and don't limit myself to just Daoism. However, since Daoism inspires me the most and aligns well with what I believe, it is simply easiest to tell someone I'm Daoist. Don't limit yourself, and find some way to integrate the practices successfully with whatever you already believe. This is the key to success.What affects Qi?
Now, for more information about Qi and proper Qigong practice.
From a Chinese standpoint, many things affect Qi either positively or negatively. These things may affect the San Bao (Jing/Qi/Shen) on the whole, as well, or may just be rooted in one of them. Unlike other metaphysical approaches, it is thought that the universal energy of Qi is strongly linked to the physical body and mind. This forms the basis of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), and explains why things like acupuncture work. Hence, what we do, how we think, what we consume, and how we live our lives affects Qi. Here I will list a few of the positive and negative things affecting Qi, and some general guidelines to follow when practicing Qigong that affect the whole-body holistic health.Positive things
- Qi is affected strongly by diet. Some foods that are known for bolstering the Qi are fruits, vegetables (particularly leafy greens), and nuts. Generally speaking, any food that is high in protein (nuts, fish, chicken, pork, tofu, soybeans) is said to also be good for Jing. Red meat is fine occasionally but try not to overdo it.
- Qi is affected positively by tea. The most beneficial tea for your health is by far, green tea. Besides clearing the mind and strengthening the vital force in the Lung, Spleen and Triple Warmer meridians, tea has loads of beneficial antioxidants including one called epigallocatechin gallate
that fights bacterial infection and sepsis. Drinking tea before meditating or doing Qigong will clear and focus the mind, still the thoughts, and improve good Qi flow through it's antiflammatory flavanoids which will relax the muscles and the lungs. Tea will be discussed at the conclusion of this course.
- Qi is, of course, affected positively by Qigong and martial arts practice.
- Qi is affected positively by certain herbs and Chinese herbal tonics. These will be discussed at the end of the group. One in particular that is noted for bolstering Jing, and to a lesser extent, Qi, is Chinese ginseng root.Negative things
- Qi is affected negatively by poor diet. This sums it up pretty well
but is a bit on the hokey side. Avoid junk food, fast food, and processed food.
- Qi (more specifically, Jing) is affected negatively by excessive sex, especially for the beginning Qigong practicioner
. This is more true for the male than the female, as traditionally in China the male is seen to be losing Qi while the female gains it. How much is excessive? Well, I once read a Daoist treatise that structured it as such by age (the Chinese age cycle for men is 7 years, and 8 years for women- this is roughly the time it takes for all the cells in the body to be reborn, coincidently):
14 years-21 years: once a day
21 years-28 years: once a day
28 years-35 years: once every other day
35 years-42 years: twice a week
42 years-49 years: once a week
Anything older: once a month
Since Daoist Qigong is concerned with strengthening Qi, and Jing, sexual activity is not recommended more than what is stated in the above outline. However, a natural result of doing Qigong is developing a large amount of Qi and Jing. Hence, after many years of practice, you will have such energy that you are affected very little by sexual activity- but at this point you should have good control over the mind and desire that it is not necessary or wanted. For the purposes of developing Qi in this group, I would recommend sex no more than twice a week until the Qi, and Jing reserves are built up in the body.
- Qi, and Shen (spirit) are affected VERY negatively by drugs and alcohol. This includes smoking cigarettes, and frequent marijuana use. Hallucinogens or even very strong marijuana induce hallucinations, and thus delusion. Alcohol is poison, when you drink you poison the body, the rational mind and the Qi. However, most modern scientific research indicates that one drink a day is beneficial for the heart. If you can do this rationally and stick to it, and not exceed one a day, and most importantly can live without it, this is fine. Drinking more to celebrate a special occasion with friends is okay too, I usually do this on New Years'.
- Air pollution and air quality, particularly if living in a large city, negatively affect Qi.
- Qi and Shen are affected negatively by lack of sleep. Get at least 8 hours a night, or more if you need it. Good sleep equals a balanced body and mind, and thus a balanced Qi. Regardless of our Qigong practice, our body knows what we need and balances our yin and yang while we sleep. Get good rest and try to follow the natural cycle (sleep at night, be awake during the day).
- Qi and the San Bao are affected negatively by improper Qigong practice- for example, holding the breath, hyperventilation, or moving Qi backwards in the channels, opposite the natural flow. Other kinds of negative Qigong practice include training while angry, tensing the muscles while directing Qi, and techniques that "fill the body with Qi" or compress it.
- Qi, and any kind of spiritual work, is said to be negatively affected by certain electronics or radio frequencies. The biggest one I'm aware of are the electronic emmissions of Cathode Ray Tube (CRT) monitors and TVs. Since Qi is considered to be bioelectricity generated by the human nervous system with some similarities to electromagnetic radiation (yet completely distinct from and above such forces), it would make sense that any high voltage device like a CRT could interfere with or impede Qi flow in the body. Make of this what you will, but I make a point to leave the room with all my electronic equipment when doing Qigong. Besides, there will be less noise to distract you.
- It is a bad idea to practice Qigong or meditation when you are hungry, thirsty, tired, horny (yes), need the bathroom, or are excessively hot or cold. The reason for this is because the mind attaches to these things. It will be difficult to clear the mind if you keep having thoughts about your physical condition. So, relieve yourself, eat and wait 15 minutes so you aren't hungry, drink a glass of water, and so on.Qigong Disease
It is important to realize that too much Qigong is bad for you, as well. This can manifest in symptoms of manic psychosis and psychological destabilization.
The Symptoms of Qigong Disease
The Chinese medical literature describes three main patterns of qigong disease. These are:
1. Qi stagnation & blood stasis pattern
The main symptoms o f this pattern, of qigong disease are emotional instability, crying and laughing without constancy, paranoia, tension, visual hallucinations, delusional thoughts, chest and ribside fullness and oppression, headache, generalized body pain, a dark, stagnant facial complexion, a dark red tongue or possible static spots or macuIes on the tongue, dark purple, engorged sublingual veins, and a bowstring, choppy pulse.
Emotional impetuosity, difficulty staying still, emotional instability, crying and laughing without constancy, etc. are all symptoms indicating that the qi mechanism is disturbed and chaotic and has lost its control. The qi is commander of the blood, while the blood is the q mother of the qi. When the qi moves, the blood moves. Likewise, if the qi becomes chaotic, the blood becomes disquieted. Hence qi and blood lose their regulation and are unable to control themselves (i.e., one is unable to control oneself).
Qi and blood depression and stagnation may obstruct the heart orifices, resulting in harassment of the heart spirit. Therefore, one may see emotional instability, crying and laughing without constancy, paranoia, tension, visual hallucinations, and delusional thoughts. Static blood obstructing and stagnating may cause qi stagnation of chest yang. In that case, one may see chest and rib-side fullness and oppression. Qi stagnation and blood stasis result in the channels and network vessels not being freeflowing. Hence there is headache, generalized body pain, a dark, stagnant facial complexion, a dark red tongue with possible static spots or macuIes, and a bowstring, choppy pulse.
2. Phlegm fire harassing above pattern
The main symptoms of this pattern of qigong disease are emotional tension and agitation, impulsive movement, breaking things, mania, difficulty controlling oneself, profuse phlegm, chest oppression, a bitter taste in the mouth and bad breath, headache, red eyes, reddish urine, bound stools, a red tongue with thick/ slimy, yellow fur, and a bowstring, slippery, rapid pulse.
If there is habitual bodily yang exuberance (as there often is in young males) or addiction to alcohol and/or tobacco, or excessive eating of fatty, greasy, thick-flavored foods, phlegm dampness may congest and become exuberant. In that case, when one tries to practice qigong, one cannot obtain stillness but the qi mechanism becomes disturbed and chaotic instead. Then phlegm and fire become mixed and internally harass the heart spirit. This then causes emotional tension and agitation, impulsive movement, breaking and damaging things, and manic, chaotic behavior.
lf the qi does not gather in the channels, it is difficult for it to control itself. This then leads to spontaneous sensations of qi discharging chaotically around the body and inability to control oneself. Phlegm turbidity internally obstructing with devitalization of chest yang results in
profuse phlegm and chest oppression, while phlegm fire ascending to harass the clear orifices results in the bitter taste in the mouth, bad breath, headache, and red eyes. The reddish urine, bound stools, red tongue with thick, slimy, yellow fur, and the bowstring, slippery, rapid pulse are all signs of phlegm fire and congested heat.
3.Yin vacuity-fire of effulgence pattern
The main symptoms of this pattern of qigong disease are emotional depression, difficulty thinking, poor memory, mumbling and speaking to oneself, fright palpitations, generalized fear and dread, auditory and visual hallucinations, vexatious heat in the five hearts (meaning the heart and the centers of the hands and feet), a dry mouth and throat, insomnia, night sweats, a red tongue with scanty fur, and a fine, rapid or surging rapid pulse.
If one is already habitually kidney yin depleted and vacuous (as are many thin people, women, and the elderly), doing too much or erroneous qigong may cause excessive psycho-emotional tension. In addition, compulsively chasing ones thoughts or a desire to emit qi or possess other such supranormal qigong abilities may cause one to exhaust oneself in one's practice. This exhausts and consumes the essence and blood.
If the essence and blood become insufficient, then the sea of marrow will lack nourishment. This then leads to difficulty thinking, dull-wittedness, and decreased memory power. Essence and blood depletion and vacuity leads to heart spirit lack of nourishment. Hence there is emotional depression, mumbling and speaking to oneself, fright palpita-tions, fear and dread. Yin vacuity
leads to vacuity fire flaming upward. Therefore, one sees vexatious heat in the five hearts, a dry mouth and throat, insomnia, and night sweats. The red tongue with scanty fur and the fine, rapid, surging rapid pulse are signs of yin vacuity with internal heat.
What to do About Qigong Disease
At the very first sign o f qigong disease, the practitioner should stop doing qigong or their practice should be immediately monitored, assessed, and modified by a competent teacher. If symptoms persist, both acupuncture and Chinese herbal medicine can be used to treat any of the above three patterns. Therefore, practitioners with qigong-induced symptoms which do not spontaneously go away when they stop practicing may want to see their local acupuncturist or professional practitioner of Chinese medicine. However, one of the foundations of Chinese medicine is to treat disease before it arises, and the best way to prevent qigong disease is to insure that the type of qigong you are practicing is right for you and that you are doing it correctly. When the right person practices the right kind of qigong in the right manner, then qigong can be a wonderful practice. When practiced wrongly, it can cause mental-emotional disease, hypertension, and heart disease and may lead to stroke. It's good to remember that, in Chinese medicine, health is seen as a matter of balance, and too much qi is just as unhealthy as too little.
From Qigong Disease: What It Is & What to Do about It. By Bob Flaws, Dipl. Ac. & C.H., FNAAOM
To prevent Qigong disease, please follow the advisory warnings regarding breath counts throughout the study group. Additionally, do not practice moving Qigong forms or transcendental meditation for more than 2 hours a day at first. Eventually, you may move up to up to 2 hours of training in the morning and 2 hours of training in the evening, but in general it's never a good idea to exceed more than 2 hours in one sitting.
I have had Qigong disease, and I have also done up to 4 hours of training a day (when I was incarcerated as a kid and had nothing else to do). So, please heed the warning. Qigong disease can cause a whole range of mental health problems, as well as physical health problems. Take it easy at first and know your limits.Exercise 3: Wuwei Meditation
Quoting from Simplified Qigong for Beginners:
2. Void Meditation
The first thing we want to do is try and get in touch with our energy. In Chinese, the word for energy is "qi" (pronounced "chee"). Sometimes, it is translated as breath; and it is very true that breath controls subtle energy flow in the body. Henceforth, when talking about energy I will simply use the term "qi" to refer to it. Additionally, in Chinese, "gong" means "work", so therefore "qigong" translates to "breath work" or "energy work". That is it for beginning terminology.
The best way to actually feel our qi is through meditation. Meditation is simple, yet can be deceptively complex. Like many things in life, it is paradoxical in nature.
Begin by finding a cool, dry, quiet place. Make sure you are free from outside distractions such as TVs, other people who aren't meditating, and loud sounds/music. You want a quiet, peaceful environment. Some meditators say that going and finding a place in a park, outside by a tree or stream, has helped them greatly. Regardless, meditation can be practiced indoors, or anywhere you feel comfortable. The key is to feel comfortable while you meditate.
Sit down crosslegged and rest your hands on top of your knees. Make sure your back is straight and you don't slouch as you sit in place. Now, slowly breath in deep through the nose, and allow your lungs to fill completely with air. Do not hold your breath. Exhale, and allow your lungs to slowly completely release the breath you just took in. Repeat this cycle. If a thought arises in your head, let it go. If you feel your mind wandering, let it wander, but focus on your breathing most of all. Allow yourself to percieve any ideas or thoughts that come to you; acknowledge the thought and move on, as you focus on deep abdominal breathing.
Feel the tension in your body melt away with each breath, and see the tension leaving your body as you exhale. Perhaps the tension appears as a murky cloud; perhaps there isn't any cloud, and you see nothing at all. Regardless, continue to breath deeply and focus on your breath, until it becomes natural to just breath deeply and sit.
Eventually, you may notice flashing patterns of light on your inner eyelids. These are called neural discharges, and they are the result of the increased oxygen flow to the brain causing the nerve synapses in your visual cortex to be overstimulated. Disregard the colorful lights and continue to breath, just existing in Void. Thoughts will come to you less and less often as you deepen your state of mind through meditation and focusing on breathing.
At this point, you should feel very relaxed, and you might feel an electric buzz all around you. It may move around or stay in one spot. It can feel like a very strong heat all over, or it can feel like a very strong chill. Some people feel it most strongly around the head and spine areas. This feeling is your personal qi, or energy flow. If you cannot feel it, don't worry. It can be very subtle, and it takes different people different amounts of time meditating before they can truly feel their qi. It was once said about meditation- "A moment to learn, a lifetime to master."
"What's that Kouji? I just felt my qi, by simply sitting here and breathing?"
Yes, it is that simple. ^_^ Just sitting and breathing deeply takes you to a state of mind where you can percieve many things you otherwise couldn't. Continue to meditate until you feel satisfied. To conclude the meditation, say to yourself:
"I am going to count to five, and return to reality."
Starting from one, count to five in your head. Try and time each count on breaths. Breath in, breath out, one. Breath in, breath out, two. When you reach five, open your eyes and say internally, "I am finished meditating for now." Stand up and stretch. This concludes Void Meditation. Before moving on to Dantian meditation, practice Void meditation until you are comfortable, and until you can feel your qi in a relaxed state of meditation.
Practice this for a half hour a day this week. Please post in the forum thread about your experiences with Void meditation, and any difficulties or revelations you experience.
Next exercise: Dantian meditation.Exercise 4: Dantian Meditation
For the next exercise we will be using Buddhist breathing, or "deep belly breathing".
The next exercise is Dantian meditation. However, this method is different from the one in Simplified Qigong for Beginners. It is different because the exercise in Simplified Qigong uses heavy visualization that is easy for most people to grasp, seeing as the article was written from the standpoint of having even a Grandma understand it... This method is truer to my practice and experiences practicing Dantian meditation.
Sit down in the basic meditation posture described previously (crosslegged with the palms resting on the knees, back straight, chin down). Now, begin to meditate and do Void meditation for five minutes; if you have already done Void meditation for a half hour then you are in the correct mindstate already.
Take your index finger and poke yourself three inches below the naval (belly button), while still meditating with the eyes closed. Push rather forcefully there with the tip of your finger. Now, focus on the residual sensation of pain there. This is referred to as tactile feedback; it is easy to focus your thoughts at that point because of the physical sensation you just created. This is not something to be relied on regularly in practice however, because it is easy to trick the mind into believing an emulated feeling of energy is a real feeling of energy. The first few times you practice Dantian meditation, this is okay, but eventually you want to stop relying on tactile feedback.
Begin to essentially do Zen meditation on the Dantian center. Focus all of your attention, the attention of your whole being, on the lower Dantian point. Do deep belly breathing while focusing on the Dantian. If you find it difficult to focus there, poke yourself again. Try not to let your thoughts wander. If you have previous experience with energy work, do not try and suck in energy into that center; this will happen on it's own. Take note of any feelings or sensations that occur not only at the Dantian, but across the whole body. The goal is to do deep belly breathing while in a state of no mind with the fixation of the mind on that center. Empty yourself, focus on the Dantian, and in doing so, become full. It is a paradox.
Practice this for a half hour; this is the single most important meditation you can do until we learn the microcosmic orbit. You are welcome to practice it more, and practicing it more will hasten your development.
Report on your experience with Dantian meditation in it's thread.
If you wish, you may also continue to do the 3 Qigong Forms we learned in Week 1, and continue to report your experiences with them in their threads. However, make sure you do Wuwei and Dantian meditation too.
That concludes week two of the Qigong study group exercises.
Good Health and Training.