IT’S ALL IN THE MIND
Sorry to say it has been too long since I wrote something but I’m prompted by a reader’s comment regarding the difficulty in using the ‘mind’ or ‘intention’ in practicing Qi Gong.
In writing this I will try to keep the discussion simple since you will quickly see or already know how complex this subject is. So for this blog just assume by the word ‘mind intention’ I mean your ability to focus mental energy in the form of concentration according to a plan or goal and maintain that condition over a period of time to the exclusion of any interference. In Qi Gong ‘intention’ or ‘mind intention’ since ‘mind has characteristics other than intention alone, is a word that is often used too loosely. In qi gong circles it often means anything that requires temporary attention making it all sounds simple as if we are referring to the kind of ‘intention’ we use in everyday life say for instance to fulfil a task like driving. Well obviously it shares the same root but the depth of ‘intention’ is quite different and the need to exclude all external perceptual andnmental influence is extremely important. Mind ‘intention’ in Qi Gong is an ‘inward’ looking activity. For this reason it is the most difficult and most important of the three key elements that comprises Qi Gong practice since it intends to bring you into a direct awareness of your mind and its true nature. Once achieved though it qualifies your practice as ‘internal’ which is typically referred to as Nei Gong, meaning “Inner Work”.
From a practical point of view which is undoubtedly what you will be interested in, you will typically need to start by practicing techniques that will focus your mental energy. This practice is typically done by focussing and concentrating your mind on a single object or image or point on the body or body activity to the exclusion of everything else. In Qi Gong you are advised for instance to close down all ports of perception that feed the mind activity and in turn deny ‘objects’ of the mind like ideas and thoughts their value thus stemming the flood of stimuli and mental ‘chatter’ that we are so used to. The most common and traditional practice point to focus your minds intention on one would be lower, middle or upper Dan Tian. (Each Dan Tian can function to develop different and specific energetic qualities that comprise a transformative process that is at the heart of Qi Gong practice).
Typically and according to my tradition, you start with the lower Dan TIan because this practice not only refines the concentrative powers but also cultivates the primary Qi Gong breathing technique known as ‘abdominal’ breath which in turn works at the Jing Qi level. This method of focussing the mind on ‘one’ point is often referred to as Yi Shou. Typically this practice can be done all the time both during your everyday activities as well as during your specific practice. It’s a like training a special skill. Often referred to as ‘single pointed concentration’ or ‘fixing the mind intention’ it is an essential strategy in all Qi Gong and yogic practices to harness mental powers and to clear mental debris to bring about clarity and focussed concentration. In your daily life you should never forget this practice whatever you are doing. It becomes the context of your activity not the thing you do when you’ve finished your other tasks. Slowly but surely your mind will become less scattered and less stimulus driven and more obedient to the ‘mind intention’. This is a typical and traditional means of taming the mind and is the primary goal of all meditational practices. It does however take a long time to achieve even a modest ability in this practice. Remember the ‘mind’ is fickle and mischievous and must be tied to a point or an activity to tame it. A very disciplined approach is necessary.
As I have said, focussing the mind on the Lower Dan Tian has the added advantage of assisting in cultivating pure abdominal breath since Lower Dan Tian eventually becomes the locus of our breath awareness. This form of breath is required for deep Qi Gong meditational practices since abdominal breath engenders a deep state of relaxation. Breath awareness practice alone, which has gained enormous popularity recently owing to the ‘mindfullness’ practices really belongs to the second level of integration in the Three Unity practices. (Jing, Qi and Shen. Body, Breath and Mind) Beware though because focussing the mind too intently on breath also can cause interrupted patterns of breathing since you are working on the cusp of the voluntary and the involuntary. Emotions also effect the breath as indeed a poor respiratory technique can create stress and negative emotions. For instance people with high constricted thoracic breathing patterns which are really common find focussing on the breath sometimes quite stressful and in turn frustrating. There is always a place and a stage for focussing on the ‘breath’ but traditionally Lower Dan Tian focussing is a more desirable way to go especially if you have already achieved a level of movement breath integration.
Yi Shou, is typically done at some point in all types of Qi Gong practices. It may even be the sole purpose of your practice! As a practice, it is most easily achieved in a symmetrical posture as in the postures of meditation or the posture of standing often referred to as Wu ji. This reduces any physical distractions or excessive strain thus placing more emphasis on the mental component. It is not easy to train the mind or the “intention” aspect of the mind whilst doing complex movement so I recommend taking time out to work only on this aspect specifically. In the same way we need to work on posture, structure in movement and co ordination skills, as well as practicing breathing techniques and then integrating them into movement we also need to practice mental “intention” to support our practice. As always though do not try too hard since excessive “intention” can create a feeling of imbalance leading to stress, confusion and negative feelings and even psychosis. This practice must be a relaxed state as if you are on a distance run rather than a sprint. Thing in terms of the ‘long game’ not immediate achievement. Observing your responses to external stimuli will also help you to understand where you are being distracted and observing the mental ‘chatter’ will help you to understand the nature of ‘mind”. When you identify distracted and wandering states it is important to ‘fix’ your awareness back on Dan Tian thereby establishing ‘mind intention’. When you have achieved this skill or at least understood its value and how to begin to cultivate it in your practice you will be able to enter a ‘Qi Gong’ state more easily and therefore feel the benefits.
Eventually the aim of this practice is to be able to focus the ‘mind intention” over a prolonged period of time to achieve specific outcomes wether they be martial, therapeutic or spiritual practices. This is when it gets really interesting.
Qi Gong practice is inconceivable without the mental component of ‘mind intention” so do not give up on it. Practice daily and make the method I have described part of your life and before you know it your mind will be able to sustain focussed concentration for a reasonable period of time.
Keep up your practice and remember:
Practice, Patience and Perseverance.
2 Jan. 2017