In Qi Gong, at least in the ad hoc mongrel form I practice, there are three opening phases in our relationship to Qi, to the life force.
I do not approach Qi Gong, or anything in life, from within whatever might pass for a mystical view. I do not willingly bring beliefs to any confrontation with something new. I attempt to maintain as diffuse an intention as I can muster so as to be open to what actually happens – as I perceive it, as it enters my awareness at whatever pace that might be.
This is how I’ve approached the concept of Qi. I have not studied the history of Qi. I don’t theorize – much – as to what it might be. I do recognize, and have always felt some sort of sensation between my hands across a gap. It also seems to connect with certain forms of meditation in which we place our awareness within various parts of our body and move it around. These sensations I have myself felt seem to align with loose concepts of the existence of a field of awareness or of intelligence that is slowly coming to fit my experiences of life and that relate to the work of David Bohm and Rupert Sheldrake on the scientific side, and of Krishnamurti on some other side.
I feel no urgency to fill out these theoretical constructs. It seems to me that doing so would only rob them of validity as it fossilized insight into learning.
The title of this post refers to these phases of our confrontation with Qi. I must explain, when I say confrontation – and I’ve found myself drawn to this word a few times already as I write this, so far I’ve deflected this urge onto rough synonyms, but now, well, here we are… – By confrontation I do not mean a pose of conflicting with something that is seen as outside. I do mean the physical sensation of finding one’s self, more precisely, one’s organism, in front of, facing, sharing a face, a front, con-fronting, something that appears outside until we are able to realize how we are connected. There is a certain drama in the term confront I’d like to retain, as we let go of the baggage that insists that a confrontation must be a battle or a negotiation.
You see, as I see Qi Gong, it is a practice that hinges on our discovering and developing our own sense of where we stand, how we stand – and move – and how we can guide our attention so as to find and maintain our relation to whatever we, as organisms, confront. Standing, equilibrium, inhabiting our organism, and focusing attention; are all central to this practice. These all appear to me to be central to finding and maintaining our abilities and capacities to immerse ourselves in existence.
This rather convoluted preamble leads us back to the three words of the title. They suggest an alternative to the more common imperatives we take for granted from within the realms of negotiation and conflict we find ourselves born into in this culture. How do we act? How are we? What would it be like if we were to replace our usual intentionality with these other ways of being?
One of the first things I discovered on beginning with Qi Gong, was that I had previously existed as a projection. What I had taken for my self, was actually a projection of will focused somewhere out in front of my face. I realized that I had lived as if I was wrapped in one of those protective cones veterinarians put on dogs to keep them from worrying a wound. This cone of intention and projected will radiated from my face and head. I stood off-balance. My weight leaning forward, shoulders hunched, leaning into the face of whatever came my way and anxious to overpower whatever it might be through an act of sheer will. Not only was this dog wearing a cone around his neck, but he was lunging and pulling on his leash! He was completely unaware of having constructed this prison out of nothing more than habit and thought, the sum total of his conditioning.
The practice of Qi Gong, for me, at least in the early sages, was centered around relaxing this anxious pose and finding a way to stand, to inhabit my organism I had neglected, and virtually forgotten it – except whenever it rebelled at my mistreatment and acted out in pain or illness. Focusing attention – which is really all we have when we get right down to it! – on one’s organism, its balance and movements, its abilities and capacities; is an act of acquaintance and integration. We find our place. Not in a “place” outside. It does not give us a dwelling place or a place in a community of conviviality, but it does establish the necessary precondition to any of that, a recognition and an establishment of habits that locate our sense of self where it resides, within the fabric of our organism. Without this recognition, we can do nothing more than flail about, striving after those other places we require. Within this practice, we are centered and found in a way that opens us to whatever possibilities may present themselves to discover or co-create some way of meeting those other necessities.
We expect discovery to mean that we are seeing something outside ourselves that we can acquire; Columbus-style discovery. Find, implies that we look about within this newly discovered outer realm and amass a collection of things to gather, to gather them into a particular relationship as potential possessions. Gathering itself, is the act of accumulating these possessions. This brings us evidence of fortune or favor. Within our expectation that we can only survive ultimately through being saved, this evidence of favor satisfies our desire to relate to some supreme power, to become its vassals. We immerse ourselves in power-based relationships, and, while we feel trapped there, we also maintain a conviction that the only way out is to follow power to its imagined absolute ends. We convince ourselves that the only way to escape coercion and domination is to ally ourselves with the biggest bad-ass in the prison yard!
What else could those three words mean?
Qi is elusive! It is an actual physical sensation but it is not on the same order as actually touching something or someone. The sensations we have of Qi – at least outside of some mastery of Qi Gong still beyond my own experience of it – is ineffable. It is easily drowned out and overpowered not only by actual touch, but by any lack or loss of focus of our attention. We cannot will ourselves to feel it. We cannot try or strive after Qi. We can only open ourselves to its discovery by setting aside these habitual responses of how we confront experience.
Qi is also not outside of us in the usual way. It is not inside our bodies that we find it, at least not at first. It is between our hands, between our hands and our bodies. It exists neither inside, as we normally perceive that, nor is it outside. So when we speak of discovering Qi, this cannot be subsumed into a Columbus-style act of discovery. This is within another realm entirely. This is our first introduction to an immersion within a field, like a field of energy or potential as we’ve become accustomed to understanding that these exist outside our every-day sensual experience while still having a direct impact on how we are in the world.
Magnetism or radio-waves are real to us by the way they affect the world of things we assume we inhabit. They show us clues to the ways in which this world of things is actually immersed in fields of action and immanence that are only visible to us second-hand. Qi inhabits a related, though fundamentally different field, since we do not require external instruments to perceive it. In this way, Qi, our direct experience of it, brings us sensual evidence of an integrated existence such as we might search for through a study of physics and its combination of complex theoretical constructs and intense technological experimentation. It brings our awareness of fields into the “realm of the senses,” to use David Abram’s construction.
This brings us to what may be the heart of the matter. Within a realm of negotiation and conflict we find that our only options are to convince or be convinced. We may see this as a wished for series of acts of rationality. We hope we can convince through reasoned argument, but we are ready to succumb to coercion as a likely remedy if all else fails. This coercion we turn on others as projected violence or its intention. We also turn it on ourselves as we either rationalize what we should do, or succumb to any of the myriad of dysfunctions that serve to enslave us to some twisted belief, whether a belief in our deserving misery or our belief in some external font of power. All aspects of this realm of negotiation and conflict are inextricably linked to coercion and violence. Reason is not an antidote to violence, but simply one of its triggers and supportive beliefs. Our reason is someone else’s chaos or anarchy or evil. We believe this conflict can only be acted upon as a negotiation within violence to find who will be an oppressor and who a victim. We justify and obfuscate this, but all of that is propaganda.
When we approach any confrontation of our attention with any and all that falls to our perception from within a realm of dialogue, as suggested by the practice of Qi Gong, we are within a very different way of being! Our connection is implicated, to use Bohm’s term, within our every act of perception and in every action we take. We are discovering, finding and gathering in an entirely different way than the one we are accustomed to by our conditioning. We are discovering, finding and gathering – or shall we say, strengthening and maintaining – our direct experience of an immersion within and of forms of interaction with our world that is not based on the power mechanics of will and projected intention that has been our accustomed mode of behavior.
We experience and dwell within a relationship to our organism that has removed the font of coercive power-based negotiation and conflict from within our sense of self. Instead of existing within a projection of will, we inhabit our organism and discover, find, and gather the ways in which our organism is capable and able to do so much of what we had insisted was dependent on our wills, that these were actions we must insist on to keep us going. We find that our organism is perfectly capable and able to take care of itself, and that it is us at the same time as it is a part and the all of all existence. Our experience of this is not theoretical. It is not subject to reason and compulsion arrived at out of whatever calculus of means after ends we might think up to justify coercion and domination.
As we discover our organism’s autonomy and competence outside of our expectation that it must be dominated for us to survive, we find that we are inhabiting a world outside of the horrors of violence and domination – even as we remain vulnerable to those forces as they exist around us. This discovery does not save us. But perhaps, it removes our compulsion to seek after salvation? We discover, find, and gather ourselves to be in a world that engages us and connects us to fonts of joy and compassion that are forever beyond what can be met within the realm of striving, negotiating, coercing, and dominating.