The Embodiment of Mind and Spirit in Chinese Qigong and Philosophy
by George Xavier Love, OMD
According to classical Chinese medical thought, fluids and energies constitute the body and are especially stored in the bones and internal organs. The mind permeates the body and is contained in the blood and Qi that are circulated throughout. Although body and mind possess their distinct functions, they are understood to be a fluid continuum.
The following paragraph from the Guanzi, a syncretic text composed between the first and fourth centuries B. C.E., equates the circulation of energy with that of the mind: When the mind opens up and energy expands we speak: of the circulation of energy. This movement of the mind is as ceaseless as the continuous revolution of the cosmos. (in Ishida, Kohn, Ed., 1989:49)
Not only the mind, but also the spirit (Shen) accompanies the blood and Qi through the body. This can be explained in part by defining Xin and Xue. Xue is often translated as “blood.” Misha Cohen provides a more thorough definition: The Chinese word Xue (sch-whey) is a much more precise description of this bodily substance than blood, which is the common English translation. Zue is not confined to the blood vessels, nor does it contain only plasma and red and white blood cells. The Shen or spirit, which courses through the blood vessels, is carried by Xue. Xue also moves along the channels in the body where Qi flows. (Cohen, 1996:14)
Xin means heart, heart/mind or emotional mind. The heart is closely allied with intention and the will, in the sense of will-to-life and a deep and vital inner knowing. “It comes from the guts and lower belly but resonates perfectly with the Intent and with the Heart.”
Elizabet Rochat de La Valle’ & Claude Larre1, my teachers at the International Institute of Traditional Chinese Medicine in Montreal attribute the following attributes and responsibilities to the heart: Heart, spirit, intimacy, intelligence, thought, mentality, moral conscious, feeling, emotion, humor, intention and attention.
The authors describe the heart’s establishment of order that is maintained with the help of the blood: The circulation of the blood under the heart’s authority carries regularly, everywhere, the double maintenance of life, which is both nutritive and spiritual. It reconstitutes vitality while also permitting sensitivity and the going and coming of information between the inside and outside. The quality of the blood and its governance by proportioned breaths are judged by the pulsations of the network of animation, which are the pulses, and by the color of the face (complexion). (Rochat & Larre, 1995:174)
Reaching an enhanced quality of stable awareness in which the energy of the mind fills the entire body is called the “complete mind” which manifests on the outside of the body as a radiance:
The complete mind cannot stay hidden in the body. Rather, it takes shape and appears on the outside. It can be known from the complexion of the face. When people meet someone whose appearance and mind are full of positive energy, they will feel happier than if they had met their own brother.
On the other hand, when people meet someone with negative energy, they will feel more hurt than if they had been confronted with arms. His words without words (his radiance) will sound better and farther than an eight-sided drum. When the complete mind appears on the outside, it shines brighter than the sun, and people recognize such a person easier than their own children. (Ishida, Kohn, Ed., 1989:57)
As the flowing complete mind infuses the body with spiritual sustenance, so does energy fill the void. Confucious wrote: Such is energy. It is exceedingly great, and exceedingly strong. Nourishing it straightforwardly without harming it, it will fill-up everything between heaven and earth. (Ishida, Kohn, Ed., 1989:58)
According to the Daoist transformational practices on which Qigong is founded, the humble task of working with what we are given, beginning with the body, has a healing purpose that transcends the body. Although this alchemical route to individuation and spiritual realization is beautifully mapped, by nature, such a profound path includes circuitous detours, set backs and blind spots as part of the terrain.
Thomas Cleary has translated The Book of Balance and Harmony, a 13th century anthology of Daoist writings. In these classic teachings, the alchemical process of “gathering medicine” is seen to potentially mature beyond technique and linear progress. Gathering medicine means gathering the true sense of the essence of consciousness within oneself. This is done by first quieting the mind to still the impulses of arbitrary feelings; when stillness is perfected, there is a movement of unconditioned energy. This is the energy of true sense, and its first movement arising from stillness is called the return of yang. This is to be fostered until sense and essence, energy and spirit are united. After that, withdraw into watchful passivity, because if you persist in intensive concentration after the point of sufficiency, your work will be wasted. (Cleary, 1989)
“Watchful passivity” implies activity and passivity at the same time, an on-going theme of Qigong and Daoism. The text cautions against the imbalance of compulsive, self-defeating, over-work, and respects a natural spiritual rhythm.
In the same collection, Cleary defines the completion of Outer and Inner Medicines. The outer medicine can be used to cure illness and prolong life. The inner medicine can be used to transcend being and enter into nonbeing.
Learning the Dao usually should start from the outer medicine; after that you come to know the inner medicine on your own. Advanced practitioners who have already developed basic qualities know it spontaneously, so they cultivate the inner medicine without cultivating the outer medicine. (Cleary, 1989:21)
The “outer medicine” is a system and a map for promoting health and also is potentially preparation for spiritual development as consciousness brings the unconscious to light. Cultivating the “inner medicine” is the search for the Truth, the “ever changing changeless,” a path that depends on faith.
1Claude Larre, S.I. & Elizabeth Rochat de la Vallee have translated and commented on chapter eight of the Lingshu portion of the Yellow Emperor’s Classic of Internal Medicine 1995. This section of the ancient Chinese medical classic explores the metaphysical context of TCM. Deemed “superstitious,” this important work has been omitted from many post-cultural revolution translations with a more materialistic bias.[George Love Jr. is a primary care physician licensed in the state of Florida since 1986. As a Doctor of Oriental Medicine DOM and licensed Acupuncture Physician, he is qualified to prescribe herbs (herbalist) and therapeutic diets (food therapist). He is the former Dean of Acupuncture Studies at Barna College of Health Science in Ft. Lauderdale, and the author of six health books including S.H.I.E.L.D. Your Immune System in Just 12 Weeks, Meridian Chi Gong, You Won’t find Love in the Refrigerator and Ear Reflexology Massage Your Ears to Health. He has been involved in the Alternative Health industry for 30 years both as an educator and health care provider. He teaches Self Healing workshops across the country on Ear Reflexology, Meridian Chi Gong, 4 Doors to Healthy Happiness and 21 Days to Wellness.]