To have our heart/mind stabilize and our spirit return, xin ding shen gui, describes a result of Taoist practice. Let’s unpack the phrase a little and see what it has to offer. The heart refers to the mind. Mental stability is a common feature of Buddhist type mediation and fairly well understood, spirit not so much.
Working with spirit, or shen, is a core part of Taoist alchemy. From the alchemical perspective the energy, qi, in out body can be divided into three types:
They are known as the Three Treasures and exist on a spectrum of qi from heavy to light. Shen is the most rarified. It is high frequency qi associated with awareness.
Shen is delicate. One factor in making our shen strong and clear is the cultivation of jing energy. However, unless our mind and body are still and stable the shen will still easily disperse. We want the shen to gather in our body, becoming thick and full. During our session we focus inside and allow the shen to quietly accumulate. We must be ever so careful and aware, even one wrong breath or body adjustment can scatter the shen. When the shen comes back into our body we say it has returned. This is good.
Because shen is connected to our awareness it easily dissipates through our senses. Also from the Taoist perspective our mind is a sense, therefore even when we think of something our shen will go to the object of thought. Our shen disperses. When we think or sense anything outside of our body some of our shen energy goes there. This includes things that are far away. Try it right now, think of a friend you have not seen for a while. As you think of them some of your shen went there. Even thinking of things past and future will disperse our shen from the present moment. This is not a problem when it is a conscious choice, however most of the time it is not. Often our shen energy is scattered and we do not even know it.
Through our Taoist practice we bring the shen back. We still the body and mind. We focus inside the body and the shen begins to gather and pool, filling up the inside of our torso, or as the saying goes we reach the state of Heart Stabilizes and Spirit Returns.
Our spirit comes back to inhabit the inner landscape of our body, known as our personal universe. There is a religious metaphor at work here. In Chinese language shen also means deity. Furthermore, the Taoists say the true altar is inside our body. Therefore, we enter the temple of our body and make an oblation of jing energy to our shen. But our shen is us, and when our shen returns we become the sovereign over our own realm.
心定神歸 Heart Stabilizes and Spirit Returns.