Practice of internal alchemy requires us to move between two perspectives: precelestial and postcelestial.
Precelestial – xiantian 先天 (earlier heaven, prenatal, before creation of phenomenal world)
Postcelestial – houtian 後天 (later heaven, postnatal, after creation of phenomenal world)
In every moment the world we experience through our senses is created. This is called the postcelestial world: the world after creation, after the big bang. This is the ‘normal’ state we inhabit in our daily lives. In this state time exists.
The precelestial perspective sees the source of things, the origin of the phenomenal world. Every moment the postcelestial world is born from the precelestial. Every moment there is a big bang that gives birth to the world. It all depends on which perspective we view the event from.
When we lose sense of time during a meditation session we are experiencing our original spirit (yuanshen 元神). Original spirit is precelestial. Most practitioners have experienced this to some extent, even if just for a few moments. This is us experiencing the precelestial state.
I first really experienced full precelestial state on retreat with Wang Liping. We were working with our astral body (有形無質的我), which we had done before, however this time my physical body completely disappeared. Time stopped. I no longer felt the pain and discomfort of being in a physical body. All that existed was the white humming form of my astral body. At this point I was experiencing the world from a precelestial perspective. After the session it took me a good day to make sense of the experience. Coming back into the physical body and normal time was tough (I realized what a baby experiences when they come into their bodies for the first time. The physical body is uncomfortable; no wonder the little guys cry so much!). When we are in a precelestial state we also have access to a large body of information and wisdom, which gets cut off when we come back into our physical bodies.
Internal alchemy sessions move back and forth between these two perspectives. When we intentionally do something (youwei 有為) we are working with postcelestial stuff. For example, when we use the breath or intention to do something inside the body this is postcelestial. We are working in time to achieve a goal.
However, when the guided instructions tell us to forget the body, to forget the breath we begin entering the precelestial, dwelling in a state of wuwei 無為. When we tune into the hum of our lower energy field (xiatian 下田), or a mysterious opening (xuanqiao 玄竅) we are also approaching the precelestial. We phase between two dimensions. Feeling our kidneys is postcelestial, tuning into the pulse of the hidden opening (anqiao 暗竅) in the kidneys is precelestial. Time stops and we shift into another state. Both kidneys and their hidden openings exist together but they can be approached from two perspectives.
Internal alchemy integrates both of these perspectives. Working back and forth between spirit and form. Practicing our xing 性功 and ming 命功. Going from something (you 有) to nothing (wu 無) and back again, until we transcend it all (xu 虛). The language and metaphors of internal alchemy can be overwhelming at times. Appreciating these two perspectives provides a framework to help make sense of the madness.