The biggest obstacle to mastering internal alchemy (neidan) is by thinking too much and not feeling enough. Over the last few years of teaching I have seen how often students are limited in their practice by their own intelligence.
I too had to find my inner stupid. When I first started practicing neidan I was coming out of eight years of university and grad. school. I was a bonafide thinker. And thinking helped me get a handle on the broader context of the practice and its various principles. But writing an essay on the Three Treasures of “jing, qi, shen” is a long way from physically feeling the sensations of “jing, qi, shen.”
let the mind go. By mind here I mean the conceptual mind. Even now I find as my practice deepens I end up thinking less and less about it. It is easy to get blocked in neidan by thinking too much. Neidan is about qi and qi is felt in the body, not thought about.
Release the mind, feel the body. Or in the immortal words of Bruce Lee, “Don’t think, feel!”
Don’t conceptualize the process, actually get into the body and feel it. What does it mean to feel the body? That is for us to figure out, anyway we can. If we use the mind to control the neidan process we will fail. Learning to release the mind is boring. It takes time and practice. It is a habit that can be retrained, but it calls for us to change the way we process information.
Change is hard, but worth it. Not only will our practice change but our life too.
Releasing the mind takes practice. Not only during our neidan sessions but also throughout the day. Still the mind and drop into the body. This is where the alchemical magic happens. Get inside the body and feel what is going on, both physically and emotionally. In each moment we get information. And in each moment we can choose to deal with this information by thinking about it or feeling it. I recommend feeling. We are not as smart as we think we are.
Real world example: someone cuts you off in traffic. Our body starts giving us feedback. Now, we can think about this somatic feedback, creating some sort of narrative about what happened, or we can just feel. We can sit with the feedback without analyzing it. Just letting the sensations and emotions open up without categorizing them, or trying to understand them. Just be with them in the moment. Feel. By releasing the mind and dropping into the body we will get in touch with a much more complex and nuanced process.
Thinking often gets us into trouble. It limits us. We often end up extrapolating a theory based on a limited data set. Furthermore, thinking often requires us to make hard, decisive conclusions. Feeling is different. When we engage with the tactile field of the body we remain open. We simply feel. Thinking shuts us down. It may feel safe because we think we are in control, but we end up severely limiting our process.
The Taoists say that the body has its own intelligence. When we are forming the Golden Elixir we work to transform jing energy into qi, and jing also has its own intelligence. That is why the last step of the alchemical process is approached in a state of wuwei. If we consciously try to micromanage the jing, nothing much will happen. The jing wants to move on its own. Let it. Just be there to observe and feel. Don’t think, feel.
Release the mind, feel the body.
For students of Wang Liping’s neidan here is one way to help break out of the conceptualizing mind:
Begin practicing free form neidan sessions.
When Master Wang first presents the methods and techniques to us they are clearly structured. This structure helps us embody the practice. We repeatedly go through the same sequence of instructions. However, we are only meant to continue practicing in this way until we have embodied the technique. Then we let go of the structure and follow the moment. Basically there is a four part process when learning a new technique:
- Follow the guided instructions
- Memorize the guided instructions
- Embody the guided instructions
- Free form
The guided instructions are a big part of the Dragon Gate oral transmission. However, the words are meant simply as a method to pass the practices on. They are not the practice. The practice is the embodied experience.
Don’t think about doing the technique. Do the technique.
Release the mind, feel the body.