March 18, 2017 nathanbrine

Stillness in Neidan Practice

Stillness is the foundation of the alchemical project. To form the elixir we need stillness. Stillness is what allows the results to materialize, the more profound the stillness the more profound the results.

  • Stillness and Youwei 有為 – Wuwei 無為

Internal alchemy is a collection of methods and techniques that require us to do something in the body. When we are doing something we aren’t still, our mind and body are moving in time towards a goal, therefore we are operating in the postcelestial world. This is called youwei, the intentional doing of something.

However, for Taoists this way of operating is inferior. The opposite of youwei is wuwei. The first chapter of the Daode jing reminds us that “the sage inhabits a state of wuwei.” And Dragon Gate alchemy is no different. Wuwei is key. It can be helpful at times to use methods (i.e. youwei) but ultimately the real work happens in a state of wuwei. Wuwei is basically letting things happen of their own accord. When we enter stillness we also enter a state of wuwei. The trick with alchemy is knowing when to do something and when to do nothing.

For example, when activating a dantian we alternate between both youwei and wuwei. First we put our awareness on the place and use intentional breathing to move it. We regulate our inner breathing to guide the contraction and expansion of the field. We also regulate the strength of our awareness. In essence we do stuff; this is youwei.

Then we forget the breath, forget the physical body and watch the changes inside the body. If we are patient, the dantian will begin to move on its own, and maybe get warm and bright as well. At first the dantian is very delicate, it needs stillness to nurture it; this is wuwei.

  • Stillness and Shenguang 神光

Another time we use stillness in neidan practice is working with our shenguang. Cultivating shenguang (lit. spirit light, the external alchemical ingredient 外藥) needs stillness too. Shenguang is also very delicate and is easily scared away. Only when the body is stable and we are very still does the shenguang appear.

  • Living Zi Time 活子時

Now for a little Taoist theory. Stillness is used to reset our inner body rhythms and kick start alchemical processes. In the language of Taoist alchemy we call this “living zi time.” Traditional Chinese culture uses two sets of characters to describe cyclical time: the heavenly stems and the earthly branches. Zi 子 is the first earthly branch, which means it is the beginning of a new cycle. To find zi time we first need to cease other time cycles that are going on. We use stillness to do this.

We live our life embedded in cycles of time: days, months, years etc. Harmonizing with these temporal rhythms is healthy. However, sometimes during the alchemical work we want to break these rhythms and set up new ones. It’s like hitting a big reset button. This is often done in a retreat setting, and stillness is key.

In stillness we enter zi time. Have you ever experienced losing track of time during a session? You know… you’re in the zone… everything goes super quiet… you forget your body… and before you know it a lot of time has passed. Well, that’s zi time.

Living zi time is when out of that stillness something stirs. It’s like a lake on a calm day. The surface is smooth as glass, when all of a sudden the first breath of wind gently caresses the water and a ripple of movement begins. This is living zi time. Out of stillness movement begins.

  • Fu Hexagram ䷗

This process can also be represented by the Fu Hexagram ䷗ of the Classic of Changes. The Fu Hexagram has five yin lines above a yang line. The yin lines represent stillness and the single yang line at the bottom the first stirring of movement.

To put it plainly, living zi time is when stuff happens. Maybe it is activating a dantian, or firing up the microcosmic orbit, or even forming the elixir. However for stuff to happen we first need stillness. And so practicing stillness is an essential part of what we do; it is the foundation that the whole project is built on.

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