Posts Tagged ‘thinking’


Chi-gung (Qigong) by the stream.

Chi-gung (Qigong) by the stream.

Chi-Gung is a type of Tai-chi exercise that heals the body by strengthening the flow of internal energy (“chi”).  It is important to appreciate the way chi-gung works in order to practice it properly.  We see examples of the energizing force of nature when we see flowers turn to and reach towards the sun as the morning warms up.  The flower “knows” that the sun is its source of energy.  “Reaching” for the sun is a large part of what allows it to grow.  We know of course that reaching for the sun is a chemical process and can be explained on that level.

We can use this example of a flower to better understand the training of chi-gung.  Your mind (attention, consciousness) can be likened to the sun.  Your body can be likened to the flower, let’s say a tulip.  When we see a bunch of tulips, all opening up and reaching for the sun in the morning, we can imagine each tulip as a part of the body.

When you pay attention to a part of your body in your practice, that part will naturally “reach” for your attention.  Attention and the physical body are naturally attracted towards each other.  In a natural state they are completely integrated with each other but in our modern world our minds are focused on our thinking mechanism.  This is so much the case that the terms “mind” and “thinking” are synonymous.  We can hardly imagine the mind doing anything other than thinking.   

We have withdrawn our attention from the body so that almost all of it can be used in the thinking process.  But the body longs for attention, which is a form of energy, just as the tulip “longs” for the sun.  Without the sun the tulip will wither and die.  Without the energy of attention the body will degenerate.  When we practice any form of chi-gung you are called upon to pay attention to each part of the body, to release any excess tension there and to allow the body to expand with the in-breath and relax with the out-breath. 

Your attention is not fixed in the head or in the thinking process but rises and fills the body with the in-breath and settles into the ground and condenses with the out-breath, creating an ebb and flow like the tides of the oceans.  This releases your attention (your mind) from a fixed position in the body (your head) and from a fixed process (thinking).  Now attention becomes fluid, functional and connected to all parts of the body. 

At the point when your attention meets a part of the body you breathe in, that part opens and stretches, just like the tulip, and the body receives the energy of attention.  When you breathe out, that part of the body relaxes.

There are yet greater sources of energy than your own attention.  There is the chi of the whole flow of nature.  As each part of the body reaches for your attention, it also reaches for this greater flow of energy.

In the chi-gung practice of Zookinesis we are taught that when the body opens up to your own attention, this also allows the body to receive the greater flow of energy from nature.  You are breathing in, expanding the part or parts of the body you are working with and bringing your attention to that part of the body.  When your attention is no longer locked up in your head, but releases and flows to that part of the body, you will feel a greater source of energy that comes flowing in and energizes both your body and mind.  You then feel connected to all of nature. 

This is not a mysterious process but a natural, biological process.  It is our natural, healthy state. 

When your mind and body are connected and the chi energy of nature is allowed to flow, your mind and body start to heal on all levels.  It will heal physically, emotionally, mentally and spiritually. 

You may have heard that practicing chi-gung by yourself or with an inexperienced teacher can actually lead to internal damage.  The main reason for this is the apparent lack of understanding of the dynamics of attention.

There are two basic modes of your attention – yin and yang attention.  Yang attention happens when you forcefully push your attention towards part of the body.  In yin attention you allow your attention to settle and to be absorbed by that part of the body.  This is an important distinction though it often takes many years of practice to fully appreciate the difference. 

In our culture we almost exclusively use yang attention, except perhaps, when we listen to music.  We allow music to take our attention away.  We willingly let our attention travel on the magic carpet ride of music because we know how good it makes us feel. 

When we pay attention to a part of the body in our chi-gung practice we need to use yin attention. As the body opens on the in-breath it will pull on energy within your body, trying to absorb it.  This will create a movement of energy towards that part of the body.  Allow your attention to settle into that flow of energy, merge with it and be pulled into the body. 

At first the student hears these instructions but can’t make sense of them.  He or she has to be led step by step through a series of internal experiences.  This gradually builds up a feeling “picture” of what is going inside the body.  The teacher explains the principles of chi-gung and what these inner body feelings are according to those principles.  A whole new world opens up for the student as he realizes that the quality of his internal world directly affects how he interacts with the external world.  In this way, chi-gung can greatly improve his everyday life.

Students often fear the fluidity of the attention.  They feel it is like a loss of control of their fixed-pointed minds.  This is why chi-gung practice is slow and gradual and connected with physical movement.  The movement exercises allow you to retain the feeling of control while allowing your attention to become fluid. 

There is also a fear of the greater flow of the chi energy of nature. You may fear losing control when you experience a force greater than yourself. When you realize that this energy is healing in nature, that it connects you with the flow of all life on this planet, you can lose your fear. 

This greater connection to life is physically felt in a very concrete way.  When you feel it you immediately remember having experienced this state of being, even if it has been many years since you felt it last (perhaps as an infant). 

You must then end the conflict between the fixed-pointed, thinking mind and the mind that is connected to the body.  These are not really two separate minds but are two ways in which the mind can work.  Your body obviously continues to work while you are thinking.  The blood doesn’t suddenly stop flowing.  Yet your thoughts can influence the health of your body.  In many disciplines the emphasis is on thinking the “right” thoughts to keep you healthy such as in the many “positive thinking” teachings.

With chi-gung, the emphasis is on allowing the thinking mind to think and allowing the rest of the mind (the “Body-Mind”) to work properly.  We can allow our attention to completely fill the body while at the same time allow it to fill the thinking process.  If the attention is fluid it can operate in many ways at the same time.  If it is fixed-pointed it can only operate well in one mode.  It is only the fixed-pointed mind that hurts the body by pulling the energy of attention away from the body.

When the body is filled with the energy of your attention and of chi from nature, it grows strong and healthy.  You feel that you are part of the whole world and no longer isolated.  Your body is no longer a big lump “down there”, carrying around your brain, but it feels like a vibrant, energized, alive being which it truly is.


There is a moment in your training when you experience the most basic aspect of who and what you are. The training is designed to allow you to drop your excess baggage, that is, the many concepts about who you are and what life is about. This is done through various physical exercises such as the Tai-chi forms, Push Hands and Zookinesis exercises.
As an example of this process, you are taught to connect your attention to the flow of momentum through your body as you do a form. Most people pay attention to each muscle to make it work. They move their arm or leg by concentrating on that body part and activating their muscles.
In Tai-chi training you are taught to connect your attention to the momentum. The combination of physical momentum, merged with attention, can activate the body parts without your mind directly controlling them. The attention/momentum then becomes the directive force rather than the thinking mind.
Yet you find that it is hard to keep the mind from jumping to the muscles and trying to take control. Once attention has “found a comfortable home in the momentum”, then you can start to become aware of the feeling of momentum throughout the body. Each part of the body has a slightly different dynamic of momentum. Your attention becomes connected to all these varying parts of the momentum. This energizes the entire body without triggering the thinking mind. The momentum brings your attention into every nook and cranny of the body.
Then you work with imagery. You imagine a powerful tiger or the wind blowing through the trees – anything you want to imagine. You imprint the quality of this image on the attention which then transfers the quality to the momentum which then transfers this quality to the actual movements of the body.
This is very different from a mental control of the body. The body becomes more connected to creativity than to the thinking process. For most people, the thinking process and the physical world are the main realities of life. The above practice strengthens the role of creativity and attention itself so that they are at least equal in importance to thinking and the physical body. For some people it is difficult to understand the difference between creativity and thinking. Reading the previous lessons on this page (and in the archives) will help you understand the difference.
When you practice Push Hands, any image can be used to allow the body to respond powerfully to the partner. This image can change from second to second according to need. You may not necessarily “win” the Push Hands volleys at the beginning because it takes time for the body and the attention to connect and work well together. But at some point in your training, you need to practice this.
The result is that you come to realize that you ARE your attention and creativity at least as much as you are your body and thinking process. You have to let go of what the mind tells you that you can or cannot do in Push Hands. The idea that you have to first think of something before you can do it is part of this excess baggage. You find that an appropriate image comes to you and does its work without any mental process being involved. The body and creativity know what to do: you (the mind) only knows how to interfere.
The thinking mind certainly has its role in life but when it takes over jobs that it is not designed to do, it can only cause problems. Thinking is just one activity of attention. There are many more dynamics of attention besides thinking. We have come to rely on the one process of thinking to the detriment of all others.
Zookinesis trains you to make use of all the other dynamics of attention. Once attention and creativity can connect to the body directly, without the intervention of thinking, then your practice can really proceed. More importantly, you realize that the energies of attention and creativity are most central to who you are as a human being.
It is not that the physical world creates attention and creativity; these two forces exist equally with physical matter. Once you can really feel this equality, your life changes for good. It becomes less harsh and more positive and enjoyable. And then the thinking process becomes more connected to creativity. It becomes more alive just as the body becomes more alive when it is merged with the energy of creativity. Just notice how your body feels when you experience the creativity of others, such as great music.
So when you practice your forms or Push Hands or the Zookinesis exercises, abandon the process of the thinking mind directing each muscle and body part. Infuse your attention with an image and allow the affected attention to permeate the momentum and the physical body. Then just observe the result and learn from that result.
When you are faced with a life situation, notice whether you are deciding your response from a list of possible responses listed in your mind, or if you are being creative. Expand the possibilities of your response by seeing the same situation from different points of view. If you were such and such a kind of person, how would you see it? Make believe you are that person. What assumptions are you making about the situation itself? To what extent do your assumptions create the way you perceive your situation?
To be creative really involves dropping assumptions, as true as they may seem. When you drop your assumptions, you can see things differently. As a concrete example, if you are pushing someone who is very tense, you may assume that you have to be even more tense. Yet we learn from our practice that four ounces of pressure can repel three hundred pounds of resistance. You can absorb the partner’s resistance into your ligaments, tendons and into your root and then send that stored force back into him. You can use his own force to push him. This requires a great change of perspective. While it is physically easy to do, your mind interferes and doesn’t allow you to do it (because it doesn’t believe that it can work). So while you understand the principles of what you need to do, you find yourself falling into your old habits of tensing up.
The ability to be creative, to make believe that it will work, is essential to making it work. Practicing the mechanics is also important but without the ability to jump off the cliff of your previous assumptions, you will not succeed. Jumping off that cliff can be scary and yet when you are successful, all you can do is laugh. You laugh at the silliness of the way you used to use your body and how your mind was like a mean dictator to the body – full of pompousness but relatively ineffective. When you become familiar with the energies of attention and creativity, you really meet yourself.
Yet you discover a disturbing fact. Attention and creativity are not limited to the confines of your body. They are universal energies. We can have the impression (the image) that they are individualistic, just within us, but we know that our own attention and creativity are connected to an unending continuum. Then we can experience how we are completely connected to the rest of life and how creativity dances within our bodies and minds. Attention connects all things together and creativity makes them perform the dance of life. It is the interaction of attention and creativity that is at the core of what we are as humans. That is the message of Zookinesis.