By Tim Spratt, Teacher, Writer and Founder of tim’studio
Inner-pattern, inner-Stillness, inner-Light: shadows fly!
Our times have become complicated, and evermore so. And yet, with the rapidity of change, and especially with the multiple cross-currents of mass inter-personal contact, it is words such as, Healing, Meditate, Retreat, Holism (among others), that catch our eye, appearing more in print now than they may ever have done before. How curious this is.
Is it that they offer comfort? Is it that they have an inherent talismanic power to ward-off anxiety, say; that their properties are as jewels that may be bought?
There may be some, looking to acquire a brooch of this Healing, for example, who turn towards the traditional Chinese systems of CHI KUNG. They may have read on the subject, been impressed by the diverse claims made. Many studies indeed point to efficacy in its practise, even to the curing of what we would normally suppose to be acute illnesses – though this would refer more precisely to Medical Chi Kung intervention: too big a subject to explore here.
But these are the whispers… these are the whispers… and, yes, it maybe so.
Perhaps. But we must guard against delusion, against over-promising: be resolved against these two, determinedly.
So then, in being absolutely down-to-earth, and for ourselves: where lies the healing in Chi Kung? What may we DO to bring it about?
In reflection, we might sift the following questions. First: What is it that we are healing, really? And second: What do we mean, or understand, by the word itself?
To the latter first, and slowly:
- It begins with a stepping back, a turning within, becoming aware. In the physical practice of Chi Kung, healing is not necessarily the primary aim but rather comes about as a result in gradually recovering from – in the sense of uncovering, or re-finding – a period of personal mis-care, or dis-ease, which may have been present over many years. Anything from a weak stance (mild), an un-clear mind (moderate), to deterioration of an internal organ function (extreme). Thus we mean by the word: to restore, and with advantage.
As to the principal question: what is it that we are healing?
- The response must surely be: our lives, our selves, our spirits. This follows a turning about and looking out, seeing ourselves as we more truly are and placing ourselves as healthily as possible within our society, there moving with compassion amongst others.
In other words: through the ongoing process of a physical practice we come to rectify our lives within a wider context. What could be more healing than this?
The Vital Posture
For many of us, by the time we have matured, our bodies have become largely one-sided, or one side guided. This develops unseen, in and by the ways we use ourselves. We know we each have pairs of most things: eyes, hands, hips, etc, but merely with the briefest experiment in people-watching, we can see that the human animal in movement – simply in walking – is not a creature of fearful symmetry, by any means. We become hunched over, we step heavy in the left, lead from the right shoulder, tip back, rock side to side… Even the extremely able-bodied: the ultra-fit dancer, the well-gym’d athlete – develop these tendencies, these body prejudices.
There is not much balance.
At its simplest, Chi Kung is about re-finding balance, and with it the ‘internal pattern’ that allows it to maintain itself and function WELL.
We have to begin with where we are, with ourselves, and work at it. And we will find that we cannot start to build straightaway, hoping that with a basic foundation we can establish a new edifice upon the old. No. Rather, as in archaeology (and perhaps we are the ruin here!), we need very gently to undo, to brush away, to dust off, to shake out…
This takes care. We need to uncover/recover the archetype, not break it; and we need guidance.
The traditional Chinese methods have almost exclusively been handed through the generations orally. They are more properly called Taoyin, meaning to open a path within (Chi Kung being a catch-all term that has become popular and accepted in the West more recently). Although there exist very early diagrammatic1 outlines of its practice, and (to our minds) obscure outlandish treatise, these cannot lead us very far without explanation, without illumination. The teaching, quite literally, must be hands on; and it must be spoken and shown.
The Vital Posture is one that embodies both senses of the word: it is vital – meaning it is essential and correct, and it is vital – in that it demonstrates lifeful-ness.
It must be down-right, as well as up-right.
It must be as fore as back,
as right as left,
as yang as yin.
To find it is to cultivate your life: to ‘give up that, and choose this.’ as says Lao Tzu2.
It is not merely about achieving a more comfortable way of standing, walking, lying or sitting3. There is a danger in this, a laziness that says: ‘Well done! I have made myself feel better. And if I feel all right, I must be all right.’
Unfortunately, this ‘better’ does not remain. Like any un-practised skill, without a certain rigour it must decline.
Being there, here.
True, lasting healing is all around us. The wise of every culture have always known this. Taoists have made it their special study; what remains of their ways is the legacy that comes to us, in painting, poetry, calligraphy, music, and yes, in their physical arts both martial and healing. Unimpressed by our quest to achieve well-being by means of analytic separation (quite apart from our seemingly daft and endless desire for permanence), they would guide us instead toward the absorption in unity – to rest in that.
‘Look,’ says Lao Tzu, ‘it is without Form…’2
Not so much a question of our getting ‘back to nature’, therefore, but of being more natural where we are.
We only have to be outdoors, perhaps to find some open ground and to be in stillness there, that we begin to experience, to sense, nature (if left alone) healing itself. Then we must know that this comes about less by doing, than by happening.
It is the gentle rigour of Tao and of Té, its Virtue, of the seasons acting upon the geography.
Replicate this with the gentle rigour of your Chi Kung practice. Be natural. Follow the seasons as you move through time towards age and the geography of your body and mind will intuitively find balance – hopefully some wisdom, too. In these ways you will no more need to ask yourself, ‘What may I DO to heal?’ but, ‘How may I happen, and how BE?’
The response comes almost as an echo: a resonance of the deep past.
As with anything of worth, we must open and be open. In the practice of Chi Kung/Taoyin, this means to open and BE open to the archetype, the Vital Posture; to rectify our lives between Earth and Heaven.
This, is being in the landscape. Being there, here.
1 These appear from early in the Han dynasty 206BCE – 200CE, though they reference knowledge of an era nearly 2000 earlier, from the days of the legendary Yellow Emperor
2 The two quotations from Lao Tzu are from the 12th and 14th entries in the Tao Te Ching amended by myself from Gia Fu Feng’s translation
3 The Four Dignities of Man – in Ch’an (Zen) Buddhism
About the Author
Tim Spratt runs tim’studio and is a highly experienced teacher of Tai Chi (taiji) and the ‘internal’ movement martial Arts. For much more about him, and if you enjoy his writing, visit the tim’studio website where you will find further Articles, Pictures, Thoughts, Verse, Wisdom…
He has a deep knowledge of Chi Kung (qigong): also Taoist philosophy and well-being practices. Guidance in Meditation and Stillness form an integral part of his approach. These are down-to-earth practical skills.
Tim has been teaching these Arts continuously since 1994 with a further ten years’ experience before that.
Based in London in the UK, small group classes run throughout the year.
Specialties: With a background in the performing arts, Tim can bring particular specialist attention to Actors, Musicians, Writers and Artists.