Welcome to the MIT Qigong Blog

Friday, May 25, 2012

Qi: One Energy - Two Expressions (1 of 3)

Qi Magazine - September 2007
By Adrian Chan-Whyles, PhD


Within the field of Chinese medical thought - the philosophical/physical force of "Qi" is not only central, but essential to the entire edifice that is today referred to as Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM). An underlying, invisible force of one sort or another permeates ancient cultures, from the 'ether' of the Druids, to the 'prana' of ancient India.

Much confusion abounds both in the West and in modern mainland China about what exactly 'Qi' is, how it should be cultivated and developed and what should be done with it once developed. To understand clearly, we must consider the Chinese ideogram for the word pronounced Qi.

Essentially, the character for Qi consists of a cauldron hanging over a fire. In the cauldron there is boiling water and in the water, rice is cooking. There is a lid on the cauldron, which rises gently up and down as the steam in the cauldron builds up pressure and the steam escapes. 

This character denotes in virtually its entirety, the spiritual, medical and martial foundations of the internal arts of ancient China. But the external is still allowed for, although in a subtle way. The cauldron lid, as it rises and falls, serves as an illustration of what it means to perform physical martial movements in an external way. From this, it maybe deduced that the 'external' state is intended to be only transitory and not permanent. The philosophical implications are clear - the internal condition is the highest level and is attainable by the cultivated human being. 

There is only one Qi power in the universe that animates matter and links spirits of the world. The external and internal states are intrinsically linked a their base. What separates the Qi into a predominately external expression on the physical plane is simply that the practitioner has not yet deepened his/her understanding. This natural state of 'un-knowingness' is common to us all. As we get older and become more fully aware of our bodies and minds, our appreciation for Qi deepens and we perceive what it means to express our minds and bodies in an internal manner. 

Qi, being universal in nature, has a physical component and a psychological (i.e. spiritual) component. When we are young, we tend to focus only on the physical and can not see beyond our own physical structure. Eventually, with the appropriate training, we can focus and develop our minds so that our awareness can expand beyond our bodies. We exist as if we are in a three-dimensional sphere of awareness which can permeate far beyond the arbitrary boundaries set by our physical limitations. In this heightened state, we move freely in any direction and there is nothing that cannot be achieved.