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Be Like Water
By Joseph Cardillo
Warner BooksCopyright © 2003 Joseph Cardillo
All right reserved.
The entire universe is condensed in the body. -Sri Ramana Maharshi
The Chinese word chi (or ki in Japanese) refers to our internal life-force energy, as well as to the energy of the Universe, the Infinite, which is present in all things. Everyone is born with a certain amount of chi, and we all have the ability to gather even more. Chi is the core of all existence. It plays into all martial arts concepts and exercises, and forms the ideological foundation of all the ideas in this book.
In everyday life, chi supplies us with the power to break through areas of our lives where we feel stuck, trapped, or limited-either mentally, physically, or spiritually.
Chi is the force behind good health, confidence, happiness, strength, power, self-esteem, focus, virility, increased mental effectiveness, and success. It is that thing inside us that cannot be seen; the energy behind all change and self-improvement. It is the power that gives us a sense of safety and fluidity and healing. Ultimately, chi is beyond description, but not beyond feeling or applying.
The major location of chi in the body is within the Lower Dan Tien, a space located just a few inches below the navel, and, interestingly, your body's center point of gravity. Thus, within each of us is a profoundly nutritious energy, which is the energy of the Universe, the Infinite, and our connection to all things, for everything contains chi.
In martial arts, most of us practitioners will eventually shift our attention from external self-defense movements to softer internal practices of cultivating more chi when we begin to understand that our ability to get things done on the mats and in our lives is directly proportionate to our ability to invoke internal strength.
The more we train, the more we heighten our awareness of chi, the more we begin to glimpse its thrilling potential. The power of chi is unlimited. And so, like millions of others, I am enraptured by this phenomenon and have placed it at the center of my training, for martial arts is a way of unlocking the door to chi.
First, you have to find your center. When I began my studies in martial arts, my Karate and Kung Fu teacher introduced our class to the notion of chi early on. I remember he told us to position our hands in front of us as though we were holding a basketball, our right hand on top, left on the bottom, fingers pointed sideways.
"Now," he said, "relax and concentrate on your Lower Dan Tien."
He was teaching us how to center. Centering is believed to harmonize the body, mind, and spirit, as well as help in the development of chi.
"Relax completely," he emphasized. "But hold your concentration."
He told us to close our eyes. "Let your weight follow its course downward. Feel the gravity without giving in to it. Relax each joint and muscle. Feel the ground below you. Feel your feet becoming one with it. This is called rooting."
Some people like to visualize a cord attached to their spine and rooted into the earth, drawing energy up into their body.
"Let the earth's energy enter you. Breathe deeply through your nose and exhale through your mouth," he explained. "Let the air travel through your entire body-throat, abdomen, limbs."
He asked us to keep our eyes closed and to visualize our breath as pure white, nurturing and healing everything it touched. We began to regulate (measure) our breathing.
"When I clap my hands, inhale," he said. "Slowly."
And with that, he gave us a brisk ten-count. "Now hold your breath." He counted another ten. "Okay, now exhale, slowly." He again gave us a count of ten.
He told us to follow our breath downward and to continue focusing on our Lower Dan Tien. This is the body's hub of energy.
Dating back to the Shaolin monks in a.d. 525, regulated breathing has been taught as a way of increasing concentration during prayer and strength in the fight.
"Our bodies are vessels," my instructor said. "And they can hold only a limited amount of energy, good and bad."
He asked us to continue focusing on our Lower Dan Tien and to visualize our chi as a white light, pulsing vibrantly with each breath.
"Try to extend your chi outward," he said. "Feel it enter your hands. Feel it with your hands."
Regulated breathing, coordinated with the summoning and releasing of chi, helps cleanse the body of bad energy and replenish it with good.
My notion of martial arts up to that point had been focused on external movements and exercises that could be used for building confidence and self-defense and, perhaps, de-stressing. But here was my instructor wanting me to breathe differently, telling me that "internal" concentration would increase not only my overall power of focus, but also my external strength. I was fascinated.
He asked us all to open our eyes. He looked at me. "What did you feel?" he asked.
"I'm not sure." I added, "I felt a slight sense of heat ... like a warm current."
"That's it," he said.
Many of the other students experienced something similar.
"I want you to remember that feeling. We are going to do a lot with it," he said. "But for now, there is more to learn."
What he was referring to was the assimilation of several other techniques we had yet to be taught that would increase our ability to feel chi and to know when and how to best channel it into our movements.
"For now," he concluded, "just feel it and remember this: Where the mind goes, your chi will go."
Sometime after that, I had to stack several cords of firewood in preparation for winter. It was early evening. The golden autumn light had just started to drain from the sky. The air was crisp and cidery and sweetened with the scent of bonfires.
I had set a goal for myself of one cord. It had been a long day, and I would have much rather put the job aside, but there was rain in the forecast. I knew it would be best to stack the wood before the weather made mud of everything.
I remember that with nearly half a cord to go, I decided to humor myself and put one of my martial arts lessons to the test. I relaxed myself, as my instructor had told us. I regulated my breathing. I centered, concentrating on my Lower Dan Tien and envisioning it blazing with energy. I imaged my breath downward, white and healing, flowing through my body.
My labor transformed into a meditation of sorts-not that I thought of it that way. It just happened that way. I soon forgot about being tired and worked spiritedly, continuing the martial arts exercise as I went along. Rather than begrudging my work, I felt comforted by it. When I finished stacking, I felt restored. Instead of feeling beat, I was animated. Not only had I completed the job with much less effort than usual, but what's more, I felt generally happy.
I had learned that positive energy helps us through tasks and creates joy. Better yet, I had experienced it. I was excited. I started thinking of where else I might apply these same skills. I was confident that I would make use of them in many circumstances yet to come.
Since then, whether I am attempting to strengthen my movements on the mats, conduct martial arts or creative writing classes at the college where I teach, or just increase my energy output for walking, jogging, housework, or gardening, I have used this method of cultivating healthy, positive energy on a daily basis.
Our bodies are vessels. They can hold only a limited amount of energy, either good or bad. Find your center. Cleanse your body of bad energy and replenish it with good. Feel restored. Feel animated. Let your daily work energize you rather than deplete your energy. Create joy.
Who has realized his true self gains thereby understanding. Who has gained understanding finds thereby his true self. -Tsesze
Standing loosely, relax yourself (remember, your mind must be relaxed for chi to grow). Imagine a small balloon. Now visualize it directly before you, just in front of your Lower Dan Tien-that space a few inches below your navel.
Position your hands so that they are actually holding the visualized balloon. Let yourself feel this.
Then vanish the skin of the balloon, still letting the air inside it (between your hands) maintain its shape. This is what your chi feels like. Hold it, circulating your hands around its perimeter. Try to increase your sensitivity to it. Feel the pressure it makes between your hands.
Now center; concentrate on your Lower Dan Tien. Keep your hands positioned there so that you can better direct your breath. Breathe deeply and smoothly. Regulate your breathing to a brisk ten-count. If a count of ten is too strenuous, try five or less until you can work your way up.
Hold your breath, also for a brisk ten-count, then slowly release it.
Draw your breath down to your Lower Dan Tien and feel the energy gathering there. Feel yourself drawing energy up from the earth. Let that energy also gather in your Lower Dan Tien. Likewise, let the energy of the cosmos enter through your Upper Dan Tien (the chakra point at the top of your head). Let it, too, flow and gather to where you are holding your hands.
Visualize the energy flowing into you and your chi building below your hands. Use deep breathing to direct your chi any where you wish it to go within your body. Your hands can also help direct it if necessary. First, flick your fingers, to get your chi circulating. Then touch them to the location you are attempting to invigorate and strengthen, so that you create a target where you can direct your breath. Feel the clean, nutritious, and healing energy.
Speak to your body. Ask it what it needs in terms of physical, emotional, and spiritual nutrients. Imagine your body's answers as planes of color. Your job is to translate what the color means to you in terms of physical, emotional, and spiritual foods.
You can also focus on your inner voice speaking. Listen to your body's needs and use your chi to send it comfort, strength, and healing. Let your inner voice help you discover and select more effective ways of fueling your needs on a daily basis.
Your centered self is who you are at your deepest. Listen to that voice often. Think and act from a place of balance.
Advanced version. Hold your hands in front of you and visualize your chi flowing outward and gathering between your hands. The energy should feel similar to the skinless balloon. Let the energy stream outside your body. Feel its healing warmth on your skin. Enjoy it. Let it comfort and heal you.
More advanced version. Try moving chi without the use of your hands. Where the mind goes, your chi will go. Be creative; find even more ways to use chi to make yourself feel better, as well as enrich your interactions with others.
I encourage you to combine these techniques with movement-anything from walking to housework, office work, and outdoor work. Also, the smoother the movement, the more fluidly chi will travel through your body. Allow your cultivation of chi to put a luxuriant sense of well-being and strength into your daily routines. Feel the harmony.
Remember, there is only so much energy you can hold. Negative energy will empower your opponent. Vanish it. Positive energy nurtures us, heals us. Use it to help create the life you want. Let it empower you.
Today, I will center myself and act from a place of balance.
Today, I will open myself to the goodness of the Universe. I will remain aware that its energy is my energy and mine, its. I will be present to our moving and flowing together.
Today, I will stay centered even in tense situations and watch as my stressors vaporize. I will enjoy the abundance of confidence I gain in myself.
Today, I will look for opportunities to remember that with every breath, I take into my blood the power of the Universe-that with every breath, I must also give myself back.
Today, I will give thanks to the Infinite for sharing with me the power to heal.
Excerpted from Be Like Water by Joseph Cardillo Copyright ©2003 by Joseph Cardillo. Excerpted by permission.
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