Sometimes the major content of a seminar turns out to be the least of what you take home, and the “stuff between the cracks” turns out to be the most.
So it was for me and the seminar Damo Mitchell taught a month ago in California on the ancient Daoist Dragon Dao-Yin exercises.
According to the promo blurb on Damo’s website, these exercises were designed to “open the spine and awaken the dormant vibration force which sits within the base of the body…. (They) work by purging the body of energetic pathogens.”
Wow! That sounded good to me and my twisted spine—and so I went.
I found Damo to be an engaging, excellent teacher who inspired my confidence and respect even though he is 34 and I am 72 and old enough to be his grandmother. I was never bored, and I came home able to do the three exercises he set out to teach, although I may or may not continue to do them.
After all, Damo did say that at his school in Britain, Lotus Nei Gong School of Daoist Arts, students who aren’t studying a martial art learn the Dragon Dao-Yins to prepare their bodies for energy work. Since I practice taiji, perhaps I’m off this particular hook.
At any rate, I found some of the “stuff between the cracks” to be even more interesting than the exercises themselves.
Take, for instance, the matter of “the pill.”
Damo didn’t precisely define it, but I believe “the pill” is an energetic entity that you develop during the practice of neigong (which is, more or less, advanced qigong), that you can then choose to send up, to the heart, or down, to water (which water, I don’t know). If you do the appropriate practices to send the pill down, you can develop supernatural powers, such as physical longevity and the ability to throw someone to the ground without touching them; if you do different practices and send the pill up to the heart, you can develop virtues—but, according to Damo, you may die young.
Sending it down was what the ancient Daoists were about, according to Damo; it wasn’t until Buddhism began to affect the practices of internal cultivation that sending it up to the heart entered the picture.
The risk of sending your pill down, according to Damo, is that you may create distortions in your shen/consciousness (your mind/spirit/psyche). You may become a real jerk.
Where did he send his pill? “I’m afraid down,” said Damo—but then he explained that he believes that if you send it down, you can still cultivate the virtues by other means and attain the best of both worlds.
I was told years ago about a very well known teacher who is pretty much universally regarded as a jerk of major proportions, and it has troubled me ever since that one might pursue internal cultivation and end up totally lacking in compassion for other people. I had thought from my years in Buddhism that if you overcome the bonds of ego, you see that all beings are connected and you naturally strive to be kind to others.
I still wish that this were always so, but apparently it is not—and I appreciate having the issue on the table with a little more context.
I also better understand where Yi Ren Qigong and Dr. Guan-Cheng Sun’s advanced seminars fit into the overall scheme of things.
Dr. Sun is very definitely teaching the cultivation of virtues rather than supernatural powers. He uses the term “elixir” instead of pill, but he’s definitely sending his up to the heart.
I was not aware that in studying with Dr. Sun I was choosing to pursue virtues rather than powers—and according to Damo, it’s an all-or-nothing choice because “you have only one pill.”
But wait a minute….
Unless you do a particular set of exercises once, and whoosh, your pill goes up or down, never to return, you must have to do the exercises over some period of time. What if you did “down” exercises on odd-numbered days of the month and “up” exercises on even-numbered days? Would you become well-rounded or merely energetically and spiritually confused? Or what if you studied with an “up” teacher for a while, and then decided to study with a “down” teacher for a while? Could you? Would it work?
Clearly I have a lot to learn—not that I think there are any clear-cut, generally-agreed-upon-as-true answers out there. But I don’t feel much urgency in the matter, since I doubt I’m anywhere near having a pill or elixir to send either up or down.
And if I’m closer than I think and something suddenly goes whoosh and that whoosh is up, and maybe even up forever, well, that would be OK with me. I would like to be a more heartful, more virtuous person, and I have no desire for supernatural powers. Nor do I wish to outlive my children and my grandchildren.
I recently found in my purse a note I’d written during a seminar that said women’s greatest obstacle to enlightenment is attachment. Oh, well…..
NEXT WEEK: Another learning from the cracks around the Dragon Dao-Yins: A Matter of Transmission.