Returning to the Essence through Shamanic Qigong and Sacred Sound Healing
by Ryan Powell, printed in The Empty Vessel Magazine Winter, 2008
"Looking within . . . observe your inner landscape with your inner eye."
This is the teaching given by Qigong Master Zhongxian Wu (www.masterwu.net) during his transmissions of the Mt. Emei Shamanic Qigong practice. In this world of increasing complexity and external stimulation, this essential internal teaching is coming through as a very important key to finding balance in our busy, modern lives.
Qigong, which translates as energy work, is an ancient Chinese practice of physical and spiritual cultivation. Qigong has its roots in the shamanic (Wu) tradition of China and in the Daoist tradition of self-cultivation as a way of awakening to the Dao. What is the Dao? One Yin (dark) plus One Yang (light) = Dao. The word Dao is just a simple sound but it points to a profound reality that is beyond words and concepts. When we unite within ourselves the energies of yin and yang, dark and light, female and male, then we are indeed very close to Dao. Dao is often translated as The Way, which implies that it is a path that each of us may follow. Follow to where, and what is the path? Let us look at the concept of Spirit from the shamanic Qigong perspective to help illuminate this question.
Spirit, or Shen in Chinese, is an aspect of ourselves that dwells in an energy center called the upper dantian. Dantian means field of elixir or medicine field. It is the word for the three most essential energy centers within our body. There are three dantian within the body: one in the lower belly (lower dantian), one in the center of the chest (middle dantian) and one in the middle of the forehead (upper dantian). Each of these centers contains, generates, and organizes a specific frequency of Universal Qi (energy). Our Shen dwells watchfully within the upper dantian in the middle of the forehead and is closely related with our eyesight and our minds.
As a society, we are conditioned from a very young age to focus our spirit outward into the glittering world. It seems that nearly everything in our society is aimed at magnetizing our spiritual energy out of our body and into some new television show, worldwide drama, electronic gadget, or billboard advertisement. Since we are not taught as children the importance of nourishing our spiritual energy and focusing within, it is important for us to re-learn the spiritual tools and technologies that allow us to fully access the wholeness and nourishment of the Universal Qi.
In order for this concept to be more than just a mental idea, please take a moment to visualize yourself sitting in a busy mall. You are surrounded by glittering lights, advertising signs, and blaring music. Looking around, you are reading every sign, watching the TV screens that are nearby, and observing all the people walking by. There is a thought form and a judgment in your mind about everything you see. Just notice how this feels within your body as your spirit is focused outward. Perhaps you are feeling a little tired?
Now, change the scene, and imagine that you are sitting in a peaceful mountain temple or forest glen. Your eyes are closed and you are looking within your own body, focusing in on your belly. You are relaxed and breathing deeply . . . just looking within. How do you feel in your body now? Perhaps you notice a sense of peace and wholeness that was not present in the previous visualization? Perhaps you are feeling a bit more energy gathered within your cells? Good! Now that you have experienced the difference within your body, you have a knowing about the resonance of this concept.
Turn your spiritual lights around
The spiritual lights are related with our eyesight. It is as if we have a continuous beam of light shining out of our eyes that returns to illuminate our inner body when we close our eyes and gaze within. From the shamanic Qigong perspective, when our spiritual energy dwells outside of the body, we leave an opening or a vacuum that allows the entry of disharmony, or “evil Qi,” into our system. This Qi disruption is what leads to all types of sickness and disease. It is as if we have abandoned our beautiful home and left the front door open for any wandering energy passing by to come in and settle within our cells. This is obviously not a desirable situation. Through the dedicated practice of Qigong and meditation, we return to dwell within our wondrous body temple. What a beautiful home we have!
Now I wish to invite you into the experience of turning your spiritual lights around. Sit comfortably with your eyes open. Focus on an object in the distance, at least four or five feet from your body. Just notice your energetic connection with this object and imagine that you have a light shining from your eyes that illuminates the object. Now slowly bring your eyesight back to your body. Focus within, closing your eyes like drawing down a window shade, and imagine that you can see your inner landscape with your inner eyes. Looking within, you can see your lungs, heart, liver, kidneys, and spleen. Just observe and take a journey through your physical body. Take notice of what you perceive with no judgment, just observe. Now open your eyes again and focus on the object. This practice is about learning to balance and conserve our spiritual energy. We begin to understand how to return our energy and spirit to the body (Yin) when we become too outwardly focused (Yang). Remember that the Dao is the unity of Yin and Yang. When our external focus exceeds our internal focus, we become excess Yang and may have trouble sleeping, meditating, or resting. This is the overriding condition of our society. The Dao always seeks to balance. It fills the hollows and erodes the mountains. To place ourselves in harmony with the Dao, we can look at our own lives and move to balance the Yin and Yang in every aspect of our existence.
The sages regard the path of Dao as a path of return. By looking within and turning our spiritual lights around, we follow the Way back to the inner truth of our bodily wisdom. This inner truth directly connects with the Universal Qi Field and receives continuous nourishment and information from the cosmos directly into the body cells and energy centers. What greater gift is there than being held and nourished by the Great Mother (Dao) and guided by the Sage (our inner Teacher) at all times?
Now that we have learned to return our spiritual energy to the body through looking inward, let us explore the idea of listening within. All of our senses represent flows of energy that are habitually directed in an outward direction. In our habitual form of listening, the sound or music originates outside of the body and our hearing reaches out to connect with that sound and then receives it through our ears. The energy of the sound moves from our ears to our brains and generally stays there. Sometimes, this energy can reach the heart if the sound or music resonates deeply with the listener.
As a shamanic sound healer, my aim is to bring the energy of the sound to resonate in every cell of the body. The key to this practice is twofold. The first element of my sound healing practice combines the vibrations of the instruments (didjeridu, Tibetan bowls, flutes, low whistle, frame drum, rattles, etc.) and my voice with healing Qi and then directs this charged energy into the cells of the body. The vibration of the didjeridu, for instance, when played over the physical body, intentionally resonates in every cell and breaks up blockages of stagnant Qi, allowing the universal energy to flow freely through the system. This helps to restore harmony to body, mind, and spirit.
The teaching from the shamanic Qigong perspective is to listen within, and this is the second element of my sound healing practice. In order for the sound or music to connect deeply as a healing experience, I invite you to connect with your lower dantian. This energy center is in the lower belly, below the naval. Imagine that you have a golden-red sun shining in your lower belly. This center is your home within the body and this is where your consciousness can rest throughout the day, as if you are sitting before a warm hearth fire with your loved ones in every moment.
Imagine that the room you are sitting in exists within your own lower belly. Imagine that all the sounds around you—the music, the noise, the voices—originate within your own lower dantian. Allow these sounds to emanate from your center and flow through your energy pathways like sonic medicine. Feel how the sounds are clearing your channels and breaking up blockages within your entire system. This practice can be done with intentional sacred sound, as at one of our One Root Sacred Sound Journeys (see www.one-root.com for more information), as well as with unintentional sounds such as the sound of a train going by outside. When practiced with a sound that you would normally find disturbing, this focus transmutes psychic pollution and noise into pure medicine. Now you are an alchemist!
More than ever, each of us is needed in this time to be fully incarnated and activated in a grounded, awakened presence. The good news is that there is a Way that is conscious, loving, and continually guiding us Home. All we need to do is get out of our own way by calming our monkey minds and re-connecting with our home within the body. Although the Way is simple, it is by no means easy. The Sage asks us to persevere, practice diligently, and take one step at a time. From this present moment, the golden flower begins to unfold its petals and shine.
Ryan Powell is a sound and energy healer, musician, writer, and teacher of Shamanic Qigong from the Mt. Emei lineage. He has been practicing Qigong for 12 years, and has been a dedicated student of Qigong, Wudang He Taiji, and the Daoist healing arts with Master Zhongxian Wu for six years. He offers classes, workshops, healing sessions, and sacred sound ceremonies under the name One Root Healing Arts (with his partner Kristin Bowen) in the Pacific Northwest and wherever his path leads.
Thanks to Pamela Causgrove for editorial assistance.