I’m participating in a second walk-through of the class study materials of Jason Miller’s strategic sorcery class. I took the class a number of years ago now, but the material is useful enough that when an opportunity arose to do some of it again, I thought, Sure, this is a good idea. Most of the discussion in the study group has been private, but this week’s teachings/materials are on the internal channels of the body. And so this week, I’m going to be talking about those internal channels in the context of my own tai chi practice. Or at least, I’m going to try to.
First, what I did today: Thirty squats, a tai chi form, thirty push-ups, a tai chi form, five minutes of wu chi posture, Eight Pieces of Silk, a tai chi form, and the relaxation technique (lie on the floor and alternately tense and release each muscle you can think of). Thank you, Christina, for helping me get off of my butt with that comment yesterday. It helped get me moving.
Jason’s teachings are not all that far off from either Druidic teaching or what I know about tai chi’s internal-energy teachings. There’s a central column of energy, more or less paralleling the spine; alongside that central pillar are two parallel channels. In some druidic traditions, these are the red flow and the white flow. I read about John Cage’s experience in the anechoic chamber at MIT in the 1960s. When he came out, he told the engineer who built it, “There’s actually two noises in your chamber. I was expecting complete silence.” The engineer said, “Those are the noises you brought with you, actually. The low thudding sound is your own pulse, and the high whine is the electrical whiz of your own nervous system.” Since then, I’ve associated the red and the white channels with these two experiences: the heartbeat and the nervous system. It sort of makes sense to me. At the same time, I don’t think that the pulse and the nervous system are the only things going on.
Turning the focus inward today, to examine this central channel and its two parallel streams, was a useful exercise. First of all, it’s very difficult to experience the internal channels of the body when you’re going too fast. So the first task is to slow down.This is part of the reason I did five minutes of wu chi posture. One doesn’t do anything in this posture except breathe — but the breathwork is intended to pull the belly in on the inhale, and release it on the exhale. The attention one pays to the awkward flow of breath is interesting: the central channel begins to hum, to carry its own resonance and frequency. By the third minute or so, the wu chi posture is causing the blood to flow, which makes the red channel pretty open. It’s the base drum beat to the tai chi experience, and it moves at a different rhythm than the breath, which means that one experiences two different flows.
It takes longer for the electrical whine of the white channel or nervous system to kick in. It’s higher-pitched and a lighter signal, which I experience as a undertone or overtone somewhere in the neighborhood of my right ear. Where the pulse and breath each have a beat, the white channel is a continuous drone, without beginning and without ending. It becomes much more present and observable once I stopped doing tai chi than when I was moving.
The three tones thus have their own music: the bass heartbeat, the whine, the cycle of the breath.
What happens to my tai chi practice when I actually attend to this music, and call it up in my mind before I begin? Well, today, it appears, I slow down. I get a better workout, because I’m attending to the physics and the subtle signals of my own body. My circulatory system gets a workout as well as my muscles. And my physical movements are a lot more deliberate because I can feel which movements have power in them that comes from my engaged internal senses; and which don’t have power in them. More tomorrow.