This week, I’m using part of Jason Miller’s Strategic Sorcery course — on the subtle bodies — to write about the internal work of tai chi as I understand it. I’ve taken Jason’s course before, and I recommend it, but I agreed to be part of a study group earlier this year that’s working through the material, and I’ve gotten to this particular lesson, so I’m doing it again. On Monday I wrote about my experience of the three-fold central channel, which I tend to associate with the breath, the nervous system, and the bloodstream. Yesterday I wrote about the flow of the four subtle bodies through the tai chi form.
Today I’m going to talk about my tai chi practice, and the Etheric Body. First, though, what I did: My druidic practice, which included ritual work and meditation, took about 30 minutes today. Then came the tai chi work, which included 30 squats, 30 push-ups, the two qi gong forms (Five Golden Coins first, and then Eight Pieces of Silk), and then two tai chi forms. An entirely acceptable practice, about 40 minutes. (Update: I’ve also updated the Tai Chi Page, so you can navigate between entries ten at a time.)
More below the cut.
Jason spends a fair bit of time, two out of seven pages, talking about the Etheric Body. I don’t know that I can do that without quoting him extensively — which I’m not going to do. You can buy one of his books or you can take the course. In summation, though, the Etheric Body appears to be something like your mind’s-eye vision of what the body is. In a lot of magical theory, though, the mind’s-eye vision of the Etheric Body actually pre-exists the physical body. There wouldn’t be a physical body if we didn’t have an imaginative idea of what it looked like, inside and out. I don’t know if this is a hold-over from Neo-Platonism or if it’s an entirely separate tradition… but essentially we all carry around a detailed, fully-3D, dynamic, partly-mental, partly-physical, imaginative, and yet subtle model of ourselves within our minds and body. Maybe it’s a product of the sensorium — the ghost in the meat, if you will, that’s caused by the mind receiving images of its attached body, formed in part by the senses of touch, taste, smell (and after 40 minutes of tai chi I’m ripe), sight, and hearing, but also kinesthetics and body awareness, memory and imagination. Maybe the meat is in truth the ghost arising from the Etheric Body, but I’m not going to say much about that at this time.
The first time I became aware of the Etheric Body in my tai chi practice was five or six years ago, during the days when I was practicing irregularly, and not daily. I became aware that I was moving in forms which were not comfortable to me, and in ways which I didn’t understand. My body was stretching farther and more capably than I felt comfortable with. I’m a big man, and I was reluctant to assume that I could stretch as far as my body was trying to stretch in tai chi. Imagine my surprise when I discovered that I had developed a ghost sense of how my tai chi practice could look if I stretched myself, if I went beyond what I thought of as my limits, and moved lower, or spread my stance wider, or engaged more muscles at these particular points in my practice.
In other words, the Etheric Body knew — long before my conscious brain would admit it — that my body was capable of working through more intense versions of the exercises I was doing. It was able to imagine the results of that stretching, that push to extend and lengthen the muscles, to contract them, to twist them and engage them.
I listened to that Etheric Body this morning when I tried to do a push-up with a clap in the middle.
I failed. The Etheric Body knows it can be done, that the time is coming when it will happen — but today is not that day, at least in the physical world. But in the Etheric realm, it’s already happening. The body of imagination has already started to formulate an interesting goal, and to stretch itself to achieve that goal. The other kind of push-ups that are very difficult are diamond push-ups, where the thumb and forefinger of both hands form a diamond under the face or nose of the exerciser; and the one-handed push-up, where the left or right hand is used to do a push-up.
Yes, my Etheric Body thinks it can do those sorts of push-ups already. It can’t in the physical world — not yet — but the imagination, and the desire to try until success is achieved, is there.
Now, the Etheric Body also contains the three-fold channels, which I’ve already written about. Jason calls these “the Thrusting Channels in Chi Kung”, a term I’ve never heard before. But it also contains the chakras, the energy-centers from Indian yogic teachings. Or maybe a better way of saying it, is that the Etheric Body contains energy-centers which are connected by channels or pathways that flow out and in to all the extremities of the body, in much the same way that the heart is connected to all of the parts of the body by arteries and veins; or the brain to the rest of the body by the neurons of the nervous system; and that in Indian yogic teachings, these channels and energy centers are sometimes called Chakras. I suppose you could call them the organs of the Etheric Body. Actually, Jason does say something like that here in Lesson 3.
One of the things that happened early in my daily tai chi practice is that the Etheric Body experienced a ‘shimmer’. Call it a veil or cloak of energy overlaying the body. Usually I experienced this sensation in the extremity of the body that was doing the most work, whether arms or legs, at a given moment. And then I experienced it all over my body. And then after more than a year, it more or less went away. It only reappears when I work myself beyond my usual limits.
At first, I thought this was my personal power manifesting — my chi coming out! Look out, world, I’m so powerful! Now, three years on, I have to laugh. The shimmer wasn’t my personal power — it was the demonstration of where I was weak. It’s the absence of the shimmer, its fading away, its diminishment, which demonstrates the power of the Etheric Body within me. Once upon a time, a single tai chi form or a single qi gong / chi kung form would have roused this shimmer, this energy body, within me. Now, it becomes more and more difficult to manifest — because it only appears when I’m performing at my actual limits, and disappears when the old limits become settled terrain.
Today, I made a deliberate and conscious effort to manifest the shimmer — to awaken the etheric body and perform at the edges of my performance. It’s there, all right. And — no surprise here — I stank by the end, because I was sweating in my imagination. But I went farther today than I’ve gone in a while. The reward, of course, is that I’m entering the day which an engaged heart and mind, and engaged chakras. I have a better sense of how to perform at my limits now, whenever I want.