Here is a copy of a brief interview I gave for the Tao Bums Forum a few days ago. Members of their forum sent me the questions below and I answered in writing. I thought I would put it here for people to see as well…
The questions are in bold.
1. When I contacted you, you said you had been on the road in Thailand and the US and were about to go into retreat. I wonder how you balance your time between your own practice and development and teaching others?
Firstly, thank you for these. You have really managed to come up with a selection of interesting and
challenging questions. I will do my best to answer them with what knowledge I have
Balancing time between teaching (and organizing) and personal training is really difficult. It was not so much of a problem when I was just running a small class in a church hall where I lived but things have changed a lot since then. Now that I am running a fairly large school I have many extra challenges which I never foresaw being an issue when I first started teaching.
Luckily though, I have a team of helpers from within my senior students who basically take the day-to-day running of the school off of my hands. Without them Lotus Nei Gong would not be able to exist as I would be swamped in admin tasks! This leaves me to teach and train. When I am running longer retreats I treat the people attending as training partners rather than students; we live, cook, eat and practice together so that everybody is cultivating their own skill, including me. I find that this also helps the rest of the group as they get to see and find out about the later practices which I am working on even if they are not yet quite ready for that stage.
I don’t always get it right though, the last year was fine, I had a good balance which enabled me to train more than enough but the year before was a disaster! My practice certainly suffered and it caused me to make some major adjustments to my lifestyle and timetable which have made things much easier.
2. What do you specifically get out of four month long retreats and how much progress do you think a part time practitioner can really make, without changing their diet and lifestyle.
The four month retreats actually grew out of a desire to recreate the older ways of training. The concept is that students live with me in a commune type setting where they study a complete system of living (or as complete as we can make it at least). This includes how to live as a group, survive in a very basic setting and how to absorb the teachings into every aspect of their lives. There is basically no escape from the training whilst they are there! I deliberately chose a setting with no electricity, wifi or phone reception so that we were all removed from the kind of things which I feel are distractions from personal cultivation. For some this is too extreme but for others it is what they need to shed some of the layers which have been built up from societal living and to find out who they really are when they are simply living and being with nature.
The retreats are actually a maximum of three months for most people though; only a close group are with me for four months.
Through living and training in the forest in this manner it gives me a chance to teach what I see as a rounded education in the internal arts. The basis is martial training but students also study Chinese medicine, healthy eating, Feng Shui, alchemy, the Yi Jing and other aspects of the Daoism which I simply would not have time to teach if I just ran seminars and classes.
As for how much progress can a person make without changing their lifestyle or diet? Well, that obviously depends upon what a persons lifestyle and diet is in the first place. For a person who wishes for good health and healthy energy levels then an hour or so’s practice each day will do the job. There needs to be little major change in lifestyle for this I think. The majority of people can simply give up television or time-wasting on the internet and find the time for this kind of practice. Much of the energetic work required for good health and so on can be done in this time.
Those who wish to go further into the process are going to need more time and so it is inevitable for some that their lifestyle will prevent this. This is the biggest hurdle for some people.
As for diet, one thing to become aware of is that the more you train in the internal arts the more sensitive your body becomes to what you put in it. For a person who does not train they can get away with eating a sub-standard diet for a long time and then eventually their health will fail. For those who train in the internal arts they will find that they will react to poor quality food much quicker and so they will be come weak and sick much quicker. In this way training can become something of a double-edged sword. It is fine to enjoy your food but we must also remember that it is primarily fuel for our body or medicine for our ailments if we learn how to use it properly.
3. A four month retreat is a big commitment of time and for some impossible because of families and jobs, are there any other ways of getting the benefits?
Sure. Four months long is only for those rare individuals whose passion borders on obsessive in nature. It is also only for those fortunate enough to have the time. During this retreat we then have people coming in and out for shorter periods including as little as a few days. This is important to avoid any course of this length becoming elitist or exclusive. I really dislike elitism in the internal arts, it should be open and inclusive at all times.
Progress outside of retreats is obviously going to be slightly slower but this is not necessarily a bad thing. Those who learn in retreats have the added challenge of then trying to integrate their practice into daily life when they leave the retreat and often they fail. Those who begin their training alongside a more ‘normal’ life will not have this issue as daily practice has had to be integrated into their life right from day one.
In my personal opinion (so please choose to ignore it!) I think that people’s progress is not so halted by their lifestyle and inability to attend retreats. It is hindered more by a lack of information sharing meaning that they do not have the tools required to get results from their practice. If more teachers openly shared their knowledge there would be more people being able to gain strong results from their practice.
4. With the knowledge of all you have seen, learnt and experienced, if you have to restart your practices as a neophyte, what would your practice program look like?
I actually feel quite lucky to have had a good practice routine given to me by my family when I was young so
I would not change it too much. In the early stages it must be the body which is worked on as this is the vessel for further internal training. Stretching, relaxing, structuring and strengthening in the correct way should always be a beginners main concern and is what all my new students have to do. The tool we use is irrelevant, it could be Taiji or it could be Qi Gong. The process of building the physical foundation is still the same. Otherwise you will reach a stage where you are trying to shift too much force inside the body and it will not be able to take it. This can lead to either a halt in your progress or imbalances developing.
When stretching out the body and strengthening focus upon the core, the Kua and the hips. Get these as loose as possible and as strong as you can as these are major points through which large amounts of Qi need lifting. When I teach beginners it is generally this area of the body which is problematic. It may feel slow to begin with the body like this but it speeds things up later when the internal work begins.
Alongside this, work on controlling the breath. Make your breathing as efficient as possible and try to understand what your breathing does to your physical and energy body. A great deal of internal work can be done solely with the breath if you can use it in the correct way.
Only from this foundation do I think people can really begin to move into more advanced practices.
5. If one only has half an hour to an hour to practice each day, what do you recommend (besides
meditation as that would be done during other times), as the most important practice/practices?
Stretching, standing and breathing practices. Whatever the core standing practice is of your system then this should be your focus if you have short amounts of time. The foundation skills are the most important, that is the same for Qi Gong, martial arts or whatever. The most impressive practitioners you encounter are almost always those with very strong foundation skills.
6. Which one practice (aside from meditation) has brought you the furthest/worked the best for you over the years?
A combination of Taijiquan, which I think is a massively in depth and powerful practice if you can find a good teacher, and standing Nei Gong practices which work their way through the internal process. But I only list these as you already took meditation out of the equation…
7. How important is the transfer of lineage energetics for spiritual/alchemical progress, and can sufficient individual effort be a proper substitute for it?
Lineage energetics in the form of given transmissions are extremely useful things to get hold of. The amount of time and energy that can be saved through learning in this manner can really make a difference to your practice. I wish that I could say different to that as I know a lot of people do not have the good fortune to have access to this kind of teaching but I can’t.
However, in the past I believed that they were 100% necessary for development and certainly for some stages in your practice. This was the view that was given to me and so this is what I believed. This view has changed over the years as I have seen time and time again that if people are given the correct methods and adequate guidance they can actually progress without transmissions/lineage energetics whatsoever; it just takes people a lot longer. This is not necessarily a bad thing though; Sometimes the extreme ‘download’ of information contained within one of these transmissions can be quite overwhelming and lead to psychological difficulties. I have suffered emotional damage from this kind of teaching in the past and the affect that it had upon the rest of my life was quite devastating. There are some teachers who give these transmissions without first considering the affect it may have upon the student if they have not gone through the correct level of preparation. In these cases it would be wiser perhaps to simply give them a method which they can work through on their own at their own pace.
Of course, then there is the other teacher who is able to give transmission but holds back in order to maintain the gap between teacher and student. This is equally wrong.
This is very difficult as a teacher though; essentially strong internal practices were originally taught behind closed doors to those who showed absolute dedication to the arts. The students had gone through rigorous training in order to prepare and their whole life was focused around being able to learn a complete system of internal cultivation. If we are going to take these practices and bring them to the general public then there is always going to be difficulties. How do we weigh up the balance between openly teaching and not giving something which could cause harm? It is a question that goes through my head a great deal of the time and not a question I have ever heard somebody adequately answer as of yet.
8. Can you learn and practice neigong from books and videos only, or do you need an in person teacher? What are the standard dangers of the above, and what usually tends to go wrong? (if any)
Of course, a book or DVD is no substitute for s teacher. There are certain things which a teacher is required for, transmissions cannot come through books and corrections are essential. But we can only work with what we have and some training is better than no training. Books are invaluable for supporting theory to your practice and if this is all you can get and you have a burning desire to practice then that is what you have to do.
I think that I should add here that a true teacher is more than simply somebody who passes on a method. Their job is also to teach you all of the associated skills/ethics/philosophies which go alongside the practices. A highly skilled internal artist who can collapse buildings with a single click of their fingers and yet cannot maintain any kind of social relationship because they are a jerk is a beginner to me. A few years ago I walked away from one of my teachers who was very skilled in Nei Gong because of his conduct. We were eating in a restaurant in China and he threw the change at the waitresses feet as she was simply a waitress whilst he was an internal master. As she scrabbled round on the floor for the coins I stood up, I politely excused myself from the table and left that teacher for good. Personal conduct and respect for others should be the underlying principle of these arts. A master with no manners is no master; they are just an internal technician.
One aspect of the training on the long retreats I teach which was important to me was the cooking, cleaning and social interaction. I deliberately do not use caterers for long courses as I have so many young students straight out of school/college. Many of them do not know how to wash clothes or how to cook for themselves and so this becomes an important part of the practice. Also it is important that we discuss views of the world, the nature of people and how important acceptance is for our practices. If the Heart is not open then all is lost. I believe that these are the roles of a teacher which cannot be got from a book or DVD.
As a footnote, when teaching I think we should try to remember than none of us ever manage to truly become teachers simply because we are not perfect. All we can do is try to live up to being a teacher. In our efforts to become this kind of person we build upon our own level of cultivation even if we sometimes fail in our efforts.
As for mistakes which can come from practice, yes, there are quite a few but they can be avoided if people just follow some simple steps. Energetic sickness is actually something of a complicated subject because of the various intricacies of the energy body. If we cause our Qi to reverse, or change one of the energetic pulses of the congenital energy system then it can lead to gradual development of disease. If an overly aggressive compression of Yin and Yang is sent downwards then this can lead to growths and tumors in the lower part of the body, particularly the prostate area. Too much upwards movement will lead to Liver problems which will eventually be life threatening and incorrect inwardly directed intention can cause emotional and psychiatric issues.
The nature of these kinds of diseases means that they are difficult to treat but there are ways to avoid them:
- Use a gentle intention. The majority of people I meet who have developed internal issues is because their intention was far too strong. The metaphor I use is that your Yi should be ‘gently observing’ rather than ‘strongly focusing’. An overly strong focus will lead Qi to an area and then cause it to stagnate leading to a blockage. The biggest danger for students is approaching an internal exercise with too much intensity
- Do not use your intention to deliberately direct Qi along a pathway through the body if it is going in the reverse direction to its normal flow. Use Chinese medicine textbooks to check this if you are unsure. I never use any of these kinds of methods within my practice anyway but I know that many people do. This is fine if you wish to do it but just don’t go the wrong direction.
Check that your system is not overly sending things up or down. There must be balance and too much force in one direction will lead to problems. Some of my teachers and peers died in this way and they served as a strong warning to me.Of course I have made it sound way too scary now! The chances are that the vast majority of people will study Qi Gong and be 100% fine. It is just the case that I am meeting an increasing number of people who have grown sick through internal practices and are coming to me for assistance.9. Can a neigong practice be integrated with an internal martial arts practice, or should they be trained separately?
I think that all internal martial arts which have not been simplified or watered down in some way have Nei Gong included within them. They are Nei Gong systems. That being said, it can be useful to practice the same Nei Gong process within standing/sitting practices as well as when you are practicing martial arts you have too many complex movements and principles to get right without having the added complication of Nei Gong. If you do this then gradually the arts will begin to merge and Nei Gong will be inherent within all of your practices. This may vary according to your definition of what Nei Gong is though, every teacher seems to define it in a different manner.
If you know where to look there are actually remnants of martial Nei Gong hidden within the subtle movements of some of the internal styles. Xingyiquan in particular has many remnants of Yin and Yang manipulation skills within its movements, openings and closings.
10. Which hard qigong practice would you most recommend?
I am no expert on hard Qi Gong methods so maybe I am not the best person to comment upon this. The only hard Qi Gong practices I have are contained within the arts that I practice but they are not specifically focused upon as separate entities.
If the question is concerning things like conditioning of hands and body parts by striking them upon bags/objects then I don’t do any of these. I don’t really have a wish to be able to split rocks with my hands or anything like that. If that is your interest then fine but it is not my focus. I also don’t wish to take the risk of developing arthritic joints in later life which seems to be a common issue from this kind of practice.
Sorry I can’t offer anything more useful on this subject
12. There is a lot of discussion on our site regarding the nature of the dan tien. Please describe some critical mechanics and dynamics of a functioning dan tien. What is it? Perhaps described in a way that would give us some long term orientation for that work.
This is a great question but difficult to answer in order to give ‘long term orientation for that work’. The reason for this is because everybody has their own idea of what the Dan Tien is and no matter what I write some will agree whilst others will not. I can only talk from my own experience and give my own opinion and hopefully that will help some.
The first spanner to throw into the works is that nobody really has a Dan Tien. I only use this term within my writing and teaching as people are familiar with it. The term Dan Tien is really from alchemical literature and
refers to the stage of actually refining the alchemical elixir and bringing it to the lower abdomen. This is the Dan which is stored within the Tien. When this happens there is a bright glow emitted from this area of the body.
Until this point in your practice you actually have a Xia Tien. A ‘lower field’ which is essentially bereft of Dan. Maybe I am splitting hairs and actually it is just semantics around terminology but it is actually quite useful to understand this when we look at the role/s of the Xian Tien/Dan Tien.
In the lower abdomen there is a mass of information/Qi moving around which is consolidated to different degrees within different people. Through use of the breath, our posture and our Yi we can begin to increase the degree of this consolidation. This is the stage of strengthening the lower Dan Tien (I will stick with this term to keep it simple). When the Dan Tien is consolidated enough to have a quite ‘tangible’ energetic form it will begin to stir the Jing to Qi conversion more powerfully and so you will have an increase in warmth within this region of the body. This warmth is deep and internal rather than feeling like it is coming from the outside. For standard Qi Gong practices this is pretty much where they will take you. This is good for your health and works to strengthen the Jing, Qi, Shen conversion a great deal. It shifts your lower abdominal energetic state from the first to the second diagram which I have attached to the end of this answer. This slows the ageing process, gives better health and focuses your mind whilst centering your emotions. This is attainable by pretty much anybody if their practice is correctly carried out. As well as looking for sensations in the lower abdomen it was also classically practiced to check the eyes of the student. If this process had been achieved than they should have bright, clear eyes which shine with the spirit of Shen. They should also find that they have slightly larger pupils than before which can give the center of their eyes a slightly dark and deep appearance.
In the next stage the student should aim to move the lower Dan Tien so that it begins to ‘wake up’. At this point we are starting to generate a rotation in the lower abdomen. Many schools of both Qi Gong and Taiji actually have practices for this contained within them but people are unaware of their purpose leaving them with empty movements. When the Dan Tien turns it causes the lower abdomen to shake and twitch a bit. It is also common for the lower abdomen and waist to temporarily make sudden physical jerks to the left and right which can look like a strong twitch to an onlooker. This is the energy body and the physical body starting to learn how to work as a unit. It should take place during your practice for a few months only and then begin to settle down. When it is fully rotating it is visibly moving beneath the muscles of your lower abdomen and when another person places their hand upon your body they can feel it moving. This stage takes a little longer but it is not actually very difficult, it just requires patience.
The functions at this stage involve efficient circulation of information around the body but at this stage it is still Hou Tian post Heaven Qi which is shifting.
After this you have the divide in practice. Do you A: try and bring Yin and Yang to this point and get them to combine, or do you B: rotate the energy to open the Mai and then move on to the Xian Tian practices as in the alchemical schools? This is partly personal preference and partly due to which teachings you can get access to!
Whichever way you choose to work with the lower Dan Tien and the associated energetic elements associated with it you will eventually reach the stage of harnessing the Dan. This is the stage whereby the light of original spirit is drawn from the still point of true consciousness through into the realm of the Heart- mind where it can then be attracted to the lower abdomen. This is actually the full stage whereby your Dan Tien actually becomes a Dan Tien rather than just a Xia Tien…..if that makes any sense!
To fully describe all the workings of the lower Dan Tien (according to my own understanding) would take quite a long text, probably a book, so hopefully this info is a good enough start point…
13. Often descriptions of work and results are framed around ‘best case’. Perhaps some perspective on the scope of work and degree of results that an *average* student of the internal arts might face in developing functioning dan tiens, and a functioning internal arts body in general.
Well with regards to the Dan Tien, the ‘average’ student can reach all of the stages listed in the above answer given time and practice. Almost all of my students manage this within a few years without much difficulty so I don’t see why everybody else should not as well
The average student can wake up the energy body and get it fully circulating if that is their aim. They should also be able to increase their energy levels, health and lifespan within the confines of the pre-Heavenly essence boundaries they have been given.
I am typing this and actually finding this answer hard because I do not know what a non-average student is? If we mean those that put lots of hours into what they are doing then obviously they will be able to move further; this is just like learning anything. If we are talking about talent though, then there is no such thing. The whole concept of talent should not exist in the internal arts and I do not agree with it. I have met those who are talented and they generally end up quitting as Karma will not allow them to progress very far. In this way we are all average students. Aim high and you may well be surprised…
Later stages which revolve around alchemical formation of spiritual substances are a little harder as they can require long periods of isolated training. This is really where many people begin to find that they cannot progress due to their life commitments.
14. What are the markers for the stages (Jing->qi Qi-Shen Shen-> Tao Tao-> Nature ) in Taoist energy cultivation?
To answer this we have to divide the answer into two parts. There are clear signs of progressing from each stage which apply if you are in an intense period of practice such as a prolonged alchemy retreat and then there are those signs which apply to when you are ready to move on in your regular practice. I will explain why as best I can.
The signs of Jing to Qi, Qi to Shen, Shen to Dao, Dao to Nature in intense alchemical periods:
Jing to Qi: No more need to eat any food in order to live
Qi to Shen: No need to sleep, you can just continue alchemical practice
Shen to Dao: Remaining in constant emptiness with no connection to physical reality
Dao to Nature: Pretty much the end as you fully dissolve (including the body) into light and the spiritual realm. Well, that the theory anyway
The signs of Jing to Qi, Qi to Shen, Shen to Dao, Dao to Nature in average training:
Jing to Qi: Good health, good energy levels, no need to worry about external temperature as your body will regulate itself, healthy skin, mind not distracted by desires, all good health signs from Chinese medicinal literature, Lessened need to eat food but still some required, full energetic movement around energy body, body will naturally loosen up giving you liquid like body movements
Qi to Shen: Sleep greatly lessened, White light glowing in front of eyes when you close them, awakening of ability to transmit, Centered emotional state meaning that you rarely move into heightened states of emotional imbalance.
Shen to Dao: Ability to slip into emptiness when required, awakening of mental functions normally considered beyond human possibility
Dao to Nature: Hmmm, not sure if this is possible outside of intense retreat?
The difficulty with this is that the signs in the second list will come during your regular training whilst the others in the first list are signs of the Jing, Qi and Shen fully consolidating which essentially means they are moving from the post-Heaven to the Pre-Heaven state. In order to combine the elements of the Dan you need to reach the stage of fully consolidating the Pre-Heaven ingredients and this can only be done during intense retreats away from society. I suppose that if I look back at the last question then it may be fair to say that this stage is beyond the average student if we use this term to mean those who can only put limited hours into their training.
An easy way for the more dedicated student to use this list would be to use the signs of the lower list to show when they are ready to enter into a longer period of isolated practice in order to harvest some of the alchemical agents. That is my take on it anyway.
15. In your book ‘Daoist Neigong’, chapter 1 pg 25, you state, about the conversion of shen to dao, of pure consciousness to emptiness, that “I am afraid that my understanding ends here as I am working on this stage myself.”
… I imagine most of your readers, are impressed with your honesty and clarity regarding this. In the c.3 years since writing this book, how has your work on this stage progressed and are you able to share any of this with us? Do you think you will be able to write a followup book, or a revised version of ‘Daoist Neigong’ to incorporate any findings from your ongoing work?
Actually this book was written over four years ago as the editing and publishing process takes a long time. Yes, I have had some luck in this area now. I have managed to progress a little into this realm. It is quite
funny really; I met a practitioner quite by chance in China who was not a teacher of mine, nor a close friend. We were talking about our shared practice and he gave me one correction with regards to my alchemy which made all the difference. Sometimes teachings come from the strangest places. I had made a mistake with my understanding of Xian Tian and Hou Tian and how they are utilized when working with the Heart-Mind. This mainly had come about because I had misinterpreted something I had been taught. This is always a difficulty when bringing something from one language to another.
Though I am progressing here it is still early days and I have much work to do before I would consider that I fully understood this level of practice…if I ever do.
I am going to include revised findings in two different formats in the future. Firstly I do plan to write more books on the further stages on Nei Gong which essentially take you into Nei Dan and as well as this we (a group of us) are working on putting together a large joint Blog which will have transcriptions and recordings of the talks I regularly give around the UK and US on alchemy and other aspects of Daoism. As well as this there will be articles by the others on Daoist practices, mainly Nei Gong and Qi Gong. The thought behind this was basically that a book takes a long time to complete whilst a lecture can be uploaded as soon as it is given. In this way we can put out very up to date and fast information to help people in their practice. I also like the informal style of this kind of communication and the way that we can jump from subject to subject unlike a book which requires a strong theme throughout. Hopefully I will be able to discuss some kind of personal progression through this format as well as in future book projects.
16. Many Taoist practices on the market involve working with post heavenly qi. To attain the Tao, ones aim is to reside increasingly in the pre heavenly flow.
What is the number one practice, or essential quality, that a seeker of the Way can utilize to ensure s/he is (working towards) cultivating the pre heavenly flow?
It is really interesting that this question came up next as this was really the confusion I was having that was preventing me from progressing onto the next stage in my practice. I may not be able to present a definitive answer here but maybe I can present my own difficulty which is basically where I am working right now:
Post Heavenly agents are based around movement, they are the elements of existence. This means that they can only be manipulated/harnessed within the confines of the rules of your own reality. Your Qi can only be made more efficient according to your own innate ‘Qi possibilities’. Your Jing can only be refined within the confines of your essence limits.
Pre Heavenly agents are only formed in stillness; they are before your existence/manifestation and thus not bound by form or the limitations of your own innate state. Pre Heavenly Qi can reach heights beyond what should normally be possible within the realm of a human life and Pre-Heaven Jing can be consolidated to take you far beyond the limits of a normal human lifespan/health etc.
The Dan and the higher levels of practice can only be observed and harnessed through stillness but they cannot be drawn into a useful state without the interaction of your Yi. The Yi is like a fishing rod if you don’t mind my overly basic analogy. The problem is that as soon as the Yi stirs you have movement, the stillness is gone and the agents are dispersed from pre-Heavenly to Post-Heavenly.
The only way around this is to still the spirits so that your Yi may communicate with true consciousness without disturbing the stillness. The Intention basically has to ‘leave no footprints’. One teacher of mine called this state the true state of Heart-Mind. It is this window which we must enter in order to move from Post-Heavenly to Pre-Heavenly practice…..I think that this is pretty tricky!
17. How much can work on cultivation change one’s fate or destiny and linked to this … the question of Shen development from birth upward… How much is achievable in one lifetime.”?
I feel like I am writing the answers to an exam and I just reached that tricky question where you have to hazard a guess or leave it blank! I shall give it a go though…..
In theory it is possible to fully align yourself with your Ming (line of smooth travel from birth to death) through these practices and thus move towards the optimum realization of immortality which is essentially beyond
fate/destiny. Having never done this I can only work according to accounts given within classical teachings, from teachers whom I trust and accounts contained within stories. In your single lifetime it should be possible to attain the highest state and cultivate your Shen to such a level that you elevate yourself to the state of an immortal (something which is divided into eight levels). This should be possible for the vast majority of human beings on this planet.
From my own personal experience, I am not sure. I am only 34 at the moment and have been practicing in one way or another since I was 4. I, like the questioner, am curious to know what is possible within one lifetime so I am giving it my best shot! I basically live and breathe these arts and have absolutely no other interests in my life beyond a strange fascination with aquariums which I enjoy visiting. I am aiming to move as far as I can through these arts within my own personal practice for no other reason that I am immensely curious to see what is possible. Maybe I will be able to answer this question from my own point of view in the future.
18. Do you feel conscious that your teaching and work is part of a transmission of eastern arts to the west … and do you feel optimistic about the future of Taoist energy cultivation in the US, Europe and elsewhere … how do you see this developing?
I am not sure about being a part of the transmission of the Eastern arts to the West? That all sounds rather grand and I am not sure that I am playing such an important role in all of this! I see myself more as an explorer and dedicated student of the internal arts who likes to share what knowledge I have in the hope that it may help some others in their practice. There was a conversation between myself and Zhongxian Wu recorded in London a couple of years ago. I discussed the difference between East and West and he corrected me saying that the difference actually lay between the old and the new. I would have to say that I concur with this and that maybe that bridge should exist between the ancient methods of cultivation and the modern practitioners rather than across any geographical boundaries. The generations of teachers who came before me already did a lot of carrying of arts from China to us lot over here in the West and now I don’t see much difference between the standards of practices worldwide. Now the development must come as we modern practitioners seem to reach the levels attained by those recorded in the past.
I have very mixed feelings about how Daoism will spread and develop here in the West as well as in China and the East. The increasingly open sharing of information we are seeing around this subject is great and more and more people are starting to look deeper into these practices but alongside this there are also more and more ‘quick and easy’ Daoist schools and courses opening as well. The challenge is going to increase for beginners in the future as they have to wade through the minefield of nonsense in order to find something which truly has value.
Those studying Daoism have a great challenge ahead of them as they are trying to silence the acquired nature and contact their true consciousness whilst living in a world which is essentially run and directed towards strengthening the acquired mind. In order to effectively go deep into our practice we have to be able to see beyond the shackles of our own society and not allow it to form who we are. I think that if more and more people are able to do this then Daoism will have a bright future. If people are not able to do this then we will see an increasing movement towards schools which resemble McDonalds in their approach to teaching.
Sorry, I didn’t mean to sound so pessimistic. I am sure that the development will, overall, be good really; I am sure that it has always been the same; there will be positive developments and negative ones. Those who truly seek the path to Dao will hopefully find themselves navigating towards the more positive ones.
19. Finally can you tell us what you are doing next? Have you planned new courses or new books for the next year or so?
Basically this year and next year I have some periods of personal retreat in Asia which will last a few months each time. During this time I practice my own alchemical work intensely as well as writing and teaching a few close students who tend to go into retreat with me. This generally happens towards the end of the years as I tend to avoid European winters!
As well as this I also have my teaching responsibilities and projects which are outlined below:
- I am teaching a prolonged course in the States starting in 2015 which is shared between me and a couple of my senior students. I enjoy teaching in the US and have a growing number of students there who are showing good progress and high levels of commitment. Up until now I have simply taught standalone Qi Gong courses as a visiting teacher, usually invited by teachers who live in the US but now I feel it is time to start a series of teachings events with some kind of progression in order to help people to move on in their practice. I enjoy more informal teaching with a relaxed ‘family-like’ group so one of my missions is to try and move towards this kind of atmosphere in the US rather than the general ‘workshop’ format with fixed subjects and timetables.
- I have the online Blog going up which I discussed above. I am happy that I have good assistance in this area from some technically minded students!
- I am also writing the first of a (predicted) series of Nei Dan books which should be finished next year. This first book focuses upon the Firing Process stages of Nei Dan as well as covering the foundations of practice, possible pitfalls and personal experiences from this kind of practice. I am really enjoying working on this book as it is a very complex task. It feels more like a puzzle than anything else trying to take classical practices and concepts and explain them in a way which I hope most people will understand.
- I then also have my regular courses and so on in order to keep my European students busy with their own practice.But right now I have to figure out how to lay a large 9m by 16m wooden decked floor within my teaching hall in Sweden! Me and a handful of my seniors have two days to get it done before a large group arrives to join us for 14 days alchemy practice. It would be easy but none of us have any woodwork skills or experience so it is going to be a fun challenge! I had better dive off and help them with the work or they will accuse me of slacking!Thank you again for these questions, I enjoyed the opportunity to answer them and hope they may be useful to some people on the Tao Bums forum.