This is the second article on the Spinal Fires. It would be wise to read the first part before this one or it will make no sense whatsoever! This process is not really for those with a vague interest in the internal arts or for those only interested in health promoting practices. This is for those who really wish to step into the spiritual side of internal arts training; those who are making the training a life-study.
In this article I outline my own personal experience of awakening the seven spinal fires of the Chong Mai as well as some of the unpleasant sides of this training…
Spinal Fires Awakening
Below is a brief discussion of the nature of each of the seven fires drawn from my own personal experience of them awakening. Please be aware though that this is a very subjective account from my own personal point of view so your own experiences may differ from mine. I have included my experiences here to simply act as a guide and reference point to assist anybody going through this process themselves. For ease of locating the fires I named them after key meridian points which sit on the body in the same location. These are not the classical names for them though, the classical names have been included in the descriptive text alongside each of the seven fires:
Sacral Fire: The first of the fires is the sacral fire which is classically known as ‘gateway to the tail’. The movement of spiritual energy of the spine can initially feel very hot, it is almost as if your coccyx is burning. This experience only lasts for a short time though as the initial stages of this point awakening take place. As it opens up it can cause the entire body to shake violently from side to side. This causes extreme heat throughout the all of the muscles and you are certain to become drenched in sweat as this happens.
The sacral fire governs the ‘base’ aspects of your acquired nature. All of the key elements in life which you currently hold to be important are brought into question as this fire begins to awaken. These are beliefs probably given to you by your parents and family members close to you when you were growing up. Most modern people consider importance to lie with having a good career, owning a large house and being successful etc. All of these beliefs as to how you should fit into society and constantly seek to acquire new possessions were given to you by other people and actually none of them are required to be happy and fulfilled in life. As this fire begins to awaken it is normal for people to come to this realization deep down inside of their core. As the process of awakening continues people will naturally seek to make their lives increasingly simple so that they can focus upon what they have discovered is really important to them.
Mingmen Fire: The Mingmen fire is classical known as the ‘Ming fire’ and it is situated in the lower spine beneath the second lumbar vertebrae. As the spiritual energy begins to awaken this point the heat increases and moves into the back. There is a lot more shaking and sweating as this point is reached! Again this only lasts for a short time as the awakening process begins.
This fire is linked to all of your emotional programming. These are the lessons you received as you were growing up from those around you, society and the media on how to react to outside stimuli. Many people are not aware that the way they emotionally react to the world is largely dictated by what you were taught is normal at a young age. That which makes you angry, sad, happy or stressed is often inherited from those around you. As this fire begins to awaken it is normal for all of this to be brought into question. For me personally this was a difficult process. I went through something of an emotional meltdown which resulted in me not being able to deal with the outside world for a few months. Extreme paranoia hit me along with acute sensitivity to what everybody was feeling, especially if those feelings were directed towards me. This was very difficult but only temporary as my emotional nature received an overhaul. Afterwards I had a much higher ‘emotional threshold’ meaning that it took a lot more for me to feel stressed, upset or angry. My emotions became something I was able to observe and connect with if I wished to rather than something which governed my every thought. As a bonus I also had a chronic digestive weakness linked to emotional stress clear up completely overnight.
Zhongshu Fire: The Zhongshu fire is classically known as the ‘earthen palace’ and it is directly linked to your own sense of self. As it awakens there is a great deal of energetic pressure in the center of your body which can cause you to throw your body backwards, thrusting your chest open towards the sky. If you are sat down when this happens it is quite normal to be thrown backwards onto the floor. As it opens do not be surprised if you begin to cry or laugh hysterically as everything about your sense of self begins to fall away.
We each have a perception of who we are. Usually this is developed through our interactions with others and how they react to us. Over the course of our lives we use other people as mirrors to reflect back at us how we are perceived within the world. This perception from those around us then dictates how we perceive ourselves and in this way we develop a warped sense of self. Most people never really say what they are really thinking and thus any information reflected back at us from these lies is a pure distortion. In this way we create our own sense of self through our own dishonesty. When the Zhongshu fire begins to awaken we can no longer lie to our selves as we see whom we truly are. A deep realization as to our strengths, weaknesses and motives is ours to have meaning that we can begin to express and honest version of who we are to others. This is a liberating stage as people trying to maintain their false sense of self carry around a great deal of tension.
Shendao Fire: This fire is also known as the ‘handle of the spine’. It sits at the height of the heart and governs our concept of others and how we relate to them. As this fire awakens it is normal to enter a state of bliss which can last for several months. During this time it is as though you are walking around on ‘cloud nine’ with few cares in the world. As a negative it is difficult to carry out any tasks at work or in the home as they are deemed to be completely irrelevant at this time. You are truly carefree.
As this fire awakens it enables your sense of true compassion to be brought forth. The concept of hurting another seems like a completely mad idea and a deep closeness with the rest of the world comes forth. This is the first time that many people, including myself, are able to experience what unconditional love really is and this can make a great change to the way you relate to those around you. Any ‘isms’ you may have such as sexism, racism etc. fade away leaving you with the internal understanding that all human beings are equal across the planet. If everybody could open this spinal fire the world would be a much more pleasant place.
Yamen Fire: This fire is also known as the ‘thunder strike centre’. It sits at the base of the skull and is the point at which the spiritual energy first gets stuck when you are working at this level. Though the spiritual energy has moved through my spine past this point I am only in the very early stages of awakening this fire. At the time of writing I can only convey a little of what this point does as I am sure I am only on a very basic level of attainment here. The Yamen fire governs our ability to communicate spiritually. As it awakens it is normal to find yourself making spontaneous sounds which you loudly express during your practice. You may find that you end up chanting the sacred sound of Om at the top of your voice for several hours or often the tone Ah seems to come up. Gradually this changes into ancient languages which you cannot translate and essentially you are not ‘speaking in tongues’ which is a phenomenon discussed in many spiritual traditions. This lasts for a short time as this fire begins to awaken.
When this fire awakens it is possible to speak from within your true consciousness without the filter of the acquired nature distorting your words in any way. When you speak to another in this way it bypasses their acquired nature giving a profound truth to your words which resounds deeply within those whom you speak with. I myself have only had glimpses of this when occasionally I have managed to speak from this deep place of inner stillness but sadly they have been fleeting moments of wisdom before I am returned to the clumsy public speaker I normally am! I have had teachers in the past though who had fully awakened this fire and everything they taught rung bells and opened doors within my heart and mind. Those who have fully awakened this gate should be the true internal teachers, people like myself are just amateurs in comparison.
Yintang Fire: The Yintang fire is also known as the ‘bright hall’. It corresponds to the location of the third eye. As this point awakens it feels as if somebody is drilling through the front of your skull and usually feels quite painful. Though this fire has yet to awaken for me I have felt this kind of sensation when a high level teacher is transmitting information directly from his mind into my own. This transmission of information travels through your third eye directly into the upper Dan Tien and often leaves you with a dull headache. This was the method classically utilized to pass on a full internal system as many of the deeper aspects of the internal arts cannot be taught through demonstration or verbal instruction. Classically it was said that you could never fully understand the internal arts until a great master had taught you in this way.
When speaking with those who have awakened this fire it is clear to see that they have drawn divine understanding of their art and the nature of the cosmos from a place beyond the realm of human thought. They become like a walking encyclopedia of their tradition with knowledge far beyond what can normally be learnt in one lifetime. It is as though they are being given the information directly from a higher source. I have only had the good fortune to meet a couple of teachers who had reached this stage and their teachings were life changing.
Baihui Fire: This fire is also known as ‘the crown fire’. I only had the chance to meet one teacher in Thailand who I believe had fully awakened this fire. This is the fire of connection to Wuji. Though I have no idea what it feels like to awaken this fire I know that the result must be extremely profound. The connection upwards to higher levels was so strong in this teacher that he took his students through the process of internal awakening just by allowing them to be around him. His very presence moved energy and shifted consciousness through my body without any verbal instruction being given. This is the way that true teachers passed on these arts according to the legendary tales from traditions such as Daoism Buddhism and Hinduism.
The Necessity of this Practice
It is curious aspect of the Daoist arts that the process of awakening the seven spinal fires is not actually required for those wishing to connect with Wuji and return their spirit to Dao. It is possible to go through this process simply using the refinement of Jing to Qi and through into Shen via the central branch of the Chong Mai. This is enough to take a person through into direct connection with the divine and ultimately lead them towards what the ancient Daoists knew as immortality. For this reason many systems of Daoism focus only upon this process in their teachings. It is not even required to open the mysterious pass and bring forth the virtuous aspects of the De to be able to connect with Dao. Though this means that the process is essentially quite simple if you wish it to be it does come with one great risk. If you do not need to bring forth the De or dissolve the acquired nature to reach high levels with your internal training then it means you do not need to be a good person.
Many other spiritual traditions have in place external rules on how a student should conduct themselves when they begin their spiritual training. Systems such as Buddhism has their guidelines in place to make sure people interact with honesty and integrity whilst Daoism has no such ethical structure. Sometimes a teacher may discuss ethical conduct but it is certainly not given the priority within Daoism that it is within other traditions. The reason for this is that they believe any way you conduct yourself is false if it does not come from deep within your true consciousness. Only virtuous behavior coming from within the core of your congenital nature is actually virtuous. Any other reason for virtuous behavior is false as it is coming from an external guidance. Whilst this ideal has its strengths it also has its weaknesses. It is true that at higher stages in the internal arts you have the potential of developing certain abilities which are beyond most people. Abilities such as telepathy and similar skills are all a part of the internal arts and act as a sign that you are developing in the right direction. Though these skills should never be the aim of these practices, they are a useful marker to show you are progressing as you should. Some of these abilities give you the power to manipulate others and many internal teachers have developed these abilities to varying degrees. At low levels this may mean that a teacher is able to expand their energetic field so that they dominate on a very subtle, subconscious level. At higher stages they are literally able to manipulate your thoughts and feelings through transmission directly into your mind. This gives them great power. Now, if a teacher has begun to dissolve the acquired mind and bring forth the virtuous De then the concept of having power over others will seem like a ludicrous concept. Why on earth would you wish to dominate other people? If, however, the acquired nature is still very dominant then the power can begin to distort them into a caricature of who they were before. Instead of the congenital nature shining forth they are instead feeding their acquired nature which becomes stronger and stronger as they practice. In this way they are developing stronger internal energy but they are moving further from their true nature. These teachers are easy to spot as they are loud, obnoxious, tend to be very emotionally changeable and often like money a great deal. Many of these teachers bully their students and teach through domination.
Daoism is something of a double-edged sword as its internal practices are powerful and, for the most part, have been well preserved from ancient times but they lack ethical guidance and teachings on why certain practices are important. I personally have felt the alluring feel of having power over others when I first started teaching but was lucky enough o have the guidance from people I trusted to be able to step away from this and balance out my practice with exercises which would cultivate my inner nature. When I first started teaching I went on a bit of a power trip and in the end had to step completely away from teaching for several months to be in isolation and work on myself. I did not like who I was becoming and now, whilst I am still far more perfect, I am happier that my motives are pure for what I do. This to me is the importance of this kind of work, whatever degree of personal unpleasantness it may come with.
This kind of work is not really for those with a casual interest in the arts or for those purely interested in improving their health. This kind of work is for those who are fully committed to their practice and the Daoist arts. These are the small minority so smitten with their training that prolonged hours of daily training is never a chore. Though many may say that they practice for many hours each day experience has shown me that this is not really the case. It is a rare individual who really has the commitment to spend the necessary hours, days, months and then years to go deep into the art of Daoism. This is fine though; there is no need for everybody to train in this way. It is better if most people study to the level they are able to. Life commitments often get in the way and often people have other interests in life which take up their time.
On a final I wish to discuss the necessity of sacrifice for most people who get to the stage of engaging with this kind of internal work. I am speaking from personal experience and feel it would be unfair of me to introduce these kinds of practices without giving the full picture of what is involved. Those wishing to try and awaken the spinal fires should be fully aware of what this entails with regards to your psyche. As each of these fires begins to awaken it causes a great shift in your personal identity and you literally change as a person in a very short space of time. The period of change is always difficult but after the change has taken place you will settle into your new way of being until the next stage of change takes place. These changes can change the things you like, the things you place importance upon and the feelings you have for those around you. As you can imagine, this can affect your relationships with other people and be extremely difficult for your loved ones. As the first fire awakens you often find that what you are doing is wrong for you. It is common for people to walk out of their careers and sell their homes to pursue something more meaningful. This can cause problems with peoples family and partners as they inevitably view this kind of behavior as self-destructive. They may even view it as slightly insane.
As each fire awakens deeper changes take place within you and each of these can cause problems. I myself engaged with this process some years ago and went through a very long period of rather uncomfortable changes. These changes cost me a house, a career I was going through alongside my training, a marriage and a great many other things. For a long time it seemed like my entire life was falling apart piece by piece. Though this was difficult at the time things have settled down now and my life is much more pleasant. I am much happier with the person that I am now and glad that I shed many of the things in my life that were not right for me.
I am writing this as I feel it is important for people to be aware of the kind of process inherent within this kind of training. I was lucky that I had no major commitments such as children who depended upon me. If I had gone through these changes and destroyed a marriage with children involved then there would have been a high chance of me negatively affecting their lives as well which would not have been fair. Those practicing the internal arts should take stock of what they have in their lives and if necessary stop before reaching these kind of stages. You must make your art work alongside your life if you are not prepared for the sacrifices which are likely to come from deep internal changes you may go through.
These practices were once kept up in the mountains out of site of the majority of people. The ancients practiced behind closed doors keeping these practices hidden. Only those inducted into the ancient lineages had access to the internal arts whereas now much of this secrecy has now gone. Practices once earned through years of diligent study with a master are now available online as in articles such as this! Whilst this is a good thing as it gives many people access to exercises which can improve their lives it can also be negative. There is a certain responsibility which must be taken by all teachers of these arts as well as practitioners when we take once hidden methods and bring them into the public arena. In many ways isolation is much easier then living in society with a family and responsibilities. For this reason we must recognize what the risks are, weigh up those risks against our own lives and make our practice work alongside everything else we hold dear. Only then will a lifetime study of the Daoist arts be a positive and enriching experience for everybody involved in them.
Remember that any practice within the internal arts is a step-by-step process. At first any exercise you study will seem like it just takes place on a physical level but with time they can lead you deeper into your own being. Each art to come from Daoism was developed in this way and as such are windows into the lives of the great teachers who came before us. To me this makes them very special and as such I always try to treat each exercise I have learnt as if it is special. If I treat them with respect and study them with the dedication worthy of the ancient who created these arts then I trust they will help me develop in the correct direction.
Here I have outlined some risks inherent within the Daoist arts but it was only to make it perfectly clear to people how powerfully life changing they can be. Providing that Daoist exercises are practiced properly and treated with respect then they can only further people’s cultivation. That being said, approach them with a feeling of dedication but yet light-heartedness. Laugh often, do not be frustrated when you find certain things difficult and enjoy the process you are going through.