by Chen Yingming
There is currently no effective medicine for stress-related disorders. Phosphoric supplements’ claim to fortifying the brain is unsubstantiated. All other stimulants or sedatives have only temporary effect. After the effect wears out, the symptoms come back, maybe with a vengeance.
One must ensure complete tranquility of the mind and disperse all random thoughts from it. This is the most important principle of jinggong practice and is the most effective treatment for stress-related disorders. However, it is difficult to put a stop to all the thoughts that go habitually through your mind. Our forefathers devised a host of methods to attain this purpose, among which the best one is Zhuangzi’s “listen-to-breathing” method (Zhuangzi, c. 369 – 286 BC).
You begin this exercise by using only your ears, not your mind. The idea is not to replace one thought with another, but more to force yourself to stay vigilant about your nose or your lungs. Nor is it to listen to any nasal sound. As long as you are aware ofthe exhalations and the inhalations, you are doing it right.Do not try to control the speed and depth of the breathing. Just let them be. By and by, your breath will beat one with your qi.All distracting thoughts will vanish. You will even forget about your breathing and gradually drift off to sleep. This is the most opportune moment to restore vigor to your frayed nerves. Seize the moment and abandon your self to deep sleep. Be sure not to resist the temptation to sleep. After you wake up, repeat the exercise all over again, and you will be able to drop off to blissful sleep again. If you have already slept several times during the day and do not wish to sleep anymore,you may get up and do some light exercise in a woody place outside where the air is fresh and clean. You may stand there for a few minutes doing breathing exercises, or practice calisthenics or taichi. But do not go overboard. Do not tire yourself out. Once you return indoors, you may either sit or lie in bed, resume your “listening-to-breathing” exercise and, perhaps, to fall asleep again.
Most people with stress-related disorders are also plagued by insomnia. It is not advisable to take sleep pills on a regular basis. Only the “listening-to—breathing” method can tackle the problem at the root, without leaving any side effect. It is in keeping with the theory about yang entering yin in the Classic of Internal Medicine (Huang Di Nei Jing, China’s earliest work on of medicine completed between 770 BC – 25 AD).
Ancient books on medicine often make reference to the interdependence of the mind and the breath,but no specific instructions can be found.Su Dongpo’s way is to count your breathings and then let the mind follow the breath (Su Dongpo, 1037- 1101, a famous Chinese poet). ZhuXi’s way, as explained in his Advice on Breath Adjustment, is to “watch the tip of your nose,” according to The Surangama Sutra (Zhu Xi, 1130 – 1200, Confucian scholar and founder of the school of Neo—Confucianism). However, since you have to count, you are not free from all engagement of the mind. And, in the latter case, since you have to watch your nose, your eyes will get tired over time. Zhuangzi’s “listening-to-breathing” method is the only one that calls for absolutely no engagement of the mind and leads to no fatigue. What follows is a list of the three methods for you to practice.
1. Su Dongpo’s theory on health (Dongo Zhilin, Su Shi’a Record in His Daily Life, Vol.1):
Health conscious people must exercise moderation in their eating habits. Only when plagued with hunger can you start eating and you should stop before the feeling of fullness sets in. After each meal, take a stroll outdoors until the food has been digested. Then return indoors for exercises. You can freely decide whether to do the exercises in daytime or at night, seated or lying down. The only important thing is to keep your body from moving and stay immobile like a wooden statue. Then, in a combination of Buddhist and Daoist methods, gaze at the tip ofyour own nose while counting the number of exhalations and inhalations through your nose. The key is to empty your mind and not to force anything. When counting, count either all the exhalations or all the inhalations, not both.So each act of breathing, exhaling and inhaling, counts as one, not two. After you’ve counted hundreds of times, your mind will be a blank and your body motionless as a rock. Since you need not force anything on your mind and body, both will naturally enjoy tranquility.
After you’ve counted thousands of times, or if you have no more strength to go on counting, you can switch to another method, called “follow the breath.” When you exhale, let your mind follow the air out of the body. When you inhale, let your mind follow the air on its way in, not through the nostrils, but filling every pore like evaporation of cloud and fog. When you attain this level of accomplishment, all longstanding ailments and afflictions will gradually go away and you reach enlightenment, just like a blind man suddenly regaining sight. Able to see his way ahead now, he no longer needs guidance.
2. ZhuXi’s breath-adjustment method (The Complete Works Zhu Xi, Vol. 85):
Watching the tip of one’s own nose is the 14th of the 25 methods listed in The Surangama Sutra. Both Su Dongpo and Zhu Xi adopted the phrase, but each in a slightly different sense. In Zhu Xi’s words, this is a method applicable anywhere and at any time, provided you are relaxed and feel comfortable. Do not make yourself uncomfortable in any way. Stay calm and let things take their own course. Do not force anything. When tranquility reaches its height, the pendulum will naturally swing toward motion, like fish rising to the surface of the water in spring to breathe. When motion reaches its height, the pendulum swings naturally toward tranquility, like insects hibernating in winter to conserve energy. At this point, the qi in the body converges with the qi of heaven and earth, and the alterations of tranquility and motion unite with the movements of the universe. Words are inadequate to describe the wonders of this method. You may ask, who is behind all this? In fact, there is no one behind any of this. Everything is just a part of nature.
3. The Mind Tranquility method of Zhuangzi (Chapter IV, The Book of Zhuangzi):
Yan Hui asked Confucius, his teacher, about Zhuangzi’s Mind Tranquility method, and this was Confucius’ reply: Do not indulge in wild fancies. Gather all your thoughts to gether and then listen,not with your ears but with your mind. Then,listen not with your mind but with your qi.By this time, you should no longer be relying on your ears. Your mind and qi being at one, you should not be relying on your mind, either. Qi is something unsubstantial. It needs something to form a union with it. Only Dao can merge with the qi of the Great Void. If your mind attains the tranquility of the Great Void, you have made a success ofthe MindTranquility method.
There should be no division of stages to this method, but for the convenience of beginners, I’mgoing to divide the whole process into several steps and give some detailed instructions:
Step 1: “Gather all your thoughts together.” Before you begin the exercise, be sure to gather all your thoughts together and concentrate on the exercise. If any distracting thoughts remain, you will not b eable to do a good job of it.
you have completed Step 1, you are ready to begin to “listen,” but definitely not to listen with your ears to Conventional sounds. You may get skeptical and ask, since it involves lis- tening, what am I supposed to listento, ifnot to sounds? No clear answer to this question can be found in the annotations to all kinds of theories.So let me make this clear: You begin by listening for the sound of breathing through your nostrils. The breathing of those with normal, unimpeded respiratory systems should be noiseless, which is why you are not supposed to listen with your ears.Even though there is no sound, you are aware ofthe speed and the strength ofexhalations and inhala- tions through the nostrils, as are even the hearing-impaired. That’swhytheinstructionsareto “listenwithyourmind.”
Step 3: As for “listen not with your mind but with your qi,” this can again be problematic. You may be able to get away with saying “listen with your mind” because the mind, after all, is sentient, but qi is not. How can you listen with qi? If the mind listens to qi, what does qi listen to? So how should this be explained? My answer is: when you have become quite accomplished in jinggong, your mind and your qi will be at one and inseparable. Qi becomes something impossible for the mind to listen to, hence the phrase “You must not listen with your mind.” At this point, your mind and your qi, though at one, may not have reached the state of the Void and there fore may still have a slight awareness of your breathing. If you keep on, you will soon lose all awareness of your breathing. During the brief period of transition, rather than listen to qi with your mind and set mind and qi against each other, it makes more sense to listen to qi with qi and wipe out any rift between the two. That’s why the instructions say “listen with qi.”
Step 4: As for “You should no longer be relying on your ears,” and “You should not be relying on your mind, either,” a beginner should first try to gather his thoughts together before concentrating on “listening,” but carrying this on for too long would be overdoing it. So go on to the next step. Stop listening. By this time, you are moving into the stage of the Void, where your mind and qi are at one, you are no longer aware of your breathing.You may appear to be asleep on the outside, but on the inside, it’s another story.
Setp 5: As for “Qi is something unsubstantial. It needs something to form a union with it. Only Dao can merge with the qi of the Great Void. If your mind attains the tranquility of the Great Void, you have made a success of the Mind Tranquility method,” after you have gone from the simpler to the more sophisticated stages, you naturally reach the state of the Void without having to direct your mind to it. If you will it, you won’t be able to get there. The entire process is to go from what you have acquired to what you were given by nature. So the fifth should be be experienced in the state you were born, but I will not get in to that,because it exceeds the limits of therapy. For our purposes, it sufiices to reach the state where your mind and your qi merge.
A summary of the three methods cited above: Su Dongpo’s method is to begin by counting your breathing, then stop counting and let it be. Zhu Xi’s method is to begin by watch- ing your nose, then stop watching it and let everything take its own course. Zhuangzi’s method is to begin by listening to your breath, then stop listening and let everything take its own course. The three methods begin differently but end on the same path. Learners can feel free to apply them in combination.
Young patients with stress-related disorders can be 70% or 80% cured by practicing these exercises for three months. Middleaged patients can be 50 to 60% cured after three month’s practice. However, symptoms can vary in degree. I was referring to more severe cases. Those with less severe symptoms can achieve full recovery. After you leave the sanatorium and return to your workplace, it would be advisable to practice twice a day, once in the morning and once at night, and make it a habit. Only then will you be able to keep what you have gained and be fully accomplished in this healing art.