Therapy as Internal Alchemy
by Graham Kennedy
Graham in the Crystal Palace
For thousands of years, natural scientists known as alchemists have been performing experiments in order to uncover deeper truths about the human condition and the world we live in. These alchemists were an integral part of all the major civilisations and the esoteric branches of the main religions. They were spiritual scientists who undertook many different experiments in order to deeply understand the role of man within the universe, and his relationship with it.
The experiments that they performed are often classified as being external or internal in nature. External alchemists performed their experiments in laboratories with a wide variety of natural ingredients. However, their most famous experiments involved attempting the transmutation of base metals, such as lead, into gold. The reason for this is considered to have its roots in a deep understanding of the human condition. Alchemists recognised that all human beings were essentially in a process of evolution towards reconnecting to the divinity within them. These alchemists sought to mirror this internal evolutionary process in the external purification of unrefined base metals transmuting into the purity of gold. This process demonstrates an underlying principle behind all alchemical experimentation - that is that the microcosm of the internal world of the individual is mirrored in the macrocosm of the natural world, and indeed the entire universe.
The second area of alchemical experimentation is in the area of internal alchemy. The internal alchemists differ from their external cousins in that they use the mind and body of the practitioner as the laboratory in which they work with a number of different transmutation processes. In these processes, the alchemists look to refine, balance and integrate a number of internal energetic states in order to come into a deeper relationship with the underlying spiritual core within us. The nature of this spiritual core is also the underlying nature of the universe itself. This is reflected in the saying "Without going out of his door, the sage knows the entire universe".
These internal experiments include the transmutation of more "unrefined" base emotions into higher virtues, the alchemical transmutation of sexual energy in order to bring our inherent male and female polarities into a more balanced whole, and the gradual transmutation of the "base metal" of the physical body into the "gold" of the spiritual core of the human system.
One tradition in which the stages of alchemical transmutation are clearly defined is the Taoist tradition of China. Taoism can be considered to be the indigenous spiritual tradition of China, and the Taoists were experts at understanding, and directly experiencing, the inter-relationships between the human microcosm and the universal macrocosm.
Within Taoist alchemy, the body, energy and mind of the practitioner are slowly unified into an integrated whole. It is my contention that this process has deep connections with our clinical practice in Craniosacral Therapy. Consequently, this article is designed to stimulate thought onto a different clinical model than is currently available.
The process of alchemical transmutation is classically described in Taoism as the process of changing Jing to Chi to Shen to Wu. These terms are also used in Chinese medicine, but they tend to have a deeper meaning than in Taoist alchemy. This process reflects the Taoist cosmology in reverse. In other words, it demonstrates how we undertake a spiritual transition from a manifest form back to our unmanifest origins.
The term jing refers to the underlying energetic template, or essence, that makes up our physical form. In terms of the material components of our body, this can be seen to equate to such entities as our genetic code and stem cells. All our body fluids and tissues, at a purely physical level, ultimately derive from the interaction of these structures. Therefore, when we are working with the tissues and fluids, we are working with the external manifestation of our jing. In clinical practice, methodologies such as enhancing tissue and fluid mobility can be seen as working at this level.
The term chi
is most commonly translated as "energy", but a more accurate translation
would be "subtle breath". The implication of this is that chi has
an inherent pulsation as it breathes the body.
The Taoists perceived that all manifest forms, from trees and mountains to planets and stars, "breathe" due to the action of chi. When we broaden our remit in clinical work beyond the purely mechanical, we can become aware of the natural energetic pulsations of the body expressed as tissue motility and the expression of potency within the fluids. Through engaging our physical body to develop its inherent pulsations, we are able to come into a deeper relationship with the forces within nature and the entire universe around us. This is the very essence of Taoist alchemy.
In clinical practice, the transmutation of jing into chi can occur when we hold an awareness of the body as a whole. By bringing our attention to the potency field and allowing it to permeate into the physical structure of the body, we initiate the first steps of internal alchemy. In order to do this, we must shift our attention from the dense resistance of our physical body to the more fluid structure of our energy body. Both the physical body and the energy body express natural pulsatory motion, albeit at different speeds. In the tidal model of craniosacral therapy, this would be akin to shifting our awareness from the CRI to the mid tide.
This stage of transmutation can be seen to represent Dr. Sutherland's perception of the cerebro-spinal fluid as "liquid light". In the process I am describing, the liquid element would represent the jing, while the light would represent the integrated nature of the chi within the fluid.
of Chi to Shen
In the context of Taoist alchemy, the term shen is most commonly translated as spirit, mind or consciousness. However, in practice it refers to the core intelligence of the human system. In craniosacral therapy, the transmutation of chi to shen occurs when we come into relationship with the deeper organising forces.
In order to understand this process, we need to undertake a more detailed examination of the nature of chi. The Taoists identified three primary types of chi, which they related to the pulsatory breath-like nature of all things. The first type of chi is yang chi, which is expanding in nature and is related to the inhalation phase of a breath. The second type is yin chi, the exact opposite of yang, it is related to the exhalation and is contracting in nature. These two types of chi, which are essentially only two sides of the same coin, are the energetic source of all the myriad polarities within us whether physical, emotional, sexual, psychological etc.
The third type of chi is called yuan chi (this is most often translated as original chi, and has a different meaning to the same term found in Chinese medicine). This chi is different to the two described above in that it does not express polarity. Instead, it has a more balanced, neutral quality and relates to the balance point at the end of one breath before the beginning of the next. It therefore operates as a neutral fulcrum between these opposing polar forces. It is essentially the changeless energy of our original self. Yuan chi is highly prized by Taoist alchemists as it is considered to be the energy by which we create ourselves in every moment.
In order to manifest the nature of yuan chi fully, we need to allow the pulls and strains of the more polarised forces of the system to settle and balance out, and listen for the expression of this more neutral force. This process takes place at states of balanced tension. It is at states of balance that we can allow the more primal organising forces of the system to naturally arise.
The relationship of this neutral chi to the more polarised forms of chi can be seen within the different midlines of the body. The midline of our energy body, often known as the central channel, directly expresses this yuan chi. As the form of the body crystallises around this energetic core, the energy gradually becomes more polarised.
This developmental process can also be expressed in terms of Taoist cosmology. The Taoists perceived the incarnation process as proceeding through three stages, known as Primordial, Early and Later Heavens. The Primordial Heaven represents the origin of the non-polarised energy that makes up the core of our being. In the model being expressed here, this refers to the central channel of the energy body. Early Heaven manifests when the non-polarised energy divides into creative forces that have an inherent polarity. This would be akin to the quality of energy experienced within the notochordal midline. This level of manifestation is the energetic matrix underlying all manifest form.
Later Heaven develops when this non-polarised energy fully embodies itself in a manifest form. This process of manifestation sets up a variety of internal processes that can be experienced due to their natural pulsations. It also creates a natural tension between the non-polar core and the strongly polarised external form that manifests in many areas of our lives. This more polarised level of being is represented by the fluid midline with its inherent polar fluctuations of cerebro-spinal fluid.
Each of these Heavens has a different relationship with yuan chi. The Primordial Heaven is said to be 100% yuan chi, whilst by the stage of the Early Heaven, there has been some polarisation into 50% yuan chi and 50% polarised yin/yang chi. Later Heaven, by comparison, is thought to consist of only 1% yuan chi, and is therefore dominated by more strongly polarised forces.
Although yuan chi has a neutral energetic quality to it, it is a different form of chi to that expressed during a stillpoint. However, a stillpoint can be a doorway to these deeper creative forces. This can sometimes be confusing to students, who perceive that any quality that manifests without an inherent rhythmic pulsation is essentially a stillpoint. In the tidal model of Craniosacral Therapy, when we come into relationship with the Shen we come into relationship with the creative intention of the Breath of Life.
of Shen to Wu
The concept of Wu in Taoism, a shortened version of Wu Ji, is a difficult one to put into words. It is most commonly translated as emptiness or void, but this is not an accurate term, as it does not take into account the fact that the Wu Ji expresses a pure undifferentiated form of Yuan Chi. We can consider this state to represent our ultimate origin, and the ultimate origin of the universe. This level of Supreme Unknowing can be seen to be the womb from which all the different types of Chi, and manifest forms, emerge. Accessing this level of awareness can be profoundly healing and spiritually uplifting.
In Craniosacral Therapy, the transmutation of Shen to Wu takes place when everything drops into a deep ocean of Stillness. This phase represents the complete integration of Jing into Chi into Shen, and is different to a "normal" stillpoint. To paraphrase Dr. Becker, there are many types of Stillpoint, but there is only one Stillness. At this level of practise, the alchemist has truly returned home to the nature of his/her own being.