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spiritual possibilities in ba gua zhang


Training in the internal arts offers an opening to higher practices that we may refer to as ‘spiritual work’.  It is difficult to speak of this level of experience, as more often than not it serves only to hinder the student of the way, leading to more confusion and misunderstanding.  Because of this, I must admit that I mention some of these realms of experience somewhat reluctantly.  Yet, I have agreed to do so because many have asked and students have given feedback that it is helpful in understanding some of their own occurrences and experiences. 

wu ji symbolFirstly I should say that the following are subjective experiences occurring during my own long term and disciplined practice.  They are an outcropping from correct and diligent effort and are never the aim of my actual practice.  If you pursue these types of experiences, not only do they fall further and further away, they may also lead you in the completely wrong direction. The key is to always approach the work of Ba Gua Zhang (and any internal art) with a calm heart, peace in mind and relaxed body around the energetic requirements. Daily practicing a life of less and less, letting go, and completely releasing into life. Diligent efforts in this area will lead you where you need to go along your path of peace.  All our true energy, our genuine strength and creativity come from the place described by the ancient Chinese as ‘Wu Ji’.  Wu Ji is the rootless root, the homeless home, the soul of souls.  It is manifested in the concept of Lao Zi’s ‘uncarved block’.  It is not ‘nothing’ but more a ‘nothing yet’, meaning it contains in its emptiness the possibility of everything.  This is the mind of Tao, and so the true mindset of Ba Gua Zhang.

This is the entry way and the exit to your training in the art and should be the sole aim in mind, body and spirit.  Let a stillpoint of mind and energy stabilize into one spirit.  This is the best approach to take as a general overall mind-body practice.

The following are some experiences that may naturally arise out of your practice of these arts.  They are some of the phenomena I have encountered in my personal practice and are by no means the ‘truth’ or way of another.  Perhaps they are best understood as perceptions of spiritual and energetic experiences.  Please read with a sense of open ended compassion and possibility that it may serve not as goals, but as soulful points that may direct you back to more of your own path in life and art.

  • After long term practice in circle walking it feels as though the ground is turning beneath my feet, and I am effortlessly walking on the spot.  I am still, and it is the earth that is turning.

  • Also at times I have had the sensation that I am walking just above the ground.  Gliding along above the earth without touching the ground.  Again with a sense of effortlessness and not having to generate the effort to walk, but rather the momentum is carrying me along in this way.  At the other end of the spectrum is a perception of being sunken completely into the ground up to my waist.  Other perceptual changes are moments of feeling extremely huge and expansive, or shrunken small and tiny into the earth.

  • Profound stillness inside and out.  Like a heavy boat, weightlessly drifting down a calm slow moving stream.  Complete stability of mind, body and spirit.

  • Peace.  Complete and total Peace.

  • I have experienced the perception of just being my palms.  That I was simply mind and palms travelling together with ‘nothing’ in between.  With this type of experience I have also had the sense of being aware of only the energetic connection of my ‘fixed point’. That the third eye (yintang) connected to the Colon 1 point reaches such a stability that all else is forgotten but this stable connection. 

  • Feeling the energy (qi) draw in from the top of my head downward, from  my palms and soles of the feet,  through the limbs into the dan tians upon inhalation.  Then flowing out naturally in the opposite direction along the same pathways upon releasing into exhalation.  This occurs without guidance and intention and is known as the ‘True’ or ‘Primal Breath.”

  • Filling of the lower dan tian, elevating and rising of the upper dan tian, and opening and horizontal expansion of the middle dan tian.

  • Regular feelings of the ‘magnetic’ energy in the channels of the arms, hands, fingers and legs.  Often a feeling of dragging through and wrapping around the whole body.  It is a strong sense of ‘my’ energy interacting with the environmental energy.  Other times the whole energy of the body is incredibly light.

  • Feeling strong heat in the appropriate body areas with each ‘Ding Shi’ (fixed style) shape.  Qi seems to condense at specific areas in relation to specific gestures and forms.  Other times general warmth, tingling, magnetic movement and ‘pressing’ continually around whole body.

  • A springy, suction feeling to the ground as if a magnetic force bound my feet to the earth.  Making it difficult to leave the ground, but easy to return.  A sense that the energetic connection to the earth is never lost.

  • An understanding that the practice of Ba gua zhang can lead to realizing the interconnectedness of all things.  Through unifying ourselves- our mind, body, heart, spirit and soul with the energy and consciousness around us (awareness of the ‘life’ within us as being connected to the ‘life’ outside of our immediate self) we come to see that all things are of the one source, and emanate from a single pulse of life.  This can become a felt presence when we relax from our centre outward, and allow the world and its’ power to meet us.

  • In moving and constantly changing we come to ‘fly’ through the natural patterns of our energetic gestures, changes and turning as a completely connected experience.   Realizing that these seemingly different movements are in reality inherently connected configurations of the divine consciousness and energy of life. A living, embodied understanding of the universal ‘Infinite Pattern’ as revealed in Islamic art.

This interconnected patterning is lived, is felt and followed spontaneously when we have reached the stage of changing gestures without thought.  When I practice to the point of completely letting go, of mind and body, then out of this Wuji state I am free to simply follow the intricate, endless possibilities of connected movements.  Here I feel my soul has achieved emancipation into pure free-being.  My body is only following the flow of energy, no longer trying to produce gestures and shapes.  That the sacred dance of the peace palm is doing me, I am no longer doing it.  I believe this is close to the Taoist approach of ‘doing non-doing’.  It is done through me, not from me.

The more meditative and spiritual aspects of Ba gua zhang training come out its moving practice.  The way to correctly invite the ‘advanced’ understandings of the art is to simply walk, turn, change, step, rise, drill, fall, overturn, spiral and twist, pierce and push, contract and expand with purpose, stability and mindfulness.  Do each movement with relaxation, complete awareness and deliberate intention.  This will put you right in the here and now, bringing your conscious mind into present engagement.  Once occupied with being completely present, your deeper unconscious mind is free to begin to produce a more profound inner stillness naturally growing from the constant movement.  This is simply combining intention with attention to produce an altered state of consciousness.  Mindfulness in our actions helps clarity of mind, and peace of heart.  This is always the greatest benefit. 

Geoff Sweeting 2010