internal alchemy

The Flame of Life

There are several definitions for Alchemy. The most common is the process that has been in various cultures around the world where there were attempts to transform common metals into gold. Throughout antiquity, there have been fountains of youth and elixirs of immortality. Still, there is another perspective and definition that we will be using here and that is:

“A power or process that changes or transforms something in a mysterious or impressive way” 

Another word that might give a slightly different view is the modern “Synergy.” 

Synergy is defined as an interaction or cooperation giving rise to a whole that is greater than the simple sum of its parts. 

The internal alchemy of Qigong is the harmonizing of the Three Treasures of Qigong to create and sustain the flame of life

Harmony is not just a feel-good word. It is certainly not a cliché as it is often used in modern culture, especially in the western hemisphere. Harmony is a creative force that gets released when certain elements and their relationship to each other come into balance. In Tai Chi there is a saying, “Tai Chi happens where Yin and Yang come into balance. The state of your longevity at any given time is a reflection of your inner harmony. Physical harmony reflects your spiritual harmony.  When spiritual elements come into cooperative harmony with each other and everything is just right, creative energy is released.

Here is an example. We all know about fire. We all have a basic idea of how a flame is created by combining three elements: heat, oxygen, and fuel.  

  • There must be suitable fuel. 
  • There must be enough heat so that the fuel ignites. 
  • There must be enough oxygen to enable the heat and fuel to ignite. 

The flame of fire will only ignite if the conditions between the three elements are exactly right. If the fuel is not exactly right, being too wet, then no flame. If there is not enough heat to ignite the fuel, there is no flame. If there is not enough oxygen for the fuel to ignite, there is no flame.  

But when these conditions get exactly right, then you have convergence which ignites the flame. The term “just right” signifies the ignition point created in the harmonious balance of the three conditions. Harmony is an enormously powerful creative force in nature.  

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Consider an acorn, which is a seed from the might oak tree. When conditions are not just right, not in harmony, at best the seed remains dormant not achieving its potential. If conditions are poor, it will simply rot and return to the Tao, the source. But when conditions are superior and just right, the seed begins to germinate. When conditions remain in harmony the seed sprouts and continues to grow into a large oak tree that can live for hundreds of years.

Another example could be observed through listening. Imagine a group of musicians with different instruments. Each instrument can make sounds that have the potential to sound pleasing. Each instrument must have its own harmony. It must be in good working order. It must be tuned in such a way as to make a pleasing sound. It must be operated in such a way to sound pleasing. This is brought together by the musician who cultivates the ability to play the instrument in a pleasing way. 

When the musician brings the instrument and joins with others, they must all cultivate the ability to play at the same time to create something that sounds pleasing.  

If they each have the wrong rhythm, it is uncoordinated with the rest and not pleasing. 

If they each play sounds not in harmony with the others, it is disharmonious and not pleasing 

If they are not playing the same notes, it is disharmonious and not pleasing. 

But when they play the same notes, all coordinated, and in harmony, something special happens. They create music that is very pleasing to listen to. Music is synonymous with ‘flame’. The basic elements come together in a harmonious way to create something more than the individual parts. Disharmony is noise, and harmony is music.

The pattern is just another fractal edge of the mysterious and unknowable Tao. You can observe this pattern all throughout nature.

Think of a cataclysmic storm such as a Hurricane or a Tornado. Elements of Air, Heat, and Moisture come together. When and if the elements are just right, a storm of great power if formed. There is great sustained energy released until the harmony becomes out of balance and it becomes dispelled, disappearing into blue clear skies.

On a cosmic scale, think of the big bang theory. The universe was in a hot dense state. When the elements become just right, Bang and everything we know came into existence. The universe is still in the expansion part of its life cycle. Everything follows the Tao, even the universe, which will one day in the future stop expanding and become so dispersed that it disappears like a storm. Slowly it will begin to collapse until it conditions become just right (in harmony) and bang! It will happen again.

Life follows the same cycle. When sperm and egg are joined, in a “just right” environment, life is conceived. You can see it happen when a seed, water, and light come together in harmony, and it sprouts. We are conceived, we live out our lives and then we die. As long as conditions stay just right the cycle will stretch out until it can go no further, and then it returns to its creative source.

Physical life is sustained through internal and external harmony. Our job as Tao cultivators is to support and sustain harmony, first spiritually and then outward physically. Internal Yin, balancing with external yang. Longevity happens when the two meet in Harmony.

Qigong is a synergetic phenomenon that results in life force energy, either for creation for endurance. The “flame” in Qigong is the life force energy, or vital energy, or Qi (chee). Another good description would be “vital energy” and “life-force energy”.  

For the newcomer, it is best to begin by bringing the three elements of “The Three Treasures” into harmony to produce a strong vital life force so that you nurture a robust vital force for the duration of a long life (Longevity).  

Internal Alchemy, as the name implies, is the cultivation of the internal vital energy, Qi. When we are born, we come preloaded with robust vital energy and the ability to continue producing it. This incredibly special life energy that we inherit from our parents is called prenatal Qi. The infant has an abundant amount of the original energy to carry it a long way in life. Yet it is extremely important to nurture and protect it. Once the umbilical cord is cut, the source of the prenatal energy is gone so the infant must protect its original energy and immediately begin producing its own. This self-made energy is called post-Natal Qi.  

The miracle of birth includes the miracle of energy production. All living lifeforms have this aspect of life, of being born already preloaded with internal instruction and the ability to adapt to the environment it finds themselves in. This is enough for most non-human lifeforms because they have not evolved to a point where they self-destruct.  

In the United States and other countries around the world have something called a “seed vault”. In these vaults, seeds are collected and stored in case of a doom’s day scenario happens and there is a need to start agriculture over again. The interesting thing is that seeds can be stored for years. These seeds can be planted again on some future date. Like the candle of life, all they need is harmonious conditions to come alive and sprout. Seeds need three basic elements for their alchemy to activate their inherent Qi to mobilize and begin growth. There must be suitable soil, suitable temperature, and adequate moisture. When they are just right something wonderful begins to happen. They begin to have life. A small acorn from an oak tree can lay dormant for a long time, then activated it can grow into a huge three that will become an eco-zone in its own right giving shelter to animals and birds, food for wildlife, and building material for humans. The same principle is already at work in your body. You must keep the “just right” conditions in harmony and balance for the life force energy, Qi, to keep your body alive so that your spirit can continue to experience life.

The effort for cultivating internal alchemy is to harness the creative energy of the Tao in the form of Qi. The intention of the Qigong practitioner is to take what was given and conserve it with all their ability. Qigong uses the natural [principle of life energy to sustain your flame of life, physical consciousness. It is quite simple. Stop interfering with the life process and create a harmonious relationship with nature which is a manifestation of the Tao.

 Humans have a choice. They can choose to embrace the alchemy of life, or they can embrace the self-destructive ways of the ego. One is the way of death, and one is the way of life.  

Remember Lao Tzu’s reminder about there only being one in ten who are successful at cultivating of life? 

“Coming into life, entering death  

The followers of life, three in ten  

The followers of death, three in ten  

Those whose lives are moved toward death  

Also three and ten  

Why? Because they live lives of excess  

I have heard of those who are good at cultivating life” …  

Excerpt from Chapter 50, Verse 1 – 7, Tao Te Ching 

“Those who are good at cultivating life” means those who do not make choices that cause self-destruction. Cultivating Harmony is discussed in “The Three Treasures.”