Taoist Meditation

Taoism includes many practices which improve the concentrative powers of the mind and might be called "meditative" broadly speaking. T'ai-chi ch'üan, internal alchemy, relgious ritual, sexual yoga, and various forms of ch'i-kung are among them.

However, Taoism does have "purer" forms of meditation as well. To do a simple but effective sort follow the following directions:

1) Sit on the floor or ground in a quiet undisturbed place, indoors or outdoors, with a firm pillow or folded blankets under the buttocks to a thickness when compressed of the width of the hand. Use any cross-legged posture which is comfortable. The full lotus is best, but any such posture is good if the spine is erect, the ears directly over the shoulders, the nose in a line with the navel, and the chin slightly tucked in. The top of the head should have the feeling that it is being pulled by a cord towards the sky. The tongue is lightly against the palate, and the eyes are half closed and are fixed in an unfocused way about one and a half yards (or metres) in front of one on the ground.

2) Breathe fairly (but not extremely) deeply from the abdomen below the navel. The upper part of the chest and ribs should not move much during breathing. A slight emphasis should be placed upon the exhalation.

3) Focus the attention gently and lightly on the point between and slightly above the eyes. (The attention, not the focus of the eyes!) Centre yourself there.

4) Do not think of any particular word or theme. When (not if it is inevitable) thoughts enter your mind, do not become attached to them, but upon becoming aware of them, quietly return to the here and now and the sensations at the physical point you are concentrating on. This return of the mind in this way is the major part of the exercise in the beginning. Do not resent the fact that thoughts enter your mind and become upset. Just quietly return your mind to its chosen centre with infinite serenity and patience. Gradually in most specific sessions and also over the months of practice, the intruding thoughts will become fewer and less insistent. As the mind becomes stiller and stiller, enjoy the peace of it and await the natural maturing and illumination it engenders and eventually the direct and convincing intuition of one's unity with the Tao.

5) The important thing is to do this more or less every day for twenty to thirty minutes as a regular part of one's life, without any endeavour to force any obvious immediate benefit from it.

Taoists believe that meditation can reduce anxiety and tension, enhance health and resistance to disease, and contribute enormously to peace of mind, especially to the rapid restoration of the mind to equanimity after emotional shock or stress. In meditation, more importantly, one enjoys that silence and emptiness of mind in which the Tao as manifest in our own subconscious mind can communicate with us and draw us to itself, and therefore back to our true, unspoilt, primordial nature.

Notes:

1) If you cannot sit cross legged for some physical reason, sit on a firm chair with you feet flat on the floor and your back unsupported and erect.

2) In any sort of prolonged meditation one may occasionally experience hallucinatory phenomena or unusual bodily reactions such as vibrations or the circulation of energy or development of heat. The important thing is to realise that these things are both normal and unimportant. If any seem unpleasant, simply stop meditating for that session. They are not dangerous, and show that the different parts of the mind and the body are becoming more integrated and transforming themselves. However, they are not necessary for progress, and their lack is also not a bad sign.

3) If you find it extremely difficult to concentrate between the eyes, you may in the beginning of each session try silently counting your exhalations from one to ten several times. If you lose count, simply go back to one without exasperation. This should quieten the mind. Other Taoists prefer to meditate concentrating on the lower tan-t'ien (the hara to the Japanese ) about two inches (five centimetres) below the navel and in the centre of the body from front to back. This is also a good method and also authentically Taoist.

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