Here at the frontier, the leaves fall like rain. Although my neighbors are all barbarians, and you, you are a thousand miles away, there are still two cups at my table.

Ten thousand flowers in spring, the moon in autumn, a cool breeze in summer, snow in winter. If your mind isn't clouded by unnecessary things, this is the best season of your life.

~ Wu-men ~

Friday, May 01, 2020

Light You on Fire

I was approached for a guess post for Cook Ding's Kitchen by Kellman Heinz. He proposed a relevant chapter from his book, I Will Light You on Fire. 

The book is about getting out of your intellectual understanding of things and to feel them directly instead. 

The sample chapter is below. The book is a brain burner. I think you'd like it. Enjoy.

We are not lumps of coal. The body is in constant movement. Blood flows through veins and arteries. Capillaries mere molecules thick feed every cell in our body. Those same cells bustle in constant commerce with their neighbors. Bile, lymph, and digestive fluids slosh around haphazardly. Even our atoms and electrons pulse in unceasing activity.  One could say that we are the sum total of our internal movement.
Western people feel skeptical about words like “qi, flow, prana, energy”, because, in our minds, it translates into “that cheesy stuff?”. But “qi” is just a Chinese word that describes internal flow. How easily is the blood flowing? Is the digestion moving smoothly? How about oxygen transfer in the lungs? Are you hydrated? Mentally relaxed? All these things become the feeling of “qi”.
In fact, “qi” is a brilliant concept, for which we have no equivalent (though Energy sometimes comes close). In order to get the idea across in Western terms I have to write a long, explanatory paragraph full of large vocabulary words.
Bile, artery, veins, blood pressure, atp, systolic, ribonucleic acid, lymph, ect ect.
The reason scientists scoff at “qi” is because it’s not anatomy. It’s a feeling. You can dissect as many corpses as you want and you’ll never find any qi. The same way you wont find any love particles.

“If you can’t find it in a corpse, it’s not real.” - Leonardo da Vinci

Qi/Prana/Energy are just words to describe a feeling. Feelings are hard to define scientifically, but useful when it comes to actually “doing” things. For example, you can listen to Miles Davis play music, and describe what’s happening using all sorts of complex music terminology, but if you want to actually play like him, you got to have the “feeling”. You feel the music, and it comes out. When playing ping pong I don’t think about vectors and angles, I just feel the game.
When talking about “qi”, you’re talking about a special feeling. This is a feeling that people use to help them practice health care and martial arts, though really it’s useful for everything. Perhaps you could describe it as the feeling of deliberate body awareness.
The classic QiGong (“Energy Work”) exercise is to “focus the qi in the hand”. Let’s translate this into Western terms. Bring your awareness into the hand. You will feel a lot of things: your blood flow, the state of muscular tension, how strong or hot or cold or wet your hand is. All the emotions and ideas you have about your hand: I’m a musician, my hand creates beautiful sounds, or, I’m a worker, this hand is my livelihood. I was burned here once; my fingertips have memories they can’t forget the curves of your body. All of these things come together to create a general feeling - a sort of hand energy that we can call “qi”. The important factor is the awareness. When we bring in awareness, all those other details come together into a feeling that we can work with.
You also might hear “qi” used in a more general way for energy. Such as the energy you get from eating, or the energy that comes from the sun, or the energy that it takes to lift your arm up.  The body is an organized system that constantly moves energy around in a deliberate way. Energy is directed into the digestive tract to digest food, and then the energy that comes out is directed all over the body. The nerves send electrical energy down the spine to release chemical energy needed for movement.
In Eastern Medicine that’s all called qi.
Talking about nerves and atp and blood pressure is all well and good when you’re designing chemicals or writing papers, but for practical, everyday purposes, qi is much more useful. You can use the feeling of qi to help relax when stressed, or to lift something heavy, or to improve your digestion. Doctors use it to heal, martial artists use it to turn themselves into ass-kicking machines. Monks use it to perform all sorts of bizarre physical feats and reach altered states of consciousness.  And perhaps most important of all, it can be used to "feel good". Somewhat of a lost art, it seems.
The Western approach to healthcare sounds like this: “Hmm, what should I eat for lunch? Well, my bile seems to be flowing strongly. This morning I evacuated my lower colon successfully. My machine tells me my blood sugar is a little low, but my systolic has been a bit high recently, soooooo… let’s crunch some numbers here… OK, 470 calories of lean chicken.”
Intellectual and ineffectual!
Compared to: “I’m listening to what my body is saying. Digestion seems slow this morning. My gut instinct says I should eat a little chicken.”
When feeding the guts, listen to the gut instinct!

Science is intellectual. The issue scientists have with Eastern medicine is that it relegates the intellect to the back seat, and makes the body the focus. The arrogant mind refuses to play second fiddle to a lousy meat-block! Can the kidney write a sonnet?
I don’t think so!
Can a liver solve algebraic equations?
Like hell it can! I, the mind, am king! Mwahahaha!

When you use qi, you base your actions off of feelings and intuition. Because that’s the language the body speaks. It's bad for rocket design, but perfect for health-care. Ever wonder why we can send a man to the moon, but are totally stumped by weight-loss?
The abstract mind and mute body, unable to communicate, start to work against each other. The mind wants to work, but the body wants to sleep. The mind wants to eat, but the body wants to fast. The end result is suffering. Qi is a conceptual tool for communication between the mind and the body, so that we can unify ourselves and become a more whole person. The mind wants to sleep, and so does the body. The mind wants to eat and so does the body. In fact, there is no mind AND body, it is now one harmonious you.
So instead of throwing away Eastern concepts, because they don’t fit neatly into our cultural sphere, let’s use what they have to offer. We are in an excellent place to have the best of both East and West.

Reading the above essay, I realize that I just explained energy in a very analytical manner. Maybe that’s necessary for the Western reader to take it seriously, but now I’d like to explain it in the way that it was meant to be understood.
Let’s feel it.
Move your awareness to your hand. What does it feel like? Keep the awareness in the hand and notice how the feeling changes. Does it grow or decrease in strength?
Move the feeling around - focus it on a specific finger and then move it to the next. Try and increase and decrease the intensity at will.
For many people it feels like a sort of heat or tingling, not unlike the feeling you get when you leg goes to sleep and you straighten it out, or when you finally warm up a freezing hand. In fact, those are perfect examples of really obvious qi. Your frozen foot has been denied the blood and energy it needs to work, so when it finally heats up, all the blood/qi comes rushing back in, and it creates an obvious sensation.
It feels different for everyone - the important thing is getting a handle on it. Let me emphasize that you’re not imagining some celestial force here, you are simply feeling a sensation. It’s a sensation that exists in your hand at all times, but that goes unnoticed. When you bring your awareness into the sensation, the two combine into something new.
It’s a dance between the sensation and your awareness of the sensation. The awareness sometimes follows the sensation and sometimes guides it - usually a bit of both.
Now bring the awareness into both hands. Shift the focus of intensity from one hand to the other and back. Move the awareness back and forth rhythmically until you feel the qi begin to flow between the two hands. Visualize the process if that helps you. Feel it growing stronger as the awareness of one hand reflects and merges into the other.
Don’t try and explain it; just take the feeling as significant in itself. A waltz ends when one partner goes into the corner to think about how its going.
Now relax and let the feeling go.
After a little rest, build the feeling up again and move it up your arm. Pay attention to the way it feels as it moves.
Bring a general awareness to the body without focusing on any one spot. You’ll notice different sensation popping up all over the place. Remember the feeling of energy moving and see if you can feel it happening spontaneously elsewhere. Perhaps you’re tired and you feel the energy sinking down and making you slump, or you just ate and you can feel energy moving into your guts to begin the digestive process. If you play an instrument, the feeling of energy moving into your hands is really obvious.
I expect you will find that energy and awareness move together. Many generations of smart people have dedicated their lives to exploring the interaction between body and consciousness - you can access some of their wisdom by getting involved in Tai Qi, Qigong, or Yoga.
If, despite this explanation, the Eastern mindset turns you off, you can check out Feldenkrais, Rolfing, Somatotherapy, and the Alexander Technique for some Western equivalents.

I got into Tai Qi a few years back. I was living in Mexico and had a lot of time on my hands. A friend and I spent most of our time messing around and trying out new things. One day we decided to learn some Tai Qi from an online video. I was doing it as a sort of joke, because I thought the whole thing was cheesy, but followed the online lesson anyway. Afterwards, I felt relaxed yet energized. I felt like I was flowing around the room in easy contentment. I tried it out again and again, and sure enough, felt fantastic every time.
It became clear that even if it sounded cheesy to my scientific ears, it was obviously very functional, and I decided to take it seriously. At nights, I’d go up to the rooftop terrace and look out onto the lights of Guadalajara, wondering who else was staring into the distance. After practicing the Tai Qi forms, the normally unfriendly cat that co-inhabited with us would come up and want to play with me. The only other time this cat was friendly was the day I broke up with my girlfriend.
Over time, I began to decode the mysterious-sounding Eastern terms in a way that made sense. The ideas I found gave me an entirely new way of feeling the body. The Western mindset views movement as puppetry; you arrange your limbs like this or that, and what’s going on inside is none of your business.
In Tai Qi, the focus is on internal movement; arranging the insides perfectly, so that the outside does exactly what you want. If you don’t think the insides are moving much, you’ve clearly never put a sound-amplifying microphone next to your abdominal cavity. Or laid your ear on your friend’s belly after dinner. 

For example, a main principle of Tai Qi is sinking the energy into the legs and then the ground (also called “grounding”). When standing, the body has to exert enough force to resist the pull of gravity. Typically, the force/tension is widely distributed throughout the body. The legs hold the abdomen up and the abdomen supports the neck and the neck supports the head. In an ideal posture, the muscles exert just enough tension to keep the weight perfectly balanced over the bones, so that the bones and then the ground take most of the weight. But when those supporting muscles get tired the body moves out of alignment - the bones take less of the weight and the muscles and joints have to pick up the slack. Like when slumping after a long day of work. Slumping is a wildly inefficient way to move, but it may feel easier if the correct supporting muscles are worn out.
The idea in Tai Qi is that tension in the body impedes flow (just like how the blood flows out of a clenched fist). This is especially important in the upper body where most of the organs are. So in Tai Qi we try to eliminate all unnecessary tension, and if the tension is necessary we want to relegate it to the lower body, where the tension wont impede the flow of our organs.
By necessary tension, I mean the tension needed to keep your body balanced over the bones in a given pose. You could eliminate all tension, and just crash into a puddle, but what we’re looking for is total efficiency of practical movement. The efficiency is meant to be applied to normal, external goals. Tai Qi (or Taijiquan) actually translates into “Supreme Ultimate Fist”, though nowadays it’s mostly practiced by old people, it was originally designed to make you into an asskicking badass asskicker.

Taoist Conception of Science
We’ve been talking about Eastern philosophy in Western terms. It seems only fair to imagine the opposite.
Just the other day I was rummaging through the Akashic Records and I came across an old scroll. Though its text was faded, I could clearly make out that it was a transcription of a conversation between some Taoist monks. Upon further scrutiny, I unraveled the following text:
“My Brothers, how glad I am to see you all again! You all look so healthy and strong! Da Jiji, how is your mother doing? And Xiao RouBang, my how you’ve grown! My brothers, I have seen marvelous things in my travels. The Great Ocean expanded endlessly before me, but after some interminable time floating in the emptiness I passed into another world.
The people of these lands are like us in many ways, but they practice a strange QiGong. From childhood they rigorously discipline their qi, but if our qi flows like a river, theirs is a reservoir!
By intensive manipulation of words and numbers they direct all of their qi up into the head. By enforcing immobility they build a Jade Dam in the neck so that the qi cannot descend. It pools ever deeper upon the mind and forms strange currents. Their attentions depart from the sensational manifestations of the world and the mind focuses in upon itself.
As their mind qi deepens they accomplish incredible things: they can see the inner workings of complex tools, they travel great distances on horses of fire, and to them, words and numbers are as real as oxen and trees! In their great reservoirs, they store unbelievable quantities of knowledge and build things beyond my wildest dreams. I was often awe-struck by their abilities.
And yet, they are foolish in the simplest ways. With the qi blocked in the head their bodies become weak and frail. They build more and more machines to help, but become weaker and weaker. The most brilliant among them could not climb a mountain or plow a field. Nor would they see a reason to. They don’t know how much to eat, or when to sleep, or how to enjoy a quiet morning.
They drown in their own stagnated qi. They cannot feel the wind or see the sunset. The words and numbers are too real and cloud out those simple visions. They are a land of foolish geniuses, brilliant imbeciles. No doubt we have much to learn from each other.”

5 Easy Ways to Tell if You Are a Taoist Master
1. You are over 200 years old!
2. You find yourself spontaneously levitating.
3. You can hear the sound of one hand clapping
4. The rain falling and the sun shining fit perfectly into the grand mosaic of all creation that lies so clearly before you. Patterns weave and unravel in infinite crystalline majesty.
5. You no longer recognize the duality between self and world, making it very difficult to answer the previous 4 questions. In fact, if you answered “No” to the previous 4 questions, you may still be a Taoist master, though it’s impossible to say. If you answered “Yes”, then you are definitely not a Taoist master, though congratulations on the big 2-0-0!

By Kellman Heinz
Excerpted from: I Will Light You On Fire - Live Forever or Your Money Back

About Kellman Heinz:

Growing up feral I never thought I would be able to communicate clearly with my ferret brothers, let alone write an entire book for humans.
But look at me now! Published by the most illustrious and exclusive publishing house in the entire world: Amazon.
The book began humbly, of course. The very first chapter was written entirely with raccoon dung upon the walls of my cave. But over many moons it evolved into something greater: a wide-ranging treatise on vitality, sensitivity, pain, pleasure, butt-sniffing, fire-building, metabolic design, merging the subconscious, dietary therapy, synesthodomes, cummerbunds, comparative theology, and at least one erotic sonnet!
By engaging with our innate sensuality, we can live longer and, dare I say it, better.
To check out the book, go to:
Or, you can come to my website at
Also, don't forget to come back to this blog too. This guy is a frickin' genius.

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