Much has been written in Daoism about Nei Dan or 'Internal Alchemy' but the Classics can be confusing and impenetrable as they were written in code to hide their real meaning.
In Daoism the mind is seen as 'the monkey mind' as it is continually jumping about, it needs to be tamed as if it were a horse, ('horse mind'), we can start to do this with controlled breathing methods and our Yi or intent to relax the physical body and energise the energy body, preparing them for deeper meditation.
An important concept is Jing, Qi, Shen or the Three Treasures. Everything in the universe vibrates, and Jing, Qi, Shen is one vibration. Jing, is the denser and slowest vibration and closer to the physical realm although it is not actually physical matter, it is our essence or potential. Qi belongs to the energetic realm and body, and has a higher frequency. Shen has the highest frequency and belongs to the realm of Consciousness.
The Three Dan Tien or Elixir fields are areas of energy or information which enable the frequency of the vibration to be changed to a higher one. The first and largest is the lower Dan Tien and sits below the navel, this is our main entry point to awaken the Energy System, it is like a water wheel turning and moving the energy through the meridians. The middle Dan Tien sits in the centre of the chest and converts Qi into Shen or the energy of the Consciousness body. The upper Dan Tien sits on the forehead between the eyes Yintang (the Third Eye) and here Shen is converted into the vibration of emptiness.
The Kidneys are the storage area for our Jing, we need to conserve our Original Congenital Jing that which we are given by our parents as it is easily depleted and once our Congenital Jing starts to be used we age rapidly and become ill, it is said that when your Congenital Jing is used up you are dead. Stress can also have a detrimental effect on our Jing, plus for men to much sex can also run down their essence. Imagine our Congenital Jing as the Hard Drive on our computer, this is our main storage and makes the computer run, we don't want to use this all up, the Acquired Nature is the RAM which allows us to do our tasks and open and close programmes.
Acquired Jing is the Jing we get from our food and air, by following a healthy lifestyle or Yang Shen Fa (Healthy living principles) we can conserve our original Jing and use the abundance of Acquired we have created, this extra Jing is used as fuel and when combined with our Congenital Jing excess Qi can then flow around the body like a radiator and be used for conversion into a higher vibration.
The middle Dan Tien area and the energetic body is where our emotions sit and again vital energy is dissipated and lost, by balancing the Heart/Mind through continuous cultivation and regulating the emotions we can raise this vibration even further to the upper Dan Tien and Shen.
The Lower Cauldron sits in the lower abdomen where the Dan Tien is located. On the lumbar region of the lower back sits a very important meridian point for practitioners of the Internal Arts, it's called Mingmen or 'Gate of Fate'. This point is like the spark that ignites the boiler to pump hot water around the home, it has a strong relationship to the Kidneys and the lower Dan Tien. We will have already prepared the body through Yang Shen Fa and the Nei Gong process, and once the Lower Cauldron is lit we continue to cultivate it in seated meditation not allowing it to go out, this is usually over a period of three months. The heat generated is used to raise and convert the frequency further, the lower Dan Tien will then feel warm all the time, like a babies belly.
Another Daoist concept that we can be experienced through Nei Dan is the ' Inverting of Kan and Li', or Water and Fire. When we are born we are closest to our Congenital nature our true self, as we grow up conditioning, mundane thoughts and logic take over and we become more detached from our true self, we need some logic to survive in the world but when the Ego takes over our 'Original Face' becomes hidden.
According to the Acquired arrangement of the Bagua from the 'I Jing' or classic of change, the three lines of the Kan or Water triagram represent conditioned thinking with a spark of true consciousness contained within. The three lines of the Li or Fire triagram represent true consciousness with mundane thought contained within.
Through our practise we can invert these middle lines so that we switch to the Congenital arrangement of the Bagua this brings us much closer to being able to develop intuition and other abilities we are not sensitive enough to realise any more.
We experience the world through our five senses, but our reality is distorted by the Ego which acts like a misshapen mirror in a fun fair, it reflects back a distorted vision of ourself, creating more and more layers of Ego as we interact with the world. 'He who is not free of desire and attachment will only encounter the outer forms of this world'. A quote from The Daodejing.
We think we know 'who' we are, but this is not our real self or Congenital Nature, it is our Acquired Nature, acquired through conditioned thinking. 'I am not me, - I am',
Much later in Nei Gong cultivation we attain the balancing of the three bodies which produces something called the Xian Men or Mysterious Pass, which is not a physical location, but the opening of a spiralling tunnel of white light or Shen shining through. This is not enlightenment but we are beginning to move into Wuji or emptiness.
The above is just a very basic overview of part of a lengthy process that could take a lifetime to achieve. Ideally much time is needed away from the day to day of our life enabling us to push through this process.
We need to have awakened the energy body and opened the Chong Mai through Nei Gong practise before we start Nei Dan. As we practise Nei Gong, Dao Yins, Qi Gong or Nei Dan we will find that they overlap, especially the earlier stages of Nei Dan and the more advanced stages of the others, it's like we are trying to get from A to B, we start out on foot, then we run, then we drive, then we fly, etc all the types of transport help you get there.
We practise seated meditation in class mostly for beginners to get the basics and also for the more advanced to follow what they're already practising at home, but also a group settings is beneficial as there's always a stronger vibration and connection between peoples' energy bodies, which helps move things on quicker for all.
For a far greater explanation on the subject see Laoshr Damo Mitchell's new book entitled, 'Nei Dan' out in September.
Main image; Meditating at the retreat in a Swedish forest. Top left; Foo dog outside a temple in China. Top right; Detail from the classic, Secret of The Golden Flower. Bottom left; Detail from the Daoist Inner Universe illustration. Bottom right; Carving in a Chinese Temple.