Mothering and Othering: Making an Immortal Baby

pregnant-happy-womenThe most basic, primal, reduction of the notion of self-defense is the protection of a baby in the womb.  It totally trumps castle law and threats to life and limb.  If a pregnant woman rips out a man’s throat, or shoots or stabs him, all she has to claim is she was protecting her baby.  As long as she can plausibly make that claim, no jury in any civilized country would convict her.  Even a child would at least have to make the case that running away was a bad option, or that lethal force was justified, but a pregnant woman unaided and under attack can get away with almost anything.

Obviously pregnant women do everything possible to avoid having to fight, above and beyond the rest of us, which is probably why their case for justified self-defense seems so strong, so pure.

But that’s an aside, here is the main question.  What is the psyco-physical state a female uses to protect her fetus and, by extension, small children close at hand?  Pregnant women, in my limited experience are often happy and relaxed.  Compared to the average person they have virtually zero abdominal tension.  We understand this viscerally.  If we were carrying a baby inside our body we would be careful in all our movements to not transmit tension to the baby.  The way we walked, moved our arms and turned our head would all keep in mind treating the baby with loving care.  We would avoid shaking or bouncing unless the baby seemed to like that.  And when the baby was sleeping we’d probably be careful to move in a way that wouldn’t wake the baby.

e1alch-sA woman who is pregnant is doing this all the time.  So in the event that she needed to fight, it seems possible that she would maintain this attitude or at least be physically informed by it.  Think for a moment though, how such a fighting style would look.

First of all, it could not rely on structure or rooting because pregnant women tend to have poor structure and balance.  They have a lot of mass to wield, but the movements of the  arms would likely be used clear a large area around the belly while attacking in circles.  The mind, rather than focusing on death points to attack, would be using massive force to throw an attack back.  In other words, a pregnant woman might fight using the tai chi and bagua notion of a giant rolling ball.

The mind of the pregnant women, if she made the actual jump to fighting, would be fierce beyond reckoning.  A parallel with the concept of “xu” we have written about before is pertinent here.  “Xu” literally means fake, but in martial arts it refers to a body which is not giving off self-identity signals, a body which does not respond to pain, a body which has let go of all tension.  The pregnant woman who has made the jump to fighting is fighting for the baby, not herself.  The experience might be de-personalized, the baby has needs, the baby is the future, what happens to the outer body is secondary, the outer body can risk being destroyed as long as the baby is fully and totally protected.

This seems to invoke the image of two bodies, an inner one and and outer one completely differentiated-- a qi (potent energy) body, surrounded by a jing (relaxed mass) body.  To make this match up with the standard internal martial arts lingo is a small leap.  The inner body (the baby) is qi, it is potential energy, pure animation which is round in shape and when awake, can extend several feet beyond the outer flesh body of the ‘mother.’  The qi body (the baby’s needs and perhaps its will) seems to take over the mother;  however, the qi body is blind to what is happening outside, so it must be led by the mind.  The mind of the mother controls the space and defines the environment around herself.  The mind goes first, the dynamic energy of the baby (qi) follows the mind.  The mass of the mother’s body (jing) always puts the baby energy ahead of its own needs.  The shen (spacial mind) leads the qi (energy body) and the qi leads the jing (body mass).

04dThis appears to be a very obvious, though over looked, explanation of why  Daoists have so often used the metaphor of making an immortal baby to describe the internal elixir practices of neidan, and jindan.

Try this practice: Imagine you have a baby in your lower dantian. Try to move without waking up the baby.  Do this over a period of months and gradually increase the range on motion in which you can move without waking up the baby.  Eventually your body mass will become very quiet.  This is called purifying jing.  This is, of course, also a description of doing a tai chi form, or so called ‘pre-heaven’ Baguazhang.

Once the jing is purified and the body is quiet in motion, then you can experiment with waking up the baby.   While the baby is sleeping there will be no power.  After the baby is awake, power will seem to come from emptiness.

All this suggests a composite mind and a composite body.  At the moment we are dealing with massive generalizations and oversimplifications but let me sketch it out quickly.  The composite mind has several models.  One model is the lizard, mammal, frontal cortex (human)--a three part mind where the lizard is powerfully focussed on survival and aliviating pain, the mammal is obsessed with status, pleasure seeking, emotions and group bonding, and the frontal cortex is all about planning, imagining and rational thought.  There are other models too.
Models for the composite body come from evolutionary theory.  Our bones were once an exoskelatin, a shell which got covered in a wormy substance we call muscle.  Each part of our brain comes from a different type of body substance which at some point in our evolution was an independent animal.  We are composite forms which tend to organize all these ‘minds’ and ‘bodies’ in standard ways, however, extreme circumstances or carefully designed practices can alter the organizational order of this conscious/unconscious mass of kinetic life energy.  Just a thought.


It seems to me that in utero, before we get the gender defining hormones, males and females both have a proto-womb.  Perhaps this is even true to some extent for pre-pubescent children.  I would like to propose what must seem obvious to many people, that this proto-womb is what martial arts, theater, meditation and ritual all refer to as the lower dantain.

The womb seems to have some independent connection to mind, as if it was an earlier life form in our evolution, which can re-assert itself when other aspects of our composite body-mind are quiet.


When a mother fights, the ground belongs to her baby.  Dantian, literally means cinnabar field, red ground.  Everything which enters that field belongs to the baby.  Even the mother’s own body belongs to the baby.  The fighting mind of a pregnant woman has a very unique way of owning space, a unique way of possessing.

Contrast this with the social form of fighting that men do.  One man pees on a tree to mark his territory with his testicular scent.  Another man then does the same thing and they fight over ownership.  The peeing doesn’t actually have to take place, it can just be assumed.  This testicular marking style of fighting involves a sense of ownership too, but it is less absolute.  Subordinate yourself to the dominant male and the fight is off.  Fights for status are rarely lethal and are usually resolved with simple posturing.

The testicular scent fight is a battle of and for identity, “My body owns this! and belongs here! doing this!”  The womb fight is asocial, “Don’t even think about hurting this baby or you will die (after you’re dead I’ll make a decision about whether or not you are good food for my baby).”
When two men fight over testicular scent, they each extend their minds right up to, but not through, their social challenger.  Two testicular scenters engaged in hand to hand combat are usually very close together, but their minds do not extend much beyond their own bodies and thus the jing (body mass) and the (potential energy) remain mostly mixed up within the body.   Because the qijing and qi do not differentiate the power is very limited.

goddess-kali-idolWhich brings us to othering.  Othering is the psyco-physical process of dehumanizing an individual or a group of people so that you can kill them without feeling social restraint or remorse.  Othering is shorthand for:  “Seeing someone as belonging to another species.”  Butchering animals may be totally natural on a farm, or while hunting, or it may need some training.  Certainly us urban people need to get past our squeamishness in order to butcher an animal.  After I caught, gilled, cleaned and iced 128 King Salmon in one day in Alaska I was haunted by fish eyes whenever I looked closely at anything shiny.  But other than that, I had successfully othered them.

If a person is raised to believe that another ethnic group or tribe is inferior, the process of othering is probably already complete.  When a criminal plans an assault, most likely he or she has already gone through a process of othering.  It is important to think about because in some cases you may be able to avert an assault by somehow getting the assailant to see you as a member of his tribe.  Othering is a justification process.

What does the psyco-physical experience of othering do to the mind and body?  To successfully other, is to shut off, like flipping a switch, all immediate social impulses.  So while it may be possible for a human predator to get close to someone by imitating social behavior, the behavior is not tied to a script, so when the range is right the knife simply goes in.  It is nearly always a surprise to the person being othered.  It’s also very quick and uses overwhelmingly superior force.  Although if simply threatening force is likely to allow the predator to achieve his or her goals then there may not be an actual assault.  It seems like the mind in these cases sees a victim as kinetic energy to be controlled or extinguished.  It’s not a contest for ownership, total ownership of the space is established before the assault.

Othering doesn’t require much physical training or energy work or relaxation techniques.   It only requires that the mind sees the immediate environment as inside its control.  In George Xu’s words, “The wolf thinks: ‘This territory is my refrigerator.’”  So in this case, the mind definitely leads the body mass (jing) but it doesn’t matter whether the jing and qi are mixed as long as the predator has enough skill to sneak up on the prey.  (In other words, predators in nature often need extraordinary skill to hunt, and thus they have perfect differentiation of jing and qi, but human predators can use weapons, so they don’t.)


Mothering is the source of all compassion. Mothering is the psyco-physical process of extending ones mind to include someone or something within ones field of protection.  To mother is to project the sense of “my baby” out into space.  It is a very potent place to fight from.
Othering is nearly the direct opposite of mothering.  It is a process of extending ones mind to surround but totally exclude someone or something from the protection one affords himself.
And Testicular Scenting is just a cute term for "the monkey dance."

Wudang Shan West

This morning I was back in the fog of my old quarry with the ravens and the peregrine falcon.  I'm back in San Francisco but I still have a few posts to organize about my trip to Taiwan.

San Francisco is Wudang Shan West.  Wudang Shan is the legendary birthplace of Taijiquan, the sacred Daoist mountain from which many of the extraordinary methods are said to have arisen.  It is also the home of Quanzhen, the Perfect Realization tradition of monastic Daoism.

Cities are generally considered bad places to cultivate Dao, because they are noisy, dusty and crowded.  Ritual traditions of cultivating Dao are of course based in communities, but development of specialized techniques and skills are often thought to require fresh cool air and quiet.

San Francisco, rarely has a hot day and never has a hot morning, yet it never snows either.  It is possible to practice in pristine ocean fog 3 out of 5 days all year round.  At 6am, a spot sheltered from the wind will be as quiet as a mountain retreat.

It took me three days of being back here to re-regulate my breathing.  If I can lose it temporarily on a one month trip, after 22 years of standing meditation, how could those with an irresolute will even stand a chance of weaving the golden thread?

Without the right environment, practicing martial arts is a struggle.  On this trip, the heat made me resistant to practice.  I got a sense of what it might be like for some students who tell me practicing consistantly is difficult.  Daily practice has always seemed natural too me, even in my rebelious teens, everyday at 6am I got up and danced around my room for a few hours, or went skateboarding, or sailing.  I was born at Wudang Shan West.


George Xu has been using the vocabulary of two bodies.  He says we need to have both a Jing body and a Qi body.  These two bodies must be clearly differentiated.  One way to recognize this differentiation is by exploring how these two bodies respond differently in different environments. Here are some musings on that topic from the last days of my trip which you may find helpful on your own journey inward.

Think of Jing as the mass, as the reproducible essential substance --as the puppet.  Think of Qi as energy (in the most vernacular sense of the word, “I feel energized,” or “I’ve got no more energy,”), as direction, style, and dynamics --as the puppeteer.

Cold causes qi to go interior and consolidate.
Heat causes the qi to release and disperse.

In the cold we tend to “stagnate” we want to be still to sink into the couch.

In the heat it is very hard to exercise, particularly damp heat, we get tired very easily.
Meditation is easy in the cold, particularly early morning or late at night when other people aren’t moving.  Meditation and stillness are easy in the cold because the qi consolidates.
In the heat, meditation is truly difficult because ones qi is so easily dispersed.
Simple enough.
JIng is harder to understand.
Jing is more easily injured in the cold where muscles strain and resist movement.

In the heat, jing is soft, loose and relaxed, structural injures are rare, but exhaustion can set in within minutes, the qi is just too easily dispersed.  Over time our qi can become “depleted.”  As there is no 'motor' to drive the Jing, it too can become depleted.

Qi is easier to store in the cold.  Of course not everybody eats well and gets enough sleep, and the right kind of exercise, but assuming that base, qi is easy to store.
In the heat most exercise is out of the question because it would simply disperse the qi before the exercise had a chance to do any good.

In the old days, damp heat caused food to spoil and people to get sick.
In the old days, in the cold, people sometimes ran out of food.

Without proper nutrition, jing will become depleted, but qi usually gets depleted first.  In the heat, jing is easy to mobilize but the qi isn’t there to push it.

Of course in extreme cold, circulation stops and the lungs start to freeze.  In extreme heat the brain starts to cook.
Wind is a problem in either situation because it disperses the weiqi, the protective qi on the surface of the body.  In the cold, wind causes the to muscles cramp and seize, and the lungs to be vulnerable to colds and flu.  In the heat wind leads to head aches, fever, and loss of appetite.

I’m starting to think that the great deal of art and poetry produced to described the elixir practice is mostly just a way of saying, "look at my unique experience of differentiating jing and qi."  If you cultivate dao, and differentiate jing and qi, you will likely have a unique experience and you may recognized that cultivation in other people.  It is said that there are lists of ways to recognized another immortal (xian).  I have to go look for one of those lists but I know that one of the things on that list is long earlobes.  You can recognize an immortal by their earlobes!  When jing and qi differentiate, the Jing body becomes like free floating earlobes.

4 stages of Qi

George Xu has simplified his explanation of the basic process of making martial arts internal.

First there is External-Internal, which means that the jing and qi are mixed.  Most martial arts use this method to great effectiveness.  It is high quality external martial arts-- muscles, bones and tendons become thick like chocolate.

Second is Internal-External, most advanced taijiquan, xingyiquan, and baguazhang practitioners get stuck here.  It means that the body is completely soft and sensitive.   While power is constantly available, the yi (mind/intent) is trained to never go against the opponent's force, so that when this kind of practitioner issues power it is in the opponent's most vulnerable place (in friendly practice it is often used to throw the opponent to the ground).  Unfortunately, if the opponent gives no opening there is no way to attack.  Also, at the moment of attack all jin, no matter how sneaky or subtle, becomes vulnerable to a counter attack.

The third is Pure-Internal, this is very rare.  All power is left in a potential state.  Because there is no jin, one is not vulnerable to counter attack. To reveal this aspect of a practitioner's true nature requires completely relaxing the physical body so that jing and qi distill from one another.  The body becomes like a heavy mass, like a bag of rice, Daoists call it the flesh bag.  Then one must go through the four stages of qi:

  1. Qi must go through the gates.  The most common obstacle to this is strength, either physical, psychological, or based in a world-view.  After discarding strength the shoulders must be drawn inward until they unify with the dantian.  The same is true for the legs; however, the most common obstacle to qi passing freely through the hip gates is too much qi stored in the dantian.  Qi must be distributed upwards and released in order for it to descend.

  2. Qi must conform to the rules of Yin-Yang.  As much qi as goes into the limbs must simultaneously go back into the torso.

  3. The qi must become lively, shrinking expanding and spiraling.  (This is what I'm working on.)

  4. This one in Chinese is Hua--to transform, like ice changing into water and then steam.  But George Xu prefers to translate in as melt the qi.


Personal Update:  I'm going on a classical music only fast.

Sandwich vs. Sausage

In stillness jing and qi differentiate. Jing, in this case, is a feeling of underlying structure particularly as it relates to the limbs when they are relaxed--but also a feeling of continuous unified connection of the four limbs through the torso (via the four gates at the hips and shoulders).
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Impulse Control

This is such a good title, I wish I had content that would live up to its promise. Still, I couldn't resist.

My simple offering is that we need impulse control to be successful, but we also need spontaneity. Teachers and students alike can find themselves mourning a loss of wildness, begrudgingly exchanged for the ability to focus, concentrate and persist.

Martial arts are often rightly credited with the ability to instill discipline in the unruly youth-- to curb desires and focus passions-- to turn libertines into responsible citizens.

I myself have often been sited for my patience and my self-disciplined example. Yet, I'm prone to identifying with the indolent prince, the artful dodger, and the easy life.

Daoism, despite its intricacies and difficult methods, has been called an apophatic tradition. Which means it teaches by unteaching, it reveals by showing what is not so, rather than what is so.

So, with Taijiquan (and other internal arts) it is said that all movement initiates from the dantian (the belly region?). To actual do this requires extraordinary impulse control. Why? Because impulses are how we initiate movement. Any impulse which originates in another part of the body will impede the one true impulse from the dantian.

One might even say that tension itself is a rouge impulse stuck in the "on" position. This is usually stated in the positive: "relax," "let go," "melt." But the actual "doing" is "not doing." This "not doing" takes years to undevelop, and comes with a simple guarantee; you can only get as much as you are willing to give up.

In the end all good teachers transmit the idea that the worthwhile result of impulse control is freedom itself.

So people sometimes ask me, "What does qi feel like?" It can be understood as an anti-feeling, a sensation of constant, unbroken, impulse control.