Taoism’s founder, Lao Tzu, encouraged “stillness” as a way to clear the quagmire of runaway thoughts that block one’s view of reality. He prescribed a regimen of “mental hygiene,” a process to rid oneself of the confused thoughts born of dysfunctional values. It is the mental equivalent of bathing. Chuang Tzu wrote, “When you are disturbed by the external senses and worried and confused, you should rest your mind and seek tranquility inside. When your mind is blocked and gets beyond your control, then you should shut out your external senses.” Thus Taoism advocates a practical solution by which the individual learns to turn off his senses and down shut the brain for a rest. In essence, teaching the brain how to not think.
This prescription of not thinking led to the science of mental Chi Quong or “meditation,” the practical application of Lao Tzu’s mental hygiene. Just as physical Chi Quong develops the body to physically function better, mental Chi Quong improves the functions of the mind. By teaching the mind how to not think on command, it conversely allows one to better focus when intense concentration is needed. A mind that knows how to dwell in repose can spring into focus with greater intensity than a constantly frenetic and fatigued brain. Mental inaction allows for improved mental action. Therefore, the conscious act of disciplining the mind is equivalent to disciplining the body.
Mental Chi Quong is called “meditation” in the West. Its definition in America has been vague and unclear. Most Americans would describe meditation as the act of sitting in a relaxed position, thinking pleasant thoughts, and perhaps chanting. In short, they see meditation as really nothing more than mental entertainment. But this entertainment isn’t going to discipline the mind and bring the benefits of concrete training. True Taoist meditation is more precisely described as a focusing exercise that employs visualization techniques to accomplish specific objectives. It uses a disciplined process of mental imagery to yield practical results. Discipline is key. It isn’t entertaining to sit in place for hours, forcing the mind to focus on specific images while preventing it from wandering to some other, competing thoughts. Indeed, meditation is focused visualization — and it is most definitely work.
Although there are many forms of mental Chi Quong, the Center of Traditional Taoist Studies teaches three of the most important: (1) “emptiness,” or ch’an, meditation (called “Zen” in Japan), (2) “burning” meditation, and (3) “traveling” meditation. Emptiness meditation teaches the mind to not think and thus rid itself of thoughts, while burning meditation “burns up” the stress of daily life. Both techniques contribute mental acuity by opening the individual’s channels of chi and removing the blockages caused by nervous stress or physical dysfunction. Opening the meridian system through such mental cleansing enables chi to flow unimpeded. Traveling meditation is a prayer-like mental state by which congregation members can mentally “travel” to receive spiritual guidance and advice. This is performed in a special meditation hall under strict supervision of Grand Master Anatole.
Mental cleansing is doubly important because its benefits extend beyond the cerebral to the core of psychosomatic illness. Unlike Western medicine, Eastern healing emphatically contends that most diseases can be traced to physical imbalances triggered by mental dysfunction. Empirically, most laymen have found this to be true, noting that their susceptibility to the common cold increases during times of stress. Quite simply, stress reduces the body’s immune system. And if you accumulate stress mentally, you need to eliminate it mentally. This explains how mental Chi Quong’s reduction of mental stress yields physical benefits.