How to find Chi – An Out of the Box Experiment


what is chi

How do I find my Chi?  I know that the promise of this blog is to keep things real. To distill the esoteric down into tangible information that can applied to our life. For that very reason I have stayed away from too much talk on about chi, energy, and life force.How do I find Chi

Here’s the problem:

Every day I wake up, meditate, and do qi gong in an attempt to develop chi, build it, and manipulate it.  At least weekly I practice the tai chi form and work to use internal strength instead of overt muscular strength.
I have been working for some time to come up with an understanding of what chi is and why we benefit from an understanding of chi.

Sooo….  I am kind of a hypocrite don’t you think?

This essay is in two parts. Let’s start with a metaphor and discuss the physical. We will then meander through concepts of space, the mind, and then come back to what I think we are doing with chi as it relates to the tai chi form and meditation.

In the Box Experiment

I want you to think of a box. In a minute we are going to construct a diorama of the immediate world around you. But first, we need to find out how much “space” there is to work with. Let’s say that the box is 3x3x3 or 3 cubic feet. We also have the magical ability to fill this box with an exact amount of liquid without spilling a drop.

So we fill the box. Then we take the liquid out of the box and set it aside. That liquid represents the total possible volume. You with me?

chi energy box metaphor Now we go about constructing our little world down to the smallest detail. I am in front of my house so my box contains the driveway, the five big trees out front, the fence two cars, etc. Take your eyes off of what you’re reading for a second and look around at every THING you “think” makes up your immediate environment.

That’s the diorama that we just created.

Now, let’s poor the magical liquid back into the box. Allow it to seep into every nook and cranny. Will it all fit? Of course not. But how much went in? 90%? 95%? The amount that didn’t fit represents the total volume of everything that you meticulously constructed.

So now tell me: Is there more of SOMEthing around us or more of NOthing around us?

Over 90% of our world is NO-thing.  It’s nothing.

How to find chi?  Chi exists in the 100% of everything.  However, when we are doing the tai chi form or qi gong meditation, I believe it is the 90% of NOthing that we are are using, manipulating, and interacting with.

We are waking up to the fact that we spend our day asleep, interacting with and relying on less than 10% of our reality.

The tai chi forms and moving qi gong sets allow us a rare opportunity to fully integrate with the volume around us. Metaphors aside, pushing out into this empty, heavy fluid, is what it feels like to me when I am “manipulating and building chi.”

eckhart tolle energy field In a talk about “space” Eckhart Tolle laughs himself silly describing astronomers who spend their entire career studying SPACE. Every discovery and huge press announcement is about some planet light-years away or a new spec of dust. They are transfixed by describing the 1% of things in outerSPACE but don’t spend time discussing SPACE itself unless they are describing the vast distance between two objects. He laughed because they correctly named it “space” but they rarely talk about it.


Inside the Box – of Rocks Experiment

Ready for a detour? We have been undertaking a thought experiment. Now, let’s delve into the thing that is creating the thought experiment and discuss our mind.

This is important because it is the other half of the equation. If you meditate, do sitting qi gongs, or do the tai chi form for the calmness of mind, how is that happening and why are you doing it?

It is the mental pairing with the physical. We have our thoughts and emotions. Emotions are basically thoughts that are communicated to the body. These are what we experience throughout the day. However, just like with our diorama, they represent 10% or less of what is actually going on in the brain.

We have our conscious mind. “Conscious” comes from Latin – conscire – being privy to. This is all the thoughts and feelings that we perceive.

We have our subconscious mind. I like this: The thoughts that are below what we are privy to. They represent that majority of what is going on in the brain.

These are all of our memories. It is our fight-or-flight mechanism that takes in 100% of what is going on in the real world. It is our emotional gut response that happens before we “think.”It weighs every experience in the present with every experience we have ever had! It houses all of our beliefs and more importantly, our limiting believes of what we are capable of.

So just like with tai chi interacting with the 90% of our world that we don’t perceive, meditation and any work that quiets the mind works to access the 90% of cognition that we don’t perceive.

You hear talk of quieting the mind. The real question is: which mind? The one that is causing all the problems is the conscious mind. The one with all the solutions is the subconscious mind.

So I believe that meditation is working to access and experience this big beautiful warm ocean of calm thought that lies just below the surface. Again, to me this is what it feels like. When I have a great meditation or qi gong session and successfully cross this border (even for 2 seconds!), my ears ring into a heavy silence. I slip down below into a heavy warm SUBstance that completely envelopes me. I am not tired or hungry. I can access bigger thinking for work. I can access a better version of myself to present to my family.

deepak chopra boatDeepak Chopra has a great metaphor for us here. He describes the conscious and subconscious mind in terms of being in a boat and fishing. The conscious mind, average thinking, is above the waterline.  We experience all the wind and every storm and change in temperature. Under water, it is calm and unaffected. We fish by throwing many lines and hooks into the water. In rare occasions and with practice, we get to experience what is beneath.


How to find chi outside of the box(es)

tie dye ranbow pants
Sweet, right?

Okay, let me change out of my tai-dyed zoomba pants and get back to reality. I couldn’t and wouldn’t meditate or do tai chi if I didn’t benefit from it immensely. Discipline isn’t enough to keep going. There has to be real enjoyment.

I wouldn’t do something just because some guru or tradition just told me to do it. My bullcrap-meter would go off and I would want an explanation.

Yet, here I am suggesting that you continue your practice, no – do it more!, to participate with the 90% of our world that we can’t perceive, see, or really understand.

What I am saying is that millions of practitioners over thousands of years have improved their life, have unleashed their health, have taken a measure of control of their mind or at least learned how to live separate from it, because they:

  1. Became aware of this false dichotomy about what is around us and what is not
  2. Had a tradition/practice/prayer/form/religion that gave them tools to access it

For me that’s tai chi (physical) and qi gong / meditation (mental). The answer to the question: how to find chi is to study our actions, our thinking, and reframe how we see the world around us.

For those of you that love the esoteric, by this point you probably hear the drum beat of Yin Yang Theory and can read more about it here: Yin Yang Theory

Scott Prath

Scott has been practicing and teaching tai chi and qigong since 2000. He is a lead instructor for the Austin Chen Tai Chi Association. His interest in the internal martial arts began after traveling in India and Nepal, and he has since traveled to China to train. Scott has published over 100 articles on tai chi with a focus on research showing the benefits of practicing.

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