To Cultivate Life

To cultivate life is an age-old Chinese art. The art of cultivating life emerges from a philosophy based on the concept of energy. Everything is hence to be thought of as energy: people, animals, plants and all of nature; the whole universe is imbued with and maintained by energy. The same energy that pulsates in the universe thus pulsates in us. (This world view is, at least to some extent, paralleled by modern scientific research, such as for example in quantum theory.)

The Chinese word here rendered as ’energy’ is qi. Qi ought to circulate smoothly in us, without hindrances, in order for us to be healthy and at ease. When blockages of, or deficits of qi, arise in the system, these lead to various symptoms and illnesses. Often it is our very own mental blockages that disturb the circulation of qi. About 400 years B.C.E, the Daoist Lao Zi wrote: ”Heaven gives ceaselessly, but men hinder the influx; if men do not get enough qi, this is not the fault of Heaven.”

Daoists have long pointed out, that in order to cultivate life, one must strive after “non-action”. This does not imply that one should not act, but, on the contrary, that one shall act without effort, that one shall let action come about on its own accord, organically, concurrently, and in harmony with the forces of nature. One is to be free from worries and affected efforts; one is to wander with a free mind, as idle as a mountain rivulet, in perfect concord with the energies in oneself and in nature.

This sounds appealing, you may think, but how is one practically to go about in order to obtain it? Well, within Daoism different methods were invented, which later partly were incorporated into traditional Chinese medicine. These methods were meditation, visualization, breath-controlling techniques, techniques of how to make qi circulate in the body, exercises in which one absorbs qi from, for example, the moon and the stars, and “daoyin”, a kind of exercises in soft movements. These methods were extremely popular in China a couple of centuries B.C.E and they are precursory to what later became known as qigong.