Collated by Margaret Olmsted
This winter I asked members of the 8th Level to describe how to get into the tantien or what it was like to be in the tantien. Below are the responses I received. They are quite wonderful.
When I first had instruction about wanting to “be in” the tantien, it was too esoteric, too slippery for me to have any sense of. For me, the path to it was in first imagining, what might it feel like, to be in the tantien. From conceiving of it through that visualization, I was able to access the experience of having my consciousness there. I would describe for myself, simply, accessing a whole-body experience of awareness & movement. And from that, the simpler description I pass along is, how can I have a whole-body experience while doing the form. (Of course, from being in the tantien.)
For me being in the tantien is about being clear, focused, aware, awake. It’s like I am one integrated being, together. My voice has a different quality to it. I sense things ‘intuitively’ and can see clearly what my patients need or what the class/individual needs when I am teaching.
What does it mean to “focus in the tantien.”: Drop my mind/head down to my lower belly and think, or just be, from there.
When I connect to the tantien, I connect to my essential self. I relax, the mind chatter floats by not sticking. I connect with nature and all around me, return to awareness…..my heart loves and accepts what is…..my mind is clearer and can make clear decisions….I am more open to whatever comes my way
When I get insane and totally “chiched” out [full of mental chatter], I remember that my mind is in my head – the top of my body! And then I remember myself, my body, my center and then I go there -my lower belly. I think that all people, non-Aricans and non-tai chi folks, all know that we go to our belly — our gut. So, when I am unstable, I go to my center, the midpoint of the body, and, let us not forget, the grounding of our feet.
I’ve noted in myself the difference between imagining my tantien, thinking about it, and actually being there. Letting awareness rest in the lower belly helps, and then – sometimes! – the awareness becomes that of the center of the full body. The experience of the self as one, a unity. It’s so much easier then! It happens when I get out of my own way.
Being in the tantien is both a conscious and unconscious experience. When I consciously remind myself to rest in the tantien, my mind and body relax and there is a true moment of quiet. That, unfortunately doesn’t last long but the experience is present even when not specifically calling on myself to “be in the tantien.”
It is clear that my mind/body knows how to intuitively be in the tantien as, in challenging moments during work or even play (like skiing), I find myself clearly drawing on the awareness. It’s quite a pleasure to have this arise naturally rather than only expect the awareness due to a conscious mental choice.
Being in TanTien
Dream on a Snowy Field
Filling the empty places
Nothing left to do
Only wait for it
Being in the tantien means finding a more relaxed, quieter, more internal awareness that takes in everything but is not taken out by anything. It goes beyond the integrated physical sensation of my low belly and my body and I find I can do things when I am focused there that I can’t do when I am in my head. It is a more finely-tuned kinesthetic awareness. There is no fear when I am in my tantien, only energy and awareness.
I find that to get students into their tantiens, I have to relax, breathe and get into my own. Then by speaking in a more internal, relaxed voice I can set a mood that helps the students relax and go more internal. I talk about sinking their energy and focus into the lower belly. Sometimes I have them put their energy in their heads and feel how familiar that is. Then sink their energy into their hearts and feel the love and joy there. Then sink lower into the low belly and feel what that feels like. As we move through the form I remind them to reel the mind in when it wanders off. When doing demonstrations or making points, it’s easy for the class to get into their heads again, or even their hearts if I make them laugh, so then I remind them to sink back into the tantien and move from there. It is a wonderful, tangible feeling when the whole class is internally focused.
At first, I felt that I was going on faith — without any qualms because I trusted my instructors and Patrick. Admittedly, at that stage the tantien was just an idea. When I started to feel that I could breathe into the tantien, that the tantien could be experienced as drawing the breath in and releasing it, the tantien was no longer just an idea, but started to became a visceral experience. Another step for me was to experience the abdomen and pelvis — with the tantien as energetic center — as actually guiding the movements of the rest of the body.
A much more recent experience, for me, is the feeling that the tantien is actually guiding the chi to move my arms and legs, that all the movements are a continuous thread of energy from the earth, through my feet (or maybe feet and head-top), guided by the tantien, and manifesting in the arms, hands, and fingers (as well as in the empty leg, whenever one foot is full and the other empty and in motion). This is a much more subtle experience and very easily lost if I don’t keep my attention in the tantien — “intention of mind and heart resting in the tantien”. For sure, I do not experience this as an analytical thought process. It is very sweet whenever I can stay with it (for however long I am there) — even playful, allowing the tantien (or heart/mind in the tantien) to play with energy and momentum.
A clear moment (of application) of being in my dantian came up as I was getting on the subway chatting with my son earlier this year. I was preparing to sit down, but was engrossed enough to forget about the imminent lurch of the train. When it came I was about a third of the way down, backing in, the guy next to me hunkered down ready for the full body slam, but instead of falling I rooted. A simple, but amazing moment. My seat neighbor didn’t know what to make of it.
In practice being in the dantian manifests when I remember to feel myself, realizing that feeling is different than thinking about feeling. Then I find, as I did today, that I can loosen my hips and feel moveable in stillness. A completely different sensation than the ones I’ve “practiced” for so many years. From there my awareness expands.