it becomes worried, and worry causes exhaustion. — Chuang Tzu
In understanding the link between mind and body, one must recognize the mind controls the body and not vice versa. While the two are interdependent, the mind controls the combined organism, creating a functional human machine. This means that mental control is of the utmost importance, as reflected in Chuang Tzu's warning that the minds of men should not "let their bodily desires run away." The Center of Traditional Taoist Studies helps its congregation develop the mental facet of human existence as prerequisite to enlightenment. Because the mind is responsible for correctly perceiving reality and then issuing the proper commands to the body, this is the mechanism by which a spiritual man translates his understanding into action. For this reason, the mind can be a friend or an enemy. By issuing correct commands to the body, the spiritual person can optimally navigate through life's hardships; or, for the confused, it issues incorrect commands that cause its human vessel to batter itself senseless while traveling through life's dangerous waters. In essence, a clear mind enables the Taoist to synchronize himself with reality, while its opposite — confusion — prevents the mind from accurately perceiving reality and making correct decisions for action. Therefore, spirituality can never be achieved unless confusion is eliminated.
One of the most important ways to gain an understanding of reality is through Taoist philosophy. Correct philosophical principles teach the mind to accurately assess reality and thus counter the effects of incorrect thinking due to dysfunctional notions originating from dogma. In this regard, Lao Tzu's philosophy uses nature as its model of reality, unpolluted by man's complicated distortions. He defined principles reflecting the true dynamics of reality. The Center of Traditional Taoist Studies teaches a curriculum with Nine Cardinal Principles at its core.
While Taoist philosophical principles can help the rational individual find his way out of confusion's fog, it needs a practical means to fight off competing unhealthy thoughts instilled since birth and reinforced each day on television. Taoist principles may make logical sense, but the modern mind must battle emotions born of years following countervailing beliefs. Such ingrained patterns dog the mind with thoughts that disturb one's mental state, causing it to run amok.
It remains in its place passively... — Chuang Tzu
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.