There are many qigong exercises that suggest some sort of visualization, like imagining the roots of a tree under your feet, or the moonlight softly settling about you, or the warmth of the sun descending into your bones. I believe that when the Chinese developed these practices, they weren’t imagining such things, they were actually feeling them.
This morning, I went to practice Tai Chi and qigong out on the field where I usually go. It was 7 a.m. The sun was just peaking over the tree line. The entire meadow was draped with a fine mist, and a layer of dazzling frost crunched under my feet. As I moved and breathed I could feel the sun begin to warm my chilled body. I could feel the frost-quickened air tickle my face.
The Taoists call this stuff Ling–the microscopic particles of life essence imparted by the natural world. You don’t have to imagine it, you can actually feel it when you step out into the world with full attention. This Ling revitalizes our own personal life force, or qi. No visualization needed.
Writer and anthropologist Angeles Arrien advises people to spend half an hour in nature every day as a form of personal soul retrieval and to heal from the disorders of modern life. Perhaps this fundamental practice that Taoists call “gathering Ling,” is at the heart of qigong’s ability to heal.
So give it a try. Instead of visualizing clouds, mist, moon, and sun, go out and feel them. Even if you live in the city, surely there’s a sunny window at hand where you take your morning tea (yes even that steam wafting off the freshly poured cup is a filled with Ling.) See what it’s like to experience things as they are, rather than conjure up an image in your mind. You may be surprised.