We do it in some circumstances and then forget that we do it at all. My wife thinks I am like a dog because, when I am sick, I don’t need nursing so much as retiring to a dark room to lie and wait. My world shrinks and my “being” does, too. I draw inward: which is a little different from just withdrawing. Everything is still in there. I’m not pulling away from anything, I’m just consolidating my-self.
I have another habit in common with a number of my friends. On my birthday I don’t want a party. I want to take the day off to think about my life. I might go for a long walk, the kind where you will follow a railroad track for miles. I look forward to this extended introspection. Not only for what it reveals (and it does reveal things to me, unfailingly) but also because it wraps a “space” around my life—just as much as the clever ideas I get—and shows me where my life stands in the universal scheme of things. This bubble wrap often lets me isolate some specific idea and focus on it whether it is a formerly unidentified joy or a pebble in my shoe.
Threats, illness and insults all can force us inward. Sometimes, in fear or panic, we not only have tunnel vision but jump right into that tunnel to hide. Yet a shrinking down and moving inward can also be a tremendous focus of personal assessment, as though you are pricing the items in your own existence for a universal antique show. How much is this memory worth? What’s a fair price for a cracked prejudice I have been keeping for sentimental value? This unique form of archaeology concerns a unique site—your self. Qigong encourages us to master this revealing inwardness but not just personal identity: our memories, feelings, incidents and opinions. It also takes us to a deeper level of consciousness than the psychologized fixation on our own story, a story we all too often want to be a TV episode.
As we dig, though, an amazing paradox occurs. What was an unknwon burial ground on a layer lower than we even suspected existed renders up more of that “space” between feelings and reactions. It doesn’t heal by cancelling out our traumas as we have been taught. It heals by giving alternative readings to everything and slowly, slowly, the burial ground transforms into a fair grounds. And once again we learn that a reaction which we use for our threatened survival can actually be trained to help us explore what it means to be human.