Small Heavenly Circle (Microcosmic Orbit) Meditation Part #1
Attaining Tao is to merge with the wonders of heaven. In the very first verse of the Tao Te Ching, Lao Tzu says, “The Tao that can be named is not the real Tao”. What he is saying is the greatest of all things is beyond words, and once we attempt to name it we have defined the indefinable, which obviously is not going to work. So then, how do we merge with the undifferentiated source of all things? Simple, start by just letting go of your desire to be or do anything and focus your energy into heaven.
If you have read the six prior lessons on Taoist meditation basics and practices and if you have actually tried some of these techniques then it is time to expand your horizons. Be sure to read Tuning the Breath as well.
I hope by now you have had some success with staying “in the moment” and have learned to use some of these tools to dissolve your mind into your body. Learning to control your thoughts is the basic methodology to allow your energy to find a higher calling. In this article, I will give you a little piece of treasure, another tool for your meditation that will help you reach a higher state of consciousness.
Much has been written about the “Small Heavenly Circle” also known as the “Microcosmic Orbit” meditation; a simple Google search will give you over 5,000 results. I will not attempt to re-invent the wheel here, (pun intended) but instead I will give you my method. This method of meditation takes the practitioner on an inward journey along the superhighway of energy that predominates within the human body. My method is a straightforward and simple way to start exploring the universe within.
On the inward journey, the first things we learned were to dissolve our thoughts and get in touch with our energy, something you are getting skilled at if you have been doing the lessons so far. Now I am going to explain how to circulate that energy within your body.
We start with a basic energy circuit that runs up and down the torso in a circular path just under the surface of the skin; this path is called the “Small Circle.” The vessels and meridians in your body that carry the qi are usually along high conductivity tissue such as tendons and sometimes muscles. The centerline of both the front and back of our torso is mostly tendons, and this is a good conductor for the qi to flow within. Learning to follow this path is a major step to moving even deeper into your body, and will give you more insight into the universe within you. My method starts with identifying the two major pathways of energy (that connect into a circle) by defining 15 points along the way. Like planets in a galaxy, we will travel to each one, picking up provisions along the way. As we get to know each “planet” we will gain an understanding of our inner workings, this is the “Sage seeing the universe with out going out the door”
The two main paths have many names and energy can be moved in a variety of ways. In this beginning technique, we are going to follow the natural flow of energy down the front and up the back. For now, just think of them as Yin and Yang. The “Yang path” starts at the perineum and then the base of the spine, continues up and over the crown of the head, and ends at the pallet. The “Yin path” starts at the tip of the tongue and flows down the front of your body and ends at the perineum at the bottom of your torso. Technically the “Ren” channel ends at the ovarian palace but since the connecting “Tu” channel emerges at the perineum I start there. Again, there are many resources available online for your perusal. Here I want to give you my method of navigating this “orbit.”
First, let me name, locate, and describe each “planet” along the orbit. Since we have to start somewhere, I start from that place where you “see things” when you close your eyes, a place between the eyebrows that is sometimes called “the minds eye.”
There are many more than these 15 points (that are really bigger than “points” that is why I think of them as “planets“) but I like to keep things simple. Picking these 15 allows us to be clear about each one and later we will apply a breathing technique to help propel your “spaceship” to each “planet”. As your awareness grows you will feel and communicate with many more places than I have put on this list. For example, between numbers 8, 9 &10 there are 2 others, the anus for instance, which is actually 6 in itself, front, back, each side, the center and the outer muscle!
My list of 15 celestial destinations within:
1. The Mind’s Eye (behind your forehead)
2. The Heavenly Pool (where the tongue touches the pallet)
3. The Throat, (thyroid gland)
4. Thymus gland
5. The Heart
6. The Solar Plexus
7. The Dan Tian (just one inch below the navel)
8. The Sperm (Ovarian) Palace (a hands width below the navel)
9. The Hui Yin (the perineum)
10. The Tip of the Tail Bone
11. The Gate of Life (on the spine opposite the Dan Tien)
12. The Kidneys and Adrenals (on the spine opposite the Solar Plexus)
13. The Shen Zhu, Between the Shoulders (opposite the Heart)
14. The Jade Pillow (at the base of the skull)
15. The Bai Hui or Crown Point (at the top of the head)
Classic texts would have you start at the Dan Tian and “contemplate your navel” for “as long as it takes to feel the qi there“. I will not refute this method but there are alternatives. While this skill is admirable, I think we get the point; moving on from there, I believe spending a few minutes at each point is a better way to learn this orbit. Of course take as long as you want to explore each world, again the “classics” say to spend as long as a couple of months on each point until you can send your awareness and feel your qi there.
Once you have “opened the channel”, you will notice the qi moves rather quickly around the orbit. I usually do not need to linger long at each place at this point in my training and because I am not writing a book here, think of this as a quick tour through the planets.
My planetary journey starts where I already am…
1. The Minds Eye (behind your forehead); Starting where your mind is already is a good place to start. When you close your eyes, you will “see” or rather “observe” energy actively moving about. Then just let the awareness sink down trough the Yin Path….
2. The Heavenly Pool (where the tongue touches the pallet); When I put my awareness here I feel saliva welling up from the bottom of my mouth and pooling around the base of my tongue encouraging me to swallow.
3. The Throat; This spot sends the flow downward along the yin channel. Here lies the thyroid gland a tiny little gland that controls the rates of regeneration for your entire body.
4. The Thymus gland is a very sensitive gland that is an emotional regulator, sensing the heart and breathing rates, etc.
5. The Heart; When my mind travels here I feel my heart moving a little bit, not so much an increase in speed, but sort of a warm gentle thumping.
6. The Solar Plexus; This is a major nerve gathering center in your chest, at this location I feel a lump that seems to radiate out in all directions.
7. The (Lower) Dan Tian (one inch below the navel); This is the home planet for your Qi. When qi gets stuck in your head (Upper Dan tian) it can cause rampant thinking, when the qi is at your Thymus or Solar Plexus, (in the middle Dan tian), you might feel emotional, but when the qi is here it will feel at home. After my first few years of practice, I began to feel a rotational sensation here.
8. The Sperm (Ovarian) Palace (a hands width below the navel); This space is connected to all of your glandular systems and placing my mind here, brings me a sense of being connected internally.
9. The Hui Yin (the perineum); When here, I feel a pulsing feeling as though there is a warm current flowing through my perineum moving towards the back of my body. This is the bottom of the torso and it is full of muscles that support the pelvic floor. The Hui Yin is sort of the launching pad for the next part of the orbit, the Yang path.
To keep things simple just do this for now…
First Tune your Breath and then just work on putting your awareness on each spot until you notice it; just like when you were using your hands; remember, “listening” for the tingling sensation there? If not re-read the other lessons. The point is, if you can send the energy to your hands it is a logical step to move to these orbit spots here. Just do this a little bit and see if you can feel the flow of energy coming down from your head to your perineum.
In the next lesson, I will lead you through the rest of the orbit.
Soon you will see that Taoist meditation and internal qigong are similar. You are now starting to learn the fine art of “Nei Gong” or “internal qigong”