Qi, Ka and Heka

I missed a Q post awhile back. With this catch up post, I will be all up to date on the Pagan Blog Project. Yay! I’m doing better than I expected at this. Honestly, I usually spell it Chi rather than Qi, but I need that Q.

I was teaching my tai chi* class this morning, and I was telling them that people who are experienced with chi tend to say that they don’t really know what chi is. It’s the people who don’t know very much who will try to give you some kind of answer. (In common terms, chi translates to energy, life energy, “The Force,” prana, ki.) I’m about to prove that I don’t know very much about chi. I’ll probably prove that I don’t know much about the other two topics here either. But I’m having fun knocking these ideas around, and that’s all that matters, right? (There’s your disclaimer, get out the salt lick.)

I’ve seen the word “chi” applied in several different ways. One way seems something like the transmission of kinetic energy through the body. If I press on you, my kinetic force might be subtly redirected through your body and into the floor under your feet, or, if your muscles are tight, that force might stall out in your hip or your shoulder. That sounds somewhat abstract, but if I hit you hard enough, your injuries will predictably appear where the chi is blocked. Chi blockages are bad. The energy must flow, or else.

But that’s just chi 101, and I don’t think that “kinetic energy” is what is really meant by chi anyway. That’s just a handy example of one possible application. There’s a whole lot more to it than that. A chi blockage does not allow the kinetic force to flow smoothly, but how did it get blocked in the first place, and how do you unblock it?

Various meditations and chi gong exercises exist for the purpose of clearing up chi blockages. In fact, that’s one of the main ideas behind acupuncture. Illness, stress and emotional trauma are some of the things that are said to cause a chi block. We’ve moved from the realm of physics (kinetic energy) and into the realm of psychology and the mind (emotional trauma affecting the chi). From a physical perspective, your mental state can be expressed in a subtle tension in the muscles. Other causes, like nerve damage, can have an effect too. Acupuncture points do tend to coincide with pressure points in the body that correlate with nerves or with common locations for knotted muscle fibers. Massage and acupuncture can help, but if you haven’t got your mental state in order, those knots will come right back.

From this, we can guess that chi has something to do with the interface between the mind and the body. It is often said that the shen (mind, intent, spirit) leads the chi and the chi moves the body. Most of us skip that middle part. Most of us are pretty clumsy too.

I’ve also heard it said that the Egyptian ka is a life force that acts as an interface between the body and the spirit. I am playing a little fast and loose with the definitions, but you can see the similarities here. The ka is also sometimes referred to as the “double” while chi is intimately involved with the condition of your energy body. Chi and ka might not be exactly the same thing, but they do seem closely related. The ka is that which makes the difference between alive and dead. The Chinese also talk about a store of chi that you are born with, and once it is gone, you die. You can see why the cultivation of chi would be a big deal!

In tai chi and chi gong, there is a lot of effort involved in directing the chi in one way or another. You might send it to one part of the body or another. You might send it outside the body. You might visualize arcs, circles, or vectors. The chi moves along these paths and the body follows the chi. Does the chi knock the opponent over, or is the body doing that? I’ve heard it described as though the chi is necessary to get the body to move in those precisely accurate and subtle ways. You could not consciously tell individual muscles to get that work done, but the chi seems quite able to get the finer points across.

The proper usage of chi is almost like learning a whole new language. Chi might well be the medium for the transmission of that secret language. I have heard it said that chi can transmit information. Not only from your mind to your body, but from your mind to another’s body, or mind, as well. Your chi interacts with their chi to get the results you want. This is very valuable in martial arts. It is also used in healing arts.

So now we have a secret language transmitted by life force. Any Kemetics reading might know what that sounds like. Here comes the heka! Heka is usually translated as “magic,” but it is the activation of the ka. In common terms, Kemetics often take this to mean authoritative speech, magic words. What if we were talking about the language of the interface? With this “language” I can throw a person larger than myself off of their feet using only a tiny amount of physical force. (I’ve done it, but I need more practice to do it consistently.) How’s that for magic? I’ve also heard it said that heka originates in the belly, or gut, which is also the location of the Chinese lower tan tien, as in “sink the chi to the tan tien.”

I just thought of the idea of utilizing chi as if it’s a language this morning. There are no actual words as we know them here, but specific symbols, or metaphors are used to communicate a desired outcome. It takes a lot of training for both sides, the mind and the body, to effectively integrate this language. The mind has to learn which “words” to use. The body must be relaxed, fluid, and sensitive enough to execute the commands. It’s really freaking difficult, but it’s awesome. Real Jedi do exist.

* The “chi” in tai chi isn’t the same word. It’s more like “ji” as in taiji (supreme ultimate!). However, the “gong” in chi gong (cultivation of energy) is the same as the “kung” in kung fu (cultivation over time, usually referring to skill). Wobbly translation combining with phonetic drift FTW!

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eXercise

“Heru, will you press against me in a manner that you think will benefit my training?” I ask as I settle in to the posture.

I wait.

“Your shoulders are not even at all,” he responds.

I roll my right shoulder and hear a pop.

“Align these two points.”

I make another small adjustment.

“And this one…and this one….here.”

I bring my awareness to the dots he mentally marks for me.

“Your hip has a tight spot in it. Fix that.”

I make more minute adjustments as I test the small muscle fibers and try to redirect the energy flows. I’m not too sure of the results, but he seems satisfied.

“I’m going to start pressing now.”

I feel my temperature rise slightly. Slowly, he increases the pressure.

“Harder,” I tell him.

“I don’t think you realize how hard I am pushing, which is good, but if I press any harder, you won’t make it to the timer.”

I become aware of the micro instabilities in the muscle and realize that he has a point. I might remain standing during that time, but if I lose my form, then what good is it?

Time passes.

He warns me not to collapse when it’s time to let go. I nod inwardly, remembering that if you lean against the incoming force, you become dependent upon it. Then he warns me, in advance, not to startle when the timer goes off. He suggests that I will really want to change that sound later.

“It’s almost time. I’m going to let go now.”

I feel the pressure recede. It no longer masks the fatigue that has started to set in.

“Slow deep breaths,” he reminds me.

I startle slightly when the alarm does go off, but since he warned me, I make an effort to remain still. He tells me to ignore the noise and wake slowly.

My eyes open. After a few seconds, I bend forward to rub my legs, then pull myself back to a standing position. I press the button to stop the annoying sound. Then he tells me to walk it off.

That’s standing meditation with Heru riding shot gun. Earlier I had some dance (and trance) time to warm up, then a short workout thanks to an app on my phone. Out of those three, the standing is the hardest, but if I want to reap the benefits of real tai chi, then it’s the most important. It’s amazing how standing still and relaxing can be so much work. I’ve had lunch, showered, written a short post, and my legs are still tingly. It’s good.

Xploring Monasticism

Yes, I did cheat on the name. Why do you ask?

One thing I discovered last week while questioning the lack of peace in the community is that suddenly I had a lot less of it myself. I wanted to run right out and rescue everyone from themselves. The problem is, that I would have a hard time giving others something that I don’t possess myself. I could run right out, enter the lion’s den and…then what? Roar just as loudly as they do? Been there, done that. It wasn’t very pretty. More importantly, it wasn’t effective.

I feel like I have a responsibility to my two kingly fathers to guide the community in a positive direction. I just have a hard time figuring out how to do that. If I try to turn myself into some kind of leader, then I run the risk of falling into the ego trap myself. And, honestly, I’m an introvert. Jumping into the middle of social activities stresses me out. I’m not pretty when I’m stressed. So, what else is there?

I’ve always kind of liked the idea of being a monk. How can you contribute to a community while at the same time withdrawing from it? What do monks contribute? Everyone knows about Gregor Mendel and his peas. There are beautiful illuminated texts. There are chi gung breathing exercises that improve health. There’s kung fu! Monks are like a spiritual R&D department.

The word “monk” is actually pretty general. The rules are not always the same from one group to the next, but there are always rules of one sort or another. I would have to do a middle way kind of arrangement by default. I’m already married with child, but as a homeschool parent, I’m not required to hold down a full time job outside of the home. I don’t have much of a social life outside the internet. I’m practically halfway there already.

There are rules, and those rules seem intended to drive home some kind of spiritual point. A vow of poverty restricts the person from being ruled by money, and can emphasize the power of generosity. A vow of chastity can free a person who is ruled by sexual impulses, and in the case of tightly packing together a large number of healthy males in their prime, it can have a practical reason too! (Imagining a woman to be full of rot and disease was not meant to be a insult to women, rather a way to get young virile monks to stop thinking about them!) There’s also the vow of obedience, the rule that says that you will follow the rules. There are vows of nonviolence and vegetarianism which emphasize the value of life.

I see these vows as being a very precise prescription for initiating change in a person’s life in a specific way. Different orders take different vows, for different reasons. Before taking any such vows I need to think carefully about what the long term effects may be. I can’t just go down a list of commonly used vows and pick a few of them at random. One person’s medicine is another person’s poison.

I’ve been experimenting with rules on my own while playing video games. In one game, I made a rule that the character could not kill. That meant I could not do most of the quests I was given. (I made an exception for gateway quests.) I got my experience from crafting and gathering. Luckily that game, Aion, allowed me to do that. I got that character up to level 40. In SWTOR, I’m now playing by permadeath rules. No-kill made me value life around me. Permadeath, makes me value my own life. Once the character dies, I have to start over. It teaches me to be cautious and think before I start a fight. The previous character died at 7. The one I have now is 19.

So, what kind of monastic rules would be appropriate for the life I’m living now? Heru has already put in a vote for “no self harm.”  No hair shirts here! That also knocks out extended fasting or flagellation. It does include being careful of my internal thoughts and how I speak to myself. He pointed out that if I’m not nice to myself, then how can I be nice to anyone else?

It’s a start, but I feel I need more than that before I can think of myself as a monk. I need to continue with the research. What kind of practices will raise my spiritual awareness and benefit my ka?

A vow of purity might be well suited to a Kemetic. I should not beat myself up, or anyone else, if a decent shower isn’t available. Some things are unavoidable and should be taken with good grace. It is simply a means of showing respect for the body I’m in and for those around me. It’s easy to slack off on my appearance if I don’t have any plans to go anywhere. It’s not about vanity, just a basic level of respect and preparedness. I will have to spend some time exploring what “purity” means to me before beginning that one.

A vow of good speech would also be very appropriate for a Kemetic. I could use (Saint) Fred Rogers as inspiration here. He talked the talk and he walked the walk. That would be a hard vow to keep. I’m extremely good at snarking once I get started, and my language while driving is not fit for polite company at all. If we cut out those negatives, then what? We have to get creative with our positives. Mr. Rogers was able to stare down congress with his good words. He had some powerful heka!

The next pitfall lies in making it too complicated. It’s supposed to simplify life. It’s not meant to set me up for failure. It’s not meant to be so large that it crowds out the important things. Keep it simple, but make it strong.

What is my goal exactly? What is the root of the problem that I am seeking? If I don’t know that, then how can I choose? “Heart of peace” they told me many years ago. I thought they surely must have had me confused with someone else.

Where has the peace gone?

Hotep is one of the first, maybe only, words that people learn in ancient Egyptian. Most don’t know what it means, but they’ve heard of it. Hotep is peace, satisfaction. Imhotep does not mean “killer magic zombie mummy” it means “one who comes in peace.”

So why is there so little of it in Kemeticism these days?

The symptoms of its lack have appeared from several places in my follow list. If it was just one person, it wouldn’t mean much. What does it mean when it keeps coming up again and again? It means that something isn’t right. All is not well in modern day Kemet.

Is it a community thing where so-called leaders pretend to offer nourishment, but instead are serving poisoned bread? “This is the right way, and you’re an uneducated idiot if you don’t do XYZ.” I don’t mind reading pointers here and there that give me thoughts to consider. I really do enjoy seeing what people find out in their research, but I’d rather not have to duck when the backhand comes around.  No wonder Kemetics are so twitchy. Use one hand to cover your rear and the other hand to point at others? And if I mention it then I’m doing the exact same thing, of course.  My New Year’s resolution might be to put my hands to better use.

Is that really the cause though? Could it be the gods themselves? Even before I came to the community, my interactions with Them were not exactly peaceful. They have Expectations. They also seem a little fuzzy on the difference between asking and telling. Or they just skip over the telling part altogether.

All that said, I do believe that they love me on a personal level. I was distant from them. Not the other way around…except for him. It’s complicated, and I’ve asked Sekhmet to kick his ass if he tries that again. Or to kick mine. Is ass kicking the only language I know? No wonder peace and I are off to a rocky start.

I’m working on it though. Heru is trying to teach me. He’s been trying for a long time, but I’m a thick-headed student. Wonder where I got that trait from, eh?

It’s a problem and I don’t know the answer. If I figure it out, I’ll let you know.

Got any ideas?

Winter

Ah, my old nemesis.

It still looks a lot like fall where I am. Winter, as in the time when trees are bare, is not as long here as in some places. That’s good, because I usually don’t deal very well with it. My best strategy is to bundle up with a good distraction and wait it out. Video game therapy is usually a good choice for this. I’m tempted to write a post about video games as a learning tool, now that the V’s are over and it’s time for W. That seems to happen a lot. It’s also a good time for reading actual books with pages in them.

Winter also tends to signal a shift in my spiritual focus. It tends to be “cooler” for lack of a better term. All that friction and heat that seemed so vital during other parts of the year are not quite as important now. I turn inward, into the depths, and there I see Heru, The Dark One, The Distant One, reflected. He turns to me with that half grin and says, “Come on in, the water’s fine.” Is the water fine? Sometimes it isn’t, but this year, I’m a little more inclined to believe him.

I’ve earned this, I think to myself. I took all those demons he threw at me, and I invited them in for tea. They weren’t demons at all. “You don’t scare me,” I lie. He laughs. It doesn’t matter anyway, does it? I’m still here.

Ra has been teaching me to change. I look back and see the difference between this year and last. It’s hard to say exactly how he’s been doing that, but there it is. Change is hard, grueling work. Nobody likes it. I’ve had my share of friction with the King. He has made me uncomfortable in a number of ways, but I can’t deny the results. It’s far from perfect, but it has improved. I am grateful, in those moments when I’m not grumbling about it.

Heru is the other half. He teaches me to be myself. First I have to figure out that that is someone worth being, someone worth loving, worth holding on to. Those demons he threw at me? Those were me. Taking care of myself has been a recurring theme this year. He has asked me not to harm myself anymore. (Not physical harm, but, I’m pretty creative in other areas.) That request includes harmful thoughts, so it goes pretty deep. Sometimes I’m a little confused on what exactly that means. Is that cookie beneficial because it gives me pleasure? Or harmful when it comes to my long term health? I might be over thinking it. So I break it in half. It was a big cookie anyway. It means, not doing the critics work for them. It means not trying to fit into a mold that I didn’t really want anyway.

It means…this winter, going back to the roots of meditation, and not feeling like I have to rush off the moment I close my eyes. Breathe in. Breathe out. It means reconnecting with the space and depth within my own soul. Sometimes I catch the scent of fear, or sadness, or anger. He reminds me not to hold on to them. Peace is the foundation of our sky together. I’ve worked hard to find it, and keep it.

Spirit Work

I don’t talk very much on this blog about what I actually do. The day to day working of it is both very personal and somewhat repetitive. But I have been feeling stifled lately by the lack of telling.

I do journey work mostly. I take a little time before sleep to relax my mind and go elsewhere. My home base on the other side is an apartment. It’s on the second story of a building that overlooks an old city square. There’s a park across the street. My futon bed is in the back corner. There’s a modern kitchen, and a dining table that is always stocked with food and drink. There’s a white couch where I receive guests, a shrine, and a computer. Recently added are rows of shelves with many small statues on display.

After getting stabilized at the apartment, getting cleaned up and changing clothes, I fly to Ra’s boat. There’s the deck, where sometimes I fight the snake. Ra wanted to test me, and the method I use in battle says a lot about my state of mind at the time. It rarely goes the same way twice. Behind a canvas curtain is his office. It seems dark in there. Beyond another curtain is the “sun room” which he only invited me to enter after he felt I had passed his test. Is the sun actually in the sun room? I’m not sure. It’s too bright to see much of anything. I’ve had tea with him at a table in there.

A little more than a week ago, he had me stand before his court. Gifts were laid at my feet, those statues I mentioned earlier, from various gods who wanted to show their support. I’m not a dummy. A gift is an expectation of a two-way exchange. Ra has trained me not to blink when gifts are offered.

There’s this thing I do in the morning when the sun rises. I’m also an energy channeler. When the sun rises, especially if my shields are thin, my energy heats up in response. It happens whether I’m consciously thinking about it or not, whether I want it to or not.

The next morning, I went to the apartment as the sun rose. I stood in front of the windows as I felt the light enter me. I tapped into Heru and the light magnified to where I was starting to push my limits. I wanted to kneel on the floor, but I wondered how that would look to the assembled statues. I think I ended up on the floor anyway. After awhile, it leveled off again. I looked around. The apartment was filled with light. The statues were taking in their due.

When I close my eyes I can feel the connections I’ve been building over the last month or so. They support me as I support them. I used to have connections to the land and land spirits here, but that didn’t work out so well. The circle wasn’t complete and I exhausted myself. Ra has been teaching me about the balance of give and take.

And then there’s Heru. I rarely talk about him, because he’s something entirely different to me. A couple weeks ago I had a minor illness, probably a virus. Djehuty and Sekhmet were tending to me when He walked up. He had no form that I could see. He felt dark and deep. “Where the hell have you been?” I asked, my foul language masking my intense relief at seeing him again. He wrapped me in his embrace. It was dark like space and so large I couldn’t see the other side. I felt his sadness over days long past, but beyond that, there was peace. He told me they were just passing clouds. I should not hang on to them.

Validity

(Here’s that other “V” PBP post I missed earlier.)

I was having a conversation with a friend of mine about our spiritual lives. We agree on a lot of things, but we feel at home with different pantheons. It makes for some good contrast and compare type of discussions. We hang out online with similar people, and have a lot of mutual friends. Occasionally the people we meet seem, well, a little unstable. Coming from us, that’s really saying something because we’re pretty out there to begin with. (Relax, I don’t mean you! 😉 )

So she was wondering, how do we know if our beliefs are valid? Objectively, we’re not really any better than anyone else on that front. There is no way to explain ourselves in polite company without it sounding completely delusional. Maybe we’re the crazy ones too.

Proof is something we don’t have and probably never will have. How can we make judgements about our own beliefs or those of others when our best guess is “We’ll see what happens when we die.” Right or wrong, I’m not even sure that death will settle the issue. I have a few pet theories, but the afterlife is still a huge question mark to me.

I explained to her that since simple fact or fiction discussions are essentially meaningless, we have to judge by other standards. We have to measure by indirect means.

(Note: I am offering this as an exercise in self-reflection, not as ammunition to use against others! Only you know what’s really going on in your own mind. Don’t make assumptions about what’s going on in someone else’s head! It’s not really any of your business anyway. And yes, that is slightly hypocritical considering how the discussion got started in the first place. I admit to being human, but there is a difference between being human and being a jerk. I try to stay away from that second one as much as possible.)

My first argument was about consistency. We’ve both been with our respective paths for a number of years. The story hasn’t changed. We’ve made new discoveries and gone into more depth in our studies, but we haven’t been flitting from one new thing to another. That measure says more about whether or not those beliefs are an appropriate fit for the individual than about any objective measure of validity. If the story is always changing, we will probably assume that the previous story wasn’t fitting as well as they first thought.

If you make the consistency check, then great! I’m glad you found something that works for you! If not, that doesn’t mean you’re hopeless. It just means that you probably haven’t found what you’re looking for yet. Life is a constant work in progress. Maybe try looking back at your various stages and try to tease out what brought you into each one. Are there any common threads? Maybe you need to customize something that will fit more securely than something you pick up off the shelf. Maybe you’re an explorer at heart.

The second measure is verification. Reconstructionists rely heavily on this one. When you study your path in historical sources, do the references, symbols, and metaphors make sense in the context of what you’re trying to do? Do you ever come across that one line in a book that smacks you between the eyes and makes you scream, “Yes! That!” I’m not much of a recon, but I have had that happen a number of times. My mind apparently is bendy enough to think in Kemetic terms. I thank eastern philosophy for some of that flexibility, but draw that down into a more pragmatic realm and there you go, Kemetic.

But what if your path is not well documented or perhaps original and new? Then you will have to draw inspiration from wherever you find it. Be observant of real life and how things work together. I’ve borrowed concepts from electronics and music theory to fill in a few gaps in my understanding. Gaps will always happen. Even the most researched subject will have obvious holes. Verification helps, but it isn’t everything.

The third measure is personal development. Is all of this really helping? I’ve had enough years at this that I can look back to various times when I was very spiritually involved, and other times when I tried to hide from all of it. I’m better off with it than without it. The times when I tried to be “serious” and “rational” were also times of depression and lack of direction. If I gave it all up, I would not be better off.

This is really the one that drives me the most crazy. Occasionally you’ll meet someone, and it appears that their beliefs are doing them and others around them harm. Some go the dogmatic route and drive people away by insisting that their truth is more important than someone else’s. I don’t care how “right” the belief may be. When it’s used as a weapon, it’s no longer right in my book. Sometimes people use their beliefs to punish themselves or make themselves smaller. Sometimes the belief seems to wrap them up in a web that makes it harder for them to move when it comes to daily life.

This last one is really subjective though. How does an outsider judge between a temporary withdrawal for the sake of rest and healing, and disconnecting from the world? How do you distinguish between harmful behavior and shadow work? Is it disdainful rejection, or a cleansing purge? Is it hope for a better future, or desperate delusion? For most outsiders, it’s really not our call unless it enters the realm of law enforcement, or unless you have to live with the person and the situation is no longer bearable. Otherwise, it’s not really anyone’s business.

Validity, your own, not someone else’s, is a tricky subject. It’s even more tricky because you have to be your own judge. Is it valid to you? Do you feel it in your heart, or are you still uncertain? Uncertainty is not a bad thing as long as you admit it and keep searching. What does your faith mean to you? What are your priorities and goals? Find out what those are before you judge yourself by the wrong standard. If it isn’t broken, don’t try to overhaul it. If it isn’t right, keep tweaking. Your definition of validity might be yours alone, based on your own ideals and priorities, but if you try your best to live up to it, that’s all anyone can reasonably ask.