As you purify the heart, it begins to climb into higher realities, and, as a result of the soul’s ascent, divine energy will descend into the body. The loftier the soul’s attainment, the more powerful this influx of energy will become. If you have neglected the proper training of the body and its lifeforce, you will inevitably reach a ceiling where the body can no longer handle the influx of energy, and the soul will have to retreat to earlier attainments. This results in what the mystics call “ecstasies”: fluctuations in your state of realization that plateau when you can only handle higher realizations for short periods of time. Such ecstasies have their limits, and a seeker on the spiritual path will recognize this and strive to make their attainments stable and part of their everyday life. One of the most important requirements for this stability is that the body has been properly trained to sustain the influx of divine energies, which we call the awakening of energy.
If you look around, especially at an active place like a park, you’ll see Life in many different shapes and sizes. You might see people playing and having fun, some animals such as dogs, birds, and squirrels, as well as trees, shrubs, and other greenery. All of these things are alive, in their own way; some living a simple life with a small range of activities, while other things enjoy a much more complex life with a seemingly numberless range of activities. A tree, for example, has a very limited and simple life compared to a cat or a dog. The tree will gradually incline towards the sun, slowly growing, and occasionally it will flower and make some manner of seed, fruit, or nut. Over the course of its entire life, sometimes well over a century, a tree may perform less activities than a dog will in a single day, maybe even in just one hour! A simpler life, such as that of our tree, will necessarily require less lifeforce, and its lifeforce will be less complex. A dog, on the other hand, will require much more energy over the course of a day, and its rich and complex life indicates a more complex energy or lifeforce at work.
Humans enjoy an incredibly rich and complex life compared to other living things. Likewise, they have a more complex lifeforce to accompany the wide array of activities they engage in. The sages of the past, especially in India and China, dedicated themselves to understanding this complex human lifeforce. They understood the difference between our Life and our Mind, and they saw how these two parts need to be trained to work together. By training the mind we can purify our life, and by training our life and the various energies or lifeforces that are a part of our life, we can purify the mind.
Training our Life means more than just living a clean and ethical life. Our physical activities are simply the external manifestation of our Life. Even bodily activities such as sleep, digestion, sensation, excretion, and pleasure or pain are all external indications of our internal lifeforce. Humans naturally have a complex internal system of lifeforce that acts as the fuel for all of our physical and biological activities. This system of internal energies operates on a subtler level than our organs, tissues, and blood, but is intimately connected to them through the body’s own electrical activity through the nervous system. Conditions such as our physical or emotional health will influence the health of our lifeforce, and the strength and health of our lifeforce will influence the conditions of our body and emotions.
The sages of the past have found an intimate connection between our lifeforce and our breath. When the breath is regular and full, resulting in only six or seven breaths per minute when relaxed, then our health, internal energy, and emotions all improve and become more stable. When the breathing is excessive and shallow, this is a sign that the flow of lifeforce is weak and disrupted. This leads to health issues and emotional instability, and such a person may be taking as many as fifteen to twenty breaths or more per minute. This is actually the condition of most adults (kids naturally breathe healthier and better), so the first step in training your internal energies is to control the breath through specific breathing practices that regulate and strengthen your lifeforce, and oxygenating the blood and tissues so that your body gradually becomes healthier and your breathing more regular.
Once the breathing becomes well trained, you will begin to notice that the breathing exercises begin to have some new and interesting effects. Once the physical repairs have been made, the practices can now focus more exclusively on the internal lifeforce. By combining specific sounds, visualizations, and gestures with your breathing practices, you will gradually begin unfolding the real nature of your lifeforce as a powerful component of your spiritual path.
Much like how blood flows through your veins and electricity moves through nerves, your lifeforce flows through certain pathways called meridians. Typically, only the essential meridians required for daily life are actually active and open, but once your lifeforce has become stronger through regular spiritual practice, ti will begin to open up new meridians in the body. These new meridians will work on many different levels. You will start to become aware of a reality you had been blind to, the mind will become sharper and meditation will be much easier, your complexion will improve, the face and eyes will appear bright, among many other things. Your body will become a support for your spiritual path instead of an obstacle.
The word for “breath” and “spirit” are the same in almost every tradition. In Hebrew, it is Ruach, the life that God breathed into Adam. In India, it is called the prana, the lifeforce that flows through all things in nature and has its source in the sun. In China, it is chi, the breath of the Universe. It is this connection between our breath and the breath of the universe that gives life to all things, that builds the bridge between our mortal body and immortal soul. As new meridians open in our body, this light of the soul can begin to manifest and spiritualize the body. As the soul becomes filled with divine light, the body becomes filled with the soul’s increasing light, and gradually the body itself becomes more and more like light and less like mortal flesh. Great saints and spiritual masters such as Paul of Tarsus, Padmasambhava, Milarepa, Shankaracharya, and many others were reported by their contemporaries to emanate so much light that it was even physically visible to onlookers, making them appear more like angels than mortal men or women. The luminosity of such masters indicates their purification and mastery of their lifeforce.
In the theurgic (divine) sciences, the purification of the lifeforce is approached systematically under the careful guidance of a qualified teacher. Such an approach allows for much more than just a purification of the lifeforce, it allows us to strengthen and develop it into a divine power which in turn allows us to capacitate the higher states of realization. This scientific training of the internal energies is called “internal alchemy,” a name it receives due to the symbolism of the perfect human as a “philosopher’s stone” by the adepts of China and India. They realized that the mythical stone had both an external and an internal form. The external was that perceived by the alchemists of old, while the internal was cultivated by the adepts through spiritual exercise, breathing practices, and visualizations.
There are three essential stages of internal alchemy, the path of awakening energy. The student must cultivate fire in the belly, light in the head, and thunder in the palms. These methods should be taught in-person, but, for now, let’s examine the teachings concerning these three things.
FIRE IN THE BELLY
Behind the navel and a few finger-breadths downwards lies a kind of energetic furnace. It is the cause of the heat and sweating experienced in deeper states of meditation, and the traditions of internal alchemy teach that this fire is intimately connected to our digestive and cellular metabolisms. It is like our own internal sun that warms and nourishes the body, supporting many of our life processes. When this internal fire is strong, we have plenty of energy to live a healthy, strong, and fulfilling life. The complexion becomes clear, the eyes have a luster, and health is robust. When this fire is weak, fatigue, sickness, and oftentimes depression, are the results.
For the traveler on the spiritual path, it is necessary that the internal fire be strong and resilient. It is the fire of life that generates and circulates life force through the meridians, and is also directly connected to longevity. As you progress deeper into your practices, this fire needs to be strong enough to “heat up” the meridians and purify them by driving out all of the cold, heavy, death-inducing energies, called “pelon,” that are caught in them. As this heavier energy dissipates, the subtler, warm, life-giving energies of the body will be able to circulate freely. The body will become healthier and more resilient to outside influence, transforming into a fitting temple to host the indwelling divinity.
Cultivating the internal fire is an essential discipline in internal alchemy. This has to be accomplished through proper diet, lifestyle, and certain spiritual exercises such as those taught in the Three Awakenings curriculum. The first level of instruction is to strengthen the internal fire until a perceptible heat is felt behind the navel and perspiration develops within a few minutes of meditation. At this point, the student will begin to learn how to circulate the internal fire to purify the inner meridians, a process classically called the “firing cycles.” Once the internal fire is strong and flows freely through the body, the teacher will guide the student through the higher levels of alchemy according to the capacity of the student.
LIGHT IN THE HEAD
Once the internal fire is strong and mature, the awakening of power happening at the base of the body will start to ignite an awakening at the top of the body. This connection between the power of the internal fire behind the navel and the power of the sacred centers in the brain is called the “Marriage of Heaven and Earth.” The “Heaven” of the brain responds to the lower fire of the “Earth” in the abdomen and generates a purifying light in the brain. This light is the celestial fire, and it unfolds according to the level that the practitioner has strengthened, purified, and circulated their internal life force. This is really the Awakening of Energy, and it has a valuable influence over both the Awakening of Deity and the Awakening of Awareness.
THUNDER IN THE PALMS
As the internal fire behind the navel and the celestial fire in the brain unfold and awaken, the internal lifeforce will take on a different quality. It will become a vibratory power that can be transmitted through the palms for healing, or circulated internally to strengthen the organs and meridians. Such a person will naturally have good health and a long life, though if they are a healer or teacher who expends a great deal of their lifeforce on others, then they may not see these same results unless they take the appropriate measures to re-cultivate their energy after they expend it.
A psychic heat that can make you sweat even in cold temperatures, spiritual lights in the head, and palms that can heal people, probably all sound quite strange and fantastical to any readers who are new to the spiritual path or just unfamiliar with these concepts. These phenomena are not what the hodos (path) is about. The path is about becoming an enlightened human, what the sages have called a “real person.” While there are almost as many interpretations as there are spiritual traditions about what exactly a “real person” is, we have taken a holistic approach to the matter. Since a person has both mind and energy, it is likely that these two powers can either be in conflict or harmony with each other. We have seen it best to train them in harmony with each other so that they unfold and awaken alongside one another. The mind is by nature an invisible power, and likewise its experiences and awakening won’t be sensible and measurable by the senses of the body. However, the internal energy is a more tangible phenomena that helps power our senses and bodily life. As such, its awakening and experiences will oftentimes be more dramatic and perceptible to your body and senses.
THE THREE AWAKENINGS
Cultivating and training our internal lifeforce both supports and encourages the two awakenings of Deity and Mind. The body and its energies can’t be forgotten in your pursuit of the divine. As your heart gradually awakens to Deity, the power of those realizations and realities will cause an influx of divine light. If your meridians and bodily health have not been strengthened from training your lifeforce then you won’t be able to sustain this influx of divine light, and your spiritual experiences will hit a ceiling. Over time your internal energy and meridians may even become too overwhelmed by your states of consciousness, resulting in a weakness of body that makes prolonged spiritual practice difficult. It is somewhat common for such a practitioner to put on a lot of weight in a short period of time, even if their diet is sparse. This is because the body is trying to insulate itself in fatty tissue to alleviate the stress that high levels of realization and enlightenment can cause on the meridians. For these reasons and more, I feel that at least a basic understanding and training of internal energy should accompany any spiritual discipline. To not prepare the body for the increased vibration and power of authentic spiritual training can lead to harm and appears to me to be almost unethical. My hope is that any traveler on the hodos will seriously consider the importance of a holistic approach to enlightenment and develop their internal power accordingly. The spiritual path should be a gift and boon for ourself as well as others around us — a cause of goodness and unity. Not only should we exist in harmony with others and our environment, but also within ourselves we must create a unity of energy and awareness, so that, in doing what perfects us, we may approach the Cause of all Perfections, and in unifying the internal powers we approach the Cause of all Unity. Let this, then, be our way.