Attaining the Way is not something that comes quickly. It takes time to tame the mind. As with other meditation methods, Taoist meditation fosters the focusing of the mind, or creating a tranquil awareness. Thoughts and feelings come and go and as we practice, but it centers upon this awareness. In the practice, we lose a little one day and lose a little on another until we arrive at true awareness that is underneath our cravings and random thoughts.
In Taoist meditation, serenity and stability of the breath are sought after. The breath is used as a means of taming the mind. Our patterns of breathing reflect the state of our minds and our bodies are a reflection of our subconscious mind. As Eckhart Tolle (1) notes, emotions can become energetically embedded in our bodies. This causes disturbances in our breathing patterns. Breathing meditation can be used to sense and dissolve these blockages.
As we begin our practice, it takes a few minutes for the chatter in the mind to calm down naturally so we can place our attention on the breathing and keep it there. We can start at the nose, watching the breath go in and out at that point, letting it move of its own accord and not interfering with its movement in either direction. As the attention wanders, we let it gently return to the breath.
As the breath moves in and out, you may notice that it encounters resistance or a tight spot in its path. This awareness may be of tightness, fullness, unevenness or even pain. When this is encountered, keep your attention on the breath and also place it within the area of resistance. Do nothing but keep the attention there. You will find that the area of energetic blockage will change, lessen and go away (or transmute) to a different sensation or a feeling of opening. The blockage will disappear in different ways, but it will not remain the same. When it dissolves, the energetic blockage disappears. All this requires is gentle attention and remaining with the breath. This is one aspect of Taoist alchemy.
With consistent practice, the breath settles and centers in the lower dantien, embryonic breathing is established, and the circulation of energy goes up the back and down the front of the body in what is called the microcosmic orbit. This is a more advanced stage of Taoist alchemy.
According to Chuang Tze, the pathway to wisdom is attained by the cultivation of serenity. (2) Quieting the breath and allowing it to naturally dissolve blockages will help stabilize it. This stability, a “breathing without breathing,” allows tranquility, a serenity that can connect you with the source of wisdom energetically, leading you to attain the Way. The Taoist method of meditation on the breath thus serves as an approach that permits you to open up and embody enlightenment, a lightness of being.