“ It is not merely a matter of arresting the normal processes of ageing and decay but, through a life time of practices, creating a new subtle body, capable of flying on the wind, of being in more than one place at once, immune from harm from fire, water or weapons, and able to assume invisibility; in fact having all the supernatural powers.” J.C. Cooper, Chinese Alchemy: The Taoist Quest for Immortality
My quest to discover the secrets of vitality has become a serious business. What I once took for granted – the seemingly endless source of energy to work, party and play – has become a precious commodity parsed between the activities of my day. And lets face it, despondency over encroaching jowls is also a big motivator.
Now I’ve been around the block enough to sort the wheat from the chaff. For example I’ve discovered that when it comes to optimal health, slavishly following the latest ‘expert’ advice isn’t always reliable. I made the mistake of glutting myself with whole grains for nearly a decade! Getting rid of this overload went a long way towards restoring lost energy – by literally jolting me out of a carb coma.
What has been more dependable is my sixteen year love affair with yoga. What began as a flirtation deepened into commitment. Yoga not only improved my health and emotional well-being, it redirected my attention toward a much older body of knowledge. Stretching back into the mists of pre-antiquity, within the Tantric traditions of India and the alchemical traditions of China and Tibet, is an ancient wisdom -one in which the secrets to eternal youth are spelled out.
This “spiritual science’ taught that with dedicated single minded practice, we could ‘refine’ and ‘perfect’ the ordinary body into the a body immune from harm or decay – the body divine. Known in varying traditions as the immortal, illuminated, or diamond body, it’s achievement was considered the realization of our highest human potential. The goal of these teachings was not to leave the flesh behind like an old suit, but to ascend in the body - to a higher level of being. As an old sage expounds in a Taoist fable, “There are two paths, that of lesser people who leave the body and go, and that of greater people who go with the whole body.”
These ancient techniques have been honed and improved upon by many great teachers over the centuries. Once secret and transmitted only from guru to disciple, much of this knowledge is freely available to anyone who wishes to pursue it. And as far as I can tell, whether they be Tantric, Buddhist or Taoist, the sages left us two main premises to follow.
The first is that there is no division between consciousness and flesh – when one transforms the mind, they transform the body – and vice-versa. Thus overcoming ego, and the causes and negative effects of personality and conditioning, is paramount. Because when properly harnessed, our mind, emotions and thoughts constitute a ‘body technology’ that can alter physical dimensions of reality.
Secondly, in order to extend longevity and reach the greatest possible vitality we must actively commune with and enhance the life force energies (qi, jing, shen, prana ) that permeate the universe. This is to be accomplished through breathing and meditation techniques, internal energy regulation, ritual body postures and yoga, the utilization of astronomical and geomantic forces, and the consumption of magical herbs and foods – just for a start!
So welcome to my project of regeneration. I pledge to learn as much as I can about these disciplines and put them into daily practice. I will make time for meditation and self-reflection, use my K1 point to get grounded, open my meridians, cultivate my elixir fields and flow qi through my micro and macroscopic orbits. I will use Tantric prana dharanaprakti breathing to concentrate my prana, salute the life giving sun, use mudras and open my chakras. I will even put into practice a few things modesty forbids me to mention…
Okay – so there is a danger I realize. In this youth obsessed culture it is easy to slide down the slippery slope to compulsion. I well remember the aging evil queens of fairy tales, whose hankering to remain ever young brought mayhem and destruction. Is this simply a vanity project? The last-ditch attempt by a middle-aged woman to hold on to the last straw of youth. Well, perhaps. What can I say?
But really, there is no going back. I no longer believe in the scientific materialist paradigm in which the body is a mechanical system, fated by time and genes to wither and die. Which doesn’t mean I’ve lost my faith in science. Because new discoveries in neurotheology, epigenetics, bio-electrics, and energy medicine are bringing us full circle with the beliefs and practices of the ancient mystics. And they are offering astonishing evidence of our unexplored and innate healing potential.
Studies in the field of epigenetics for example, demonstrate what the ancients already knew, that our cells may be functional vessels, but they are also energy fields of possibility and potential. Our psychology creates an information pattern, or “bio-field” that directly shapes our cells and DNA. With each thought and emotion we hold we produce either stress or healing responses which echo through our biological system, turning disease related genes on or off.
Medical research also documents the efficacy of meditative practices and yoga in improving our longevity. For example, studies on telomerase - the enzyme in cells that repairs the shortening of chromosomes that occurs throughout life reveal that long time meditators like Yogis and Buddhist monks are aging at a slower rate than the rest of us. Studies being done at Stanford University found that people had 30% more telomerase after attending a 500 hour meditation retreat!
Consider also a landmark study conducted by Harvard University, in which researchers demonstrated they were able to reverse the markers of aging. A group of seniors were placed in an environment that recreated the 50′s – a time when they were all in the prime of life. After two weeks their cardiac functioning, strength, hormone levels, blood pressure, eyesight and hearing had all improved.
So I ask you, is it really so outlandish to consider that the body has capabilities we have only begun to discover? Or rediscover? I guess it boils down to this. In a world defined by the search for the perfect pill, I am ready to place my faith in the ultimate placebo, belief itself.
Ever since the 1950′s, pharmaceutical funded medical trials have shown that sugar pills and sham treatments can heal disease, rejuvenate cells, reverse tissue damage, cure warts and even enlarge breasts. So I’m willing to wager it doesn’t matter whether it’s a sugar pill or an ancient esoteric secret if “I” believe in it – my body will too.
But isn’t this the hardest part? Can I overcome a lifetime of conditioning that tells me aging and disease are inevitable and dictated by our genes? That tell me the fountain of youth is just a fable – woven out of magical thinking and a fear of mortality as old as the hills?
It strikes me that while our ancestors saw their consciousness and the natural environment as all the technology they needed, we now believe we need some cybernetic implant, chemical concoction, miracle ingredient, some cutting edge scientific advancement to vaunt us past death into post-human status.
The goals of Transhumanism (merging man with cybernetics and robotics) have much in common with the ancient enlightenment agendas; the acquisition of superhuman powers, a perfected body, the achievement of immortality. We are still being driven by the same impulse to transmute ourselves into something better, something new and improved. But I wonder – do we really need all the hardware?
That’s why my quest to discover the secrets to vitality is going back to the basics. I’m placing my I bets on the mystical time-honored traditions, with their more natural, accessible and affordable methodologies. Whether I succeed, feel more energized and revitalized, maybe even grow more youthful – who knows? But of this much I am sure – and I quote the great Taoist Sage, Lao Tzu – “When I let go of who I am, I become who I might be.”