Qi rumbles through Ma Yili, flushing his meridian channels, warming the Dan Tian – an abdominal pocket behind the navel where his bladder and intestines are.
Most people do not normally feel the presence of internal organs unless something has gone badly wrong. To Ma, that's just another thing wrong with the normal person. He neglects the body for so long, taking it for granted, until the only connection left is the emergency alarm; he only feels the stomach when it aches, rather than sharing with it the pleasure of digesting something delicious and healthful.
He can actively direct Qi with his breathing, which is one of a few ambiguous meanings of the word Qi. What else could it be? Flux of neutrinos? Expression of other alpha beta gamma bits? he used to wonder. Gradually, he gave up intellectualising it with the same cleverness he once employed to study equally quirky entities sanctioned by modern physics.
"To understand these things, you can't think forcefully," his mentor Mary Scott once said.
In the end, be it Qi or some ephemeral subatomic phantom, it's all in the mind isn't it? A steel door is practically empty in atomic terms. Just a bunch of electrons buzzing between a matrix of nuclei. In spatial proportion, merely a few specks of dust zipping between raison-size clusters stuck at the corners of a grand ballroom. Should the electrons freeze – if the metaphoric dust should settle – everything would vanish.
Weird? That's science... or Qi...
There's nothing. A door is substantially not there according to science, so is the physicist, Ma reckons with due humility. Not there. Nothing. Zilch. Buddha was right wasn't he? But even the brightest or dumbest scientists don't attempt walking through doors. Neither did Buddha.
Understanding is one thing, believing is another, perception is yet something else. In the twilight zone of existence, reality slips, slides and teases. The great 20th century physicist Niels Bohr said "reality" does not exist independent of observation. His contemporary, Heisenberg, told us that the reality that can be put into words is never reality itself. Were they Daoists?
Perhaps Qigong reshapes reality with wayward bonds and psychedelic charges, as hallucinating drugs do? After practising for decades, Ma still has no idea. It took him years to clear the meridian channels, to make room for the free flow of Qi. Now that he has attained this wondrous sense of void, he can let in... in... and in. Something fundamental and omnipresent, older than the universe itself, seeps into him, waking his spine, electrifying his being. Or is it the other way round? Is he dissolving into the infinite background, like a fizzy tablet in water instead?
Yes, all in the mind.
The cosmos, so very big, is no bigger than a teeny-weeny singularity. Perhaps singularity could be reconstructed in the mind, tugged behind the bellybutton. Ridiculous; but why not? If something so incomprehensibly tiny could give birth to the universe... maybe the fathomless complexity of a physicist's macrocosm could also be condensed into elemental purity, back to nothing. "In a flat universe, all the energy adds up to zero." He learned that in Physics.
It started with nothing, and will end in nothing.
"I'm nothing," he lets the thought echo. "There's nothing out there."
What can be more peaceful than me, being nothing, worrying about nothing?
How long has it been? Minutes? Hours? Aeons?
Time bypasses Ma when he meditates. But somehow, part of him knows. Dozing bus passengers always wake before their stops.
Qi radiates out of his Dan Tian, caressing ageing vessels, massaging aching muscles, fortifying stiffened joints.
* * *
Ma once speculated Qi to be the ultimate element he hoped to isolate in a giant accelerator. Ultimate – what an extreme state; a serious word used too lightly. The ultimate element must be absolutely basic. What can one say about something so elemental, other than it's the very first step from there isn't to there is? The fundamental essence of all things must be that simple; indivisible. It has to be omnipresent purity without mass, charge, spin, dimension, smell, flavour, beginning, or end...
It just is.
Shouldn't have a name. The Dao that can be described cannot be real... Laozi said that. Heisenberg said that. Anything with a describable feature can't be truly and ultimately fundamental can it? It's indescribable, unnameable. We exist because of a transient disruption of the primary state of affairs.
The resultant existential stir, Ma thought, perhaps still thinks, could be Qi. The universe, the one that we see, the big wide expanding thing out there, is the result of a disturbance, a cosmic bruise. Call it the Big Bang, whatever. It's nothing more than a temporary divergence, unmitigated stress, of the fundamental state. Like a bruise, it will disperse and heal in the fullest of time – when it all ends.
We won't be there. Nothing we own will be there. Nothing we've ever fought for or believed in would survive the healing, when the cosmic bruise settles back into neutrality.
Meanwhile, everything that exists does so at an elevated stress level. To be is waiting to heal, to return to ultimate basics, to be again not to be.
That's why things are unstable. They are unstable the moment they came into being – the moment they began coming into being. Status quo at any instant is not sustainable.
To Ma the Daoist and physicist, Qigong Master and irreligious spiritualist, the concept became self-evident after years of contemplation. Then it became far-fetched and confusing, impossible to fathom, simply weird. Then it cleared up again.
Then it went away completely, and stopped to matter.
If it is, it doesn't matter.
If it isn't, it doesn't matter.
First Posted 19 Jan 2011 on Guo Du Blog