Breathing in the Light
A complete modern tutorial for the ancient meditation technique, “The Secret Of The Golden Flower, A Chinese Book Of Life”
“There is one spectacle grander than the sea, that is the sky; there is one spectacle grander than the sky, that is the interior of the soul.” — Victor Hugo
“The reason why the world lacks unity, and lies broken and in heaps, is because man is disunited with himself.” — Ralph Waldo Emerson
I first came upon the meditation technique known as The Secret of the Golden Flower in my research of Carl Jung and his theories on alchemy. Jung wrote the initial commentary to the German translation published in 1931. The translation was dense, and the commentary was theoretical. I set about trying to put its terms into a methodology I personally could try and practice.
By no means am I adept at meditation. Over the years, I have tried it on and off with discouraging results. Nevertheless, I was intrigued with Jung’s views, so I put together a distillation of it and started to do it. At first, it was slow going—fits and starts, like those early times on a bicycle.
After only a few mornings of practicing The Secret of the Golden Flower, however, I began to experience change. My brow was not continually furrowed by tension or thought. I felt comfortable with myself.
My physiology changed. My blood pressure dropped. I slept through the night. I was no longer hungry all the time. I started eating better. I was motivated to be more physically active.
Within a few weeks, my sense of goodwill improved. I was less blue. I became more optimistic. I saw troubles as challenges to overcome, not worries to fear. It seemed, for the first time, that all the aspects of my warring parts — my body, mind, heart, spirit — were communicating, watching out for one another, finding a new balance in wholesome consciousness, working as one. It is the best aspect of The Secret of the Golden Flower: every part of yourself starts to get along.
There is no religious system attached to this practice. I would find it hard to believe that the great ones who have come before us — the Buddha, Lao Tse, Jesus, or Mohammed — would have any issue with this method. I believe it is possible to bring your own particular beliefs into the practice and have a complete experience.
While Jung never exercised the Golden Flower meditation — or any meditation for that matter, as he believed that the Western mind and the Eastern mind did not play well — I have a hunch he would have gotten much insight from this method. Indeed, I think it may have transformed the essence of his later years.
The praxis of The Secret of the Golden Flower does not require a great deal of time. The controversial modern Tao mystic, Osho, recommends fifteen minutes, first thing in the morning. I went with that, and it has been extremely satisfying. It can also be exercised before bedtime.
After only a month of use, I am emboldened enough to write the praxis down for others. I must emphasize, once again, that I am neither a master nor an expert. Those who are, please know I am aware of my naïveté. It is said that it takes at least a hundred sessions to truly receive the benefits. I have not even reached one hundred experiences, but I am getting there. I am simply someone who found boons from its usage. I wanted to make it available to others who might prosper from its practice. Slogging through the archaic language and parceling the wisdom from it took some time to assimilate.
I commissioned some illustrations from Eugene Frost from St. Petersburg, Russia to help make it both comprehensible as well as poetic. I am grateful for his talents. This is my first stab at a how-to manual — a v1, as it were. If you have thoughts, suggestions, or improvements, please let me hear from you. Feedback will only help create a better v2.
Every act in life is a creative act. This is true whether you are making your breakfast, riding in a car, or speaking with a friend. This meditation, The Secret of the Golden Flower, brings a richer creative energy to your life.
It is said this energy hails from the land from which great inspiration springs. What is The Secret Of The Golden Flower? It is an ancient, esoteric treatise that was transmitted orally for centuries before it was ever written down. It formulates a particular kind of meditation, involving the circulation of the ‘Light’.
What is this Light? The Light is a metaphor. In the traditions, it is not only the radiance found in the sun and moon, it is also the luminosity in our own eyes.
The text was first written onto a series of wooden tablets in the eighth century. It was recorded by a Taoist adept, Lu Yen, also known as Guest of the Cavern. The ideas contained in those wooden tablets have been traced back to Persia and the Zarathustra tradition, with roots in the Egyptian Hermetic tradition.
In 1931, the text was first translated into German and ‘explained’ by Richard Wilhelm. The first publication included a ‘European Commentary’ by C. S. Jung. In the commentary, Jung looks at this metaphysical practice as a psychological metaphor for integration of the self. Therefore, the Light, metaphorically, aids in us becoming complete.
Starting the Meditation
In these instructions, I have tried my very best to stay honorable to the earlier translations and interpretations. I have also done my best to bring the text into the language of the modern world.
I have found it best to simply work with the text as it is, rather than to assign rational meaning to it, and I encourage you to do the same. You can work with it as a visualization meditation.
After reading the text, you can use this one page tear-sheet for an easy reference to the praxis.
Prepare the space
Find a place where you will not be interrupted for fifteen minutes or so. It can be outdoors or indoors. The outdoors can be wonderful, especially if you can be close to nature. It should be as quiet as possible.
I set the alarm on my phone for 15 minutes and turn off all other notifications so I know when to come out of the quarter hour. That way, I don’t have to be troubled by an interrupting thought creeping in — How long have I been here?
Wear loose clothes or loosen your clothes so you feel less constrained. Sit. You can sit on the floor or on a chair. Keep your back naturally straight as if walking (but not tensed). This is best for the circulation of the Light to occur. Make yourself comfortable.
Spend a moment with yourself. Try and shake off the troubles of the day and the busyness of time. Still your mind. Still the heart. Get silent with yourself. It is said in the ancient tablets, “Have the body like dry wood and the heart like cooled ashes.”
Find quietude in the room and within yourself. Remember that your consciousness is not simply your mind, but all of the wonderful parts of you.
The space beyond the nose
The two founders of Buddhism and Taoism have taught that one should look towards the space just beyond the nose. What does that mean? Your nose serves the eyes as a guiding line. You are focusing your attention at one aim. This does not mean that you should go cross-eyed; rather, you are relaxing into a gaze that is very near.
Observe the Light in the space. The Light is something extremely mobile. When one fixes the concentration on the near space, the Light streams in of its own accord. Don’t ask questions. Still the mind.
If one is not guided by the nose, either one opens wide the eyes and looks into the distance, so that the nose is not seen, or the lids shut too much, so that the eyes close, and again, the nose is not seen.
Stay attentive on the space between the two eyes just beyond the nose, allowing the Light to penetrate.
Breathe rhythmically, always through the nose, pulling air with the diaphragm, and exhaling through the mouth.
Eyelids half closed
Only when the eyelids are sunk properly halfway is the end of the nose seen in just the right way. Allow the Light to stream in itself, without trying to force the Light to stream in by concentrated effort. You are not doing all the work. As it is said, “You only need to allow the Light to circulate.”
Eventually, your eyes will completely shut. But do not worry about when that will happen. It will happen through the total relaxation of the body. But this is not dreamy reverie.
Looking at the nose serves only as the beginning of the inner concentration, so that the eyes are brought into the right direction for looking, and then are held to the guiding line; after that, one can let it be. Once your eyes have closed, look within at the inner Light.
Continue to breathe rhythmically through the nose, exhaling through the mouth. Later, such established rhythm will keep the breath moving.
Let the hearing power of the ear lessen. The tongue should be positioned at the roof of the mouth so that taste lessens as well.
The house between the two eyes
The light will begin to travel with the breath. As you relax, observe the “square inch of the house” that rests above the nose and upon your brow between your two eyes.
Yes, in the beginning, there is a fair amount of body architecture to recall. Like early bike riding, the fits and starts will end with practice. Soon, you will be enjoying the ride. Let your breath and the streaming Light come into your lungs and into your belly, as in the graphic:
In the ancient texts, the square inch of the house is where splendor dwells. This square inch of the house in the center of your brow is not splendor itself, but splendid is the light that inhabits it. This is known as “Heavenly Consciousness”. By tradition, this could be Buddha Consciousness. This could be Christ Consciousness. It will be the warm consciousness, in short order, that begins to flood your whole being once we contemplate the light. By secular tradition, this is the higher self (more on the biology of soul later).
In everyday life, the heart can be a trickster. The mind can overanalyze. Now, the distinct powers and aspects of self — mind, body, heart — arrange themselves under the power of the house where splendor dwells. The Light is the master. The square inch of the house is merely the dwelling place.
By this practice of observation of the square inch of the house, you are refreshing, restoring, and rebooting the light that dwells in your brow with additional and other heavenly Light. Hermann Hesse refers to his character in Siddhartha as the one with a “radiant brow.” This is most likely the pineal gland, or as Descartes would call it in the 17th century , “the seat of the soul.” In the Old Testament, when Jacob saw the face of God, he called the land “Peniel”.
As we continue through the steps in this practice, all parts of the body are washed by the Light, and become inspired by the Light. It is not only the light of peace, but the light of creativity, of imagination. As I mentioned above, “all life is a creative act”. This practice brings you to the creative energy.
Socrates and the ancient Greeks called the spirit that moves from being to being “Genius.” You were a fortunate woman or man if Genius touched you. In today’s world, you are a genius or you are not. This Light is believed to be the light of Genius, of inspiration. It is the Light of the moon and the sun and the Light that animates their movement in space.
When the Light circulates, the powers of the whole body arrange themselves before the square inch of the house. As from the ancient text, “It is as if a holy king has taken possession of the capital and has laid down the fundamental rules of order, all the states approach with tribute.”
Release the mind
As you fix your will on the space at the end of your nose to allow the Light to stream through your eyes, begin to release your mind. Let it fall beneath the house where the splendor resides.
This is most easily done by letting go of each thought as it enters your mind. Do not reflect on the thought. In this moment, nothing can be gained by that kind of reflection. Let it go. When another thought enters, let it go, too. All entanglements must be put aside. One must be supreme and independent. Soon your mind will be released into the Light, for you are no longer tethered to it by its thinking. The Buddhist traditions calls this mind the “monkey mind.”
At times, we must put the mind behind us, and certainly below us, under the dwelling place of splendor. We are bigger than our minds. The mind is only part of consciousness. There are the senses by which we become conscious, and there is body-consciousness. Too hot or too cold. Hopefully, the room or the outdoor sanctuary in which you sit is just right.
The mind is a wondrous organ. Yet, at times, we must let it rest from its constant computing, the analyzing and compartmentalizing. The controversial mystic, Osho, calls the mind “Satan.” Jesus says in the desert, “Get behind me, Satan.”
Deeper in Meditation: The Circulation of the Light
The plumb line from the eyes to your tailbone
Begin to focus on your rhythmic breathing, for it is carrying both oxygen and Light from your mouth and your brow into your lungs and belly.
Imagine a mason’s plumb line that drops from your throat to your tailbone. Once the mason has hung the plumb line, this is the guide from which he builds his work. By your focus, drive the breath downward.
This is all part of the practice known as Action in the Non-Action. You are sitting up straight, but in repose. You are being inactive in the world. Yet, you are being active in your attention.
Remember, it is not by your mind that you are controlling this. You have already released your mind. It is by your will.
Your will is simple and clear and clean. That is why you sit. You wish to be purified, strengthened, and inspired by the refreshment and the contemplation of the Light. Your will wants you to carry that refreshment into your life.
You have only to allow the Light to circulate
You have only to allow the Light to circulate. That is so easy. What is more challenging is opening the path to the Light. You open up the path through the active attention of your will. You are clearing the road, as it were, for the smooth riding of that bicycle.
By now, your eyes have completely closed. Your attention has moved from the space at the end of the nose to the gathering Light within. Continue to breathe rhythmically, and drive the breath further and further down, for it is full of Light. The Light has always been within you, especially in the square inch of the house. By allowing the Light to circulate, your inner Light is being rebooted. You are being recharged.
“You only have to make the Light circulate,” says the ancient text. “This is the deepest and most wonderful secret. The Light is easy to move, but difficult to fix.” If Light is allowed to go long enough in a circle, then it crystallizes itself: that is the natural spirit-body.
Remember, you are clearing the road, and the Light is moving through that path. This is the “circulation of the true, creative, formative powers.”
The backward flowing movement
Once you are breathing rhythmically, you will notice an energy build up in the lower belly. It is moving in a clockwise fashion (as seen in the illustrations, if viewed from your left), staying in the belly.
Simply will the energy to move in the opposite direction. This is, once again, not thinking — this is by the deeper resolve. The energy shall obey your will. As the energy moves counter-clockwise, you will experience a tingling at your tailbone. This is awakening core energy (also known as Kundalini in other traditions). This is an affirmation.
You will need to practice the Backward Flowing Movement for several sessions. You are focusing your will upon the circumstance. Eventually, such a path of breath and energy will set itself. It will become a new Nature. You will no longer need to focus attention on it. It shall happen on its own accord, as it should be for the maturing adept. The mechanics will vanish and “you have only to allow the Light to circulate.”
Continue the deep diaphragmatic breathing to draw the energy upward. Like a water hose filled with Light, drive the Light by your will. Move the Light-energy from your belly, past your tailbone, up your spine, up your neck, to your brain, returning to the House Between the Two Eyes. You have brought the Light back to the square of the house. Take a moment. The Light is circulating through you.
It will grow brighter. Other aspects of being will begin to lessen to the dominion of the Light. At this point, the Light will start assembling you.
But do not consider this the end of the practice. It is simply the road into it. You have cleared that road. If you have some trouble with this, simply study this simple illustration above. Take this map past your mind. Imprint the roadmap onto your deeper consciousness, which may just be awakening to the Light. This specific consciousness is beyond the mind, beyond the heart, and beyond the senses, yet it is also specific to you. Some call this consciousness the “soul.”
Where we are headed in this practice is the contemplation of the Light and what is called “the Production of the Elixir of Life.”
Action in the Non-Action
In the ancient text, it is said that “the hen can hatch her eggs because her heart is always listening.” It explains that the reason the hen can hatch her eggs is because of the power to heat. But the power of the heat can only warm the shells; it cannot penetrate into the interior. With her heart-consciousness, the hen conducts this power inward. This she does with her hearing. In this way, the hen concentrates her whole heart-will. When the heart-will penetrates, the power penetrates, and the chick receives the influence of the mother’s energy and begins to live. Therefore a hen — even when she has left her eggs — always has the attitude of listening with a bent ear. In this way, the concentration of the spirit is not interrupted. Because the concentration of the spirit suffers no interruption, neither does the influence of heat suffer interruption day or night, and the spirit of the chick awakes to life.
Action in non-action prevents a person from sinking into emptiness because there is still attentiveness. The effect is in the two eyes. But the eyes are now focused inward, for this is where the Light is circulating; growing brighter, burning not with the flames of destruction, but with the flames of sanctification.
The Contemplation of the Light
Fixing contemplation is indispensable. You have given the Light permission. Now you are being attentive for its contemplation. Fixation ensures the strength of the illumination. All aspects of self need to be at rest with the Light. The heart, mind, and body are still. Be still. This is part of such attention. The more quiet it becomes, the less important all is under the power and energy of the Light.
One closes the lips and breathes inwardly. Breathing is at this place. The nose smells no odors. Smelling is at this place. The ear does not hear things outside. Hearing is at this place. In this contemplation, allow the breath to ease up. Allow the ear not to hear the rhythm of the breath, for the breath is no longer rough and superficial. It has lost all tone. It can now penetrate what is fine.
All is at rest. All the senses are at rest. There is no thought. This is the contemplation. You are not observing a work of art as you would in a gallery. You are the work of art. For you are so fine that the Light has penetrated you. As the Light grows, you are the chick in the egg awakening. There is no goal at this moment. You are simply being refreshed and energized by being attentive to the Light that is so powerful. The Light has become you, and you have become the Light. This is full integration of all aspects of the personality into the whole. You are not contemplating through your mind, but through your will, your soul-consciousness.
At this point, there are no polar opposites. The ying and yang have dissolved into the oneness of the Light. From a psychological perspective, the mind, body, and heart are no longer warring. The anima and the animus have merged. There is no longer feminine or masculine. The war between our contradictions and desires have disappeared in the brilliance of the Light.
Continue to allow the light to circulate. Allow it to bloom like a flower. At this instant, the one who looks inward forgets that he or she looks. You can relax your attention and let your will dissolve into the light. You are riding the bicycle without hands on the handlebar. Time divides itself. It is now immeasurable time, when all the eons are like a moment. (That is why it is good to set an alarm.)
The Production of the Golden Flower
In the ancient art of alchemy, there were two aspirations: 1) to transmute metal to gold, and 2) to become immortal. C.S. Jung looked at alchemy and this form of meditation as a metaphor for the full integration of self into an eternal perfection.
In the continuous and uninterrupted quiet of the Light, you may experience a sense of gaiety, as if intoxicated. You may experience a deep sense of freshness, as if you have just stepped out from a shower.
These are signs that the Light principle in the whole body is harmonious. This is when the Golden Flower begins to bud. Of course, the flower is an image that is beyond seeing and thinking.
One may have the feeling that the earth is a world of light and brilliancy. This is a sign that your self is opening itself to clarity. It is a sign that the Golden Flower is blooming.
The whole body feels strong and firm, so that it fears neither storm nor frost. Things by which other people are displeased cannot cloud the brightness of the seed of the spirit. In the ancient text, it is written, “Yellow gold fills the house; the steps are white jade.” In Jungian terms, you have entered the center of the mandala. “The dying things on earth that come in contact with the breath of this power will immediately live again. Red blood becomes milk. The fragile body of the flesh is sheer gold and diamonds. That is a sign that the Golden Flower is crystallized. This is the elixir.”
This elixir has many other names. It is sometimes called the higher self, the crystalline self, the perfected child, the perfected you, the Buddha consciousness, the Christ consciousness, the Holy Spirit.
The last stage of the methodology is to retain the seed of the Light of the Golden Flower, its elixir. You merely need to find your will again in the brilliance. As you have before, fix your will on the Elixir. It will obey. This is important. As you move out of the praxis and back into the everyday world, you want to carry the seed of your praxis with you. Because of this specific mediation, this glowing elixir will stay with you for the rest of the day, until the next morning when you return, once again, to what should be a daily habit.
The perfected child mentioned earlier is a noteworthy metaphor. The man or woman in the praxis has, in a sense — by taking this time to be active in the inactive — given birth. This is worth re- emphasizing. In the transcendent moment, there is no ying or yang, no male or female, no polar opposites, and no contradictions. There is no caste system, no slavery, no patriarchy without matriarchy. We are beyond the dualism of good and evil, dark and light, right and wrong. All is at peace. There is only balance. There is connection and grace between all life. The peace you experience now is also the peaceful capacity you can bring to the world.
When the alarm beckons on your cell phone or the time is right to return to the consciousness of everyday life, you cannot help but return to life gently. You may want to seal the experience with a moment of gratitude before you open your eyes. Open your eyes gently. Stand gently. Stretch gently, for you are being carried by the warmth of the Light.
Confirmations of the Circulation of the Light
One of the most touching aspects of The Secret of the Golden Flower is the confirmation that you may experience during the work.
If one opens one’s eyes and seeks the body, it is not to be found anymore. According to the traditions associated with this ancient practice, this phenomenon translates as: “In the empty chamber it grows light.”
Inside and outside, everything is equally light. That is a very favorable sign.
It is said in the old texts that, occasionally, when one sits in this particular meditation, the fleshly body becomes quite shiny, like silk or jade. It seems difficult to remain sitting; one feels as if drawn upward. In the traditions, this is called “the spirit returns and pushes against Heaven.”
It has also been said that when one has entered the state of meditation, despite the quietude, voices can be heard as in distant conversation. These sounds are all like an echo in a valley. This is called the “presence of the gods in the valley.”
I, too, had this experience. For myself, a blue sea floated around me. In the sea, there were seven trees. And from the shining sun above the blue were nine rays. Below is the image that I asked Eugene Frost to illustrate.
The Light in the Everyday World
Henry David Thoreau once said, “Our truest life is when we are in dreams awake.”
When a person lives in contact with the world, yet still in harmony with the Light, then the “round is round and the angular has angles.” He or she lives among people concealed, yet visible, different, and yet the same, and yet no one can fully compass it; then no one takes note of your secret life and being.
The living manner of the circulation of the Light has just this meaning:
To live in contact with the world and yet in harmony with the Light.
One finds oneself not content with small demands. He or she has risen to the life-set that all living creatures have to be freed. It is not possible to be trivial and irresponsible in the consciousness that this repose with Light provides.
End Notes and Thoughts
Biology of the soul
In the 17th century, Descartes wrote about the pineal gland as “the seat of the soul”. But the small pinecone-like gland between the two halves of the brain has long been associated with enlightenment. In recorded history, it was first viewed in 13th century BC and associated with Hermetic ritual with the pinecone at the top of the staff of Osiris. The pineal gland is the producer of the hormone melatonin.
The vagus nerve begins in the limbic system which wraps around the pineal gland. Its name springs from the word ‘vagabond,’ as it seems to wander through the whole system of the body. It is the main bundle of wiring that keeps the body’s major organs functioning. It is tied to the heart, lungs, anus, and even to the pads and toes of the feet.
Candlelight Meditation can be helpful in the first stages of the praxis of The Secret of the Golden Flower. Set a table before you at eye level. Light a candle, and focus your eyes on the flame that flickers at the space at the end of the nose.
My own affirmation
Soon after I started the meditation of The Secret of the Golden Flower, I began to imagine a rolling blue mountain range with the sun setting upon it. Pine trees were growing from the rolling mountains. Soon, I realized, they were not mountains. It was the sea.
As I prepared this, I was reviewing the translation by Richard Wilheim. Wilheim mentions that in the Ying Kuan Ching, it is written, “The sun sinks in the Great Water and magic pictures of trees in rows rise . . . it is the image for the creative.” The sun setting means that a foundation is laid in the chaos. A sevenfold row of trees means the light of the seven chakras. I added the nine rays of the fruit of the Holy Spirit for an illustration that Eugene Frost created for this manual. It is a true confluence between the Eastern chakras and the Western spirit.