Our Bodies as Energetic Systems
An Eye-Opening Journey With Author David Clippinger
One of my reading fascinations of late has been human energy systems. Ensuing from my interests over the years in Chinese Medicine, I have come to view our bodies as essentially battery packs, not unlike those in our mobile phones that need to remain constantly juiced.
We’ve all had the experience of seeing that red battery light come on, alerting us that our mobile device is less than 10% charged. If we fail to plug into our charging outlet in due time, our phone will go dead quickly.
It’s a similar story with our bodies for when we fail to keep the energetic juice flowing, it can result in lifestyle implications which can adversely impact our our physical well-being and health.
While living in San Diego in 2018, I had a profound experience with energy while taking a class in Qi Gong, a Chinese practice that enhances one's mental and physical health by integrating posture, movement, breathing technique, self-massage, sound, and focused intent. The teacher began by sharing with the class a concept called Dantian, which are “qi flow centers" that are vital focal points for meditative and exercise practices such as qigong, martial arts such as t'ai chi ch'uan, and in the traditional Chinese Medicine art of acupuncture.
In short, dantian in Chinese means “field or elixir” or what one would describe as the “fields of life energy force” emanating throughout the body. The concept has ties to Taoist and Buddhist traditions and is often believed to be tied to higher consciousness states.
Many energy practitioners believe that, like in the case of a gas heater, our Qi energy pilot light is always lit — at least while a person is still alive — and can be managed, stoked, and cultivated for a healthy, energy filled life.
It is with all of this that my curiosities have taken me to the book Cultivating Qi: the Root of Energy, Vitality, and Spirit by David Clippinger. Dr. Clippinger is a practitioner, scholar, and Master of T’ai Chi and Chi Kung, who has studied with many renowned T’ai Chi masters over the years.
Chinese practitioners like David believe that while everything in the universe is composed Qi, the human body is comprised of two main types, prenatal Qi, which we inherit through our parents and is thus in an energetic sense genetic mapping and DNA; and postnatal Qi, which is obtained from external sources such as food and air.
An efficient Qi system is predicated on physical groundedness and relaxation while energetic circulation can be facilitated and amplified through body and mind movement.
David’s book “Cultivating Qi” helps to unlock the mysteries of how Qi delivers pathways to greater lifestyle health and vitality. He explores what Qi is, where it comes from, and how we can use it to our benefit. I have found it to be a useful guide for understanding how to increase my energy capacity as well as its central importance in ensuring that our energy flow remains in motion and doesn’t become stagnant.
I reached out to David who agreed to walk us through his life journey and the book in greater detail
Let’s begin by having you share a bit about your personal journey as well as the deeper purpose and significance of your book.
I have always regarded my writing as part of a continuously unfolding autobiography, and this path that culminated in my Cultivating Qi book started at fourteen years old reading Henry David Thoreau's Walden and then trying to decipher (unsuccessfully) Lao-Tzu Tao Te Ching. Thoreau and Lao-Tzu were friendly voices that accompanied me as I meandered through college and then through a PhD in Literature, Philosophy, and History and an academic career.
During my years as a student and then as a Professor, simultaneously I was studying Buddhism and Taoism at monasteries and learning Chinese martial arts and healing practices. All of these threads--academic research and writing, becoming a Ch'an Buddhist Priest, holding a lineage in Complete Reality School Taoism, dedicating myself to T'ai Chi Chuan and Qigong, and studying under various world-renowned teachers--come together in my Cultivating Qi book.
What ultimately was the catalyst behind your decision to write the book?
The major impetus behind the book was that there seemed to me to be a chasm between the philosophy and the practice of T'ai Chi and Qigong and the philosophies that inform those practices. There just wasn't a book I could find that was creating a necessary bridge between philosophy and practice.
As the American writer Toni Morrison said, if you can't find the book you are looking for, then you need to write it. So I did. It wasn't an easy book to write, but I have always thought that easy things weren't worth pursuing. But it was a very solitary and sometimes lonely project too.
Can you describe what your journey into the esoteric realm of Qi has been like?
During a lunch with my friend and author Deng Ming Dao, he remarked to me that it must feel odd to be so alone in my efforts to build such bridges since many martial artists are not interested in anything beyond the surface philosophy, and the people pursuing the philosophy tend not to be practitioners of the art.
I must admit that I do feel a bit out of place, but it is my thing--my path--and as I said, my autobiography in the pursuit of understanding and purposeful living. So a long story short, books have been the natural extension of my journey through life, and that journey continues into other writing projects as well.
For those who may be unfamiliar with the concept of Qi, would you be kind enough to offer a simple explanation of what it is and its importance?
Sure. Quite simply, Qi is energy: the electrical impulses that course through the nervous system, the energy of blood circulation, the kinetic energy of muscular contraction and movement, the energy of the body processing nutrition, the energy of the brain waves. But it is also the nutrient values in the foods we eat, the air we breathe, and the environment we live in.
From a physics standpoint, everything is energy--swirling atoms with protons and neutrons. Qi is another name for all of this. It is the life force for us individually and collectively. And it is the energy of the universe. To become aware of Qi is to become finely tuned to our own bodies, the turning of the seasons, and what is happening all around us. Qi is the secret of health and longevity, and it is the force behind living with greater purpose and more deeply in each moment.
What sorts of common misconceptions do you hear as it relates to the concept of Qi?
Qi has been co-opted by the New Age community, and while any attention to the vital aspects of energy is useful, it has also morphed into a number of misconceptions such as there is good Qi (energy) and bad Qi (energy). Energy is simply energy. Think of electricity in a building. The electricity is neither good nor bad and has no conscious desire to help or harm. Rather, electricity is. Qi is the same. It simply is. And like electricity it can be used as a tool for good or bad living.
Another misunderstanding is that Qi can be harnessed for special super powers. People think that being able to use Qi leads to shooting lightning bolts out of their hands, being able to levitate or bend spoons or fly. These are things that people have told me that they wanted to learn how to do with Qi. They seem disappointed when I tell them that I can't do any of those things, but also that I am not interested in devoting my energy to that since the issue for me is living a deeper, more personally engaged life.
Furthermore, I can't see how any of those super powers help with living other than acquiring what Buddhism refers to as mere "fame and gain." Qi should not be commodified and regarded as a path to profit. It is the flow of the Tao of the universe and our job is to be in that flow as well. When we are in harmony with that flow, we are healthy and happy.
You discuss in your book the role that Qi can play in terms of achieving greater levels of wholeness and balance in our lives. Can you elaborate on this?
For me, personally, Qi fits into a bigger picture of my day to day life: it is the fuel of meditation, body practices such as T'ai Chi and Qigong, my teaching, writing, reading, research, as well as all of the everyday things like walking the dog, talking with my wife, cooking a meal. Qi is also the force behind my awareness of my mental, psychological, emotional, and physical machinations; it sustains my concentration to engage in a dynamic relationship with my life; and it provides the means to self-reflect in order to make better decisions, which Taoism refers to as "wu wei," acting naturally and in accord with a situation.
These are all part of my personal life, but from sharing my understanding of the relationship of Qi with T'ai Chi, Qigong, and Meditation with my students and others, I have seen how all of these things have the potential to greatly improve physical and mental health and motivate others on their paths of healing and well being. But Qi is simply one ingredient in this bigger process of self-reflection and actualization. A person needs "Yi" (proper intention). The old saying is "Yi leads Qi."
Can you elaborate a bit more about the practical importance of Qi in our everyday lives?
Our intention leads our energy. We need energy to sustain our progress on our life path, but our intention needs to clear too otherwise it saps our Qi. The relationship of Qi to these practices might be best visualized as a self-enclosed loop: meditation and body practices generate Qi, which fuels those practices. Moreover, the practices become ways of understanding the self more deeply and to feel how Qi works inside and outside of the body--all of which becomes a self-sustaining system of energy that fuels development and process, which in turn deepens Qi.
What is your greatest hope in terms of what readers like me will walk away with from your book?
I envisioned Cultivating Qi as a prompt for others to enhance their lives through adopting some of the practices described in the "Daily Practice" section of the book. In addition, I wanted readers to be better informed so that they could find an authentic teacher if he or she wished to continue these various practices under expert guidance.
There are too many people teaching who are inadequately trained in these areas, but many people seeking out teachers don't know what to look for in a practice or the qualities of an expert teacher. The whole process is coated in mystery and misinformation, and I wanted my book to be a primer for others to clear away the smoke of misinformation and to make informed choices.
Any final thoughts you would like to add in closing?
Parallel to the rationale for the book, I also started a not for profit, the One Pine Institute, to host workshops with some of the world's best teachers and practitioners of T'ai Chi, Qigong, Buddhism, and Taoism so that others have access to people I regard as the embodiment of these practices. And since people often contact me asking what to do if there aren't any teachers where they live, I started online classes in Qigong and T'ai Chi as well as a vast recording library of over 200 classes so that people can pursue training wherever they are.
The book fits into my overall goal of providing access for others to engage in these practices and to have the support and motivation, the Qi and Yi, as they pursue their own spiritual life paths.
“Great Books, Great Minds” is my full-time work and life passion, a labor of love fueled by the endless hours of work I put into researching and writing these feature pieces. So if you enjoy this digital newsletter, find it valuable, and savor world-class book experiences featuring epic authors and book evangelists, then please consider becoming a paid supporting member at $6.00 a month or $60.00/year.
Thank you for your support! In the meantime, stay thirsty for a great book
Diamond-Michael Scott, Global Book Ambassador, Great Books, Great Minds —“Igniting a New World of Community, Connection, and Belonging, One Book at a Time”