Calm Waters

What is Xin (心)?

What is xin (心)? Literally, it means heart. It can refer to the physical organ (心脏) or to the center of being that is most attuned to feelings and emotions. I’m not referring to sentimentality, but to those sincere, often deeply held emotions that we keep close. In practicing the internal arts, xin is what inspires us and gives life to the art.

The same concept is often referred to in sports, when an athlete shows “heart” by finishing a difficult race or accomplishing something that seemed against the odds. The character Rocky did that for us in the movies. He was always fighting against the odds, looking for ways to be a better fighter and a better person. He had us cheering for him every step of the way. He had heart.

Beyond the definition of the concept and being able to see an example of it, is the need to develop it. This development is an important part of internal work. To practice well, the inner and outer connections must be established and cultivated. “Heart” is one of the inner connections.

心与意 heart with the mind
意与神 mind with the spirit
神与精 spirit with the energy

气与呼吸 qi with the breathing

As Wang Zongyue taught:

以心行气,务令沉着,乃能收敛入骨。
以气运身,务令顺遂,  乃能便利从心。

With heart qi, the order is calm, it can be received and converge into the bones.
With qi circulating through the body, the order is smooth, and benefits come from the heart.

In practice over time, it can be the heart that is the most susceptible to damage. Again, not talking about the physical organ, but the ‘heart’ that keeps you going day after day; that gets you up in the morning and makes you want to go practice. That heart. Personal setbacks, disagreements with others, losing someone, these can all affect how we look at ourselves, who we see in the mirror, and that, in turn, affects the heart. If the heart is not calm at at peace with itself, there is nothing that will be well. Even happy events can cause a disturbance or be a distraction.

The state that is most conductive to practice is peaceful and quiet. In that calm, there is much that can be learned.

We each have the capacity to develop skills that can help calm the heart. The ability to concentrate and focus attention on our choice of subjects is one of them. If thinking about something makes you upset or anxious, don’t think about it. (Hint: It’s harder than it sounds.) Another is using the breath (breathing). By relaxing and physically controlling our breathing, we can bring the physical body into a more relaxed state. By concentrating on breathing, the distractions and disturbances in the mind begin to dissipate, and the heart becomes calm.