While meditating and back breathing in cat stretch pose , I received a message from the Teacher within, “time to practice Gu Shen”. Surprised, since I don’t actually speak Chinese, I wondered if I heard correctly. However temple cats are known for being curious (as well as vocal and independent) and so my research took me to the library where I found “Gu Shen” in the 6th chapter of the Tao Te Ching by the 6th century sage Lao Tzu. The concept of Gu Shen translates as “valley spirit”.
The valley spirit never dies;
We call it the mysterious female.
The gates of the mysterious female -
These we call the roots of Heaven and Earth.
Many scholars of Taoism interpret this passage in a similar way – “Like the field under the wildflowers, the valley spirit is used by the Ten Thousand Things, but they are not necessarily aware of it. It is still, empty, and inexhaustible. The flowers are nourished by the field, but do not exhaust it.”
The essence of Gu Shen being emptiness and stillness, the practice would have to involve emptying and beingness – a somewhat heretical and radical idea in a world dedicated to stimulation and acquisition. How does one create emptiness but to release the continual stream of thoughts … of people, places, events, opinions, food and other cats. This is a foundational principle found in Buddhism as well as the deeper meaning behind yogacittavrittinirodaha. (Yoga is the stilling of the turbulence of the mind waves, the second sutra from Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras.) The Inner Guru brought me full circle to a familiar concept but through another seemingly different tradition.
I offer my nightly meditation and practice of Gu Shen: Inhale and bring to your awareness to a thought about something that has caught and hijacked your attention and with an exhale to release it. Continue this exercise until there is no thought left. It is rather simple but can be quite profound. While I am rather a adept at everything involving sleep, I think I may have discovered the way to Turiya, a peaceful , dreamless and blissful sleep…
Quotes from the Tao and the Field by Robert G. Hendricks