Ki: The Vital Force

W. David Kubiak

The concept of ki has gained some currency in the west, having migrated along with oriental medicine, especially acupuncture, and martial arts. But while ki is regularly invoked as an explanatory principle in these disciplines, few practitioners or writers, either Eastern or Western, spend much time intelligibly explaining ki itself. When Westerners try, they tend toward the vaguest of definitions, such as “mystic force”, “subtle psycho-somatic energy” or “vital power”. Some, equally unhelpful, compare ki to other elusive and unfamiliar concepts like “prana” or “pneuma“.

… Two useful analogies for discussing ki transactions can be drawn from fiscal accounting and electromagnetic theory. In the fiscal analogy ki or attention is treated as a currency that may be paid out, taken in, accumulated, squandered, invested, etc. Each healthy individual is thought to begin each day with a “subsistence allowance” of ki from the collective contributions of his physiological constituents. His net balance at any particular moment, however, is largely determined by the profitability of his subsequent transactions with the natural and social environment.

… In the electromagnetic analogy each individual is presumed to generate, store, transmit, and receive ‘Ki’ as a psychosomatic current or charge. Let us imagine a “watt” of psychic energy— the power, for example, the average person expends in 60 seconds of undivided conscious attention.

… As an acute therapy: These collective attention furnaces provided high-wattage ki transfusions which charge the psychosoma of the target individual like a jolt of ethereal B vitamins. This is “drug-grade” ki which oriental medicine deems useful in resuscitative emergencies but too powerful and addictive a stimulant for regular use. (In the West, this is viscerally understood by ki junkies or attention-dependent types who perform their way to the high at the center of any available circle.

As a long-term regimen: One effect of receiving intense and sympathetic group attention is a lingering warm self-consciousness. During this afterglow the recipient is likely to regard himself more positively and hence more frequently. In oriental medicine this mirroring back upon the self of ki’s generally outgoing or extroverted flow is believed to vitalize the being, rendering it more psychosomatically assertive and immunologically sound. The terms self- regard, self-respect, self-esteem partially express the dialectic by implying that the self is attended to because of its value and that its value is enhanced by reflexive attention. But compared to group-generated, megadose ninki, individual self-regard offers attention in only “herbal” or homeopathic amounts — which is often adequate in normal, non-pathological times.

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