Ceremony for the Void
Art-Life Rituals for Radical Tenderness (12/12)

Ceremony for the Void

Listen to Heaven and Earth and behave like ephemeral residents. Be in communion with the in-between, with the Void, and all beings that share this sacred space.

Exercising “Radical Tenderness” in light of the concepts of Qi and Void manifested in Chinese culture

“(…) What is in between heaven and earth is like bellows:
Empty but inexhaustible,
And its movement produces a breath that revives the flame (…)”
“(…) Heaven and earth endure eternally.
They last forever because they do not live for themselves (…)”

– Lao Tsè, in Tao te king

In this article I will share what I’ve been practicing and thinking about Body, Space, Movement, and Void, stemming from my practice with Qi Gong. I propose to combine the concepts of Qi and Emptiness, expressed in Chinese culture, with some verses of the text “Co-sensing with Radical Tenderness,” to formulate small rituals that can be incorporated into the daily lives of people who this article might touch. The rituals, presented in the videos along this text, will help us exercise the Void through the resumption of a primordial agreement that has been broken by our society: We, and all the beings that are here, are fruits of a loving embrace and an intimate agreement that Heaven has with the Earth, and this agreement is given through respect and maintenance of the Void. There are two fundamental aspects to exercise:

      • Reestablish the Heaven and Earth space in us, to gradually rescue lost spatial dimensions.

      • Redo the agreements with the Void, in order to reformulate our existence in the world.
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To exercise the Void it is not necessary to return to any historical time or any distant civilization. The void does not belong to our history, it is the primordial law. It has always been with us and will accompany us until the end of our times. Considering the Void, or creating practices to worship the Void, can be a way to restore our integrity and make us realize the urgency of inhabiting and living with and for others. This can be trained—the void can be a practice! Worshipping and respecting the void can free us from malnutrition caused by the fiction that is reinforced and practiced on a global scale, a fiction that we no longer need the world or other beings and entities.

We gave up on space. We gave up on Heaven and Earth and their great in-between. The pair Heaven – Earth are no longer the nourishing sources of our civilization. The two primordial entities were suppressed and demoted by the notion of territory, by the notion of history that develops in time, and above all, by the human project of thinking that it can improve and evolve as humanity in an unsustainable growing, without end, and even without a world. Space is the only reality that can support our bodies and give us back enchantment, flexibility, strength, and balance. What we have to do is gradually restore the lost dimensions so that our body can take possession of its existence.

To train the body without taking into account the dynamic balance it has with space and with other beings is to remove from the body the power to manage itself together with real space.

We became beings starved of space, and in our fiction, we reduce space to the maximum until we think that the earth belongs to us, and only to us, and everything that exists must be overthrown, violated, plundered. In our delirium, we no longer need the earth, it was reduced to the notion of territory, and now that the territory has produced our history, we can detach ourselves from it and migrate to our own world, the screens.

Heaven and earth, the big bellows, became a mini caricature that we hold in the palm of our hands which can be moved by our fingertips, where we live with the minimum of movement in an incessant mediocre awakening of emotions that are produced by these devices.

Balance and self-regulation will only be possible through the restoration of our relationship with space and Void. Our organism needs to compose with space; it exists in relation to space. Our rupture with space generates a mismatch, we are refining our body towards the virtual environment while our organism follows the flow of real space. In this mismatch it is worth asking: how is the performance of our spirit? We can check through breathing movements, chronic tensions, and shared pains. Perhaps the pains are a meeting point between performances that no longer communicate. We exchanged composition for fragmentation and our challenge is to live without life and without the primordial relationship that sustains it: the void generated by heaven and earth.

The being needs an environment in which it can be integrated and, from then on, to understand and manifest itself with a fair conscience of one who is integrated into the whole. To be in space without knowing how to feel it and embody it is to be dispossessed of the technology of survival, to annul the meaning of existence and, therefore, to train to interrupt the flow and the sense of continuity. We are continuing to disrespect the space and our organism, sitting with mini-worlds in our hands, and almost without movements, we sadden our spine and disenchant our spirit.

Why do we train in ancient practices? A possible answer:

We train to dismember humanity from the humanistic project,
we train to remember and remake the deals with the Void.

Training and Cultivating Qi:
The Practice of Qi Gong

Qi is a Chinese concept that relates matter and energy

“The grain of rice that bursts when it is cooked or digested
releases a steam that rises and accumulates.”

“The infinite variety of phenomena in the universe is the result of the continuous union and dispersion of Qi to form phenomena of various degrees of materialization.
This idea of ​​aggregation and dispersion of Qi is discussed by many Chinese philosophers of all times.”

“Qi is a constant state of flux in varying states of aggregation. When Qi condenses, energy transforms and accumulates in physical form; when dispersed, Qi gives rise to subtler forms of matter. Qi is an energy that manifests simultaneously on the physical and spiritual levels.”

– Maciocia, in Fundamentals of TCM

“Living beings, whose visibility is the body, are the particular forms of breath (qi) that are distinct from concrete forms without being separable from them. The forms (xing) are nothing, they do not exist without these breaths that inform and transform them. On the other hand, breaths can only be apprehended in forms and through forms…”

“The breaths are the most real expression of the work carried out in the forms. They are, therefore, what those who wish to maintain their full physical and mental capacity work on.”

– Elisabeth Rochat, in The 101 Key Concepts of TCM

According to the concept of Qi developed by Chinese culture, all that we are are stages of the same substance that thickens or disperses, and that form and energy are inseparable. When we move with awareness, we can promote the dialogue of these substances and cause densification or dispersion, entrances and exits, descents and rises of subtler movements that circulate in our body. In other words, we can cultivate this body and promote free circulation.

Qi Gong is a type of training to cultivate and circulate energy. Qi is also called breath body, or vital energy.

To get in touch with this body, with this less dense and therefore more subtle and rarefied substantiality, it is necessary to reformulate the agreements with our physical body, recognize empty spaces within the density of form, release these spaces, release tensions in order to access internal movements and, above all, to promote the meeting of all these different stages of the same substance that constitutes our being. The practice of Qi Gong is intended to refine the relationship between form and energy, in order to cultivate and transform one stage into another, from dense to subtle and from subtle to dense, thus promoting flow and balance in our organism.

The understanding of balance, from this point of view, takes place in the orchestration of internal and external movements, and, contrary to what we think and practice in our daily lives, form is not rigid, it is in transit in an infinite game between dense and subtle, aggregation and dispersion. Thinking and practicing how something in transit can help us reorganize our daily lives, review our postures and attitudes to respect vital processes that cannot be left aside.Traditional Chinese Medicine is inseparable from the idea of ​​movement and its theories are based on understanding life and maintaining health through movement. Thus, perceived in movement, Chinese medical literature and the body arts derived from this knowledge align us between Heaven and Earth, and, standing before these two managers of life, we ​​can reconsider and create strategies to live our time with flexibility and without mistreating the organism.

The importance of doing small rituals and ceremonies

“Everything that exists is trying to unite with this whole,
every Ceremony exists to unite, gather, bring to unity. (…)
If we don’t have enough ceremonies in our lives,
soon we feel empty, sad and de-spiritualized. (…)
But what we are really feeling is the self’s natural hunger
for connection with the vast Self.
And that only happens through ceremonies.”

– Shaman Beautiful Painted Arrow/Joseph Rael, in Ceremonies of the Living Spirits

“In Ancient Africa, the symbol of the epiphany that is humanity
was the seed that sinks into the earth, which dies,

is reborn and produces both the tree and the fruit as well as life.
It is largely to celebrate life, that ancient Africans invented speech and language, objects and techniques, ceremonies and rituals,
works of art as well as social and political institutions.

– Achille Mbembe, in Critique of Black Reason

According to Shaman Beautiful Painted Arrow, in order to seek unity one of the things we need to do is ceremony, because ceremonies exist to bring unification, integration, and recognition that we are part of this vast and constantly changing space.

When our days go on without meaning—mainly because of the realization that nothing else can be done to transform ourselves and the things we build, especially with our bodies and in the face of the deep densification that we find ourselves, at this point apparently with no way out—we need to carry out something that returns us to the most subtle or originary stage, the state of manifestation, of dream. To return to the origin is a necessary conscious work that can be done through ceremony.

Ceremony, in the light of this teaching, is nothing more than bringing awareness to our movements and performing them collectively with the intention of building processes that can return dense things to their primordial stage. In this transitory movement of matter, we psychically change the relation of that thing to the whole and, in this way, it is able to go back to its original stage, its stages of dream.

The concept of Qi, from Chinese cosmology, presupposes that all matter that is the result of the intersection of Heaven and Earth is built of Qi. The denser matter is a stage of aggregation of Qi, and even this matter that, despite being dense, never ceased to be flow, will disaggregate and return to its original stage over time.

What I propose in these small rituals is a training based on exercises and symbolic actions, to remake our agreements between heaven and earth and nourish ourselves with the technology that is in our anatomy and in our movements, in an attempt to seek other strategies to cultivate life and all our relationships.

Actions for Radical Tenderness: Rituals to Access the Void

Ceremony invitation 1:
Training to remember that we are ephemeral residents

“Listen to non-human authorities
and care about our relationship with them.”
(Co-sensing with Radical Tenderness)

Listen, and know how to be mediators in the space between Heaven and Earth. Listen to Heaven and Earth and behave like ephemeral residents. Be in communion with the in-between, with the Void, and all beings that share this sacred space.

Visibility, form, can be understood as a temporary aggregation of the breath of which Heaven and Earth are constituted, their casing and the space between them. The body, like everything that is visible, composes the “Between” through an ephemeral residence. We, who temporarily assume this form, are composed of distinct stages of aggregation and dispersion of breath matter. The body is an exercise of composition between dense and subtle, visible and invisible, support and movement, and it can only be in relation. The body constantly transits without choosing a quality to remain, the body does not want to remain, it needs to transit. The organism does not elect, it composes. It is necessary to respect and train impermanence. Let us continue to be in transition, until the total dispersion that will make us lose the characteristics of the living.

Qi gong is an alchemical practice for transforming essence into Qi and Qi into spirit. 

Essence – located in the lower belly, lower dantian[1] 
Qi – located in the chest and stomach, middle dantian 
Spirit – centre of the head, upper dantian

Experience the effects of visiting other densities, making them coexist at the same time without choosing what you are or a type of mental pattern that will end up shaping your physical form and consequently the way you move. Circulate your energy. Form and energy are a single movement with different diagrams and densities.

Be firm and flexible in the same gesture, without electing.
Be strong and soft in the same gesture, without electing.

Ceremony invitation 2:
Emptying the Heart

“Mourn your illusions, compost
your shit, ferment yourself.”
(Co-sensing with Radical Tenderness)

“… A hurricane does not last every morning.
A storm does not last all day
And who produces them?
If heaven and earth cannot make the excessive last,
Can man do it?”

– Lao Tsè, in Tao te king

The heart takes care of all emotions, the art of the heart consists in knowing how to empty yourself.

Ceremony invitation 3:
Restore the emptiness of the joints

“Understand that the earth is not an extension
of our bodies, it’s the other way around.”
(Co-sensing with Radical Tenderness)

“Thirty converging spokes united at the center form the wheel,
But it is the central void that moves the car.
The vase is made of clay,
But it’s the emptiness that makes it useful.
Doors and windows open in the walls of a house,
But it is the emptiness that makes it habitable…”

– Lao Tsè, in Tao te king

Our body is full of empty spaces, concretely we can feel these spaces in our joints. These spaces promote movement, they enable us to transit, rest, and be nurtured by space. The voids must be preserved, it is through them that we guarantee the health of our species. As this verse of the Tao shows us, everything we create consciously or unconsciously is in order to generate empty spaces.

Emptiness is what promotes movement. The lack of emptiness in our joints is limiting our movements and harming our organicity, and above all, bringing the false idea that our matter is fixed, that form is something that has no plasticity and that, therefore, cannot be regenerated. Going back to the void of our joints and the space between heaven and earth is something we could do to remember that we are an extension of the earth.

Our body is space and it is through space that it is composed. We no longer use these spaces in our daily affairs as the technology of inanimate things has changed from the status of information-bearing things to occupying the place of the primordial entities heaven and earth, and we are now too intimately involved and enchanted with the sacred condensed and glistening space that we hold it in the palms of our hands. We could ask ourselves: Why has our body become a depository of pain and anguish, a kind of wasteland of capitalism, while shiny objects are increasingly refined and suppressing our body and space?

Body and space cannot manifest separately, we need to review the agreements with the void to reformulate our choices and free the Earth from our limited human project. We need to redo the agreements with what is empty in us, the void par excellence, the spaces in our joints, they are what promote the flow. The change from one movement to the other is always mediated by a void.

Performative Actions

Performance 1:
Before the altar that is the other:

“Dissolve the limits and weight of your body
by allowing others to move through, with and for you.”
(Co-sensing with Radical Tenderness)

“Keep the body and soul sensitive in unity,
So that they cannot be separated.
Contain the vital force and make it docile,
To be like the newborn.
Purify yourself, refraining from scrutinizing the mysteries,
To stay whole.

Generate the path and maintain it, produce without appropriating”

– Lao Tsè, in Tao te king

The mystery is an altar, and when we walk together, we offer this charge of life and death; we offer our transience and our flow in communion with the original movements; we offer the raw material that was granted to us by the planet to vibrate around here. In front of the altar, in pause and silence, I feel life and death dance, and I dissolve in the rhythm and universal movements.

Performance 2:
Pendulate, giving back the great dance that generated me

“Disarm, declutter,
and decenter yourself.”
(Co-sensing with Radical Tenderness)

“… who can, like water, wait for the mud to settle?
Who can remain until the moment of action?”

– Lao Tsè, in Tao te king

“Remember that the hole
is always deeper.”
(Co-sensing with Radical Tenderness)[2]

To be can mean: constant transit between all the movements. To be is to carry a load of life and death that are composed in a great agreement. Being is a rhythm that pulses together and regulates itself. Being is the beauty of the ephemerality of living things, it is that portion of ourselves that is inexhaustible and which we have no right to violate, therefore it is kept secret and distant from all our socio-technological apparatus. Being is the mystery we manage to exhale when we share something. The mystery takes shape without revealing itself through the composition of empty space with vibrant bodies.

I hope all the bodies around here dance. Dancing is a way of cultivating the void. Dancing is a way of enchanting matter.


[1] Dantian (cinnabar field), regions of the body that are bases of transformation and refinement. Through internal cultivation the essence volatilises and becomes qi (breath), the breath circulates and becomes shen (spirit), the spirit in fullness attains the purity of wuji (state of emptiness) and rules the body.

[2] This is a free translation of a Brazilian expression “O buraco é sempre mais embaixo,” which means that when you think you have resolved a certain issue, there is always more to look into. As it does not have an English equivalent, this sentence only appears in the Portuguese version of the text “Co-sensing with Radical Tenderness.”

Filed Under: Photo & Video


Danielli Mendes is a Brazilian artist and Qi Gong teacher living in São Paulo. She graduated with a dance degree from the State University of Campinas (Unicamp) and works as a dancer and performer. She is currently dedicated to researching and creating mindfulness practices to restore the energetic body through choreographies and performative acts that she has titled “Ceremonies for Stillness.”

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