Turns out cultivation is absolutely real and I've already written a real-life cultivation manual.
Has tribulations and everything. IRL all tribulations are demon tribulations, but sadly not the cool holodeck kind. I'm sure there's even a golden core equivalent.
Qi is true beliefs. Impurities are false beliefs. Eating "mortal" food is consuming e.g. journalism. So-called "spiritual" cuisine is reading or listening to stuff that's not full of lies and self-hatred. No matter how highly cultivated you are, if you read a journalism, you will have to expel impurities later.
Unlike in the stories, there are no areas with "thin" qi or
"thick" qi. You never need an immortal cave. Location is not particularly important. In fact truth is 100%
present everywhere. If you can parse A implies B, then you're good to
go. There is no qi sensing stage. If you can do addition you're Turing complete and being Turing complete is the foundational skill.
On one hand, there is certainly writing of thin qi or thick qi. At first, the thin qi provided by journalism can be sufficient. As cultivation proceeds, writing with worthwhile qi becomes rarer and rarer until you have provide your own, slowing the cultivation process.
Ultimately the available qi becomes too thin to advance in any reasonable timeframe. On the other hand, the amount of available qi IRL depends on how many cultivators there are and how high their realm is. Rather than cultivation leading to qi starvation, analogous to food availability, more cultivation increases the availability of qi in an exponential fashion.
On the plus side, due to the nature of my manual, cultivation only halts (in practical terms) when you already predict everything that happens. You don't get halted before there are still returns to realize, only after there are no further gains to be had. Imagine you could go to the gym until you could lift literally anything in existence. Turns out it's okay to stall out on lifting heavier things because there's nothing heavier to lift.
A cultivation cycle is doing one rep of a set. Turns out, with a good
manual, meditation is easy. You normally don't need to meditate that hard, and
thus don't need an isolation chamber or anything of that nature. Do it on the bus or waiting in line. If nobody is paying attention to you, do it at a party.
P.S. Qi just means air or gas. Spirit, prana, mana, breath. It's all the same word. The non-metaphorical meaning is mundane, not profound.
P.P.S. Being a wallflower is counterproductive. You stand out and attract attention. If you want to be ignored go stand near a rude group. They won't be able to shut up about themselves and you can just tune them out. Maybe prepare some generally-applicable platitudes on the off chance they have a lucid moment; normies can't tell if you change the subject. "So you have some strong opinions about this." Snrk.
Spiritual roots are being willing to be laughed at by the ingroup. E.g. being willing to literally call yourself a cultivator. "That's goofy, cringe." "Sounds like quitter talk to me." If you're too weak to withstand social disapproval, then you are too weak to even try to cultivate. Mortal == NPC.
NPCs are always boring and normally stale. Cultivation isn't boring. Makes NPCs afraid.
My cultivation method has flaws, just as they're supposed to. Nobody else has written a cultivation manual, or I would be able to tell you exactly what the flaws are, by comparison. Some things which look like flaws are merely incompatibilities arising from having no immortal peak to live on. If you have to live among mortals your qi waves will cause them pain and they will, almost rationally, lash out. Have to hide your power level.
If they were rational they would realize you're strong and can crush them at will; starting a fight is suicidal. I guess slapping mortals for impudence is also real. Yes, they are indeed too stupid to avoid offending cultivators. A cultivator community integrating with a mortal community results in a bunch of dead or maimed mortals, because we can safely assume that not-100% of cultivators have 100% of restraint.
Cultivation really does give you an aura of command that's capable of suppressing NPCs. You can even flavour your aura with intent if you like, though I've never seen a situation where it would be useful except for your own amusement. If you meet a second cultivator you can tag-team the NPCs, pranking them arbitrarily. On the downside yes flaunting your aura will make the mortals want to worship you, it turns out worship is super irritating, and that goes double when they're trying to pretend it's not worship. "Your offering sucks." "You suck!" "You're the one trying to worship me, idiot." "No I'm not!" They try to guilt you into accepting their trash disposal as gifts. "This is the socially-acceptable gift." "Your society is impure and I've already purged its rules."
Defeating someone in a higher realm is possible in real life, until your soul is perfected.
1) Unlike the stories, it is impossible to do so consistently. If you can consistently beat someone else, you are in the higher realm. If it doesn't seem that way, someone screwed up the realm measurement.
2) Beyond the lowest realms, defeat becomes victory. The idea is to expel impurities and absorb qi. If you're "defeated" that means someone helped you find and expel an impurity. Cooperation, not defection. Winning a debate with someone is a gift that does not benefit the winner. IRL you gain XP when you lose a fight, not when you win.
Qi deviation occurs when you attempt to stop cultivating. If you try to go back along your path it will absolutely fuck you up. A Destroyed lie is permanently destroyed, short of physically damaging your brain.
Cultivating a flawed base means incorporating impurities into your qi foundations. IRL it's troublesome but hardly dangerous to extract the impurities later. At least, no more dangerous than cultivation always is. You can (and likely should) re-form your foundation as many times as it takes.
IRL there is no clearly-defined foundation in the first place. What has been purified is foundation. It's as big as it has gotten so far.
Yes, actually, cultivation does make you run faster and live longer. Though, unlike the stories, not directly. Rather, your mastery of qi - true beliefs - means you eat things you should truly eat, and as a result become healthier. I gave up being woken up and always sleep until rested. Makes a huge difference. It seems much of aging is merely cumulative sleep deprivation.
If you stop hating your body and expel impure ideas about it, it turns out that's good for you.
P.P.P.S. Yes, it's internal alchemy. External alchemy is a merciful trap. Not very useful, but much less dangerous than internal alchemy.