Shifu’s 24-Hour Retreat

Shifu Michael Rinaldini

July 27
10:15 am

Today is the day that I am going to do my 24-hour sitting meditation practice. Review what I said about it in my October 13, 2013 entry. Obviously I haven’t worked on this practice in smaller increments, it would have been reported on in these journal entries. I am finding myself to be too busy to devote to any extended sittings, and so I decided, oh well, just go for it. One of my priest students made an attempt but he was not able to complete the full 24 hours because where he was practicing-in some remote place in Mexico, there were storms that interfered with his meditations. He’ll be sending me his own notes from his experiences, which I’ll include in my journal.

Anyway, the main change from what I mentioned in my October entry is that it is okay to recite from Daoist scriptures during the 24 hours. This will actually be very beneficial as the inspiring words of ancient sages will help to carry you through the difficult hours of just sitting and doing nothing.

I’ll write in my journal later today before I start the retreat. But once the 24 hours begins, I’ll have to give up any writing. This will be one of my challenges as I’ve become accustomed to documenting everything I do with at least a short note in my journal. However, after the 24 hours, I’ll write as much as I want, even if I don’t make the full 24 hours. My plan is to start around 5 pm tonight, Sunday and go until 5 pm on Monday.

4:25 pm
In 3o minutes I’ll begin my 24-hour meditation. My meditation room is all set with teapot and utensils, and a sweat shirt for later tonight. Right now it is really hot, in the low 90’s. For practice, I have the Rites of the American Dragon Gate Lineage, and two versions of the Daode jing. Actually, I will be in my meditation room which is situated slightly separate from the main house, so I am not really going anywhere except the backyard. The first thing I will do to open the 24 hour retreat is to recite from the:

Opening Invocation for Reciting the Rites

To study the Dao, I work diligently and painstakingly,
To develop faith, I stir up cinnabar sincerity.
Burning incense, I surrender to the Highest Lord.
As perfect energy mixes with the rising smoke,
I only wish that he extend his great forgiveness,
So my ancestors of seven generations may be released from the dark underworld.

So, signing off for now, and until 5 pm on Monday.

July 29
And that is how my 24-hour meditation retreat on Sunday afternoon started. It is now Tuesday early evening and the retreat is all over. The good news is that I completed the 24 hours of non-stop practice of sitting meditation, reciting Scriptures, circle walking, drinking puerh tea, and only minimally eating. My biggest challenge was during the evening between 11 pm and 4 am. This was the time that I was tempted the most to give up. I could have easily gone inside my house went to sleep. But I stayed with it. It wasn’t the most fruitful meditation time, and to be truthful, there were moments when I couldn’t tell the difference between being in a semi-meditative state or was I just sleeping. Anyway, I pushed through this dark period of the night. Around 4 am, I went outside on my patio and did some circle walking. Then I got a further eye-opener from my dog, who didn’t know I was circle walking around the corner of the house, in the dark, and who nearly attacked me with a deep growling bark. It caught me off guard since my back was to her, and the sudden shock stopped my breathing for a brief moment. Well, that jolted some energy back into me.

Fortunately, the earlier hours of the evening between 5 pm and 11 pm were much more productive for me. I practiced zuowang meditation and meditated a lot on the practice of asking: what is Not Two? I recited from the set of Daoist scriptures that makes up the gongke (Daoist liturgy) of the American Dragon Gate Lineage. While reciting, I drifted off into deeper states of meditation whenever I came across inspiring scriptures. Here are some words of scripture that drove me deeper within:

To follow the Dao, use your Heart.
Ascended Spirits gaze down.
(Incense Blessing Invocation)

Alone, you arrive without a purpose,
Empty, with nothing stored.
Sacrifice everything and understand the mysterious texts.
(Opening the Scriptures Invocation)

When desires do not come forth,
Then this is perfect stillness.
(Qingjing jing-Clarity and Stillness Scripture)

When I recited this above text, I kept repeating it again and again. I played around with alternate versions of the text. Sometimes I recited: When desires/thoughts do not come forth, or When the thinking mind does not come forth. I practiced this for a long time until I just closed my eyes and went off into empty state, perfect stillness.

Things like this happened throughout the night and into the next day.

August 2
Another area that I want to comment on about my 24-hour meditation was the choice of qigong exercises that I practiced. It should come as no surprise that I would practice circle walking. That’s what I did during the night, especially at 4 am when I went outside after being very sleepy for several hours. But now, after having some time to reflect on it, I see that my choice of posture while walking was rather insightful. I remember saying to myself that I should hold a posture which will give me energy, help me to wake up and be alert. I chose the Heaven and Earth Palms posture: one hand raised above the head, and palm turned to face behind me, the other hand lowered in front of the pelvic area, palm forward and fingers pointing down. This posture according to Tom Bisio in his bagua circle walking book stimulates a number of Kidney, Bladder, and Gallbladder meridian points along the Yin Qiao Mai and Yang Qiao Mai Eight Extraordinary Vessels.[1] Bisio even points out that these vessels are important for Daoist cultivation. He refers to a famous Daoist alchemist, Zhang Bo Duan, and says about him:

Zhang says that only when Yin Qiao becomes activated will the other vessels open. He refers to Yin Qiao as the “Governor of the Spirit” and the “Peach of Well-Being.”[2]

And when I examine a new book that I just acquired on the eight extraordinary vessels by Dr. David Twicken, I see further positive implications of why this was such a good idea to walk holding the Heaven and Earth Palms. Several of the meridian points on these Qiao vessels have influences on the eyes, mental clarity, calming the spirit, releasing stress, and even helping one to see into the inner nature of the person. Some of these points are Kidney 6 (Shining Sea-Zhao Hai), Bladder 62 (Ninth Channel-Shen Mai), and Bladder 1 (Eye Brightness-Jing Ming).[3] I used this posture throughout my 24 hour meditation whenever I did some qigong along with some other qigong exercises. And the interesting thing about all this was that when I completed the 24 hours of practice, I wasn’t tired at all. I actually lied down in bed around 5:30 pm on Monday and thought I would just take the edge off of my tiredness, but in a few minutes I realized I’m not sleepy at all and got up. I guess that the combination of deep rest I received from the sitting practice and the energizing nature of the circle walking provided me the nourishing energy to complete the 24-hour meditation retreat.

In summary, I would call what I did more of a retreat within a retreat, or perhaps a 24-Hour Meditation Retreat. It wasn’t a continuous experience of just sitting in one place, on the cushion, and meditating constantly for 24 hours. That notion was my own ego thinking that I could accomplish such a task. But in fact, I did get to accomplish something else, which was to practice meditation in all the body postures: sitting, lying down, walking and standing. As it says in the Chongyang’s Fifteen Discourses on Establishing the Teachings by Wang Zhe:

Sitting in meditation does not simply mean to sit with the body erect and the eyes closed. This is superficial sitting. To sit authentically, you must maintain a heart-mind like Mount Tai, remaining unmovable and unshakable throughout the entire day. Maintain this practice whether standing, walking, sitting or lying down, whether in movement or stillness. Do not allow the external world to enter in. If there is even the slightest trace of a thought about movement and stillness, this cannot be called quiet sitting. If you can practice like this, although your body resides in the world of dust, your name will already be listed in the ranks of the immortals. (not sure whose translation)

This is still the goal however, to sit unstirred by the wanderings of the mind, just watching as the things of nature unfold before your inner eyes, and simply allow the Dao to return home.

This is our practice as Daoists.

References

[1] Ba Gua Circle Walking Nei Gong: The Meridian Opening Palms Of Ba Gua Zhang by Tom Bisio, Denver: Outskirts Press, Inc., 2012, p. 197.

[2] Ibid. pp. 197-198.

[3] Eight Extraordinary Channels, Qi Jing Ba Mai by Dr. David Twicken. London, Singing Dragon, Jessica Kingsley Publishers, pp. 125, 130, 133.

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