Shifu’s November Retreat Journal: Sky Farm Hermitage

Shifu Michael Rinaldini

November 16, 2015
11:48 am

I arrived at Sky Farm Hermitage about an hour ago. I could feel the stillness and silence even before I unpacked. My chair was on the pouch of the hermitage and I immediately settled into it and before you know it I was in meditation. It was a restful meditation not a deep one, restful.

I think I like being here more in the cooler months than the hot summer. It’s quieter for one thing and I like to bundle up in sweatshirts and sit in my chair on the porch and listen. And odd thing though it is cooler now than summer, when I sit in one place, the sun is very warm on my face and head.

After a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, a few nuts from a trail mix bag and some tea, I am back to just sitting outside and listening. Now, however, my mind is experiencing a variety of wandering thoughts on mundane topics. It seems I’ll have to make more of an effort to allow my mind to just hear the stillness and silence.

Earlier I went for a short walk to the refectory, hoping to see the resident sister nun. We haven’t greeted each other yet since my arrival. While in the refectory I saw all the usual books on Christian prayer and a fair dose of books on the solitary experience. I picked up one on the hermitage within. Randomly flipping through it I found a passage on something I have been thinking about lately: “That hermit is to be pitied who makes do with other people’s shouts of joy, even though of saints and most sublimely phrased. What he has to do is himself possess what forces such passionate cries from them.” (Neame 1999 p. 87)

The Hermitage Within:A Monk, Neame, Alan, trans. 1999. Darton, Longman and Todd, Ltd and Cistercian Publications Inc. Kalamazoo, Michigan.

What this is saying to me is that the true source of inspiration comes from the higher source and not from other people’s writings. And similarly, my own writings, like this journal book needs to inspire the reader to actually put down the book and find a place to listen, to pray, to meditate, or to go for a walk in the woods by themselves. And so to be a good example of that, I am closing my iPad notebook and going for a walk and then doing some qigong. Your turn.

7 pm

It’s the evening now. I made a rolled oats dinner with diced ginger and apple. I should have cooked the apples less as it cooked down to be more like applesauce in rolled oats. It was okay but I expected better. The ginger’s health benefits made up for the lack of a great taste.

Earlier in the afternoon I was reading from the book, Liu Chuxuan (1142-1203) and his Commentary on the Daoist Scripture Huangdi yinfu jing. It is on the writings of one of the seven perfected disciples of the early Quanzhen school of Daoism. I purchased this book nearly a year ago, started reading it but stopped because of too many other book projects I was working on. My main reason for getting it was because it is a commentary on the Yinfu Jing by Liu Chuxuan, also known as Liu Changsheng. It was this scripture, which was suggested to me to study when I was ordained in 2003. I was told to study it if I wanted to make progress as a Daoist. I am still reading its preliminary reports on such topics as inner alchemy, the biographical information on Liu Chuxuan, including his sudden enlightenment experience upon meeting Quanzhen Patriarch Wang Chongyang, and other topics of importance in early Quanzhen history.

One such topic discussed was the actual meaning of the word “Quanzhen.” It is very interesting to know these little details as they fill in the gap between what you think that word means and its actual literal meaning. The first part of Quanzhen, is “quan” whose literal meaning is complete, whole, or, to complete or completion. The second part of Quanzhen is “zhen” whose literal meaning is truth, or true. “In Daoism, it generally refers to a transcendental state of being beyond the comprehension of the average human being. Thus, very often it is also translated as ‘perfect’ or ‘perfection.'” (Acker 2006 p. 41) Thus we have Quanzhen more commonly known as the Complete Perfection school of Daoism in the West. And furthermore, we have the understanding that Quanzhen refers to those who follow the path leading to complete perfection as the very ultimate goal of Daoism.

8:10 pm

Time to meditate now. But before I do, I want to share what I read in Wu Jyh Cherng’s book the other day. He said that if you meditate in the morning and the evening for at least 30 minutes each time, then you will fill your day and bedtime evening hours in a relaxed and peaceful way. So here I go to recharge my meditation battery for a peaceful night’s sleep. Good night.

November 17, 2015

8:30 am

I just returned inside from some loosening qigong and a brief test of whether the porch is wide enough for circle walking practice. To the reader this may sound like a weird concern knowing that I am on retreat at an isolated location and most have plenty of outdoors grounds to circle walk. True, but all the property is on a hillside with no level grounds. The porch is my level practice field. But, perhaps this is one of my obstacles, more of the mind, than actual physical problem. It is my mind, my preconceived notions that need to change. Since I wish to make a video of me circle walking for my qigong program, the level porch is the best location. The size of the circle will have to be adjusted to accommodate for the full extension of the arm postures as well as the 2-step and 4-step changing directions. Anyway, before any of that, it’s time for meditation.

10:30 am

While eating breakfast I read from Damo Mitchell’s book, White Moon on the Mountain Peak. I was looking for his references to zuowang meditation but kept getting pulled to other sections. Here is the ending of a powerful point he makes on the relationship between Universal Consciousness and individual consciousness.

The closest we can come to the frequency at which consciousness exists is the frequency of Shen. This is the most refined of the ‘three treasures’ of Jing, Qi and Shen that make up each and every one of us.

The collective Shen of the cosmos becomes the individual Shen of each living creature on Earth, which then generates the individual energy, or Qi, of every living creature. (This same process applies to Qi producing the Jing which lives in each living creature.)

In this way, universal consciousness roots itself in every single life form on the planet. Those who falsely identify with the physical realm, accessed through their own five senses, will always perceive only the individualistic manifestation of reality. Those able to go deep enough into the core of their consciousness will manage to dissolve their connection to the physical form and perceive the truth of our interconnectedness at the level of original spirit. (Mitchell 2016 pp. 315-316)

This is a very significant point made here by Mitchell and the reader will be advised to explore on their own the whole teachings of Daoism on cosmology and the return to the Source. For now, I want to add my opinion or insights that for the individual to free themselves from the level of individual consciousness, occasionally, they must withdraw from their ordinary lives and dwell in solitude. Let solitude be their teacher for a few days. Let solitude be their family and friends for a few days. Let solitude be their job for a few days. Let solitude be their Facebook and other social media for a few days. Let solitude be their TV, iPod music, iPhone and instant messaging for a few days.

2:12 pm

What does it mean to grow as a Daoist in your heart? I started writing about that question recently but haven’t really gone too far with it yet. I’ve been thinking about it, however, a lot since the beginning of this retreat and prior to it. In fact, references to heart keep showing up in my readings and in my recitations of the ADGL gongke. (The ADGL Gongke is the set of scriptures and invocations established by the American Dragon Gate Lineage and recited daily by its members.)

And as I was just sitting outside on the porch after a session of qigong the question appeared in my mind: How does a Daoist grow in their heart? For me, a lot has to do with stillness. Stillness is different from silence, you know. Sitting outside is a perfect place to experience the difference between the two. It is definitely not silent, even though it is not very noisy. There are the birds singing, the wind blowing, jets and smaller plane sounds in the distance, and the sounds of the occasional car on the nearby roads, and so much more. But yet, it is pretty quiet here. There is the inner silence though, but stillness somehow feels one step closer to the true essence of the heart.

Stillness on the other hand is something more intangible. It could exist in noise or silence. And it is not so much found externally, yet it is, like in the solidness of the giant redwood tree, or like so many other natural things. But we mainly talk about the experience of stillness on the internal level. And the place of that stillness that we usually refer to is the “heart.”

3:38 pm

What moves our internal stillness? I just went to one of the core Daoist scriptures, the Qingjing Jing, or Scripture of Clarity and Stillness. The human heart is fond of stillness. Stillness is moved by desires. Desires interfere with the stillness of the heart. To grow as a Daoist in one’s heart is to be free of desires. And to be free of desires is to go deep into the emptiness of the mind, that is, consciousness. Accomplishing this, one realizes the perfect Dao.

5 pm

Practicing circle walking, this moment, just moved to another level. I was reading in Daoist Meditation, by Master Wu in his chapter 2 on the Fundamentals of the Method. Amazing. Amazing. Amazing. How did I miss this? In my rush to read this book I raced pass this powerful first section which spells out the whole approach to zuowang meditation. The breath, it is all about the breath. So when I moved from sitting down and reading to standing and getting ready to either meditate or write, I decided to do some circle walking. I breathed into the walking like I have never done before. It was a totally new experience. I saw myself walking as if from a distance and I saw that my posture was different and it was breathing me, full body breathing. My heart-mind was fully concentrated and I sensed that the breathing was the important thing. I walked for a few minutes more, before stopping and coming to my iPad to write this all down.

8:24 pm

It’s evening now and I’m most likely making my final retreat entry. After my previous entry, I meditated some more and reached a very deep level of stillness or as Master Wu calls it, Fixation. There was a different quality to awareness of my breathing and at times, there was not much noticeable breathing or even thinking. I was in a zone of concentration and contemplation.

I want to finish up or at least continue this evening on this question of mine: How does a Daoist grow in their heart? An important piece of the puzzle in understanding the meaning of ‘heart’ is to understand the character for ‘heart’ in Chinese. Xin is the character for both heart and mind or consciousness. And so in many writings on Daoist alchemy, sometimes you will see references to heart and other times references to mind. For the most part, they are the same, unless the author has made a clear distinction.

So let’s go back to 2003 after my priest ordination. This was when the Daoist priestess gave me instructions on what to study as a new priest, and presented me with this question. My best assumption is that the priestess was using the word ‘heart’ in its typical Chinese usage as meaning heart-mind, which is how many western scholars refer to it. Am I growing deep in my heart-mind? Am I letting go of mundane desires, which disturb my inner stillness? Am I progressing on the path to emptiness of mind? Is my consciousness expanding due to my meditation practices? Am I integrating my cultivation practices to include body, energy and spirit

transformation? These are my questions and my answers are all in a state of process and progress. The point is to keep moving forward. Answers to any of these questions would only be foolish. Life is a process and there is never a point of completion. The questions keep rolling in, and the answers keep evolving and changing. The only point of completion of any value for me was mentioned yesterday when I was writing about the meaning of the word Quanzhen. As a Daoist, my conclusion to my process will end when I attain complete perfection, Quanzhen.

November 18, 2015

7 am

End of retreat.

This was my retirement retreat prior to my upcoming last day at my day job on December 5, 2015. At that point, I continue my process as qigong teacher and Daoist Priest-full time.

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