Review of “A Daoist Practice Journal: Come Laugh With Me” by Bryan Sweet

Review by Bryan Sweet of “A Daoist Practice Journal: Come Laugh With Me” (Author: Shifu Michael Rinaldini)

Section Nine

In this section, you will learn about Daoism by reading my new book, A Daoist Practice Journal: Come Laugh With Me. This book was written from the perspective of a modern day western Daoist. For the written part of this section, write a 1-2 page report on your general impressions of the book. For instance, what was your favorite part or what didn’t you like. Give me a couple of your favorite quotes from the book. Was there anything in this book that surprised you on the practices of a modern day Daoist?

Review of Book

The book entitled, A Daoist Practice Journal: Come Laugh with Me and written by Michael Rinaldini, is his spiritual journey as a Daoist. His chosen task was to respond to two important but common questions, “Who is a Daoist, or what makes a person a Daoist?” Mr. Rinaldini’s spiritual journey is based upon his journal entries for the years 1996 through 2012,” which covers his experiences as a student and teacher of qigong and Daoist practices. The reader is, therefore, able to witness the changes that occur within an individual who is both introspective and open to experience. He suggests that his journal entries are representative of current trends in the emergence of Daoism in the West.

In 1996, Mr. Rinaldini sensed that “something was changing inside” of him. He began to “contemplate the deeper mysteries” of the external world and the importance of learning to live in harmony with nature, rather than striving to meet his own ego-centred interests. He recognized the futility of promulgating a dualistic way of thinking – the self-consciousness of subject and object.

Rather than launch into an academic discussion of Daoism, Mr. Rinaldini provides a very unselfconscious view of his daily struggles with balancing the often conflicting demands of daily living while simultaneously cultivating a Daoist lifestyle. He describes the joy of making a simple meal, or drinking a cup of tea, and how these simple acts can stimulate a raft of questions, of self-inquiry. We witness his expanding reverie whilst walking a path outside of a monastery; he sees the “vastness of the ocean and sky before him.” He questions and looks, but doesn’t try to make anything happen – “I open myself to the underlying unity between what appears to be differentiated masses of reality of untold quantity.”
He constantly poses questions which he then strives to answer for himself, or sometimes it reminds him of readings from of Daoist texts.

This use of internal dialogue is of invaluable assistance to the reader as they follow his struggles with unpacking complex concepts. Rather than just write about Zuowang meditation, for instance, Mr. Rinaldini pens the internal dialogue that he underwent. He asked, in 17 September 2007, how a form of meditation, that stressed the wuwei state of being – a process encompassing nonaction, noncontriving, and self-dissolving – could be reconciled with a qigong form. It is not until 3 July 2008 that he formulates, for him, a satisfactory response – “Zuowang qigong is applying the practice of wu wei to ordinary qigong exercises.”

I was most taken aback, and later most impressed by his rebuke to urging to work hard at attaining the Dao. Indeed, by reflecting on his readings, he was able to link them to an incident in his life including, for instance, his teachings. While digesting a passage from a text on Quanzhen School of Daoism (“Resolutely yearn for the Tao and have nothing else that binds and enwraps you”), he links it to his teachings – “I can’t help thinking of some of my students who seem a little too complacent in thinking that all they have to do is sit in meditation, making no big effort, and eventually they all attain the Dao.” He uses this one line from this text, to injunct his students to throw themselves 110% into their practice and let go of self-imposed restrictions.

Mr. Rinaldini speaks throughout to the importance of attending retreats. He argues that a retreat is more than just a day in the woods but rather a prolonged retreat in silence and solitude. He contends that it takes some time for the stillness of deep silence to emerge out of the external solitude and silence, “At first it will appear in brief moments, glimpses. . . the more you cultivate, these brief moments will blossom into real wonders and insight.”

He has provided some wonderful insight into the nature of change, which is particularly applicable for those working in the area of rehabilitation medicine. How does one assist an injured, perhaps disabled, patient accept that their life has been dramatically changed “seemingly” for the worst. He suggests that striving to grasp the true nature of the Dao, one is lead to the acceptance that the experience of change is illusionary – health and illness, gain and loss, up and down, life and death – are equally essential to the natural functioning of things, and therefore in no way to be deplored. Indeed, the experience of perceived changes are, “just part of the process of the Dao manifesting itself in a myriad of ways,” and concludes “until we experience the unity of our self with the universal Dao self, we’ll forever be tossed by life’s ups and downs,” and, “prior to full realization (“cracking the matrix”), the path is difficult.”

On 5 June 2011, the author reflecting on a passage from the Scripture on Clarity and Purity, describes the mind and its desires as, “dark shadows preventing us from the experience of clarity and stillness.” He points to the fundamental conflict between the human spirit and our restless minds – the surface mind – one that, “keeps chasing after desires.” He reflects on the Neiye which hints at a ‘mind within a mind’, or the inner mind. He describes the presence of a seemingly unending, internal battle between the inner mind and the surface mind. This battle – seen in whole religions and philosophies – is based on dualistic ways of perceiving good and bad, the devils and the angels, and heaven and hell.

In his journal entry 24 August 2011, Mr. Rinaldini outlines his approach to Daoist internal alchemy which is based on Daoist scriptures (Zuowanglun) and encourages others to follow suit to attain both deep healing and longevity. He quotes from this text, “. . . Sitting in oblivion is the foundation of a long-life. Thus we engage perfection to refine the body-form, and once it is pure we merge with the spirit.” Mr. Rinaldini builds on this by explaining his understanding of “sitting in oblivion” – wherein the “adept goes profoundly deep into the internal process of refining jing, qi, and shen, and at such levels even the concept of the Three Treasures is lost in oblivion and the only goal remaining, the only attainment is that of merging with the Dao”. He concludes that the whole question of internal alchemy . . . seems to come down to a few basic questions: Are you following a path, which leads to a selflessness, non-conceptual, transformative experience of the Dao? . . . have you been following this path for a long time, despite other things going on in your life?” He concludes with an admonition to the adept – “practice day and night,” whether sitting, standing, lying or moving.”

Throughout his journal, Mr. Rinaldini provides detailed instructions on specific qigong routines. On 30 September 2011, for instance, he outlines a routine for relieving anxiety, as well as tonifying the spleen, the kidneys, and the lungs. A few months later he discusses a powerful qigong exercise entitled Pushing To The Sky With Both Hands, designed to tonify the Kidneys, in which he illustrates the importance of internal and external focus, as well as incorporating the three alignments of body, breath and mind. He places strong emphasis upon visualization.

The part of this book which I particularly enjoyed was his discussion of the Daoist mysticism (24 January 2010). He reflects on the experience wherein at “one clear moment” when an adept can break through (or crack) the illusionary surface of things. Mr. Rinaldini believes that this is Zuowang – a state of mind – which we realize that there are Not Two things in the entire universe. He quotes from the scripture, Faith, Mind Sutra, by “Saying Not Two opens us to the “moment” beyond “time and space” where nothing exists and yet “enlightened beings everywhere all return to the source”.

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