The practice of meditation has been part of my life for the past 40 years. It has not been a continuous practice but it has been a “constant” in my development on many levels, personal, social and especially spiritual. This section of my web page, like the circle walking section, will come from my past and current journal writings and reflect primarily on my experiences of Daoist meditation. I’ll begin with a practice that I created to give me more time in the week to practice meditation, it’s from my book, A Daoist Practice Journal: Come Laugh With Me.
2008 March 15
The following journal entries are from my all-night retreats I have started doing in my meditation room. Basically, I stay up all night and practice until 6am, or another early time in the morning. I do a variety of practices: qigong, zuowang meditation, koan practice, drinking puerh tea, reading inspirational books, reciting Daoist scriptures, and writing in my journal. I feel it is important to share this information, since many people ask me, what exactly do you practice? Or, what do you do on a retreat? These entries are a doorway into practice.
I started reading the memoirs of Maura O’Halloran in the book, Pure Heart, Enlightened Mind. I am almost at the halfway mark, but am already inspired by her short life as a Zen monk. It is because of her inspiration that I am staying up tonight to bring my sitting and cultivation practices to a deeper level. As a matter of fact, I have been feeling kind of lazy and half-hearted in my Daoist practices. I’ve not been meditating or reciting scriptures regularly, and I’ve been eating too much lately. My digestion has been out of balance for a month or two, and I feel I need a little kick-in-the–butt to get back on track. I hope tonight provides the fuel to get restarted.
Okay, everything is now set. The candles are lit, the incense is burning, and the room is warmed up. I have a thermos of puerh tea next to me, and some texts to read later. I’m ready to start my first sitting session.
I finished the first round of sitting forgetting. One of my practices is the self-enquiry asking, who’s sitting forgetting? Nothing dramatic in the sitting has happened. My body and mind is full of restless sitting, and not much real awareness. The question of who is sitting and forgetting comes and goes. Sometimes I hear an inner voice saying, “I forgot to forget.” It’s time now for scripture recitation. A few minutes later: “To follow the Dao, use your Heart” (Barea 2009 24). This line from the Invocation For Blessing The Incense is so very powerful. I fail to recall that these basic Daoist invocations contain deep, profound teachings like, within the heart is the Dao. This heart is probably a reference to xin, or heartmind which is everywhere in the Daoist texts. The heartmind is “I” at my most fundamental level. No separation. Everything about me is a link to my heartmind. And if that is true, then the Dao is that close as well. The Dao is as close as my own thoughts, as my own feelings, as my own experiences of the world. It appears that there is not any separation between who and what I am, and the Dao. What a nice thing to be thinking about at 2:30am, Sunday morning, one week before Easter. Today must be Palm Sunday, if I have my memory on right.
“Forgetting the non-awareness of duality.” This thought came to me as I was working on what exactly is it that I forget. How do I describe it? How is it different from the awareness of non-duality?
My last couple of sitting sessions were more wakeful and with greater clarity than when I started six hours ago. No great satori, no enlightenment but these last couple of hours were very tranquil. Asking myself “who’s sitting forgetting” has become an effective way of staying present and a strong reminder of what I’m intending.
At times I could fully experience the heart of the zuowang state, abiding in awareness of a nondual reality.
End of retreat.
October 13, 2013
Recently I presented a new challenge to my advanced Daoist students. The challenge to sit in meditation for 24 hours. I came to this realization after thinking about my own situation of feeling like I needed another shot in the arm to go deeper into practice. In my Daoist practices I completed a 1000-Day Scripture Recitation Retreat about seven years ago, and have since spent uncountable amount of time in meditation and other internal arts practices. My advanced students spent a fair amount of time in similar practices. However, I still felt a need for another round of intensive practice.
The proposal was not to simply set aside 24 hours and practice meditation to the best of one’s abilities. That strategy would undoubtedly yield a lot of disappointment and frustration. It would indeed be very difficult, and perhaps even damaging for the body, namely the knees. And I am talking about sitting cross-legged on a cushion. There are exceptions to this posture, like for people who have back injuries or similar problems. The goal of 24 hours would be achieved over a period of time with sitting for short intervals at first and then making them longer and longer. Also, during the sittings, you could do some qigong or stretching or circle walking every hour for brief periods, like 10-15 minutes. And, during the sittings there are no other distractions, like reading scriptures or anything else, including any journal notes. You could do that later, of course. You can drink puerh tea, or other tea, but it must be prepared ahead of time, and be there right with you in your practice space. No background music either, because for one thing, you’ll end up getting up and down to change the music and that’s just another distraction. Your mind will provide you with enough distractions to keep you busy for many hours, so no use adding to the confusion. For the sittings of longer hours like 10 hours and more, you’ll probably have to consider eating something. You may need a support person for this, as cooking yourself something to eat would be too much of a break from the sitting. And no sleep breaks too. If during the dark hours you accidentally fall asleep while meditating, you drink more tea, or do more rigorous qigong or practice some standing meditation, but everything you do must ultimately be geared to get you sitting on your cushion, as swiftly as possible. It is not a mixed cultivation practice of meditation, qigong, circle walking, drinking tea, eating mindfully, and so on; it is indeed a 24-hour sitting meditation. And getting back to sleeping, if you find yourself repeatedly falling into deep sleep, than that is an indication that you are ready to stop your sitting session, and try again on another occasion.
And I am realistic that the attainment of the full 24 hours of sitting will take some time to accomplish. How much time, I don’t know? It will be easy for a lot of people to easily sit for up to 6 hours. Beyond that, it will become progressively more challenging. At 18 hours and beyond, it’ll start to become real challenging, and the final pushing to 24 hours will certainly be the most challenging. Don’t be surprised if it takes a year or more to reach the full 24 hours of sitting in meditation.
In this journal I’ll keep records of my own experiences of sitting for 24 hours, and will also include some notes from any of my students who are also working on the same objective. Here’s a sample from my first sitting for a few hours:
I started my practice of sitting for 24 hours this Sunday morning. My intentions were to sit for three hours but I ended up only sitting for 2.25 hours. I started (8 am) too late in the morning and when I finished it was already after 10 am. Next time, for these shorter hours I’ll definitely have to start earlier in the morning, like 4 or 5 am so I can have longer sessions before its time to quite for the day. Of course, I had a pot of puerh tea with me.
After my brief reading of Daoist invocations, I sat motionless for a full hour. After this first hour, I got up to pee and did circle walking for 10 minutes. As I walked I continued saying Not Two, but I admit I focused too much on my technique and not enough on loosing myself in the event of just walking. Too much “I” was present. I returned to sitting, a couple of sips of puerh, and back to practice.
I noticed that my mind was full of fleeting thoughts of the current events of my life. I just let them arise, hang around, and watched as they returned to nothingness from which they originated. Occasionally, when my mind was very calm and the thought of Not Two would arise, and I would allow that enquiry to linger for as long as it wanted, until even it was replaced by another thought. I practiced like this for a while and when I felt my sitting session was over, I recited a Daoist invocation for closing the rites and becoming an immortal. It was 10:15 am.