Soon I will be headed to Eastover in Lenox, MA to attend the 35 day meditation retreat led by Master Li Junfeng. Many people have helped me be able to attend, and I would like to provide a way for them to follow me daily as I go through these days.
The retreat has been described on the Eastover website as a healing retreat in which Master Li will guide the participants to use the Sheng Zhen practice, and other modalities, to achieve self healing, and to learn ways to heal others.
In this blog I will take a few moments every evening to share the highlights of the day with you.
With Sheng Zhen Love,
Jill Penaloza picked me up at the Albany airport, and we drove through the beautiful Berkshires to Lenox and Eastover. The trees along the way have not come into full fall color, but they were more of a show than I normally see. After settling into our shared room, we ate a welcome dinner in the main hall. If the food of the first meal is a sign of what we can expect, I will be very satisfied. Baked salmon, braised bok choy, rice, roasted root veggies, and such. Master Li celebrates his 80th birthday today, and the owner of the retreat feted him with champagne and his favorite ice cream cake. Not only were several of the people attending the retreat present, but also another big qigong group honored him in the celebration. Quite a boisterous group which leads me to wonder.
Tomorrow we will begin day one of the 36 day retreat.
Day 1 October 14 Sunday
6:10 am – Wake up
8-9 – Breakfast
10-12:30 – Class
12:45-1:45 – Lunch
2-2:40 – Group nap
2:50-4:30 – Free time
5-6 – Class
6-7 – Dinner
7-8:30 – Free time
9-9:39 – Meditation
10 – In bed
Master Li talked to us tonight about this retreat helping us to return to the natural life. He encouraged us to not be in a hurry and to develop good habits. Especially important is to develop a quiet heart. By examining our strengths and weaknesses every day, we can learn what serves us and what doesn’t.
Day 2 October 15 Monday
Master Li said this retreat is more important than teacher trainings which can be busy; this retreat will help us change our habits and lives through relaxing and quietening hearts and minds. Another point he mentioned is that we are normal yet special. Normal because we are not above or better than others and are humble, yet special because when life is difficult or chaotic, we keep centered and collected; we experience what it is to live the Sheng Zhen life.
Yesterday we learned that the Return to Oneness title will be changed to Return to Purity. We were reminded Sheng Zhen is a practice of purification, connection, and cultivation. Today after we practiced a meditation of only being in the Sheng Zhen state, Master Li said that just this is self-healing. I bring up all of these points tying them together because I experienced self-healing today as we did the Unraveling the Heart movement from Awakening the Soul.
I began feeling teary eyed yesterday when Master Li told Liz and me a story about a couple who are having a difficult time. This feeling stayed with me, and I started crying during the movement I mentioned above. Crying purifies the heart so I was experiencing a purification and self-healing. To explain, these were not tears of sadness but of breaking into a new space that was full of something wonderful that I don’t have words for. I allowed myself permission to cry and did not try to interpret what it meant. So it begins.
Day 3 October 16 Tuesday
A self healing technique from yesterday – when going to sleep at night begin to circulate qi in the brain while having no thoughts. Be in the Sheng Zhen state as you do this. Feel the qi and have no thoughts because thinking blocks qi flow. Anytime we are in the Sheng Zhen state, we are in a state where we can heal. Return the qi to the dantien when finished. Then sweet dreams.
One ot the questions that comes to mind since having no thoughts is an essential is, “How can I have no thoughts?” This is a practice, and practice is the key to unlocking the universe. So just practice.
The early morning meditation again focused on the basics and understanding the essence of things. To have self healing, one has to master the basics. Doing the basics in this meditation requires training oneself to have no thoughts, opening the skin pores, and allowing qi and Love to enter the body. One must feel the qi. The attitude to take when training in the basics is not to be in a hurry.
Before we began our second meditation after breakfast, we walked around the room in an enjoyable way, followed by being trained to taiji walk-very fluidly and deliberately. So you can see how we are being trained to slow down, not to hurry.
Another habit that I am reestablishing is keeping a positive mind. So during my meditation if thoughts come, I can watch them with a curious or loving attitude or become negative or judgmental. I choose the positive. When someone wishes me well in any way or compliments me, or says anything, I can always reply in a positive way. Part of establishing this habit is to focus on how things are similar, not different. One of the qualities of the practice is purification. A pure heart helps develop this habit by connecting us with the power of the universe.
Finally, the Zhongtian movement is like a ritual. Some rituals take hours, but this movement takes a few moments.
Day 4 October 17 Wednesday
Before last night’s meditation, Master Li talked about Sheng Zhen. He said Love is the original master. Love is his master. The Sheng Zhen books say the contents are rendered by Master Li, not that he is the author. Heaven and the essence of Heaven is the origin of the material. And the idea expressed in the word Heaven as used in Sheng Zhen is not the traditional meaning that so many attach to the word. Heaven is the energy of Love. Also, if we repeat the words Sheng Zhen silently to ourselves as a mantra, Heaven is with us. Master Li is truly the model of a humble master.
Today in the early morning meditation we went through the entire form with a lot of time settling in using methods I outlined in an earlier post, then a long time moving the qi in the central meridian. At the end when we held the qi in the niwan, he used the words go beyond space and time. That was quite a lovely experience.
Read this paragraph or not. Master Li asked me to write this down. During meditation, I saw a big army of faceless people marching toward me with weapons on their shoulders. As they approached, they knelt, put down their weapons, and took off their helmets. They looked at each other and saw each other as brothers and sisters. We aren’t going to war any more.
After doing Heart Spirit as One, he explained that the last movement helps remove the ego by opening the heart. Earlier we were reminded that the biggest problem in the world is too much ego. A lot of the work we are doing seems to be a practice to reduce this problem in ourselves and in the group by building trust. We are reminded to be humble and to serve others and are being given many opportunities to practice these habits.
After spending a long time practicing Building Dan and Cultivating Xing, I went to Master Li during the break to ask him more about this. He said practicing a movement in unison and learning to watch not just a few people but the whole group to keep in sync helps build trust. Plus the energy in the room becomes stronger. We are creating a sacred space in our practice room. He told me we can do the same in our homes.
In summary, look for similarities not differences, build trust, dissolve ego, be humble, serve others.
Day 5 October 18 Thursday
Again in our morning meditation Master Li reminded us of going through the tunnel of space and time as we are expanding into the universe. Go beyond time and space. That is useful to me. And as we repeat “I am a big body of Love,” or “Sheng Zhen” to go beyond the words into the flavor of the mantra.
About 30-31 people are attending this retreat – people from Israel, Germany, Denmark, Sweden, Canada, Greenland, The Philippines, Australia, and from all over the USA. From the beginning we have been building a sacred space for our practice. At one point Master Li asked if anyone in the room had attended the workshop in France which none of us had. He remarked on how the people were always sitting in their places and were quiet even before he entered the room. He said many of them had a Buddhist background and were self disciplined through their practice.
Many of the short talks Master Li is giving us are to train us in living a Sheng Zhen life. When we respect others, when we are aware of others around us and their needs, they are happier, and so are we. Even though this may seem off topic to addressing self healing or the ability to help others heal, I believe it is spot on.
We are encouraged to think of others in the room and not bother them. Always treat others with respect and respond with love. For example, if we find our chair needs to be moved, stand up and quietly move it forward, back or to one side instead of remaining seated and scraping the chair along the floor to make the adjustments. And if someone does this still be loving and forgiving. Manage your own emotions and responses.
Along the same lines, yesterday as we practiced the movement Lotus Flower Going Through the Mountains, Master Li said he didn’t have to correct everyone of us and that we could just look at his movement and our own to see where it was like his or different and then correct ourselves by this method. Watch and follow the Master. I’m going to take this a step farther with my own observations. When we took a break, Master Li walked to the back of the room, sat with his wife and began to talk quietly. Before when he told us about the discipline and respect of the people at the workshop in France, he was making a point. We had been not so much the same. And now, we continued just talking and visiting in the area where we had been asked to be quiet and move to another area for visiting. Master Li was modeling in real life for us, not just up on the stage. The practice is to help us embody the principles of Sheng Zhen and to live this way, not just practice.
I think the more aware we become, the more we can change.
Day 6 October 19 Friday
I have been asking others here at the retreat to give me some of the insights they have or for what they remember that I may have forgotten. One person remembered Master Li saying if you listen with a clear, pure heart, you can hear the sound of the Universe and see the colors of yin and yang. The word purity keeps showing up.
Yesterday afternoon we spent time with Building Dan and Cultivating Xing. Practicing this one movement in a group with everyone in sync is self healing. Keeping the pace regular can help the central nervous system.
We have done three other movements for self healing which have been assigned as homework. One is the shaking movement. The second is a kneading movement like a washing machine. If you repeat the transition into Qi Er Gazing at the Moon on each side instead of just on the right side, you have the motion. You can vary the pace. This enlivens the cells in all the lower organs and can prevent or cure diseases. The third movement is Awakening from Origin of the Heart which does the same for the upper organs or body. All three movements wake up and revitalize the cells for healing.
This morning we spent more time practicing taiqi walking which was quite painful for me. The tendons or ligaments in my ankle kept popping and my knee hurt. However, I felt that this was leading toward healing. Slowly, slowly. We were told that this retreat is training us to develop habits that are healthy for us. This type of walking has a gentle flow and doing it with a Sheng Zhen heart helps establish a better life style. During lunch I sat with a young woman who is reading one of the classic acupuncture texts – the Yellow Emperor Classic one for those of you in the know. She said she had just read a passage that said the popping or stretching of the tendons and ligaments cures diseases of the heart. Very interesting information, I thought.
The next movement we practiced in depth was Qui Er Gazing at the Moon. We need to feel the movement of qi from the dantien, to the heart, to the extremities and then feel a connection with the pure shining energy of the Moon. When connected with this energy even cancer can be cured. We begin to shine outwardly with good emotions and begin to create better relationships in the world. When our hearts shine with this purity, the world changes.
A day or so ago Master Li talked about the process of enlightenment. Every day if we practice we gain more understanding and maybe one day we will understand much more.
Day 7 October 20 Saturday
Because there is a conference on various religions going on at Eastover today, and we have been invited to it, Master Li talked about the Sheng Zhen philosophy of respecting all religions. He said it is helpful to have beliefs in higher spiritual things. One can understand the precepts of Sheng Zhen better with this kind of background. Religions have the same root in Love, but many different religions have developed, and that has caused problems when one religion says it is better and others are not good. He said that the Sheng Zhen teachers may be different in the way they teach but what they teach is the same. The teacher trainings are to make sure all teachers keep Sheng Zhen standard. For example, a student may want simple ways to learn the practice yet another more detailed explanations. Another may like more philosophy and another more movement. One teacher may be able to do one of these better while another teacher something else better. All are teaching the same practice though. The teacher with true Sheng Zhen spirit will help the student find the best teacher in the area and not just want all students to come to her.
Listening to the Heart practice followed this discussion with emphasis on two contemplations. The first line of Moving Towards the Dantien is “You don’t know how powerful your mind is.” If we did, we could make this earth a paradise. And the second contemplation is “If you see this world as a paradise and see everyone as Allah, as God, as Christ, as Sakyamuni, as Lao Tsu and others look at you in the same way, isn’t this truly a paradise that you live in?” Studying these contemplations give us more understanding and help cultivate ourselves.
A question and answer session included a discussion on cultivation. Miles Nichols gives this blurb. Cultivation is more than just accessing a state of mind. Cultivation is growth and development. Cultivation involves becoming a better person. Cultivation has to do with implementing understandings from practice into daily life. When in the past you would have not done something but now you are acting in a loving way (such as a kind action), this is cultivation. Cultivation involves becoming more open and loving and showing that through actions. Changing habits and/or behaving in a more loving way in life is cultivation.
Bobby Orlando and Kitte Witting both came to an understanding of cultivation from practicing taiqi walking. They came up with the 4 A’s of cultivation: 1) Awareness – recognizing there is a problem; 2) Acknowledgement – taking it on; 3) Access – owning or taking charge so you can get through it; 4) Action – doing something about it.
These are just a couple of the points made about a big topic.
Day 8 Sunday October 21
Yesterday Master Li told us about research that has been done on longevity. The studies he mentioned collected data on people who live more than 100 years and what they had in common. The results showed that it had nothing to do with exercise or vitamins. Instead the markers were that they lived simple lives, not being too busy or in a hurry. They took naps. And they had strong family and community relationships. So here we are being trained to do what we do with ease, think of nothing, and to take 30 minute naps. The good life is to be happy with no worries.
This morning’s meditation continued with Master Li saying more on the topic of cultivation. One cultivates oneself by paying attention to our natural resources and respecting them. When taking a shower, turn off the water as you are soaping your body, for instance. Or when eating out and food is left over, take it home to eat later so it isn’t wasted. Many simple ways of conservation help the earth, cultivate us and raise our spirits. Cultivate good habits.
During the morning meditation we were to follow our own pace and go as far or as little through the form as we wanted remembering the most important thing is to relax and have no thoughts. The main purpose in establishing one’s position during meditation is so the body can relax. The next main point is to quieten the mind, forget everything, go into nothingness.
The body and mind can recover from the stresses of life by relaxing and having no thoughts. Practice achieving this by experiencing quietness for 5 seconds, then 30 seconds, then 5 minutes and eventually to an hour. Once you know the feeling of no thoughts, it is easier to do again. Thinking takes energy so one needs to turn off thinking to rest the brain. Be on vacation and enjoy.
My meditation: I followed through the whole form and at some point at the last stage Kuan Yin came and reached deep into my chest to a deep pain and took it away. The cutest small mouse dressed in a waistcoat standing before a mouse sized door approached me and handed me an invitation. I took it and asked what it said. Right away I was in a room full of people. For each year of the Chinese zodiac since it came into being one person was there to represent the year he or she was born and the animal of that year. I represented 1944 and the wood monkey. Then all the people in the space somehow integrated the characteristics of all the animals within themselves. Then I saw the number 108. This was the age of the oldest living members of the assembled group.
Before the afternoon meditation we were encouraged to brainstorm words that express the feeling of being in the Sheng Zhen state. Here are some: merge with the Universe, you and the Universe are one, I am a big body of love, divine, eternal, presence, feel the space between your cells, expand into the Universe, you are at ease, calm, peaceful, still, quiet, spacious, my heart and body are pure, connect to love, dissolve into air, each cell is a planet in the Universe, go through the tunnel of space and time. Many ideas can help us enter the Sheng Zhen state.
Day 9 Monday October 22
In practice always keep the essence. Don’t make the method the rule. There are many methods but only one essence.
Movement is for cultivating qi. Stillness is for quietening the heart.
A talk on the big picture:
First, we are encouraged to think of taking care of the earth. Every time we consume something think about the earth. We don’t always need to be knocking things down and building anew. When we live like this a lot is required from the earth whose resources are limited. Looking at the totality of life helps one discover and cultivate balance. Always think of others, all of the countries in the world, all of the people, and of the earth.
Don’t confuse the whole with special cases. What is a special case isn’t what everyone needs. For instance, in the Descending to Earth movement an older person or one who doesn’t have good balance should do a smaller movement, but that is only for them. The movement should be regular for everyone else and taught that way. This can apply to anything in life. Things fall out of balance if this is not considered.
Discussing the big meaning of Heaven Earth Contemplation, we are reminded if we are too attached to something small we can’t see the bigger picture. So from the first movement forget everything and go through the movements attaining understanding gradually. This allows us to cultivate our actions. Again, the process helps us learn to see the big picture.
After practicing Heaven Earth Contemplation we listened to Miles read the contemplations. This felt very powerful. And then we practiced two kidney sounds, from healing sounds “chui” and the sound from Light of Purity. We ended the session gathering qi.
Day 10 Tuesday October 23
The guidance in the early morning meditation had us relax from head to toe three times. The first time was slower and more detailed, and the next times got progressively shorter. The second meditation during the morning started with us making small movements to relax the body. First, rocking side to side, then a small back and forth undulation, then observing and practicing the sinking of the shoulders and the rising of the crown. The torso is erect, straight, but not tense or soft. To guide us Master Li used many phrases so we could get the feeling. First, he said full/not full, then force/no force, then that this is the meaning of “East is West, and West is East.” He showed the palms together in front of the chest to illustrate.
When sitting in meditation, don’t be lazy. People who have back problems can lean against a chair back, but everyone else should learn to hold themselves erect as discussed above. Develop a holistic view. Two popular concepts now are mindfulness and positive psychology. Mindfulness is a very old philosophy which Sheng Zhen has used from the beginning. The mantras “I am a big body of Love” and “My body is very healthy” are examples of positive psychology.
Mary Di Franco noticed that our group is beginning to move as one organism when we all assembles fluidly after a break.
The standing form practiced in the morning session was Heart Mind as One. Practicing this form can help you live in the Sheng Zhen state. We held Looking at Life for long periods of time allowing the qi to circulate and do its work.
Discussing the big picture at the beginning of our afternoon session, Master Li explained that Sheng Zhen follows science. Sheng Zhen is Unconditional Love. Love is energy. Love is the original energy from the universe. Unconditional Love is the source of everything.
Through meditation Master Li and Jing connected deeper and deeper with the Universe; their hearts opened as they merged with the universe, and then the movements and contemplations were inspired as a gift from the universe. This is the same inspiration a poet has to write a poem, a musician to create music, or an artist to create art. During the meditation that followed this talk, I remembered the same kind of inspiration happening to me years ago when I was applying for a National Endowment for the Humanities grant, and the words on my application seemed to be fed to me from a source outside of myself. Now I understand better how the Sheng Zhen practice came as a gift from the universe.
Sheng Zhen Meditation is more than qigong. In Sheng Zhen we talk about Unconditional Love, Heart, emotion, loving others, and protecting the earth. We are about Love energy. There are three levels of qigong: physical, emotional, and spiritual. Physical and emotional qigong concern health care. Spiritual qigong is a big qigong. It includes everything including the health care of the earth. In our practice our hearts are opened, and that is the foundation for all levels of health care.
Day 11 Wednesday October 24
Today the majority of the participants have gone with Master Li to Harvard to present a demonstration for an event sponsored by a youth group. Then Master Li is giving a talk to another group. I’ll provide details when they return.
Bobby Orlando shared some of his mother’s wisdom. She used to tell him to build a bridge and get over it. In the movement The Bridge of Heaven’s River we are cultivating this intention so we can do what Bobby’s mother was telling him to do. We need to cultivate our attitudes and act upon this cultivation to cross the bridges. Wise mother advice.
Day 12 Thursday October 25
Morning meditation was mainly in silence with only the guidance to use the power of words to help us enter the Sheng Zhen state. “I am a big body of Love.”
The morning chat used yesterday’s experience and impressions as a basis to train us to see the big picture when we go anywhere. Paying attention to one’s surroundings can give one a deeper understanding into what is really happening and into the minds of those connected with the surroundings. With an open heart and mind one can see the whole picture.
What is the relationship of Sheng Zhen to other philosophies? Sheng Zhen is Unconditional Love and covers the big picture. It is not just a small part that is taken into consideration. This is the highest energy. There is nothing small about this. When we work for Sheng Zhen, even if we make mistakes, that is ok because we can learn from them. With an open heart and a loyal attitude, plant the seeds of Sheng Zhen everywhere, let the seeds grow so we can move into the new era. This can help us move more quickly though this difficult transition time.
We practiced Heaven Earth Contemplation, and out of this came a discussion from the fifteenth movement’s meaning. To quote “After going through many years of training, we suddenly discover that everything is really simple.” The suddenly in this quote means enlightenment. Some people may never reach this while others may reach it in a short time. What keeps one from attaining the ‘suddenly’? A heart covered with greed, desire, and ego is not open to receive. The heart is the vehicle of the soul, and the soul is the vehicle of the spirit. With less greed, ego and desire, the heart opens, the soul awakens and the spirit is elevated. Positive energy expels negative energy. Know yourself well knowing your strengths and your weaknesses. Train yourself in the basics to help yourself develop good habits and a clear mind. Choose the right tools for your training. Sheng Zhen meditation offers many tools in its forms. Sheng Zhen gives the trainee access to the highest energy.
If you want to see a live streamed session of this retreat and are on FaceBook, go to Eastover’s page or my own The Sanctuary – South Austin or Austin’s Sheng Zhen page where I hope to share it.
Day 13 Friday October 26
Morning meditation: The Union of Three Heart is the mother practice. One reaches the highest state when dissolved into the Universe, feeling transparent. After meditation Master Li talked about qi flow and the Sheng Zhen state. Many of the movements we do involve circling and double circles. Blending Qi, Dragon Flying in the Clouds, and Building Dan and Cultivating Xing are examples. The true healing occurs when one does these movements in the Sheng Zhen state with correct position, path, timing, and synchronization. A natural floating feel occurs. Other ways to heal are to have no worries and to be happy. The source of health and happiness is Love, and the open heart gives us access to this. Being curious in one’s life helps one remain youthful. Negative emotions are the source of physical disease. Again, one’s mind is very powerful so train yourself to have a positive outlook.
True freedom is discipline. In the family if everyone respects each other and there are disciplined habits in the family everyone can live comfortably and happily together. The same goes as we go out into the neighborhood, then the town, then the county,state and country. We can have more freedom when we are disciplined.
For meditation quiet is better for cultivating qi, but if the place is noisy, one can use the circumstances to train oneself to keep calm and not be disturbed. Training involves mind, heart, emotions and body. Always feel as if there is no problem. The mind is powerful, so you can change how you feel when you have an open heart. Walls in the Heart block qi flow, and immunity is weak when qi is blocked. And, also thoughts block qi so that is why one practices having no thoughts. Training Continue reading