Welcome to Daoist Journal

Welcome To The Journal Writings of Shifi MichaelRinaldini

Daoist Journal is a supplement to Shifu Michael's main web site (qigongdragon.com). The purpose of this site is to feature the two books that Shifu Michael has written. 


1. A Daoist Practice Journal: Come Laugh With Me, 2013

2. A Daoist Practice Journal, Book 2: Circle Walking, Qigong & Daoist Cultivation, 2016


This site will feature many entries from Shifu Michael's two books, and some entries from his third journal book, which is in progress and expected to be published by the end of 2018.


Reviews and endorsements for these two books have come from a number of distinguished scholars, authors, and practitioners of the Daoist tradition.


Livia Kohn, Deng Ming-Dao, Solala Towler, Christina J. Barea-Young, Red Pine (Bill Porter), Lila Schwair, and Sat Hon.


Additionally, the Amazon.com book sections where Shifu Michael's books are available for purchase contain numerous book reviews, all of them very interesting readings. Here’s a recent review by a new Qigong Certification student of Michaels. It reflects the heart of what shifu Michael is trying to say through his writings.


“I could not put the book down honestly. I am learning from the author, I am inspired by him, I find my self saying “ah ha.”

This book is a wonderful stepping-stone to great possibilities for myself. It’s part of changing my life for the better; I love this. I loved the book and I have started on the second book. I notice since I have been walking this path reading this book learning more in qigong that I smile more. I believe I was divinely guided to this book and the author to learn and grow to my fullest potential. I’m grateful for his journaling that too inspired me to do that more.

Beautiful being

much respect”

Leah


Journal selections from A Daoist Practice Journal: Come Laugh With Me.


From the Foreword by Christina J. Barea-Young, Daoist Priest


I don’t remember exactly when I met Michael, but I know it was somewhere between the wuji and now. We’ve both been practicing Daoism for many years and share many of the same hopes and aspirations for Daoism in the US. In addition, we are both Priests in the QuanZhen (Complete Reality) lineage and are both dedicated to teaching a sincere practice of the Way. I’ve also had the honor of walking the circle with Michael; it’s one of the places where he really brings to the surface the Light that shines inside. 


Michael’s personal nature is like a hermit who allows himself to be discovered for a while, invites you over for a cup of tea and then retreats into the shadows. While he’s with you, it’s a simple moment, just two people sharing a cup of tea or walking a few circles. But then, later, something about that encounter keeps coming back. Like a stone tossed into a still lake sends out ripples, his words reverberate internally inevitably leading one to wonder what goes on in the mind of this Daoist? What does a Daoist hermit do when he’s in retreat?


Michael’s first book A Daoist Practice Journal: Come Laugh With Me answers that question and many more. For an American, not raised in the cultural influence of China, the process of becoming a Daoist involves a certain amount of undoing of cultural beliefs and habits and a re-patterning of new ideas. His journal peers into the evolutionary process of assimilating Daoist tenets; and his writings reveal the deep introspective process that is integral to resolving the dual nature of yin-yang or, in his words “not-two”. 


September 12, 1995

Once again I am starting a journal. This journal will be a record of my Daoist practices, including the qigong exercises and a short form of Tai Chi I practice. It'll also cover the Daoist meditation practices I am learning.


October 7, 1995

I practiced twice today. In my second practice in the evening around 5pm, I performed some Tai Chi, and then some stationary standing.  While standing I felt like I was a tree and could almost dissolve completely. The words, "be a tree" kept arising in my mind as I stood motionless. A poem came to my mind, which I wrote down later.


Be a tree.

Be rooted to the earth.

Be light as the leaves of the branches.

Move your mind with the wind.


March 15, 2008

From All-Night Retreat  

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.  


12am

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.


January 26, 2009

New Camaldoli Hermitage, Big Sur, CA

Solitary Retreat

Tonight is the evening of the first night of the Chinese Year of the Ox. It is supposedly a strong year if your signs are in harmony with the Ox. I am writing from my bed in my trailer hut at New Camaldoli Hermitage in the Big Sur hills overlooking the Pacific Ocean and coast. I arrived around 3pm, it took longer than expected, it was another 25 miles south of the town of Big Sur. Anyway, I am here until February 4th, another eight nights. I already attended one church service, vespers at 6pm and then a 30-minute meditation, sitting quietly in their stone monastic church. 


January 29, 2009

I am into my third morning of my retreat. I'm out on the driveway, about a half-mile from the monastery. This is my third time walking this path, stopping to take pictures with my digital camera, or stopping to sit at one of the wooden benches along the drive.


The view is awesome, to say the least. The pictures will tell the story 10,000 words can't describe.


These walks are very meditative for me. It doesn't take any effort to ease into a deep silence. Walking mindfully, turning the beads on my wrist mala that the old Daoist priest gave me on my last China trip, I ask, "Not two?" again and again. My awareness opens to the vastness of the ocean and sky before me. I ask silently, Not two, as I look at the tree branches, the wild shrubs, and the rocks, and so on. Always, the sky or ocean is in the background, with all this empty space.


I ask and look, but don'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. And this is just here in front of my little grasp on the universe. And yet, another part of me knows that all THIS out there is all just part of the Oneness of everything.


Slipping into silence is a nice way of experiencing all of the 10,000 things. But the other part of me asks, Not two, because it knows that all of this is just the false dualism of appearances. Silent. Quiet. Peaceful. They are just words to describe a temporary, fleeting experience.


February 1, 2009

It's Sunday evening and I am finally getting around to reading from Stephen Eskildsen's book on the early Daoist masters of the Quanzhen School of Daoism. I am especially drawn to his chapter on cultivating clarity and purity. In one of the poems by Wang Zhe, the founder of Quanzhen, it says: "Resolutely yearn for the Tao and have nothing else that binds and enwraps you" (Eskildsen 2004 23). I can't help thinking of some of my students who seem a little too complacent in thinking all they have to do is sit in meditation, make no big effort, and eventually they will attain the Dao. Instead, my response to the injunction to "resolutely yearn" for the Dao is a command to throw myself into practice 110%. Let go of self-imposed restrictions. It's okay to say to yourself, "I will attain the Dao in this lifetime, whatever the cost to me!"


February 4, 2009

I finished the day by going to vespers and then sitting silently during the 30-minute meditation, except for my nagging cough. That evening, I did another round of sitting, Not two, bowing, reciting scripture, qigong, and reading from the Gateless Gate. 


In the morning I attended Lauds and then said goodbye to the abbot. After eating breakfast I finished loading the car, and then drove north to Sebastopol and home. 

End of Retreat.


January 26, 2010

I am reciting the Neiye this morning. This scripture is indeed a jewel for us all to study. It contains the entire Daoist path. There are too many points to make right now. All I can say is study this scripture. It covers the range of our practice from eating and excessive thinking to balance and alignment, to stillness and returning to our innate nature. And perhaps the most important principle: 


We are not separate from the Dao:

The Way has no fixed position;

It abides within the excellent mind.

When the mind is tranquil and the vital breath is regular,

The Way can thereby be halted.

That Way is not distant from us;

When people attain it they are sustained

That Way is not separated from us;

When people accord with it they are harmonious (Roth 1999 54).


June 1, 2011

Early morning meditation.

Dog walks into my meditation room.

Birds sing outside.

Sun tries to break through rain clouds.

Everything wet.

Dog scratches.

7am ... time for breakfast and onto work.


June 5, 2012

I just got off the phone with Dan, Walt's son and his family in Connecticut. I spoke with Walt who is a General Member of the American Dragon Gate Lineage. I met Walt several years ago during one of his visits to his family here in Sebastopol. Walt quickly became a serious student of qigong and Daoist practices, and shortly afterwards, became a general member of the Lineage. Walt and I had some good conversations about psychology and spirituality, as he was a psychologist and had many encounters with other psychologists working on the frontiers of psychology and spirit.

 

Walt has cancer and is home with his family during his last few days. Rarely do I get a chance to speak openly to someone on the edge of the polarity of birth and death. We talked about the experience of Priest Nico and the accidental burning of the ceremonial booklet, which occurred at the May retreat. I mentioned to Walt that now the Lineage will have two members in the Celestial Heavens that we can pray to, at least they would be faces we'll recognize when it is our turn to return to the Great Source.

 

I imagine the next time I hear from Dan, it'll be because he will want to tell me that his father passed away. Words will probably fail me at that moment because there are no really great words to say at that moment. The best and only words we can say are the words which we know say it all for us as Daoists:  Not two, Not two, Not two.


June 6, 2012

I heard from Dan today. Walt entered the Great Mystery at 3:23 pm, Eastern Standard Time. Not two, Not two, Not two.


November 11, 2012

What does it mean to be a Daoist? I have asked this question repeatedly throughout this journal. The question of Daoist identity may turn out to be the most important topic discussed in the journal. It may be as equally important as the question of what does a modern day Daoist practice? And now, this morning as I recite the Invocation for Offering Incense (translation, Christina Barea), I read the following words, as if for the first time:


To follow the Dao, use your Heart.

To connect with the spirits, you must circulate incense.

Burn incense in the jade stove.

Maintain the Original Emperor in your Heart.

Ascended Spirits gaze down

While the Flag of the Immortals arrives before the altar.

Minister Guan speaks the command

For the way to attain Nine Heavens (2009 24).


Ah, there it is again. You are a Daoist if you feel it in your heart. Those are the same words of advice given to me during my priest ordination. And furthermore, we grow as Daoists according to how we fill our hearts with the Dao. The symbolism of offering incense points to our Daoist cultivation practices such as qigong, taichi, circle walking, meditation, silence and solitude, recitation of scripture, eating healthy, and other Daoist practices. And if we are continually growing deep in our hearts then we will attain our goal of residence in the Celestial Heavens, that is, alignment with the Dao.


November 13, 2012

What does a Daoist Practice at Night? 

You go outside on a clear night and do some of your favorite qigong, taichi or kungfu. You gaze at the dark sky and reach to the stars. Silently your spirit yearns to merge with the stars and return to the Source. You are ready to leave the world and soar as an immortal. You are at peace, even if just for a short time. You are home, no, not at home because you know your true home is among the stars and the celestial heavens. This is your practice as a Daoist.


November 19, 2012

In my Thursday night meditation classes, I frequently start out the session with a few reminders of our basic practice:


Assume a comfortable posture, back straight, eyes slightly open, or closed if you prefer. Briefly think of your Original Nature as already complete, needing nothing. And then you just rest in open awareness. From this point forward, whatever arises is just it. You don’t need to count breaths, make mental notes of the kinds of thoughts or perceptions you are having. You don't even need to focus on your Lower Dantian. There should be no self-judging of how you are doing. Basically, whatever happens you bring open awareness to it. This is actually the easiest of all meditations because no matter what you experience, as long as you are aware of it, is part of the experience. We are simply re-discovering what was there from the very beginning. The emphasis is on realizing not creating something. As it says in the Daoist scriptures, we have never been separated from the Dao; we only need to realize this.


I supplement our sittings by reading some inspirational words from scriptures, which focus on taming the mind, or some other text on contemplative prayer or meditation. I provide the setting, and the encouragement, and the rest is left up to them.


December 25, 2012

I practiced some meditation this morning before my family woke up. I started by  putting fresh water in the small bowls on the altar and I put in a new beeswax candle into the candle holder, then I lit some incense. Next I started to recite Daoist scriptures, beginning with the Invocation for Blessing the Incense.


To follow the Dao, use your Heart.

To connect with the spirits, you must circulate incense.

Burn incense in the jade stove.

Maintain the Original Emperor in your Heart.

Ascended Spirits gaze down

While the Flag of the Immortals arrives before the altar

(2009 24).


I stopped reciting scriptures here because I didn't feel the need to go on. Once again I am being told (this time by scriptures) that in order to progress as a Daoist, I must "use my Heart." Yes, if we keep the spirit of Christmas (Returning To The Source) alive in our hearts, we will be following the sages, regardless of our religious differences. 


January 19, 2013

I just reminded one of my Daoist students that we progress as Daoists to the degree that we transform ourselves in our hearts. I can’t imagine any ancient, secret alchemical formula more powerful than this. What this means to the individual person will be something only the individual will know, but it will be tangible.


February 2, 2013

As I approach the end of my entries for this book, I thought it was time to report on a book I read about ten years ago, The Monastery of Jade Mountain. The book was originally published in 1961 and reflects on much of the same topics that John Blofeld wrote about in his books on the changing Daoist culture in China. The author, Peter Goullart, tells the story of his experiences of visiting and staying in Daoist and Buddhist monasteries for extended periods of time. He became friends with monks of different temples and has encounters with some of the old masters. I especially like the advice one of these older monks gave to the author during one of his first visits:


Take time, observe and learn, he said simply. Words spoken in haste will not stick; a cup of water splashed into a parched field will do it no good. It is only a slow and gentle rain that will saturate the soil and produce life (1999 30).


If you want to learn about the Eternal Tao, do not be casual and in a hurry. Don't glean too much from too many books, for each book is full of opinions, prejudices and corruptions. Read only one book and only one-our Old Master's Taoteking, and then try to understand it, not by juggling the words and meanings, but intuitively, through your heart and spirit. Do not be guided so much by your intellect as by faith, love and your heart, which is another name for understanding and compassion (30-31).


Oh, there we are again. The formula for how to make progress as a Daoist. Go deep within. Dwell in your inner sanctuary of silence and constant practice. Don’t rely on knowledge alone but your inner values of “faith, love and your heart” (31). And I must emphasis the heart part, as that was the original advice given to me by the young Daoist priestess back in 2003 at my ordination. “Make progress in your heart.” Yes, that is the key. Despite all external practices, the only practice that really counts is the transformation of the heart. It is very difficult to talk about this kind of transformation. But, it is the way I am at my deepest level. It is the driving force behind my actions, thoughts, aspirations and even my weaknesses. And like the old master’s advice above, being guided by your heart is simply “another name for understanding and compassion” (31). Perhaps this is the real reason for my saying “om mani padme hum” when I see an animal dead on the road. An understanding that we are all one family and we deserve to be compassionate to each other.


And then there is the expansion of the self into the cosmic beingness of nothingness, or emptiness. This is the final goal of practice as a Daoist, to expand so much that nothing is not included, and yet, there is nothing to hold onto. Can you grasp the sky above you? Where does the vastness of space begin as well as end? What are the limits of the mind? Better yet, are there limits to the mind?

From Book 2: Circle Walking, Qigong & Daoist Cultivation

October 12, 2014   

I am resuming my discussion from the October 4th entry on Precelestial and Postcelestial. In considering how complex this material is, it is my recommendation that the reader should get this book (Cultivating The Tao) and study it in detail. I feel more comfortable going forward using Master Cherng’s book, Daoist Meditation. I believe it will be easier to understand these ancient terms with this book as a reference.


We first come across Master Wu’s use of the term Anterior Heaven in his introductory section called “Theoretical Consideration” on page 33. One of the topics he discusses is Emptiness and explains it as a state of being full of stillness, absence of body and mind awareness, including breathing. This is the level of the mind known as Pure Consciousness. The only awareness remaining is one of space with no beginning, end or size. Master Cherng calls this understanding of Daoism as the state of Emptiness, Primordial Chaos or the Anterior Heaven. (Wu 2015, 33)


Master Cherng further explains that within Anterior Heaven “there is only a spiritual energy, which is the Splendid Breath, referred to by Daoist masters as Dao Qi – the Breath of Dao.” It seems that this state is the heart of what it means to return to the source, or to recover one’s Original Nature. When one experiences this state through meditation, one achieves the energy of that state. He  “ceases to perceive himself as a form: he no longer feels his physical body, his mind or his breathing” (2015, 33).


November 17, 2015

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. However, I've been thinking about it 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, much of it has to do with stillness. Stillness is different from silence, you know. Sitting outside on my property 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 much more. Yet, it is pretty quiet here. Then there is the inner silence, 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, as with the solidness of the giant redwood tree, or 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."


May 11, 2016

Just before I went to bed tonight I went outside for my usual look at the sky, as well as give my dog a final chance to relieve herself. I noticed a bright quarter of a moon and a few sparkling stars. A few clear words came to my mind: A real Daoist knows they are only here temporarily until they return to the stars.


July 17, 2016

A few days ago, I returned from a special Daoist training that I did in New Jersey. Dave Hessler hosted it and it was called Living With The Dao: A Workshop with Master Meng Zhiling. Master Meng is the current Vice Chairman of the Chinese Taoist Association, based in Beijing, China. I decided to attend this event hoping for a particular outcome, which was not directly related to the workshop, but ended up not achieving the desired outcome. Instead, I achieved some other results. That is what this entry is all about.


Overall, the workshop covered a variety of Daoist cultivation practices, principles, and key concepts. A lot of the principles and concepts that Master Meng presented were very familiar to me. It seemed that the whole first day was like that. What was different, though, was how Master Meng presented these concepts. He seems to love giving examples of the points he was discussing and used extensive metaphors as his main teaching device. For instance, we heard the metaphor of the frog in the well frequently throughout the day Monday to illustrate the point of how it is easy to have a limited worldview if we only rely on our immediate senses to know the world. (From the Zhuangzi) The rest of Monday continued in like fashion. The issues and topics were good but I was hoping to learn new things from Master Meng that I wasn’t already familiar with.


July 19, 2016

The next requirement for meditation was another turning point for me. It was the follow-up to what Master Meng said the previous day about the state of Hundun and the “other world.” The subject was the adjustment of the Heart/Mind. “Think nothing, let go of all thoughts, breathe deeply into the Lower Dantian, return your senses inward, feel nothing external.” He elaborated on these and I wrote in my notes: consciousness controls the senses, keep the senses, e.g., smell, listening, touch, taste, vision, inward. At a question period later, I asked: what about quiet, meditative background music while meditating? Master Meng waved his hands vigorously, no, no, no. That was actually quite funny. He added, even music is distracting to this process of going inward.


A couple of times, the translator used the word, forgetting, to explain what Master Meng was saying. It then dawned on me that he was giving us a lesson on Zuowang meditation, Zuowang, the meditative practice of sitting and forgetting. What he did next was mind blowing for me. After thoroughly explaining that we need to withdraw from all sensory experience while meditating, he asked us to prepare for a short session of meditation. He said we would only meditate for 15 seconds. Yes, only 15 seconds. Forget, withdraw from all the senses and think nothing. Master Meng held his wristwatch in his hands, and said, start! 15 seconds later, he tapped his hands lightly together to indicate to stop. He asked us how we did. I think we were all in a little state of shock. He expected us to totally withdraw from all sensory stimulation. I raised my hand and said I was doing pretty well until I heard the sound of a bird outside. Master Meng, did it again, saying, “try harder.” Oh, my god, I said to myself, that is pure Zuowang, that is the state of “Fixation” that Master Cherng mentions so intensely in his book on Daoist meditation. 


September 12, 2016

Stay in your cell.

Resist all temptation to leave it

And be in the presence of God.

If you can do this on your part

God will do his part and transform you.


September 30, 2016   

I am getting close to the end of this journal, perhaps this weekend will be my final entries. I am home alone and so this can be a good opportunity to have a personal home retreat. I will organize it around periods of the day that I don't have any particular things to do, like teaching my Saturday Qigong class, going to the bank, any yard and garden maintenance, or computer projects I am working on. 

And, so, here I am in my meditation room at the end of the day. I'll start some evening practice with circle walking. In previous entries, I've mentioned the importance of the Chong Mai vessel as a possible entryway or portal to Anterior Heaven. The Pushing The Palms Down posture will be my main circle walking practice and I will alternate the walking with sitting Zuowang. Here goes.

Walking a small circle, breathing the Qi down to the base of the Chong Mai, deep in the Lower Dantian, then exhaling up the Chong Mai to the top of the head. The tongue lightly touching the uppermost part of the mouth, the head relaxed, and staring straight across into the empty distance. The legs are slightly bent at the knees, like the crouching tiger, and the rest of the body has a lifting up feeling, like floating on the clouds.


Next, sitting for a while. Continuing the focus on the breathing up and down the Chong Mai. Uniting the breath with the mind or spirit, or you can think of it as consciousness. Whether you have a deep experience, as in attaining the state of Fixation, or else just an absorbing state of contemplation, the practice is the same. When finished, rub the palms together until they are warm and then cover your eyes with them, absorbing the healing power of Qi you just generated.Relax.


October 3, 2016   

This is my final message. I wrote it this morning when I got up very early to use the bathroom. Be still, walk in circles, ask, What is Not Two (crack the matrix). Learn from the words of the ancients (scriptures). Don’t be afraid to set your goal to the highest achievements, that is, return to the Light: body, energy, and consciousness transformation. Your only limitation is your small belief in yourself. Instead, trust in mind, trust that you can do it. Move forward in forgetting, clarity and stillness.


October 6, 2016 

Since my early 20s, I have been on the spiritual path. If I wasn’t involved in some kind of spiritual practice like Zen, or contemplative Catholic prayer, or even yoga, than I was involved in one of the arts. I took a serious interest in fine art photography in 1980, and it became my spiritual practice for a long time. I referred to myself as a Zen photographer, and my heroes were famous photographers like Minor White, and some lesser known photographers like Ralph Eugene Meatyard. Both of my Master’s degrees in Expressive Therapy, and my M.F.A. in Fine Art Photography emphasized the spiritual in art. And, so, here I am at the end of my second book on the Daoist practices of a modern day, western Daoist. It should be clear to the reader by now what I hold to be the goal or direction to all the practices I have presented. A return to the Source is one way of saying it. I like to clarify what that Source is by adding, returning to the Light. And upon opening one of my favorite photography books on Ralph Eugene Meatyard, I see a wonderful reminder of what I have been seeking all along, and it was present even when I identified myself as an art and spiritual photographer:


Light, the subject matter in this series, served Meatyard not just as an avenue for exploring abstract form, gesture, and rhythm, but also as a way to represent spiritual energy---the light within. Meatyard said that “light alone is the subject of the photographs. One source, many sources---direct, reflected. Coming from within. Wherever light, is heavenly light.” (Tannenbaum 1991, 29)


And that is the end of Book 2, the return to the Light.

Finish.