Winter Solstice Retreat Reflections from Students

The following passages are from the Winter Solstice Retreat I taught this past December before entering the year 2018.  During the 4 day retreat, students were asked to strive for an alkaline diet, avoiding meat, dairy, processed and acidic foods, as well as avoiding garlic, onions, and alcohol.  This diet raises the vibration within the body and blood and can assist in deep sitting meditation practices as well as seasonally cleanse the body.  We covered many things in those four days from how to create a personal altar at home, Daoist bowing and lighting incense ceremonies, and how to make offerings.   We believe that ceremony and connection to ancestral knowledge is the most essential element in transmitting and receiving the true teachings of our Wudang lineage.  We also explored qi gong, sun gazing, tai chi, sword, and ba gua principles.  I hope to offer this same retreat next Solstice!

Driving away from Sebastopol, I felt a strong sense of taking something with me. Something new and bright and profound. A gift, that I can feel in my heart. Like a sense of return. I simultaneously feel an intense need to remember all we learned while also feeling a sense of settling into what we did over four days. The settling is a quiet, deep knowing that has shifted things inside me at the bone level and within my cellular network, changing my everyday routine in small ways that reverberate in large waves- though subtle and invisible.

I am grateful for the context of tradition and lineage. I feel a large part of my practice was hollow without the thread to ground and connect through the generations of those before and after. Like reaching for heaven without any substance, fire and no water.  The way you presented the tradition from Li Shi Fu- so thoughtful, specific, and filled with meaning- gave a different experience to learning movement and ritual.

At the very beginning of the retreat, when I lit an incense to place on the altar, I knew suddenly that my intention was for ancestral connection. Its been a recent theme in my practice, and I was very uncertain how to connect to or ask for guides or help, but knew that this was missing. The sort of hollowness that I mentioned before, seems to be gradually filling as I am just beginning to understand what it feels like to create this web of intention and prayer.
Just as the return of light and yang to the world emerges, I am starting over and growing again. Leaving old wounds and old self in the compost of winter, to rot and then be reborn again in spring.
-Meredith Horiuchi

As much as I value all the moments of the winter solstice retreat, there is one moment that is most shining in my memory.  It was in the park, the day we greeted the rising sun, and after we practiced Bagua pattern stepping.  It was during the time you were reading to us about 49 barriers.  How can I describe in words my experience?  I’ve given that question a lot of thought since then and now.

The best I can come up with is that it felt like I had a taste of what it would be like to be beyond the effects of the 49 barriers, centered in such a way that the lures and forces of the world could not pull or push upon me.  It did not feel like a dead state at all, but rather an extremely alive and pleasant state.  Thank you very much for somehow briefly transporting me to that state, or a least a shadow of that state.  I think about that experience every day.

-Mark Zima

Thank you so very much for the Solstice Retreat. It was a perfect way to reconnect with the practices, and spend some time in contemplation about what path my life will take.

The combination of Qi Gong and diet had powerful effects on digestion and elimination processes of the body, and my overall mental focus. Eating the fresher whole foods I felt a sustained nourishment from smaller amounts of food. I appreciated this experience, because it has been one of my struggles is taking the time to adopt some new habits.

There are so many more wonderful moments during the retreat where I felt my practice deepen… or become more empowered I should say. It was a brilliant, focused introduction to the practices for new students, and would be a great experience for students already familiar with the practice to re connect.

-Jen Sullivan