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


 

What is a Poisoned Dragon?

A poisoned dragon is a student who has great potential, but falls into the traps of the ego, becoming arrogant and full of doubt towards their teacher.

This student can no longer be taught, can no longer learn, because he or she believes they have already learned it all.   The student is a dragon because of their innate abilities for martial and spiritual skill.  However the dragon comes upon a plateau, one of many plateaus upon the path.  He or she feels they have accomplished much already, as if they have reached the top of the mountain.  Since the dragon is still young, it only sees as if through a small keyhole looking into the vast infinite universe, like a horse with blinders.

The dragon does not realize the true level of their teacher, because they can only imagine the world as far as they themselves can comprehend it.  The dragon believes they have reached the top, or even surpassed the level of their teacher!  But the dragon’s cup has become full.  Arrogance and doubt become like poison to the spirit of the dragon, and only negative and competitive energy can be felt.

If only the dragon could become humble again, like a child soaking up everything in their present moment, seeing each entity they come across as a teacher of great lessons.  Then the dragon’s spirit would fly again, and cannot help but learn from every friend or foe, as well as honor their teacher, and their teacher’s teacher, who has taught them everything they know.

To become a poisoned dragon should not be seen as a defining state.  It can always be transformed, and surely many of the masters of the world were once poisoned dragons.  We should see it is a transitory state, one in which we pass through, like all things.  We should hope, anyway, that all students may pass through to the other side and find humility and surrender.

The tip of the roof always wears away the fastest.  Why should one wish to always be the best at everything?  If you always consider oneself as the top, then where is there left to go, what is there left to learn or improve upon?  Put oneself down, make the self unimportant, and this is where the next level of skill will originate.

 

Encounters with Zhen Wu

Xuan Tian Shang Di “Supreme Emperor of the Dark Heavens”, also known as Xuan Wu “Mysterious Warrior”, then later recognized as Zhen Wu “Perfect Warrior”, is the God of the Northern Realm of the Seven Stars.  He wields the power of his totem animals, the Turtle and Snake, which also represent the direction North.  It is said that Zhen Wu ascended to immortality in the Wudang Mountains of China.  Many temples were built in his honor during the Ming Dynasty, by the Emperor Yong Le, who believed it was the spirit of Zhen Wu that aided him in conquering his nephew and attaining the throne.  One of the most active and ornate temples built at that time and devoted to Zhen Wu is located in the Wudang Mountains; it is Zi Xiao Gong “Purple Heaven Palace”.

Zhen Wu is one of the highest deities in the Daoist Pantheon, existing in the dimension of the seven stars (Big Dipper), displaying great power with his chest of golden armor, upright sword in hand, often sitting in a throne with the Gui She “Turtle and Snake” beneath his feet.

How does one encounter such a deity?  How does one experience a communication with a higher spirit entity?  Such encounters can happen naturally of their own accord at any moment, or through the summoning of ceremony or prayer.  Often encounters will occur during sitting meditation, when one elevates their energy field or when one is in a sacred place.  To become part of an authentic lineage is also an access point to communication with higher knowledge.

I first experienced the spirit of Zhen Wu at the portal which exists on the Heavenly Horse Peak of Bai Ma Shan, Wudang Mountain Range.  In the year 2011 was built the Jade Palace of Zhen Wu Da Di “Perfect Warrior”, sometimes colloquially called Zu Shi Dian “Hall of the Ancestor”.  Prior to the construction of this jade and marble temple on the peak of the mountain, there was a small wooden shack with red flags flowing wildly in the wind, as there was a strong draft right there at the peak.  The doors creaked and the wooden altar was rotted and dusty, often ragged red cloth draped down to cover.  Plastic bottles of sesame oil offerings to the spirit lanterns were stacked under the altar along with yellow prayer paper, incense, candles; this is where we would many times find the old shed skin of a snake!  Both temples, despite new or old, held the same power, and a strong sensation of being in a Portal to another dimension.  Often we run the stairs to the top to catch a perfect view of the sunrise and practice morning standing meditation in this sacred site.

At the consecration of the new Jade Temple of Zhen Wu Da Di, Li Shi Fu invited a Mao Shan Pai Master to perform the Kai Guang Ceremony of “Opening the Light”, essentially an empowerment of the new statue devoted to Zhen Wu and his soldiers standing by his sides.  Another honorable guest invited by Li Shi Fu to perform at the consecration was the Music Master who played the electric keyboard for the ceremony.  The music accompanied the Mao Shan Pai Sorcerer who began to dance, stepping upon the marble floor within the Jade Temple, and then as if floating, he did a light leaping step up onto the altar, taking first a fresh towel, never used before,  he washed the face of the statue of Zhen Wu, moving in the most eccentric way, as if coiling like a dragon through his arms, shoulders and back, and hopping upon clouds.  He then was handed a large calligraphy brush dipped in Red Cinnabar and proceeded to paint the eyes of the deity upon the  face of the statue and upon the 3rd eye Yin Tang “Hall of Impression”.  He was then handed a mirror to show the face of the empowered statue to Zhen Wu within it, holding up the mirror and then hopping lightly back down to the ground off of the altar.  I remember there was a transmission in the quality of his movement.  His movement was other worldly, as if a different creature, weightless, wild, eccentric; like flames waving, or smoke curling.  I know this to be the spirit of Zhen Wu.

I saw Zhen Wu again in the year 2017, on this most recent trip to China.  This time I felt his presence through vibration and frequency.  On the last 2 days of my month long trip, there was the auspicious fortune to be present for the Gao Gong Fa Shi “High Ceremony”, presented by Lineage Holder Gong Lao Shi, previously of the Purple Heaven Palace.  Gong Lao Shi taught many disciples the music, ceremony, talisman, hand seal and mantra practices of the Zao Wan Gong Ke “Morning and Evening Scripture” and Gao Gong Fa Shi.  It was great destiny to meet her again and even have the chance to participate in the ceremony itself, as they happened to be missing one person in their group.  This ceremony is over one hour long to perform, involves three main “dancers” who represent the Three Treasure Gods, or Three Stars, as well as six accompanying percussionists and singers, one drum/flute master, and two to three musicians in the band to play instruments such as the gu zheng (zither), pi pa (lute), er hu (fiddle) and more.  I played one of the six percussion parts, holding the fa qi “magical instrument” of a small bell.  The instruments are referred to as magical and are treated with great respect.  When holding them, one feels this magic or consciousness of the instrument demanding the strict rhythm and sound to be maintained.   All of the sounds, whether from flute, cymbals, wooden fish or vocals are all part of the conjuring of entities and achieving a specific vibration and frequency in the energetic field of the ceremony.  The instruments and their sounds can also affect and heal the organs of observers or bystanders who are present and within the field of the ceremony.  Through incantation and spell casting via various implements such as incense, water, planchette, sword, and the burning of prayer paper, the ceremony becomes like a vast equation or puzzle of elements aligning to create the possibility for higher entities to become manifest in this reality or human plane.  I felt Zhen Wu arrive in the form of vibration that I could feel passing through my spine.  He moved like a bee would, darting and hovering quickly through the space.  That same energy or spirit which I had felt at the consecration of Zu Shi Dian, of wild eccentricity, other-worldliness, was present again.

Around this time in which Zhen Wu arrived, we were approaching the end of the ceremony and Gong Lao Shi had agreed to do a Kai Guang “Opening of the Light” on a Turtle Snake statue I had bought for the altar of my school in America.  The lead dancer took the calligraphy brush, dipped in cinnabar, from the incense burner where it had been throughout the ceremony, and began to paint the eyes red on the snake and turtle, also marking with red the third eye on both animals, and the fingernails of the turtle.  She also moved with a type of flitting lightness and circularity through the hands resembling the way smoke curls and unfurls.  I felt the presence of Zhen Wu, that spirit, that vibration, enter into the statue and look out from those eyes of the turtle and snake.

And those are the reports of two encounters with the God of the Northern Heavens on the Heavenly Horse Peak of White Horse Mountain in Wudang, China.  Da Ci Da Bei.  Wu Liang Tian Zun.  Great Mercy, Great Compassion.  The Immeasurable Heavenly Lord.