Taoist Meditation Retreat

September 22, 2009 at 11:08 am Leave a comment

I just returned from a 3 day meditation retreat with the British Taoist Association. Last July I went on a similar 5 day retreat. When I arrived at the venue, Hourne Farm in East Sussex, I opened the notebook that I had used in July and found a note that I had written then. It was from a talk by Shi Jing the Taoist Priest who leads the retreats. The note said,

When our chi (life energy) goes out, when it leaves us, what does this do to our jing (our vitality)? Our vitality gets drained. People lose their energy and vitality. Then life becomes a struggle. Recovery from illness is slow, and the lack of vitality changes how we see the world. We start to se the negative and not the positive. And this drains our vitality even more. A dreadful downward cycle ensues, which can lead to depression and illness.

The effect of negative thinking is that our vitality drains away, leading to a lowering of spirits, a tendency to depression, and with that comes despair, hopelessness and an inability to act. We freeze in fear and anxiety.

This short note struck home to me when I read it, since the past two weeks have been quite difficult for me. I have separated from my wife (after 20 years together), and moved from my house (and kids) into a small flat-share. At the same time, two legal cases that I have been pursuing to try to get money owed to me  have started up, and these provide tensions and problems of their own. The confluence of all these events, a veritable perfect storm of troubles, had me feeling very low indeed. My spirits were not positive and I felt a downward cycle starting in myself.

So the words I read at the very beginning of the retreat provided me with a focus for the self-cultivation that I planned for the weekend. I realised that I had to change my negative view of the events that were happening to me into positive ones if I was going to survive these next few months in a good and healthy way. 

Consequently I decided that I had to look for the positive in the events in order to stop the negative thoughts from taking over my mind. The events themselves are neither positive or negative or good or bad. It’s the way we look at them that determines whether we consider them bad or good. On the face of it, a marriage break-up is not good, but it may be that the ultimate result of being on my own again may become more positive than negative. Perhaps in the future I will look back at the break-up and realise that I needed it to happen to move on in my life.

The meditation retreat helped me to do this, since one of the things we do in Taoist meditation is to look at the thoughts that arise as ’empty’, as insubstantial, and so we do not engage with them or go along with them, but instead allow them to just pass by, like clouds in the sky.

Doing this in meditation allows you to take this same view in daily life, so that if a negative thought arises, like the one I had on returning home- “You are returning to an empty flat”  – then the best solution is to just let that thought pass by and not let it light up the emotion that is its source- loneliness and self-pity. Normally the thought would conjure up the negative emotion, or it may be that the emotion has brought up the thought, which then revolves back into the emotion in a never ending tumble of negative emotions and thoughts. I didn’t need to bring up a positive thought to counter the negative one- like  “At least in your flat you have time and  space to yourself “, I only needed to ignore the negative one, and not allow it to unearth the emotion that would upset me.

This was my lesson from the retreat, and I am hopeful that I can continue to put it  into effect.

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Entry filed under: Age of Anxiety.

A Spiritual Almanac – September From my Journal – April 13 2002

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Reflections on an age of anxiety.

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