Taoist Meditation and Practice

There is much to be gained from the study and practice of meditation. I think a better description would be the process of illumination… More on that below.  But first there are certain principles that are necessary to internalize and understand, especially the true meaning of ching, qi, and shen and their role. What is our ultimate goal? The goal is to find and maintain the tranquility within us, then once found deciding this is who we are and we decide to stay. It becomes like an inner dialog within ourselves we use that defines our inner world and with this we can re-tune or fine tune our outer world to match this. Maintaining the tranquility within ourselves defines us and one’s patience is the key to understanding.  For myself, this contributes to the central meaning of wu wei, and is the key to our longevity. The ultimate objective is for our outer world to become a mere reflection of the inner self. For many this is why maintaining a silent demeanor about oneself helps to maintain this posture. This “posture” is what connects the inner to the outer world.

For many you must first set the tone, or find a beginning point in which one clears one’s mind. There are hundreds of texts and methods that have been developed over the centuries with the intent of improving your ability to remain silent and find the voice within. Most begin with a sitting tradition that focuses on controlling one’s breath. Most people associate meditation with a sitting posture with legs crossed that relies on controlling your breath to become still and without thought. The art of sitting generally relies on three things: 1) being mindful of your posture and finding a comfortable sitting position, 2) focusing your mind on the lower abdomen (the tan tien) and 3) when thoughts arise simply let them go and re-focus on your lower abdomen. For myself, I have always used visualization of a place that helps to clear my mind of all extraneous thought. This sitting tradition is thousands of years in the making. It is easy to see how the early shaman found sitting alone in nature was his true home. Clearing his mind so that he/she could explain to others why things occurred in nature the way they did, and how living within the confines of one’s own nature brought structure and stability to one’s life. Clearing of your mind is nothing more than becoming at peace with yourself and then enabling the discipline within that empowers the tranquility that defines us.

It was during the Great Purity movement in 370 AD that new revelations of the Tao that was centered on Mount Mao (Mao Shan) in southern China took root. This tradition developed a distinctive ritualized  meditation of “interior visualization” that influenced most later forms of Taoism. It is through many years of practice and dedication the Taoist, as all practitioners strive to achieve, meditation and living each moment in this way assists in finding oneself above transcendence. When sitting with my Buddhist friends reciting sutras to assist in clearing one’s mind of extraneous thought, I think of the role of the shaman centuries ago who guided others to their highest endeavor and destiny and what rites it might have taken to focus their attention on the present… becoming still, focusing on one’s breath, and thinking about nothing.

What is it we do to begin to focus on nothing and find this sense of transcendence? To rise above what living brings to our doorstep every day? What is it that defines us? First it is our physical body and how do we preserve it? How do we restore and refine what the Chinese refer to as ching, our physical constitution. It is thought we restore ching through physical activity, diet, and sexual disciplines. Lack of attention to these three things will damage and lead to dissipation of our ching. Next is our breath, or qi. Qi is thought to accumulate from engaging in methods of tranquility and meditation. Finally, is shen. Shen is the full development of the first two, ching and qi. When we are able to achieve the above through daily living, meditation, and tranquility, we can begin to stay in the moment as each moment becomes only an extension of who we are… our highest self. Cultivation of ourselves then becomes our highest motivation. Hundreds of texts have been written describing this process. I am only giving a very brief description here. But the key here is to understand the processes behind incorporating a lifestyle that includes meditation is for self-cultivation.

On a personal note, when I was very young, about nine or ten, I would go to church in Lamar where we lived at the time (about fifty miles northwest of Springfield) with my grandmother. There was a song in Sunday School we would sing entitled “This little light of Mine – I’m going to let it Shine”. Thinking now about illumination , finding our light and letting it shine epitomizes the essence of meditation.

The paradox, for myself, seems to be the contention we find in living in a world with other people present… I find that staying above contention in tranquility by living in the moment is the key to one’s longevity… and that silence is truly golden.

(Anyone reading the above is welcome to comment or make suggestions that may be helpful… Contact Dan DeCarlo at dantzu@att.net or 561-254-0009. Thank you.