A Field Guide to Taoist Meditation

Taoist meditation is action without aim. It is an aimless, meandering meditation without technique or prefabricated notion -- fishing without a hook.
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On Finding a Teacher

On one fine summer day, as I strolled aimlessly along a riverbank,
Beset with a thousand disquietudes,
I chanced upon an old woman fishing under the shady cool of creeping willows.
I wanted to ask her my thousand questions regarding the sun, moon and the creation of the universe and my purpose in life and oh so many more,
She placed her fingers on her lips: Fish are rising.
So I stood there and watched.
The freckled river shimmered with flashes of light like scales of an anaconda.
Clouds drift and tugged the blue horizon with their thick, silken strands;
Shadows of the willow grove deepened.
I felt my questions draining away.
Finally, as she slowly reeled in her line, I laughed as I saw that the line was without a hook.
How does one catch fish without a hook? I wondered.
As she turned to go, I know that tea is ready and I am invited.
Following behind her light, drifting footsteps, a gentle breeze combs through the willow branches,
I catch fragments of their whispering: A big one she caught..

* * *

Taoist meditation is action without aim. It is an aimless, meandering meditation without technique or prefabricated notion -- fishing without a hook. In Taoism, the very nature of this existence is considered a total meditation of the cosmos. Yet, my clinging mind needs something concrete, steps and the knowhow. Thus, began my foray into the wide horizon of meditation.

Taoist alchemical meditation

I consider this the most simple yet, the most difficult of meditations. There is no technique, no particular posture or formality. Just this very instance of one's existence is the meditation. One takes each moment as perfect, whole and everything in its rightful place; thoughts, emotions and such are wonderful, magnificent manifestations and an expression of one's true nature. It is likened to a man waking up after a long coma to find everything -- every thought utterly sweet. In other words, as in the case of a patient of mine who suffered partial paralysis from a stroke, the sharp pain of a needle was felt with overwhelming joy and gratitude.

When I teach this pathless form of meditation to students: that there is nothing to teach and everything is perfect and in harmony just as they are in this very moment. I am usually met with the following:

"Ughh. But you have taught us nothing," is a common response.

"Exactly," I laugh. While, some walk out in a huff.

"Charlatan!" they shout.

A few stay, hoping that perhaps at a later time I will eventually reveal the secret techniques to them. They will also leave empty-handed and full of blame and anger. Only a rare individual or two will awaken to this instantaneous perfection of suchness.

"You lying thief!" they laugh. And perhaps, we will then share a cup of Dragon Well tea.

Mentak Chia's macrocosmic/microcosmic meditation

The representative of this lineage of Taoist meditation is Master Mentak Chia who guides students in circulating their endogenous energy/Qi through the acupuncture meridians. Master Chia also utilizes the internal visualization of the inner smile in this meditation. Smiling to one's angry liver or soothing the weeping lungs might seem farfetched, but such inward smiling does have wonderful healing affects on the organs and their functions. Furthermore, in the opening of the endogenous energy channels, the source and root causes of pathogens are vanquished and one's health is restored. In summary, the Healing Tao meditation system emphasizes the harnessing of the mind's power in the health process and guides one toward healing.

Yan Xan's inner child meditation

In this meditation, one is seated in a chair and initially the breath is settled as a way to calm the mind and body. Then one visualizes the image of oneself as a small child at the age of four or six years old. Often, a vivid image of one's childhood emerges with crystalline clarity. Then with each breath, the inner child enlarges in size until he/she completely fills one's present body. I have found this meditational process extremely effective in dealing with childhood traumas. But readers should proceed with caution. One should always have a competent and enlightened guide in doing Yan Xan's inner child meditation.

The golden flower meditation

The eminent sinologist Richard Wilhlem translated the "golden flower," or jin hua Taoist sutra, into English. This book is an esoteric Taoist alchemical text used to guide initiates toward immortality (or at least longevity) by the creation of the immortal fetus. As Carl G. Jung mentioned in Wilhem's memorial service, Wilhem's tragic death was attributed to the incorrect practice of this meditation. In essence, the golden flower text is a combination of the above two meditational techniques: opening the channels and visualization of the birth of the immortal fetus. Through a hundred day process of laying the foundation by at first opening the channels, and then 1,000 days of creating an immortal embryonic energy entity within. The initiate is said to achieve the next level by projecting their consciousness outside of their body -- the initial stage being only an invisible shadow of oneself that others cannot perceive. This ethereal body can travel vast distances of space and experience reality as we know it, but this entity cannot interact in a concrete way with anyone or anything around them. After 10,000 days, or nine years of further cultivation, the initiate advances further into the realm of true immortality by the achievement of a concrete, solid, conscious projection of self. At this stage, the initiate must still maintain their physical body, although at this point, it is in a catatonic state. Meanwhile, the projected self wanders and functions like a normal person. However, as their true physical body's biological functions are in a state of hibernation, they will age at much slower pace. Caution: In the last 200 years of modern Chinese history, I have not personally verified a single individual of this lineage who has achieved this advanced level. A few have claimed that they can project their consciousness outside of their body, but an objective assessment of their claims has not been proven. Obviously, this particular path is filled with pitfalls and practitioners often deviate into psychosis. At this point in time, only one teacher, Wang Li Peng, teaches this cultivation in sporadic seminars in China.

Qigong dynamic meditation

As China morphs from a feudalistic society into the modern era, old time martial artists are transforming their martial fighting skills into healing practices. Master Wang Hiang Xia, the founder of Yi Quan or Mind Martial form, created a series of standing meditation postures such as Tree Hugging stance or Taming the Dragon stance. This dynamic meditation employs the use of imagination and visualization such as Standing Like a Windsock Filled with Breeze in order to distill the mind into a dynamic power force. In his martial system, the laser sharpness derived from meditation is then used later on for sparring and fighting. Yi Quan's dynamic meditation is a wonderful healing meditation with only minor side effects: spontaneous movements and shaking. However, these side effects are symptomatic of one's endogenous channels being opened. Once the stagnation is freed up then the shaking and movements cease as well. As Master Wang once said: Moving greatly is not as fine as moving in smaller motion, tiny movement is not as fine as stillness. Hence, dynamic meditation can be said to guide one from motion into stillness.


I was taught to focus my awareness at the Dantien, a region three fingers' width beneath my navel, but I noticed that my menses have become heavier, should I continue to practice this form of meditation?

To place one's awareness at the lower Dantien, or Elixir Field, is a common practice given by many Taoist based meditation teachers. According to my Grandmaster, Nan wei gen, for women it is particularly worrisome and for most potentially unhealthy in the long term. Such focusing will often result in dysmenorrhea and fibroid tumors. If your menstrual flow has become abnormally heavy and you are practicing this type of meditation, it is crucial that you consult a physician and your meditation instructor regarding such symptoms.

I have been meditating for 13 years now and my mind is still filled with thoughts?

Don't be fooled by the label of meditation in this case. In reality, for 13 years, you have been seated in obsessive wool-gathering. A discursive mind thus seated in meditation for a lifetime will remain as such. Likewise, a couch potato also seated and watching TV for decades and proclaiming this as a form of practice will never approach the silence of meditation.

How can I improve myself?

Self-improvement is a trap. It is the sleight of hand originated by the mind in self-delusion. You cannot bootstrap yourself to heaven with forceful effort. In order to improve yourself, you project a future based on your habitual conditioning. Thus, this is a false premise.

Is being aware of my breath during meditation bad for me?

It is impossible to tell without actually directly assessing your state of health. In general, anapana (breath awareness) is a wonderful initial introduction to the "practice" of meditation. Notice the word, "practice," which means that anapana is still a preparation and therefore a dress rehearsal for meditation. It is not quite a real meditation yet. Meditation begins when all thoughts, perceptions and notions of the self dissolve.

Do you have any meditation teachers that you can recommend?

Yes, there are many wonderful meditation centers and teachers that I have personally encountered and found to be both compassionate and wonderful guides. The following is a list of teachers and centers that I have either directly encountered and/or experienced in their system/lineage:

David Nichtern is wonderful master of meditation of the Shambhala lineage. Besides being a great, loving meditation teacher, David possesses extraordinary simplicity in guiding beginning students in the deepening stages of the meditation path.

Elaine Retholtz is a teacher of Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) and an associate teacher at the New York Insight Meditation Center. Her approach to teaching meditation is within the context of healing and health. Elaine is a quiet and gentle teacher with extensive knowledge of acupuncture energetics.

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