This past weekend I attended a Taoist Retreat led by Shifu Michael Rinaldini, Taoist priest and qigong teacher. Mr. Rinaldini is the founder and leader of the American Dragon Gate Taoist Lineage (ADGL).
This retreat was held at the Catholic Youth Organization Camp in Occidental, west of Santa Rosa, California. The CYO facility was in excellent condition and clean, and located in a lovely hilly woodland area. The chefs provided us with very good food. I really liked the outdoor areas for training in taijiquan, qigong, and for long walks on gravel roads in the woods. One large outdoor chapel in the woods reminded me of a Druid Nemeton, and I enjoyed sitting there for hours. This is an excellent facility for a retreat.
It took me five hours to drive from my home in Red Bluff to Occidental, through mostly rural areas. Springtime is quite beautiful in northern California, but such a long drive does discourage me from attending again.
The cost of the retreat was surprisingly inexpensive.
A group of 9 men and women attended this retreat, a few for all of the three days (Friday to Sunday); but the majority for much shorter periods of time. Shifu Rinaldini led us in seated meditation (Zuowang), reading Taoist scriptures, qigong, sipping tea, taiji ruler, and walking practices. Some chose to ask to speak privately with Shifu Rinaldini for guidance in meditation or qigong; but, he did not initiate private conversations with participants. The retreat was held mostly in silence.
The spiritual theme of this retreat was "Not Two." The philosophical underpinnings of this topic are directly from the Chinese Chan (Zen) Buddhist tradition. The anti-rational Chan koan method of "Not Two" places emphasis upon serious experiential non-intellectual striving, a non-judgmental awareness, having an experience beyond words, not thinking, a non-dualistic consciousness, letting go of preferences, working hard to open and reveal the "Original Mind," and fully realizing fundamental emptiness while sitting and forgetting (Zuowang) or while quietly walking.
Shifu Rinaldini has specific demands of participants in terms of attendance, practice, attitude, and having a zeal for silent sitting. You need to be clear ahead of time about his expectations.
The qigong practices were satisfactory and non-vigorous, and persons with little experience with qigong could easily participate in the exercises. Beginners and intermediate students could learn something about qigong from Shifu Rinaldini.
The attendees seemed sincere and dedicated, and quite friendly when we were allowed the opportunity to chat only during meals.
The next Taoist Retreat of the American Dragon Gate Taoist Lineage led by Mr. Rinaldini will be held at the same location on September 24, 25, and 26, 2010.
Personally, I have no need to repeat the experience of attending this Taoist Retreat for a variety of good reasons. Rather than speak of them publicly, I will take counsel from Zhaungzi: "Great wisdom is generous; petty wisdom is contentious."