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June 26, 2011

10 Days with Wang Liping, a student's experience. Days 1-3, Establishing the Field and Ziran

Days 1-3, Establishing the Field and Ziran

No question that on looking back, the first 2-1/2 days of the April 2011 retreat were the most difficult. Students arrived from all over the world, with widely different levels of practice, some with little or virtually no experience with the type and form of practice we were doing. Master Wang expended great effort devoting the time to build and stabilize a common meditation field for the entire group of close to 20 students. To understand what this means, one must first understand the concept and meaning of what is called in Chinese 'Ziran' translated commonly as 'Natural Breathing'. Sounds simple, absolutely not so. Why is this so, where does the common translation arise, and what does 'ziran' really entail?

First, Ziran is a specific and specialized state, not in any real way associated with what most would call a 'natural' state, although that is in fact exactly what it is. The difficulty lies in the unfortunate reality that, in modern life, there is virtually nothing remaining of the 'natural', certainly not from the Daoist perspective.

When it is said that ziran is a state, it means it is a state of consciousness that can (by the experienced adept) be entered and exited from quickly and consciously at will (by will), by an established and transmittable method, this being one of the primary and initial achievements of a developing Daoist practice. By establishing a 'group field' the endowed Master can cause the members of the group to enter into the state (ziran) primarily by being a conscious participant in the group field. It is through entering into the sate, whether consciously or as a group participant that the further states the Master is transmitting can be experienced. It is that important. Perhaps unfortunately, the real meaning of the state, it's experience and importance of developing this power in practice are often 'taken for granted' or assumed.

The practice of 'An Shen Tzu Chio' (Stabilizing the Shen in the Ancestral Cavity) and 'Ziran' are to some extent synonomous. This immediately implies what could be termed a 'Catch 22' in the following sense. Once the practitioner has the ability and power in practice to simply 'An Shen Tzu Chio', in exercizing that power in 'quiet sitting', they thereby enter into 'ziran'. Natural breathing is, simply put, the state the body assumes once the shen is stabilized. In most cases, this implies years, if not decades, of practice and achievement. Hence the value of group practice under the guidance and energy field of a Master. By submitting to the group field under the Master's 'Pressure Field', the shen is stabilized (to a greater or lesser extent) by the external field generated by the Master's. Once the field reaches a certain critical mass, the individuals in the group enter into and experience ziran.

One difficulty lies in the fact that each individual must eventually find and stabilize their own 'ziran', which will have a characteristic pace and rhythm specific to them and their level of practice. There will be a characteristic ratio of in-breath to out-breath, and a rising and falling pace, linked to the date/time (daily,monthly and yearly sexagenary cycles), the place in the current meditative session and various other factors. The Master must match his developing group field to these factors and gradually, in increasingly intensive sessions, bring the student group into sync with that constantly varying field. Timing is everything.

Because this is an article about personal experience, I relate as follows:

Due to the kindness of Master Wang and his disciple Kathy Li, I was offered a position in the group immediately adjacent to the place Master Wang took during the opening and closing phases of each sitting session (pan tzu). My habit was to arrive early enough for class to sit in place and practice entering into ziran and allowing the state to stabilize prior to the arrival of Master Wang. This would allow time for any 'processing' that was required for me to settle into a stable state of 'song rong' or 'dissolving and melting', often implying a sequence of 'rising and falling' that needs to occur spontaneously and effortlessly if the song state is to be completely realized.

Once the session started, and again this refers to the intial 2-1/2 day period of 'Building the Group Field', I (and most of the group) initially experienced significant distress when the pace of the ziran of the developing field, and our individual ziran varied. My attention was drawn to this when Kathy commented ( after perhaps the third 1-1/2 hour session ) that the developing pace was quite, and perhaps even uncomfortably, slow. My reaction was that the pace was close to ideal for me, and if anything slightly fast. At that point the pace was perhaps 4-5 breaths per minute after about 15 minutes (in and out being counted as one breath), with a ratio of approximately 1-5 for the durtion of in-breath to out-breath .

A very interesting discussion about the cause of this difference in experience ensued. I was seated immediately adjacent to Master Wang and I assumed the first one to be enveloped in his field (my assumption). She countered that perhaps he was taking my pace as a sample for the group, and others found this was simply not appropriate for them at the current state of the group field. I do not believe we were able to settle this question to our mutual satisfaction. This experienced difference grew greater with each session ( and the sessions grew longer each day ) until on the afternoon of the third day we were sitting for 1 hour and 45 minutes. Several of the students were in obvious distress at crucial points in the sitting, although Kathy had, by that time, found herself comfortable in the emerging group field.

My experience was completely different and became the defining personal experience for the entire retreat. As the group field developed, I found my ziran at significant variance wih the group. Their in-breath to out-breath rato was more like 1-2, and while my pace might normally stabilize at 3-4 breaths per minute, the group never approached more than 5-6. That was the natural pace for the group and once stabilized it varied very little throughout the retreat. I spent every available 'resting moment' seeking a new and comfortable ziran that would sync with the group, with remarkably little success (until the 8th or 9th day, but more about that in a later article). My experience was simply that by sitting in the group ziran, the pre-existing state I had arrived at through 5 years of practice of 'an shen tzu chio' was under intense revision while in personal solo practice, I could not find and enter a truely stable state. Master Wang very helpfully made clear that the exact position of the shen in the tzu chio was critical in correctly entering the state, and I (obviously) had not correctly achieved that. The distance the shen is held relative to the heavenly eye is determined by an individual's specific body measurement. I needed to increase that relative distance, and due to force of habit, this was far from easy. This was a huge and difficult lesson for me, as I had assumed that since I had developed the power in practice to enter into the ziran (and hence the song state) virtually instantaneously and at will, I was doing the practice correctly. I was very incorrect in that assumption, and only through the Master's powerful field and the resulting group ziran was I able to percieve (and eventually overcome) this.

The practice of An Shen Tzu Chio requires you to, at various stages of the sitting practice, to enter and leave ziran mutiple times. There are periods of intense intentional guiding of the breathing pace, depth and rhythm, followed quickly by ziran. Master Wang would guide the practice by saying simply (translating from the Chinese here) 'Breathing is now natural breathing', expecting (and in the group field, allowing or 'forcing') the adept to immediately enter the state. A lyrical description of this is contained in the words (I'm quoting from David Verdesi here) "You are not breathing, you are being breathed". This describes the state as experienced in the group field very exactly. To find the means and power to enter this state effortlessly and at will should be, in my understanding, a primary goal of anyone taking the Ling Bao Bi Fa 10 day retreat. In other words, 'Submit'.

Posted by james at June 26, 2011 1:25 PM


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