It’s already more than 6 months since the Chicago retreat with Master Wang Li Ping. I’m writing this during the COVID-19 pandemic, self-isolating aboard my live-aboard sailboat Santorini in Vancouver on Canada’s West Coast. The retreat was a huge event for me personally. One, I got to reconnect with Renee, one of my oldest spiritual companions and friend from University of Toronto days in the 1960’s. Yah, really. As well, I got to meet Nathan Brine, also a teacher of Wang Li Ping’s system. Despite living in the same city, it was the first time our paths crossed.
I had just completed an epic sort of cruise aboard Santorini. I spent late July, all of August and the first week of September cruising the Southern Gulf Islands between Vancouver and Vancouver Island. 40 days, alone, with only myself for company. Santorini is not small and is more than enough of a handful for one person. There is not much room for error. I anchored every night. I survived on solar power, and water carried ashore in jugs, often from hand pups at wells in provincial and national parks. I picked fruit ashore and cycled to scenic lookouts. Mostly I walked around ashore and enjoyed and photographed nature. This is the land of the big tree. Temperate rain forest, it actually dries under the canopy only in the most arid conditions. There are countless trails, kayak-in camping, many islands being accessible by private boat only.
I felt silent and within myself, the cruise and the isolation had been a distinct kind of preparation. I had not been feeling well physically for most of the cruise and when I returned to Vancouver I struggled with whether I should go to the retreat or not. I really did not feel any enthusiasm. I had returned with just enough time to get the US cash I needed to pay Master Wang’s tuition. I went on-line and ordered the cash with my local bank to be picked up Friday, the last banking day before my flight.
That Friday morning, I stood somewhat anxiously at the teller’s window half expecting some problem with this last minute mission critical event. The teller was off looking for my order when I noticed a man, a big man in a motorized wheelchair device at the next window. He was dressed in shorts, tee shirt and bare feet. He was navigating the chair with a remote he held between the toes of his right foot. This was necessitated by the fact that he had no arms. Like not even stubs, or even really shoulders. And on his wide face, the biggest grin imaginable. He obviously knew his teller, and she him. He dropped the remote into the basket on the front of the cart and passed her his bank card, picking it up effortlessly. She swiped it and handed it back. I was entranced by this surreal scene. Then, this guy, folds his knee in and up, and while scratching the side of his nose with the back card, turns and looks me straight in the eye. Expressionless.
Unmoving for endless seconds. I wondered who could this person be who is manifesting right here at this moment. Why? It was weeks later before I started thinking of this as my “Meeting with an Immortal”. It was a huge lesson to me to see my own minor inconveniences that have arisen with aging (yah, hard to admit), compared with what he must have gone through and goes through on a moment to moment basis. He looked so absolutely happy, jolly in fact and composed it was hard to believe it was real. I walked away saying to myself “Yes, that really happened, remember, that really happened.”
Often now, should I feel discomfort when something arising simply from being alive is thrust in my path, I think of him, seemingly effortlessly just scratching the side of his nose. Hmm. Real, not real? The teller arrived back with all the funds I needed. My stress level immediately dropped back to some more normal range. I was committed now to the retreat which was only a few days away.
That was the context for me as I arrived in Chicago. After reconnecting with Renee, I was not really ready when the retreat started. I discovered very quickly two things right on the first day. The material the Master was presenting was mostly brand new, at least to me, and the translation being provided was far from up to the task. Renee is quick but I was often whispering, translating Richard’s mumbled Chinglish. I thought, oh no, bad combination, new material and bad translation.
On day four, Master Wang explained that he was going to review again from the beginning. He appeared exasperated. Many students were apparently not following the guiding, but doing their own practice instead. I had overheard one student saying he had no idea what was happening in the sitting so he was just doing the Inner Smile (A Mantak Chia/Healing Tao practice of active visualization). Unfortunately. this spoke volumes.
At the same time it was becoming apparent to me that the teaching being presented was at a high level, and as a practical matter not readily accessible to any but a handful of the attendees. Just too many prerequisites. Why was he doing this? He was laying down a broad framework, within which widely differing levels of accomplishment in the practice may all benefit. The overall thrust of the methods pertained to balancing left and right. Metal and Wood. Justice and Benevolence, Liver and Lungs, Hun and Po, Pre-Heaven and Post-Heaven. Certainly, virtually any practice, or level of practice can benefit from the result of this reconciliation, this balancing, if it can actually occur. If it can then this raises the exciting possibility of accomplishing “The Joining of Sun and Moon”, which is dependent on left and right consciousness actually conjoining.
So the shift was from the “An Shen Tzu Ciao” (Gathering the Shen in the Ancestral Orifice) which culminates with the practice of “Joining Sun and Moon” to an internal balancing practice within the results of which, the conditions for the conjoining might be better met. That would be good for everyone, but I’m not sure everyone understood how, why and in what context this goal might be accomplished. You got whatever you could apply to the current state of your practice. There was no mention of the “Tzu Ciao” or of “Joining Sun and Moon”
Ok, then on I believe day 6, just as the morning session was about to start, Master Wang walked over to me, and just started talking to me in Chinese. I started explaining in English that that was probably not going to result in productive communication, Fortunately David Zhang, the organizer was sitting 10 feet away, so I was able to ask him to translate. The Master had apparently (sic) said how clear and ready I was, how there were no impediments, no blockages, a “Cleared for Takeoff” kind of checkout (as it turned out, see Part 2). I shockingly had a day or two of doubting the Master. I felt physically terrible. What could he mean, clear and ready? I had been consistently constipated (new experience for me) for much of my cruise and since. I actually felt quite low and un- or even anti-energetic. I had actually blurted out to David at the time “Then I wish I felt as well as I look“. When David translated this, Master Wang looked away, snorting in disgust, like I had complained about my condition to that jolly armless immortal in the bank. But it was the way I felt. Master Wang obviously took no notice of my ‘complaint’. There is simply no way I could have imagined what was coming.