Tuesday, November 22, 2016

True Connections, Power of Qigong & the Stories the Rivers Tell

Greetings Friends!

I love being in China, and I LOVE Yunnan! It is definitely one of my favorite provinces. It is a magical place – one where the skies are blue, the clouds a glowing white, the mountains reach for the sky, the water flows clean and clear, and the temples shine with their bright colors, undulating prayer flags and chanting monks. The villages hum with the daily life of tending to gardens and pigs, harvesting corn and barley, and a general full feeling of harmony, wellbeing and good living. I love being here and I definitely feel at home in this land.

And I just love the small 1,000 year old town of Shuhe 束河古 that is nestled on the high plateau valley under the majestic 20,000ft Jade Dragon Snowy Mountain -  Yu Long Xue Shan 玉龍雪山. Shuhe is our “base camp” for this trip – our landing and jumping off point for other magical lands in Yunnan (such as Lugu Lake and Liming) – and it a town I lived in for 1 month in 2012. It has small cobble-stoned streets with flowing water-ways, yummy restaurants, and local Naxi people selling walnuts, fruits, vegetables. While in Shuhe we’re staying at our friend, Yanzi’s wonderful inn called Sui Yue Feng Jing . Yanzi owns the inn and is a delightful generous, jolly, and very witty woman who loves tea and sharing stories and laughter with others.

The inn is beautiful and built in old traditional Naxi architecture. The wooden walls with carved wooden windows aren’t insulated, as the climate here is mild. Yet the winter the nights are chilly…so each bed has an electric blanket! :) My first night here, I had jet lag. Exhausted I turned on the electric blanket, crawled into bed with my clothes on and promptly fell asleep only to wake up a couple hours later super hot!!! I took off some layers and fumbled to turn off the electric blanket but mistakenly turned it on high! Alas, I fell asleep again and woke up this time covered in sweat! I had to get up and air everything out…and well, then with jet lag I was just up :-) – but when used right, these heating pads are warm, cozy and the nights are quiet and restful for a good sleep! 

A Vision of Two Friends is Born ~ True Connection to China & the Wilderness
When Szu-ting and I met 8 years ago, we quickly became good friends. We also soon birthed a dream to share our passions of China and the wilderness with others. And one of our ways of doing this is creating these Qigong & Wilderness trips to Western China to bring people to the heart and beauty of a land and culture we both love.

China’s West & People of the Land
When people come to China, so many people only experience the busy, crowded bustling cities. But China is so much more. On our trips we head West. There are vast ranges of mountains, plateaus, gorges, rivers and many small villages nestled amongst the land. They blend into the terrain. They blend into the landscape and the people are a people of the land – not separate from it. It is so refreshing to have no Walmarts, stoplights, suburban neighborhoods, strip malls, Starbucks, etc. Instead there are handmade homes with their hanging/drying red peppers and corn in the inner courtyards, their fields of fresh organic vegetables and grains, wandering pigs, happy pecking chickens and geese – there is a rhythm and naturalness to their way of life. 

The Chinese people have suffered through many hardships and hard times, and have always rebuilt. While modern growth is swift, fast and has also led to much destruction (similar as in the U.S.), many of the people of the countryside are connected to the Earth/Nature in simple, mundane yet profound ways. They steward the land. They grow their own vegetables, grains, tea, animals in beautiful thriving farms and gardens. They gather daily or weekly for markets under the open air and blue skies, carrying baskets on their backs to buy and sell spices, clothes, meats, nuts, tofu, medicinal herbs, shoes, vegetables, fruits, and even chickpea crepes and pancakes (we had these in a little town, Shigu, on our way to Liming – so delicious and so healthy!! :)). There are even dentists that come and set up stands at these street markets! :-D These elders and families live in a way of connection and leave a small and more natural footprint on the earth. 

Qigong & Sinking into the Rhythm of Life
On our trips we sink into this rhythm of life – life that pulses through the villages, the rivers, mountains, cuisines, cultural dances, clouds, vistas and vast blue skies. One way we do this is through Qigong. Qigong is an ancient form of Chinese breathing, meditation and movement. It is a powerful way to cultivate our own health and vitality, and develop our spirit and soul. It offers tools to receive Qi - both energy and information - from our environment. As China is home to many healing and mystical arts, such as Chinese Medicine, Qigong, Daoism, all of which have been born from its Lands and channeled through its people, Qigong offers a profound way to tap into these teachings from its very source. 

On this trip, we practice qigong each morning, be it by the water’s edge of Lugu Lake, the blazing red rocks of Liming, beneath the towering Jade Dragon Snowy Mountain, or even amongst the village gardens rich with the sounds of oinking pigs, crowing roosters and tweeting wag tail birds. :-) In the afternoons we also practice, sinking into place, into the land we’re at, absorbing, gathering qi and information. It is a profound, non-thinking and transformational way of learning. 

Qigong deepens our presence and awareness – in this way it also helps us digest and ground in our own experience. Practicing qigong also gives back to the life and vitality of the lands we visit. As we increase the health and harmony within our body, our being, our inner landscape, this radiates out into our outer landscapes.

Red Rocks, Fox Tracks & Mountain Winds ~ Power of Sit Spot
In my first travel update, I started with referencing a sit spot meditation I did one late afternoon on our visit to Liming’s Lao Jun Mountain’s park. This is another powerful practice we do on these trips. It is one I’ve been intuitively doing since childhood, yet I learned it as a powerful nature connection practice and awareness training from my husband, Nate Summers and the teachings through Wilderness Awareness School. This practice involves finding a spot to sit outside, whether it is in your backyard, a city park, in a forest or mountain top and sitting for 20 minutes to 1 hour or more. 

When sitting, we tap into our senses – “What am I seeing, hearing, smelling, feeling? What do I hear to the north, south, east and/or west? What way is the wind blowing? What are the birds doing? What are the smells of the stone I’m sitting on?” We go into “owl eyes” where we are present with our peripheral vision. This is a wonderful way to soak in our surroundings, clear our thinking and develop our awareness to any movement, and signs of life, wind, and wildlife. In sitting in this way, I feel a profound peace and joy of presence. It’s like I get to finally be still and say a beautiful hello to the trees, the sparkling waters of the river, the swirling winds, the still, tall and majestic mountains, and I finally get to listen. 

This is similar to qigong and is a wonderful practice to do after qigong. On one of our outings, we visited Yu Hu Cun 玉湖村 – Jade Lake Village the first Naxi village and the one highest up and closest to the base of Jade Dragon Mountain. All the houses are built of stone, with beautiful gateways “men”  to enter into each family’s home/courtyard. After being invited into one Naxi family’s home, and sweet courtyard and garden to chat, I continued winding my way up the narrow stone streets to where the village ended and the fields leading up to the first granite peak spires of this majestic mountain began. I wandered through a field on some of the local women’s footpaths that head up to collect herbs. It was here I found a most magical place for my afternoon sit spot. I gazed with great love and awe up into the jagged peaks of this mountain – gazing and listening, feeling the sun on my back, the sweet scent of dried grass in my nostrils. The wind whipped and swirled with intensity through the granite stones above and the clanking bells and clopping huffs of the horses rang their own cadence in the village streets below. (see pics right below in this section on Yu Hu village and this sit spot :))

These moments are when the beauty and teachings of place, of the land, of Nature come rushing in. It’s also after such practice that I feel filled with aliveness, awareness and connection to our Earth and web of Life. Another day after sit spot, after climbing down the giant red sandstone boulder in Liming’s Luo Jun Mountain park, I started moving slowly through the dried out, wind-swaying corn stalks on the hillside when something caught my eye. There were little tracks in the mud…and they were everywhere! I looked closely, started following them and then also found a scat. It was fox scat and fox tracks!!! How cool!! :)

1,000 Turtles Face the Sun
Liming and Lao Jun Mountain park were one of our destinations. Up at about 8,000 ft, Liming is a small village of Lisu people (the whole village is one street that takes less than 10 mins to walk down :) – you’ll also notice in the pictures that most Lisu homes have the painted symbol of a cross bow – as their heritage is that of hunters). And the towering red sand stone rocks are referred to as the “Zion” of China. Climbing up to the top of one of the mountains are several beautiful rock nature “sculptures” – of a sleeping Buddha, a lovers’ embrace, dragon scales, and even what’s called “Qian Gui Chao Yang  龜朝陽” – “1,000 Turtles Facing the Sun”. It’s the top ridge of a mountain with a series of weathered red sand stone rocks that all look like many turtles’ backs – all lined up, and facing the rising sun. So beautiful!

Golden Sands and the Story of the Long River
And the drive to Liming is also spectacular, with views of Jade Dragon Mountain in the distance, and then coming upon the first magnificent bend in the Yangzi River (長江第一灣). This place calls for some pause in explanation on this river. This river is actually called “Chang Jiang 長江” “Long River”. Yet the part of the Long River most Westerners are familiar with is the part referred to as the Yangzi River. Here, close to Liming, this same river is known as “Jin Sha Jiang 金沙江” “Golden Sands River” – as the sand bars glow gold in the sunlight. Two of the biggest rivers in China, the Long River and Yellow River (Chang Jiang 長江and Huang He 黃河) both start close to each other in China’s Qinghai Province, a province that is all over 10,000ft in elevation. While this spot isn’t super spectacular, as the rivers are both small at that place, they each grow to be enormous rivers covering 1,000s of miles and traversing all kinds of terrain. 

This place where the Long River has its first bend is remarkable. The river is flowing due south and then at this bend goes due north and then eventually heads east across the country. It is also a watershed of 3 rivers running parallel to each other from north to south – the Nu River, Lancang River and Long River. This area of the 3 rivers watershed is now protected by the Chinese government, in large part due to the conservation efforts and passions of a local Naxi woman. :) (that’s a whole other story for another time…as this is already quite long! :-D)

Nourishment & Chinese Food! Yum!
I know in each trip I share about the delicious food! And the food, tea, our meal times are all also a wonderful and nourishing part of our adventure experience! :-) Each meal is a time to discover new delicious local dishes, share with each other and learn about the culture, people and land through our taste buds. :) One of our participants, Matthew shared that his way of learning of cultures is reading cookbooks from cultures around the world and trying their recipes. In fact he estimates he’s tried 1,200-1,500 recipes so far. And when he tries a recipe, it’s not just once. Sometimes, he explained, he tries it 9-10 times before getting it right. He and his wife, Lea, are on this trip as part of their honeymoon :-) and the 2 of them are some of the most adventurous eaters I’ve met yet. (For example in the span of a couple days, I saw Lea eat a fish eye, goose blood and chicken feet!) 

I love how the food is super fresh here. When staying in Lugu Lake, our Mosuo family cooked us veggies from their garden, chicken and pork from their farm. We also noticed that when serving meat, it is an art of chopping the meat so there is at least one bone in each piece. :-) Many Americans prefer plain muscle or in the case of chicken, chicken breast. Yet I find eating meat with the skin, bone, tendons is much more delicious and nourishing for the body. In Chinese medicine, the skin is said to nourish our skin, the bones our bones, the tendons our own tendons, and same is true with organ meat. Below I’ve pasted some pics of some of the delicious foods. 

Tea Qi, Chanting Monks & Local Dances & Karaoke Night! :-D
Our trip is wrapping up for this journey to Western China. There is always so much more to share! – Such as our visit with a local Tibetan nun at Zhi Yun monastery and observing the Tibetan monks in chanting prayers, and our several evenings sipping tea with Xiao Lan at his elegant tea shop, learning and listening to his stories about tea, and how the study of tea is another form of self cultivation, an art form just like Qigong. There’s also the dancing with the local Lisu people at Liming, and Moreah, our awesome 75-years young participant who claims to be 75 going on 50, who playfully danced with and chased the little Lisu children during the community gathering :). (Moreah is so adventurous!!! She’s been in China 35 days and came before our trip to do another tour – and 10 days of couch surfing in Beijing! She’s also been sharing pdf versions of her book, “From Nun to Nudist to Now” with her new Chinese friends! :-D) And there’s also the funny story of attending what we thought was going to be a local Mosuo dance gathering – that really turned out to be town karaoke night! :-P And the morning mini garbage truck that always plays the local ethnic dance music in the morning as it bumbles by…and gets us all laughing and busting out in a jig on our saunter through town. 

YAY!!! Thank you all once again for receiving my shares and for joining me on another magical CHINA adventure!! :) Below are a silly "pose" pic all the women did after qigong practice in Liming one day, some fun pics of food, a pic of our superman, and some more of Lugu lake and our canoe ride on Lugu Lake (you can see our Mosuo "father" host too :). He was our driver for our trip and a very friendly man. :))

So much Love to you all! And for those of you in the States, Happy Happy Thanksgiving!!

Much Love,
Kailun 凱倫

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Visiting Lugu Lake, the "Country of Daughters" - One of the Last Matriarchal Societies & the Medicine of Goddess Mountain

Greetings Friends!

Like many of you, I am struggling with many feelings, including grief, anger, fear, devastation and great loss after the result of our election. I feel we have missed a most wonderful and powerful opportunity to have Hillary as our chief leader in our country. And instead, I am struggling to come to terms with so much darkness coming into power. And this election is revealing what has already been growing in our country. A division and hatred that is showing its face in a way that I feel will call us all into action. 

While I’m still in the midst of grief, anger, fear and reflection, recently during my sit spot among the red rocks of Lao Jun Shan park in Liming, Yunnan Province, China, I sat and listened and was just being with the land. The sun was setting and I watched as the shadows grew, the cold crept in and the brilliantly red stones were slowly swallowed in dusk. While we may be seeing and feeling much darkness creeping in like these shadows of night, I remembered that the sun is always shining regardless of the night, AND it will rise tomorrow and this valley I’m sitting in will be blazing with warmth and the orange-red glow of the sandstones once again. I know from my own personal experience that for healing, sometimes things get worse before they get better and truly heal from the core. With so much at stake, …with everything at stake…may we all come together and truly be stronger and brighter together, standing for what is right, just, and Good. 

And right now I am in China with my friend and colleage, Szu-ting, her husband Dave and our great group of participants on our Yunnan Qigong & Wilderness trip. And, I offer my travel stories and experiences below as an offering of Love and Bright Light in this time of challenge and change. (I’ve had some trouble getting on the internet so I wrote this last week :) – more will come :))

Visiting the “Country of Daughters” ~ Lugu Lake – the Land of the Last Matriarch
During this trip, Szu-ting and I are taking our group to one of our last Matriarchal societies, Lugu Lake with the Mosuo people of Yunnan Province. There is a reason I am here, all of us on our trip our here. I had thought it was because it would be such a blessed place to celebrate the election of our first woman President of the United States. But there is another reason. This place is powerful and I arrived knowing the importance of being fully present, to listen to and receive from the land and water here and to give back through my awareness, love and appreciation. The earth is constantly teaching and She has different medicine, lessons, guidance in different places. My intent is to bring back the medicine I’m receiving here to plant seeds of strength, knowing and wisdom in our/my own country.

We arrived here at Lugu Lake the day of the election and received the news en route. That night, in the privacy of my own room (we’re staying with some wonderful Mosuo people in their village), I cried and cried and cried. I cried so hard and felt a strong ache and pain in my left kidney – the left side being my feminine side and kidney representing Fear. It was late and I knew it was important to rest and help my shaking body and spirit come to calm and get some rest. I had a mind’s eye flash of Lugu Lake and began to meditate upon this great water Being. 

This lake is huge and supremely beautiful! She is surrounded by mountains – the largest towering mountain over 10,000ft, Ge Mo Nu Shen – is called the Goddess Mountain.  Around her are other mountains that roll and tumble into the lake like sleeping dragons, laying down their giant bodies and finally laying their heads down as “dragon” peninsulas into the lake’s welcoming, magnificently blue and calm waters.

As soon as I focused my attention on Lugu Lake, my whole being slowly relaxed and was filled with a vast peace. I was filled with gratitude and awe and fell asleep knowing I would go to her waters at morning’s first light. 

Upon waking the next morning, tears soon rolling down my cheeks again, I got up, put on my warmest clothes (as it gets into the 30s at night here but warm 60s during the day), and walked through the village to find a place to reach the water’s edge before meeting up with our group. 

As I walked, I passed many local school kids, Moms and Uncles escorting their children. --Note in this matriarchal society, people don’t marry as we do in our culture. They have “zou hun 走婚” – translated as “walking marriage” or “visiting marriages”.  When a girl comes of age, she can start to have lovers. Often times she is given a room on the outer edge of their family compound with a door to the outside, so that men from neighboring villages can come visit. The woman can accept or refuse these lovers. When a man and a woman have been together a while, they may choose to have a child. Yet it is rude for anyone in the village to ask the woman who the father is. 

One hundred days after the child is born, there is a public celebration where the mother and father of the child together celebrate the birth of their baby with their village. Then the news is out. :) Yet, unlike our culture, the mother then raises the child with her family and her brothers, the baby’s uncle(s). The father helps raise his sister’s children. Yet the father, if he wants can also be involved in his children’s lives. 

For example, in the family we stayed with, the woman has her own home and we actually stayed in the man’s home (which he had build out with extra rooms to make an inn :)). (I’ll call this couple husband and wife for ease in writing – though they aren’t married in that way). The wife was helping out to cook for us and sometimes stayed over with her husband, and sometimes went back to her home. They had 2 sons together and because the husband only has brothers and no sisters (therefore no sisters with children), he was/is very involved in his own kids’ lives and helping raising them. :-)

So back to my walk to the lake :)….It is a healthy and peaceful village – each home with it’s own flourishing gardens of cabbages, mustard greens, potatoes, corn, radishes, peas, apple and Asian pear trees and much more. There are also many wandering pigs and piglets with small curly and wagging tails, some water buffalo, horses, geese, goats, chickens and ducks! :-) And in the morning you can hear some village men or women come through the village streets with a motorized cart and speaker repeating “baozi, mantou, baozi” “steamed buns, steamed bread, steamed buns”. :-) Yummy!

I wandered through town soaking in all this life and found my way to the lake’s edge. The nights are quite cold but as soon as the sun rises, the frost and coldness evaporates, making a beautiful rising mist off the water. The local fisherman set out at dawn in their silent wooden canoes (and now metal too –but built in the same shape and size) to fish. The scene is breath-takingly beautiful. I stood and watched as the morning puffy clouds turned pink in the sunrise glow while the ducks and coots swam through the grasses, dipping down to eat from the underwater plants. I stood, watched and soaked in the beauty as I prayed and did some early morning qigong practice – filling with the peace and immense beauty of this lake, mountains and sky.

Meeting the Goddess Mountain…and Wild Monkeys!!
This same day, we also met another extraordinary Being, Ge Mo Nu Shen Shan 格摩女神山Goddess Mountain, and an important deity for the Mosuo people.  This mountain is the tallest among all the beautiful mountains surrounding the peace-filled Lugu Lake.  I remember this mountain well from my first time to this place 11 years ago. With it being well over 10,000 feet tall, we took a gondola up to the upper regions of the mountain – so peaceful to swing above the tree canopy as our view of the dark blue waters of Lugu Lake grew more and more expansive. 

Once off the gondola, we started climbing stairs leading up and up. And….to our immense surprise and delight, we realized we also landed in the home of a very large tribe of wild monkeys!!! Oh my goodness! They were so adorable! The first two I saw were cuddling together on the steps going upward. Yet then as I continued climbing, I looked out in the surrounding trees and saw 30-40+ monkeys – some in family groups grooming and cuddling together, some adults and baby monkeys tumbling and galloping across the rocky terrain and then with one grab to a low-hanging branch, swinging themselves up into a trees and moving with such playfulness, speed, grace and agility!

It was also cool to see that those who built this staircase built it in a win-win way for both people and monkeys! It was really us visiting their territory, so the staircase had a metal roof-covering with these rebar handles up and down the roof for hand-holds for the climbing/playing monkeys! Then about 6 inches above the metal roofing, people also put in a taut but bouncy netting that the monkeys could jump down upon from neighboring trees and rocks and then easily swing upside down and plop onto the metal roof top and then again swing down to land on the stairs to sun themselves or look at us curiously. :)

The Hidden Temple Within
We climbed the steps, stopping often wide-eyed to watch the monkeys in awe and laughter and came to what I first thought was the main outlook to admire and soak in the grandness of Lugu Lake and surrounding landscape. There were Tibetan prayer flags blowing in the wind (as Tibetan Buddhism, along with the local DaBa religion, is one of the main religions of the area and Mosuo people). Yet, as I turned around, I saw a cave with steps going into the Goddess Mountain herself! Wow! It was amazing! These steps were here to lead people directly into this cave. As the local people regard this mountain as a Goddess, going into the heart/womb of the Goddess Mountain is a sacred, adored and adorned temple.  

I had not yet been in such a large cave with multiple “temple” rooms and levels! The ceilings were high and many intricate stalactites came down from the ceiling – many were so big  - spanning from the ceiling to the floor – and many were naturally formed into the shape of a Goddess. There were so many beautiful goddess figures all through out these cave temples. The local people have put in strings of soft lights to light up the stone pathway and have adorned the Goddess stones with prayer shawls and flags. 

After slowly making my way through the temple rooms, winding my way up and down stone steps, I came into the main temple space. It holds the largest natural stone goddess statue of all the caves and a fresh well spring of water coming from the inside of the Goddess Mountain herself. Here the local people have set up a shrine with candles for people to pray and a ladle for people to drink of her water and be blessed. 

There were just a few other people up on the mountain the same time we were there, yet as I came into this main temple, it was only a local temple caretaker and me. I took this opportunity to pray, feel and offer my love and gratitude to this mountain, to the Goddess Spirit. I stood and let her energy enter my body through my pours and enter my womb. I gave thanks for this land, for the opportunity to be in and experience with my breathing body and living spirit, the land, water, people and qi of this peaceful, beautiful Matriarchal Land. This is a place that holds great love and medicine for all of us, for our world and for our country. 

Life works in such mysterious ways. And I don’t need to understand how it all works – I just know to follow my heart’s calling, listen, learn, experience, receive and share, share, share. I receive so many stories from the people, from the land, from the mountains, rivers, trees and creatures. And through my writing and living my Life’s service, I aim to share these gifts with all of you – spreading Beauty, Love, Understanding and Wisdom. 

There are so many stories to share! :) I will send another update soon with more pics and stories of the other villages and terrains we’re visiting. It is such a blessing to be here! 

I LOVE being in China, and Yunnan is truly a gem of wilderness, blue skies, mountains and beautiful people, villages, culture… and have I mentioned the food?! :-D It’s so Delicious! And I get to eat and enjoy it 3 meals a day here! :)

Below are some pics of the village and family we stayed with at Lugu Lake, some pics of a local family with a rose farm and bees for honey, food we're enjoying, happy little pigs :), a local Tibetan monastery (it's actually the largest in Lijiang county that holds 6 major gatherings/year with 200+ monks :)), and more beautiful pics of the lake as a way to share the beautiful energy, qi and peace of this place. :)

So Much Love to you all! I'll send my next update soon :)

Much Love and Great Light and Gratitude to each of you!
Karen ~ Kailun 凱倫