Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Edelweiss Flowers, Pot Bellies, Mission Impossible Bus Heroes, & Smiling Monks

Greetings Friends!!
I’m back from my first Qigong &Wilderness trek in the Tibetan Plateau…and what an adventure of a lifetime it was!!! I am soo very grateful to these exquisite highlands. We were at 13,000- 15,000 ft  - my first time to ever be at such a high elevation…and to see edelweiss flowers!! Before I just knew the song from Sound of Music and didn’t even realize what they were singing about :)…until one of our participants, and now my good friend, Annie, pointed them out on our trek :). They are adorable and everywhere (along with some brilliant BLUE flowers) in the alpine meadows. The mountains are enormous, with Genyen Mt. towering above us at 20,000+ft; the rivers are a splendid blue/green/silver flowing with glacial waters; the waterfalls are numerous, spraying and tumbling down the gigantic jagged, rocky and mist-covered peaks….and the sweetness of spirituality, devotion and the sacred shine throughout both the land and the Tibetan people. Monks of all ages are plentiful, both in the cities and in the monasteries; elder women line the neighborhood sidewalks in the evenings, spinning their prayer wheels or chanting with their prayer beads; prayer flags are waving in the air in the towns, on random poles, up high canyons, on big boulders in the middle of alpine meadows; and even massively large Tibetan symbols for “Om Mani Padme Hum” are cemented into random hillsides of the 15,000 ft grasslands pass we journey over to get to our trekking area bordering Tibet (I was told that monks dug these trenches and filled them with cement to make these sacred symbols …I’ll talk more on this later)… There is a deep peace and richness, a sacred sweetness that prevails in the Land and its people when the sacred, the Spiritual and the values of compassion, kindness and joy are upheld and lived by among the people.  I have so much to share and will most likely do it over a 2-3 updates. This will also help me spread out the pics 

So our journey of course began way before the mountains….as everything here in China is an experience to remember.

Delights of Hot Pot
We began our grand adventure in the steamy, and HOT (spicy HOT) green city of Chengdu. What a cool (well “hot” really :)) city!! People are a bit more relaxed than Beijing and there is much more greenery than in Beijing (lots of trees, vines, bushes and a variety of wonderfully green, leafy plants growing on top of, above, on the side and below buildings, etc.) We started with a delicious hot pot (huoguo ) meal. If any of you haven’t tried this yet…now is the time!! :) It is super delicious and a grand way to eat all kinds of veggies, squashes, seaweeds, mushrooms, sweet potatoes, lotus roots, quail eggs, tripe, fish cakes, shrimp, tofu, kelp, etc….with a dipping sauce of your choice. If given the option, I always choose….tahini! And you can make a variety of sauces -- another simple one is with sesame oil, fresh cilantro and fresh garlic. :)

After our first day in the city with seeing super duper CUTE panda bears (black and white pandas and red pandas – I have some adorable videos of them too but have enclosed a couple photos), we started our 3+ day journey just to get to our first of 3 basecamps in the Tibetan Plateau. Now those of you who have traveled abroad, particularly in Asia, Africa or South America and have used their public transportation, trains or buses, will empathize with these accounts. Those of you who haven’t, can live vicariously through the experiences I’m about to share. Our first leg of the journey was from Chengdu, to the mountain town of Kangding (at ~ 9,000 ft elevation). What is normally a 6 hour bus ride, turned into an 11 hour ride….yet this was nothing compared to our 2nd bus ride from Kangding to the high alpine Tibetan town of Litang at 13, 000ft.
So first to introduce you to our first bus driver. I used to think bus drivers were rather loud, gruff and well frankly rude. :) (which they are loud and gruff…) …But, after my experiences the past couple weeks, I have much more compassion for the immense stress they are under with the driving conditions they have to work with, and much respect for their skill and perseverance/determination to get us to where we’re going… matter what!

The 'Art' of Wearing Your Shirt Over Your Belly 
One thing I first noticed about our bus driver, is something I also began to see among men all around me….an interesting phenomenon. Whenever we stopped for a rest break, or most likely a grid-lock construction area on the road, our driver and other men would get off and then promptly pull their shirts up over their bellies! While driving through the city and then smaller mountain towns, just looking out the window, I nudged my friend Annie to point out that men all over were pulling their shirts up over their bellies. Now, you may think it’s a way to show off some impressive abdominal muscles,…..but no. Most of these men had generous-sized pot bellies. Yet they all promptly got of the bus and pulled up their shirts! :) Annie and I joked whether we should do the same when we got of the bus!! (Note: unfortunately I didn’t get a good close-up pic of our bus driver, but I did include one rather blurry shot of him standing outside off the bus with his shirt up :)). Even at the end of our long, 11-hour ride, when we made one more stop 20 mins out of town to….can you guess…isn’t it obvious? wash the bus (what?! I totally didn’t get this at the time. We were 5 hours late to our destination and we were making one more stop to wash the bus….when it was dark and raining anyway? :)…this is before I learned of the rule that buses and cars must be clean when entering a city, otherwise they can be ticketed…) So even at this stop, at 9 p.m. at night in the rain and chilly weather, our bus driver pulled over, jumped off….and you guessed it! …promptly pulled his shirt over his belly! :)

So one thing to get used to on buses, is that nothing is done on your own time. The bus driver has complete say, dictatorship on when we can pee, when we can eat (a hot meal anyway), and well …when we can pee again. This isn’t that big of a deal for short rides, but for medium rides that turn into epic-long rides, this can be an issue. Especially when we’re traveling into higher elevations and we know it’s important to drink LOTS of water to help acclimate to the altitude.

World's Quickest Lunch
On this first ride to Kangding, I think we had one of the world’s quickest lunches….and I wasn’t so prepared. We stopped at one of the many roadside restaurants and Szu-ting quickly ordered a bunch of delicious dishes for us. (There are MANY of these restaurants with 1-3 women and men at each awaiting, big-eyed and hopeful as many buses pass by. They all have lots of fresh veggies ready for a busload of hungry people to come pouring out and hurriedly order several dishes for them and their fellow friends/passengers, and they all have huge almost barrel-sized containers of freshly cooked white rice – the Chinese are always prepared to eat well! :) – If you come to China, really no need to bring ANY American snacks; there are sooooooo many Yummy things to eat, most of which are healthy, fresh and fast). Dave, Szu-ting’s partner and our other trip leader and amazing photographer/videographer, had the right idea and went to use the bathroom first and then eat. I, on the other hand, took my time eating our delicious food and got up half way to use the bathroom. I was walking back and looking for my bowl of rice (which was no where to be found in just a few short minutes), when….HONK, HONK!!!! I almost jumped out of my pants it was so loud! What is that?!! Oh, I looked up and it was our bus driver honking at me to hurry up and get on the bus!!! Yikes! How did everyone finish eating and get on there so fast?!

A 'Tragic' Yet Hilarious Incident
So our hurried, yet impressively slow journey continued…and there was one incident that Annie and I keep laughing about. On these mountain roads, an immense amount of road construction is happening. This means that several sections of roads are being torn up, leaving only a small, one-lane passageway for ALL buses, cars, construction trucks, army trucks, gasoline trucks and little “mianbao” “loaf-of-bread” cars going in both directions to pass by! And sometimes, this one-lane passage way is closed all together for an indefinite amount of time while workers are fixing the road. These waits can be 1-2+ hours. Well, at one time we came up to such a place where the road passage was blocked off for construction. For a little background info, we had just been barreling up a twisty mountain road and our driver proudly and valiantly had just passed up about 7-9 large, very slow trucks. This is no small feet on these little, windy two-lane mountain roads!....So here we are, stopped at this road block. Figuring this could be a while, our driver sighed and opened the door, saying we could get off and pee and/or stretch…but to stay close by….Well, just as a few people had gotten off the bus, the construction workers opened up the gate for this one-lane road and were waving for us and the cars around us to come on through.  Oh to see the utter panic and horror on our driver’s face as all the big trucks and cars he had just worked so hard to pass, were now quickly passing him up!! He frantically tried to gather up our fellow passengers, shouting, “Kuai lai! Kuai lai! Oh hao duo chezi!!! Hao duo chezi!!!!!!” “Quickly, Quickly!!! Oh no, all these cars! All these cars!!!” Oh I certainly empathized with him….yet also keep laughing about this!! :)

A Tall Monk's Blessing
So I could say more about this first bus trip to Kangding,….but it really pales in comparison to our next bus ride from Kangding to the remote Tibetan city of Litang. I can reflect on and write about it now….yet at the time, I feared whether I’d have the privilege to be sitting here now in the quaint, ancient town of Shuhe in Yunnan to write about it! What was to be a 7-hour trip, turned into a grueling 14 hours. Our day started with waking up at 4:30 a.m. hearing the pouring rain coming down on our rooftop. Not knowing what kind of roads we’d be traveling on, I had no idea what rain could mean for our trip, besides getting a little wet on walk to the bus station at 6 a.m. One thing I did notice right away, though, is that the very tall monk I had seen in town the day before was also at the bus station and riding on our bus. I took that as a good omen and reminded myself of it many times that day.

So we quickly started ascending up the mountain roads in the early morning darkness, and it quickly got very cold. It started snowing and the snow came down hard and fast. Hmmm…was this normal for September, I wondered? Were we really just sweating in Chengdu two days ago?  I’m glad I really had no idea what we were in for on that day…We climbed higher and as the morning light got brighter, I saw we were way up in the mountains, with shear drops of 1,000s of feet off the side of the road. Snow flew into the windshield, was covering the ground and trees…and all I could see was a white abyss below – with the combination of snow and fog. Yet our driver (bless him) at this point seemed more interested in and occupied with passing up the huge, slow military and construction trucks on the road. “What?! You’ve got to be kidding,” I exclaimed in my head and out loud to Annie (who was sitting next to me by the window). This is a muddy, windy road with huge potholes and a shear, vast drop. This was no time to be passing cars, let alone huge truck when we ourselves weren’t too slim being a big, bumbling bus!! As our driver pulled out to pass one of these trucks, Annie let out a squeal and buried her head in my shoulder saying there was absolutely no shoulder; she couldn’t look; it was too scary! I looked around me, though, and the amazing thing is ….some people were sleeping!!! Again, what?! Amazing! :) Also some people seemed perfectly calm. I leaned over to one young man and tentatively asked….”Ah…zhege zhengchang ma?” – “ this normal?” (the weather and road conditions)? And he said, “oh yes, sometimes it’s much worse.” What?! Again, one of my main solaces on this journey was our wonderful tall monk. He was sitting in the back (see pic below), and every now and then when things got particularly worrisome on our journey, he and his fellow Tibetan travelers would break out into prayer chants and smile :). Yay for Monks!! And I have to say, I decreed practicely non-stop this whole day!!

At one point early on in our journey (though at the time I was hoping maybe we were about half way there – silly me! :-)), we passed the first set of mountain drops and were driving through a high Tibetan farming village. The roads were still all mud. Actually pretty much the WHOLE way from Kangding to Litang was mud. This “highway” is under construction. And instead of doing one piece at a time, the method used here is to tear everything up and then slowly start flattening and paving random sections at a time (well it seemed random to me – probably is an order here I don’t see! :)). Yet the flattening of the mud roads seems almost in vain as soooo many big trucks and buses and cars are adamant about getting through on this route….and with the rain and mud, we are all contributing in inevitably making HUGE mud divots, potholes and massive quick-sand-like, sticky muddy deep puddles! Yikes! Well, we got to one spot where only half the road was open for passage…yet a big truck with conveniently no driver was parked right in the middle of this passage way! So, I thought, well I guess the bus driver will get off and find this driver….BUT before I could finish my thought, I felt our bus tipped way over to the right!!! Oh no…what’s going on?! Our driver saw the obvious solution was to just drive around this truck….BUT there was about an 7-8 inch drop from the semi-constructed road we were driving on….to the muddy, non-worked on, off-limits side of the road that our driver was now attempting to cross onto! For a moment it seemed as if everyone held their breath…as our bus leaned waaayyyy over to the right…when then our driver stepped on the gas and the other front tire groaned and then went over the large curb….then followed by our back tires. Phew!!!

Power of Dreams 
So I’ve mentioned in past blogs, that I’ve started doing more dream work. I ask questions before I sleep at night as a way to tap into more information on the invisible side during my dreamtime. Two days before our bus ride to Litang I asked, “What is it I need to know to prepare for our trip to Litang?” That night I had some terrifying dreams. Several women were brutally raped, and one in particular was raped repeatedly. I woke up horrified. What is this about? I immediately thought of Mother Earth. I knew then that on this journey I might see some disturbing sights. B/c I dreamt this two nights before our trip, the next night I asked, “How can I best be of service to these Lands we will be passing through?” That night one of my teachers and a former lover came to me and kept interchanging their beings. They were both asking me to make love. When I awoke I knew my service was to Love, Love, Love the Land, and to ask for forgiveness, regardless of what I saw. As we continued on our slow, muddy, precarious journey we did indeed pass many, many mining sites, places where whole mountain sides were torn up, the once clear running mountain river waters were brown, angry and raging. Cement factories were carving out whole areas of terrain; trees, stones, soil all displaced, muddy and a mess. I cried. And I remembered both of my dreams. I know in the States, we also have massive destruction happening in our own Lands, with mountain top blasting/mining in the Appalachia, clear cutting on our own Olympic peninsula, and so much more… I immediately started doing an ancient Hawaiian practice I learned from an wonderfully wise man, Dr. Hew Len, called Ho’o’ponopono. This practice is simple yet powerful. It is basically chants or decrees that apologize, ask forgiveness and also give mass amounts of Love and Gratitude. I did much of this on our journey….

Loose Lug Nuts....Not a Problem! 
So our journey continued and we continued to bumble, bounce, squish, sway and slither our way across this muddy mountain terrain. At one point we stopped on the side of the road, the driver got off and it looked like he was checking out something mechanically about the bus. Well…then most of the men proceeded to get off to assess the scene too (though Annie and I joked that this was just a good excuse for them to pee! We wanted to get off and pee too! :)) So Rinchen, our wonderful, dear friend and Tibetan guide, also got off….He stuck his head back in the bus and said not to worry. “wenti bu da” – “not a big problem;” the lug nuts were just a bit loose. Well our dear Reidun, another one of our participants and an amazing woman, happened to be sitting by the window right where the driver and others were assessing the wheel. She chuckled and exclaimed that stating the lug nuts were “a bit” loose was a major understatement. These guys were out there turning them with their hands!! Yikes! As they were tightening them, Reidun stuck her head out the window and kindly suggested they check them all while they were at it. ….yet unfortunately they didn’t speak English soo we were soon on our bumbling, slithering way across the mud again. :)

A Culture of Determination 
I must say that these bus drivers, and most Chinese in general have more persistence and determination than I have ever, ever come across in the States. These roads we were driving on, first of all, wouldn’t even be open for any type of vehicle, let alone a bus. And even the most adventuresome U.S. drivers would only dare use a hefty 4-wheel drive SUV to attempt such terrain. Yet we saw all kinds of vehicles! And we had 14 hours of continuous challenges, obstacles, cars and trucks getting stuck, repairs to be made, roads blocked, etc….yet, our driver continued and prevailed….for 14 hrs! :) (while our wonderful monk chanted :))

Time to Pee? Mission Unaccomplished 
At one point, the mud was getting thicker and the rivets deeper…and right in front of us, an SUV got stuck that was blocking the growing numbers of now backed up trucks, buses, cars, loaf-of-bread vans, etc. Well this was a perfect opportunity to pee, right? Oh gosh…but where? Annie and I both hopped off the bus into the…mud :(…to assess the scene. There was a cement barrier that some men were standing on, and they would turn away and pee. Hmmmm…easy for them....  Annie then proceeded to climb up the wall and wait for the men up there to finish and hop down so she could then duck behind the wall, squat and do her business. They only thing is the man who had just peed, now seemed intrigued and content to just look at Annie…Oh dear! Well…he finally stepped down, and Annie took her chance. Well, seeing her courage, I decided to hop on the wall too – since I had no idea when we would again have the opportunity to pee. Carpe diem, right?! :) So I hop up and right then more buses pull up beside this wall barrier, giving all the riders a perfect view of me and where I would like to go pee unnoticed. Oh phooey! Well Annie was encouraging me to just do it. I saw another Chinese woman climb up and quickly pee and climb down. It didn’t seem like such a big deal….so I took a breath and decided to go for it…..The only thing was I got stage freight! I couldn’t pee! And then on top of that I heard our bus driver start honking his horn and new we were about to start moving again….so, sigh….mission unaccomplished, I zipped up my pants, hopped back into the mud and squished my way quickly back to the bus. It seems the only thing I accomplished was getting my feet and pants muddy!

Our Bus Driver ~ A Hero
Okay so at about 6 pm, when we’ve been driving 12 hours…I’m thinking maybe the worst is behind us, maybe we’re almost there, and the roads will start getting better? Just then, we hit the worst mud yet. The mud rivets are 1.5-2 feet deep and several cars, SUVs, jeeps are getting stuck in front of us. We’ve just come to another pass and are at 15,000 ft elevation now in these high Tibetan rolling grass lands. I look out my window and to my complete surprise, I see a bus (just like ours) driving off road (well it’s not much of a road that we’re on at this point anyway) over the muddy grassy hillside!! It’s such a strange sight!!. It seems so…well unnatural, and the bus starts tipping to the side and swaying a bit too much. It bumbles along some…and then doesn’t look like it will make it….And ahead we see a bus that has almost tipped over. All the passengers are standing in the mud outside of the bus while the driver and several men are contemplating what to do next…and this is with one more hour of daylight left!  Somehow our awesome bus driver keeps our bus going through this mud swamp….and then up ahead we see a bus like ours get stuck. It’s blocking our way. I hear our bus driver shout something to the other driver and he’s able to move enough out of our way so we can pass. Yet after we pass and miraculously get through the worst of the mud, our wonderful driver stops. He talks in Tibetan with another fellow on our bus, and gets off. By this time all of us love our driver as he’s gotten us through the impossible so many times in one day. He’s a big tall Tibetan man, and we’re all wondering where he is going. Rinchen explains that he’s going to help the other bus drivers and passengers who are stuck and has asked this other fellow to take us the rest of the way safely to Litang. Wow. I was so moved by this man’s generosity. With less than an hour of daylight now up in the chilly grasslands at 15,000ft, he’s voluntarily going to help who he can with no guarantee of safely getting to a warm bed in Litang that night. An amazing man. We all then blessed and empowered our new driver to safely get us the rest of the way home to Litang….

And….after 14 hours, way after the sun had both risen and set, we finally safely arrived in the Tibetan city of Litang! YAYYYYY!!!!!! And we had heated blanket there too! Wow! What a treat :)!

So I will save more on our trekking trip for my next updates. :)

Thank you so much to all of you who made it through my whole share. I love sharing with you! :) And I have much to share about where I am now too...a beautiful little town, "gucheng", old city of Shuhe in Yunnan Province. I'm staying at a beautiful quaint inn with a friend of a friend and she's treating me just like family - 3 home cooked meals a day! Yanzi (my friend's friend's name) is the owner, about my age and is a hoot! :) And Shuhe is a cute little city with cobble-stone streets, fresh, clear, clean mountain water running through town and many open-aired cafes, restaurants, and shops. Yay!

Much great, great Love to you all!!!!
So much Love,

p.p.s. There's still room on our Yunnan Qigong & Wilderness trip if any of you would like to join me and Szu-ting in CHINA! :) Oct 28-Nov10...See for all the details :

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Art of 'Meirong', Auspicious Friendships, & the Hilarious Nature of Cell Phones


Greetings Friends!

I’m just about to start our first trek in the Tibetan Plateau of Sichuan Province!! :) YAY! Wow! After so much dreaming about this particular part of my journey (our trek)….it is coming true as well (and how very appropriate that I’m currently at the Chengdu Dream Travelers Hostel! :))

One of our participants who arrives today, has been on the fence this summer about coming, as she’s recovering from a ski incident last winter and has had continual check-ups with her doctor. Szu-ting, my friend and co-leader, is the one in touch with her and I hadn’t heard the final outcome of her situation before leaving for China last week. Yet, 3 nights ago I had a positive and vivid dream about this woman, Annie and woke up knowing she was coming. …And then got word from Szu-ting yesterday that she also arrives into Chengdu today. Excellent! (On a side note, I’ve also been studying, learning, and experiencing the power of Dreams with another one of my teachers in Seattle.  I’m finding that dream work and Qigong have many similarities. Both augment each other and are powerful tools in self development and tapping into the vast informational and spiritual resources within and around us, in our world and other worlds, and in the physical and invisible sides of life.)

So….first to share just a bit (my time for typing is a bit short as I’m organizing our group today and packing, well…..repacking, really, my bags as I once again brought too many clothes! Sigh…Last time I came Ayi laughed at all I brought saying I should just bring the clothes I’m wearing on the airplane and buy new ones, as things are so much cheaper here…and it’s fun to shop with my Chinese girlfriends :)…. And this time I’ve already bought a new pair of jeans (for $14!!!) and a sweat shirt for $7 this week – China pretty much has everything except floss and good chocolate :).)

An Auspicious Friendship at Lugu Lake ~ Home of one of the last Matriarchal Societies
I’ve had a wonderful week with my friend Yajun in Beijing and am continually amazed at how generous she is! She and I are the same age and met 7 years ago when I was traveling for 1 month in Yunnan Province before I went to meet Grandmaster Xu Mingtang at Shaolin Monastery. I was visiting LuGu Hu (Lugu Lake), home to one of the last matriarchal societies, and rented a room with 2 beds at a little Inn. There was a storm right after I arrived that washed away part of the narrow road to Lugu Lake … for about 1 week while the road was being fixed, I was one of the few “tourists” at this magical place, had my room to myself and got to know many of the locals :). Once the road was re-opened, though, I came back to my room one day to find I had a new roommate….and behold it was beautiful Yajun! And thus began our wonderful friendship! It was rare then to find another single young Chinese woman traveling alone, so we both knew we were fellow adventurers….and indeed had MANY great adventures in that special place. So since then…every time I come to China, I have my own personal “Welcome Buddy” in the country’s capitol city of Beijing….Yajun!

She is amazing. Each time I email her telling her I’m planning to come to China (and am of course super excited), she emails back with a similar pizzazz and enthusiasm of her excitement and welcoming me to stay 
 to share it with me. She immediately wrote back and said, “Hao bang! Ni keyi zhu wo jia!!!!” (basically “Awesome! You can come live at my place!!!!” And then she proceeds to send detailed emails and maps on which buses to take, where to get off and what subway lines to switch to…to eventually arrive at her new home. It’s actually a bit intimidating as Beijing is SOOOO BIG and the transportation system is enormous….and the train stations are super confusing even in being able to speak and read Chinese. But she is a master at clear, simple directions….and as her profession is in landscape architecture, she is a master at making me color-coded maps and diagrams so I know precisely where to go and where to meet her. 

The chinese characters are her notes to me as to where to get off the bus when I reach the train station, where to walk to and where she’ll be waiting for me :)) And even though I was 3 hours late to our curb-side meeting pace b/c of plane delays and massive traffic, she was still waiting for me with a big smile, bright eyes and a big hug when I arrived.

The Art of "MeiRong" - Beauty & the Wisdom Women Share
We had a great 4 days together and I love how we are continually exchanging our knowledge, stories, practices and ways we’re learning and evolving in our lives in our visits. I started teaching her qigong and strength training in the mornings and introducing her to ecstatic dance in the evenings before bed.  And she continued teaching me the ways of “meirong” 美容, some of the many ways Chinese women stay so beautiful and take care of their skin :), simple methods to augment good health, and cooking me delicious breakfasts and dinners (YUMMM!!!!). On the methods of “meirong”, similar to what Junlin shared with me two years ago, she shared how drinking lemon water and honey is good for one’s skin. She also uses a simple ground-up concoction of the Chinese herbs, baizhi and fuling, along with either dried powdered milk or flour mixed with a little water. This is an excellent paste to put on one’s face like a mask for 10-15 mins and then wash off. She also excitedly then took out these little packets of individually wrapped items as big as a tums tablet. She explained that she read this book by a 70 years young woman in Japan who put these moist paper-like wrapping on her face every morning for 10-15 mins – it “bao shi”保湿  protects and enhances our skin’s moisture – and then showed me a picture of this lady! Indeed her skin is beautiful and does not resemble that of a 70 y/o. :) We both put on these funny looking masks in the evening time  -- unfortunately I didn’t think to take a picture of this as it would have certainly given you a good laugh!

One evening after our dance session, we also watched a TV program of a Chinese medicine doctor who was addressing simple methods to cure some elders’ common ailments. The doctor then also went into simple ways to protect one’s skin and how, using some massage techniques and various acupuncture points, one can prevent or minimize wrinkles. Yajun explained that these kinds of TV programs and information are so common now in China and most people have a foundational knowledge of the very basics in Chinese medicine in terms of knowing the warming, cooling, etc characteristics of our foods, which ones are good for different organs, which ones are good for purifying or nourishing our blood, which are good for women when menstruating, or just after birthing a baby, etc. I just LOVE this about the Chinese culture!!! And am especially fascinated by the women! I have always come here to study with two of my dear teachers, both men, both Masters, Grandmaster Xu and Dr. Zhao…..and I also spend so much time with my Chinese “Sisters” – my dear women friends and elders, and always learn so much from them.

When in Taiwan in college, I got a grant to do my cultural anthropology thesis research on a well-known and almost exclusively practiced women’s postpartum practice, Zuo yue zi 坐月子, literally meaning “sit for a month.” Most women in both Taiwan and China do this practice and eat very specific food that are to help repair and nourish their bones after childbirth. The foods also make sure the newborn baby gets excellent, highly nutritious food through his/her mother’s milk. All women I spoke with, even those who said this month’s practice was one of their most difficult months ever (traditionally woman went through this month practice soon after marriage and moving into their husband’s family. It was often their mother-in-law who prepared all the foods and made sure her new daughter-in-law observed the practice and many restrictions during that month. For some women who had some tension in their new relations with their mother-in-law, this month was quite difficult), still wholeheartedly agreed that this was one of the best things a woman could do to augment her health and prevent illness in old age.

Just this past month when Grandmaster Xu Mingtang was with us, he pointed out that women around the world, on average, live 10 years longer than men. He said he observes in his own teachings and classes (and even yoga classes that he’s gone to in Seattle :)) that a large percentage of participants  - sometimes 80% - are women. (In the one yoga class Xu Mingtang went to, he laughed saying they were all women! He was the only man. He felt it a bit awkward and didn’t go back :)). Women know how to take care of their bodies, of their health well….and this is certainly what I observe in China. Just as I feel like a sponge….learning and absorbing from my dear teachers, Xu Mingtang and Dr. Zhao, I also am continually learning from the many, many wonderful women around me.

A Surprise 
So my time for writing is getting short now…though I’ll share one more thing. This past week while in Beijing, I commuted with Yajun each day to her office, starting from one of the newest, furthest “neighborhoods” in Beijing (it was most recently all farm land so it is super quiet and peaceful there at night with wonderful crickets chirping and singing…such a difference from the continual “renao” – hustle and bustle of the city)…to the capital’s central district. It takes us a 10 min walk to the subway, 2 different subway trains, and a bus ride from Beijing’s Western Train station. It takes about 1.5 hours in the morning and 2 hours in the evening as the traffic is quite huge. I worked plugging in my computer into one of the Ethernet cables going into their offices 2 internet computers and would hop off whenever someone wanted to get on line….The last 2 days though, Yajun realized there was an empty office – one that one of their visiting managers uses occasionally but he’s usually not there….so I, a mere visitor got to work in one of the nicest offices in the firm! Everyone works in an open space with cubicles and I got moved into my own private office with windows on two sides of downtown Beijing and the surrounding mts (that can be seen on a rare clear day)!!! Wow! So generous of them :)

Hilarious Nature of Cell Phones
Oh, I also have a Chinese cell phone now, which is HILARIOUS!! It has a most obnoxious ring, is extremely loud when I turn it on or off, and makes a ridiculously LOUD variety of beeping tones when I attempt to type in my cumbersome text messages! :) (And I have NOT been able to figure out how to change any of these "noise" settings!) My first few times using it, I kept apologizing for the noise to everyone around me on the elevator, in the bus, in the taxi (at which the taxi driver just laughed) or at the office….but then I observed that most people’s phones make similar rather ridiculously loud sounds and no one seemed the least bit disturbed or annoyed. More they thought it was strange that I was apologizing. I realized it was only me who was embarrassed. :) So if you like loud rings, talking on your phone in public and fancy beeping buttons, come to CHINA! :) You can beep and ring away all you like :)

Okay…so great to share with you all!! Thank you for this opportunity to share! And thank you soooo much for all of you who have written to me. I love to hear from you!! :) Even if I take a while to respond sometimes, know I receive your notes with great love and appreciation and send my big love to you. I will be offline for the next 2 weeks while on my first trekking trip and will have much to share in my upcoming updates.

So much great LOVE to you All!

Kailun 凯伦

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Time with a Grandmaster - Expect the Unexpected, Power of Trees & Opportunity of Qigong

Greetings Friends!!

After 2.5 years of planning, dreaming, visualizing and preparing, I have finally returned to another Land I love, the land of CHINA of the Far East, the land of yummy foods, billions of people, mystic mountains, cloud temples, tango dancing and Chinese opera singing in the parks, Daoist secrets, amazing traffic, Masters and Grandmasters in the ancient healing arts, monks playing cell phone games, delicious night markets and oh so much more!

I’m so excited for this adventure and I must be wearing this excitement on my face. Yesterday, as I walked up to the security check guy in the Seattle airport, he looked at me and said, “Dreamin’ big, huh?” with a huge smile and sparkle in his eyes. “YES!!!!!,” I thought, “how did he know?!!!” :)

In preparation for this journey, both of my teachers from China came to Seattle this past August. One was Dr. Zhao, whom I studied with at his clinic for 2 months in 2010. He came with his wife and we had a most awesome visit – taking him and Ayi to Mt Rainer and to the Hoh Rainforest where they met my dear friend and wilderness guide, Mick (aka Barefoot Sensei – a true mountain sage of the Pacific NW Wild Lands), and Master OG,  some of the last wild “Old Growth” stands in the heart of the Hoh River valley. (I have so many pics and stories to share from these adventures too and didn’t complete my album before leaving!) And my 2nd teacher to come was Grandmaster Xu Mingtang, my qigong teacher and lineage holder of the Zhong Yuan Qigong system (we call it ZY Qigong for short :)).

Being with a Grandmaster ~ Expect the Unexpected!!! :)
Grandmaster Xu’s visit was also AWESOME, and so I took some of the abundant time I had on my looooong 11 hour, 40 min flight  to Beijing yesterday to share (Gosh, I thought it was only a 10 hour flight! :(..until our captain announcement we have almost 2 more hours…maybe our world is expanding? :)) So…just as I LOVE my time with dear Dr. Zhao, I also so LOVE my time with Grandmaster Xu. Life is always sooooooo amazingly rich, huge, unknown, magical and a mystery when with him. His experiences and how he has so developed his senses and abilities as a human being and the things he can do are what most people consider beyond humanly possible. Yet, the conundrum is I know it is possible; I have seen, witnessed and felt things that I never would have dreamed possible until meeting Mingtang and having the opportunity to study and train with him at Shaolin Monastery, practice intensively at a cloud temple on Song Mt (close to Shaolin Monastery), and travel with him as his assistant all around eastern and western Europe. I saw and personally experienced what I could then only understand as pure miracles in healing and mysteries in sensations in inner and outer experiences. And, the more I am with Grandmaster, the more I train and practice with him each year, the more, layer by layer, I’m absorbing understanding as well as developing myself and my soul.

I love how at our opening event this year (we had 98 people come!!! Our goal was 100 and we had exactly 100 chairs set up – YAY! – thanks to all who helped us spread the word :)) – Grandmaster Xu doesn’t hold back at all in speaking his message and sharing what’s possible. He teaches and shares what in the past was kept secret…information and training that would only be passed down a family lineage to specific people --- he now makes these teachings public – no fluff stuff to be found – just the real deal. So in his opening talk he bluntly said with a smile and twinkle in his eyes (and this is after flying 10+ hours and arriving in Seattle that same morning at 5:25 a.m.!), “Most people come to qigong to get good health. Their goal is good health, and most people fail.” (What?! – I’m thinking :)…) “In ZY Qigong, health is not our goal; our goal is spiritual development, developing our selves, our potential as humans and developing our soul.” He explained that often humans achieve things just under the goals they’ve set (like us having 98 people – almost 100, but still not quite). If people set a goal for having good health, chances are people will fall short of that goal. “If, however, we set our goal on spiritual development,” said Grandmaster Xu with a chuckle, “we will at least get good health.” :)

I also love how Grandmaster Xu’s teachings are simple. Yet they are massively profound and hold much wisdom. His teachings come from his depth of understanding about Life, and what Life is. In our 2-day Qigong workshop at Bastyr University, Grandmaster Xu again explained that ZY Qigong is a system we practice with our own lives, a science that helps us develop our own abilities to awaken our own understanding/realization of what Life is. He explained that life is made up of three basic areas: the physical, energetic and spiritual or informational. In our Western world and particularly our Western Medicine, we have much, sometimes exclusive focus on the physical (in medicine this is focused on physiology and antimony – basically our physical structure and physical functions of our organs). More time for development is needed both in the Energetic and Spiritual/informational planes. This is where Qigong comes in, and especially Zhong Yuan Qigong.

The Power and Practice of Qigong ~ Tapping in to our inherent Potential
Qigong practice both increases our energy and develops our inherent senses, senses that can forever remain dormant unless we practice. For example, those of you who study qigong or taichi know of 3 main energy centers in our body commonly referred to in practice as our lower dantian (丹田) – just below the navel; our middle dantian – at the heart center; and our upper dantian – region of the 3rd eye, in between our eye brows deep within our head. “Dan” means red and “tian” means field. Fields are where we grow crops, cultivate vegetables; and this inner field is where we cultivate, grow and store our Qi.

These centers do not inherently exist in our bodies; we develop them from practice and training our power of Image. Like the Dao, from nothing comes something. One of our most foundational exercises in ZY Qigong is Refine Qi, where we hold an Image of a red, hot ball just below our navel region. We imagine, visualize this red, hot ball until…suddenly one day it appears and there is definitely a red, hot pulsing ball of qi in our bellies. It is with this Qi, depending on how much we gather and store and cultivate, that we can generate enough energy, both for self-healing and for awakening abilities such as opening our 3rd eye and soul travel.

Power of Trees 
To develop this red, hot ball in our dantians, we do other practices, which quickly and strongly allow us to gather large amounts of qi. One such practice is Big Tree meditation (da shu gong ). This ties into an example of how qigong draws from the power of, and examples of life in Nature. Trees and humans have some special similarities. Both trees and humans can be conduits of Earth (yin) and Sky (yang) energy and can do it simultaneously. Trees absorb sunshine and air through their leaves and branches, and water and minerals through their roots. They can live a very long time, and they get everything they require from both the sky and earth. We have similar capabilities, as we too require both yin and yang energies for good health. AND have much we can learn and observe on longevity and vitality from Trees.

In Big Tree practice, we gather a big ball of yin (earth) and yang (sky) qi between our hands and our navel, and we again train with image; we visualize and imagine ourselves as a Big Tree until we feel we become a Tree. (This is where more discussion is needed on Image, and the vast amounts of information and wisdom we can gain through Image, as well as the possibility of communication with all life forms….as Image is the basic foundational blueprint of all life.) At the end of meditation, we guide and condense this energy into our navel to be stored in our lower dantian. Usually it’s best for people to first practice Big Tree to gather much qi. Once a significant amount of qi is gathered, one can practice Refine Qi to cultivate and “refine” this energy to be used for developing/opening or awakening our innate senses and extra abilities. Just as trees develop and have strong roots, we too require developing our roots first. This is gongfu 功夫, and gongfu develops our power.

Qigong in Nature 
Qigong training in Nature is also one of the best places to practice, as the energy is often strong, pristine and abundant. Nature’s restorative and rejuvenating energy greatly influences us, our life and can significantly augment the amount of Qi we gather and cultivate in our self-development. These are more reasons why I love to practice outside!! :) Even when in the city, I’ll practice outside in a park (such as with my outdoor Qigong with Trees class), and practice close to trees and/or a body of water where the energy is beautiful, strong and clean. And I’m so excited to practice qigong in China’s Western Wild Lands on our Qigong & Wilderness trekking trips!! :)
Gosh, this is quite a long update for my very first one, and I haven’t even gotten to my discussion on about Image Medicine! I’ll save that for a later time…:)
…And…I have a bit more to share on qigong.

Quick note on Qigong, Western Medicine & Image Medicine .... a Case Study
Qigong offers important and valuable tools for our health and wellbeing, for our medicine and health care, and for our self-development. Modern medicine, while it offers excellent care for certain situations and conditions, it basically ignores Qi. And Qi’s presence, quality and flow is essential for Life. This basic understanding is reflected in the Chinese language, as when someone dies, people say, “Ta mei qi le” (他没气了); “He has no more qi.” Also Qi relates to energy and informational issues, both of which are not comprehensively addressed in Western medicine.

One of many examples I have, is when I was in Hungary observing Grandmaster Xu treating one of his patients. This patient had developed lung cancer. Grandmaster Xu diagnosed him using Image Medicine and his 3rd eye. He saw that the lung cancer was actually due to a previous car accident and subsequent overuse of antibiotics (Grandmaster Xu said this before the patient ever mentioned anything about a car accident that happened several years earlier and his subsequent bouts of bronchitis – all of which were treated with antibiotics). In the car accident, this fellow had damaged certain energy channels/meridians, resulting in a blockage of his energy flowing to his lungs. He subsequently (though this fellow did not see the relation at the time) developed congestion and a cough, then treated with antibiotics. Antibiotics are bitter and cold in nature, according to Chinese medicine, and when used inappropriately to treat a cold, they can lead to serious health complications. While his cold initially went away, he then developed bronchitis, which again was treated with antibiotics. This coldness stayed in his body, in his lungs; and that, in addition to his blocked energy flow in his lungs, created a ripe ground for cancer.

Grandmaster Xu explained that the body’s natural state is warm. The bitter coldness that can come with overuse of antibiotics is unnatural, and one of the ways the body uses to heat itself up, is to regenerate. The multiplication and division of cells creates/generates heat. When the body does this rapidly and out of control, we refer to this as cancer.

This is one example where Western Medicine would go after the cancer itself, yet not understand or address the root cause of it. Grandmaster Xu, on the other hand, “took out” the coldness using Image Medicine techniques and taught the patient qigong to rebuild his energy channels (note that Big Tree is especially good for helping to repair damaged energy channels). He said once he repaired his channels, increased his qi and circulation of qi (using the Micro Cosmic Orbit exercise), he would fully recover. Wow!! What a different diagnosis and outcome! This man was a bit stunned, and frankly thrilled! This is one of many, many, many examples I could give from my time with Grandmaster Xu.

In sum, qigong gives us many, many tools and resources to help, treat and develop ourselves. Grandmaster Xu said in our last workshop that, “With some problems we need to see doctors; yet most problems we need to see ourselves.” :) Qigong offers techniques and tools to cleanse, regenerate/rejuventate and develop ourselves on the 3 basic planes of life: physical, energetic and spiritual/informational.

Oh so much more to share!!
Thank you to those of you who made it this far in reading my update! :) I’m so happy to be sharing again and LOVE sharing about Qigong! :)

I’ll be sending more updates and pictures as I continue my journey. I’ll be in the backcountry trekking in the Tibetan Plateau of Sichuan Province Sept 9-22, otherwise though, I’ll have Internet connection. I'm in Beijing now -- it is so beautiful! Sunny, warm and the air is clean, clear and fresh! I can actually see the surrounding mountains :)

So much Love and Great Qi to you all!
KarenJoy, aka Kailun (凯伦), my Chinese name :)