Oh my, so much to share!!! I have so much to share from all that’s happening since my trek….and so much to continue to share from our trek…
Dance Party in Shuhe!!
So to start with a snippet of this week…I’m currently…..SO THRILLED!!!! I'm staying at a super cool youth hostel in the old town of Shuhe, Yunnan province and have made friends with much of the staff (as I'm about the only one that hangs around during the day doing my writing work)….and this week enrolled them all into having their 1st ever dance party!!! And I was there DJ! YAY!!!!! The Dance party happened Wed night and was a HUGE success!! Oh it was sooooo FUN to play some of my favorite dance music and they LOVED it!! At first I just had a few brave souls get up and dance with me…but I explained it didn’t matter whether they “knew” how to dance or not. This was about having fun and letting their JOY soar through their bodies and spirits! Soon more and more people hopped into the dance circle and,….just like what happens at our ecstatic dances in the states, we had so many spontaneous dances/games arise through our dancing together! And we had several at first ‘hidden’ super dance stars come out on the dance floor and strut their stuff too! What a hoot!! Towards the end of the evening we ‘cooled down’ with singing Chinese songs. Well…really, they sang Chinese songs and I listened.….. That is until they all demanded I come up on stage and sing the one Chinese song I know…’Moli Hua’ ‘Jasmine Flower’! :) My pics didn’t come out well of the dance (too dark!) but I do have one of the beautiful poster one of the young women who works here, Xiao Lu, made to announce the dance! :) This was hung up outside so all the passersby during the day learned about the dance happening that night.
Adventure of being an immediate 'Super Star'!
So I’ve mentioned before that everything in China is an opportunity for adventure. Even the other day sitting at a cafe outside by one of the streams that runs through the old city of Shuhe, I felt someone watching me. I was so into my writing that at first I didn’t look up. But I continued to feel it, …so when I looked up I saw 2 men with their cameras…and one caught in action taking a picture of a “waiguoren,”…a foreigner who happened to be me! :) “Oops!” He immediately pulled back his camera and giggled, obviously embarrassed. Well I just smiled and had both of them come over one at a time and take their pic with me. They were super sweet and happy ….and this same scenario has continued to happen with people of all genders and ages! And…just last night I went out to a café with a new friend I’ve made from Xiamen, Fujian Province (we met on the dance floor – she was one of the first women to come out and really ROCK it on the dance floor with me! :) She’s AWESOME!) Her name is Hai Dan. We went to go see a friend of hers sing (this is such a COOL little old city!! I love how most of the restaurants, cafes, stores are all open-aired …and in the afternoons and evenings, most cafes and restaurants have people that sing popular Chinese songs :))…So we went to Hai Dan’s friend sing. Well, as soon as we sat down, I had a crowd of young Chinese come up to me to tentatively practice a “hello” or “where are you from?” in English…until Hai Dan blurted out, “Ta hui jiang Zhongwen, erqie, ta jiang de feichang hao!” “She knows how to speak Chinese, and she can speak really well!” Well, then there was a series of squeals from all these young girls and boys, and before I knew it there was a whole group of about 15-20 Chinese people around me wanting to talk with me. Hai Dan was just laughing and saying in English, “You are a super star!!” Soon the restaurant/café owner came over, though, to break up the group so people could get in and out of the restaurant as we were blocking the doorway – oops! :)….. So, you see, if you’d like to add being treated like a major ‘super star’ to your adventures, again…come to CHINA! :)
The Deeper Purpose of Travel
And while adventures such as these are super fun, at times just plain hilarious, and exciting, there are also other reasons for adventure, for travel. Coming into the highlands of the Tibetan Plateau, a land with pristine deep blue skies, towering mountains, clear blue/green glacial flowing rivers, spectacular monasteries and a presence of the Sacred so palpable in both the people and the Land, I am reminded of these other reasons. My Qigong Grandmaster, Xu Mingtang several years ago spoke of travel and its role in our spiritual, energetic growth and development as humans, as Souls. With our qigong practice, while it is good to practice at home and to have a consistent training for building energy, developing ourselves, travel is also a very important component. When we train/practice in new places, especially in Nature, we both gain energy, and gain information.
Grandmaster Xu explained that if he had never gone to Tibet, visited the grand mountains of Alaska, meditated with the high monks in the temples of Shaolin Monastery, or practiced at Lac d’Emosson in Switzerland when I was with him in 2005, he would not have all the information he’s gathered, absorbed from those places. Through meditation and practice/training, we “digest” this information. Grandmaster Xu is still currently using much of this information he’s digested in the development of this herbal and medicine research at his Kundawell Institute in Beijing. One of his new herbal formulas, “Sea King” which is having tremendous results is directly from the information he gathered while meditating in Alaska.
The Opportunity of Being Human
Being human and having our physical bodies offers us a profound opportunity for development in our lifetime and to tap into and begin ‘digesting’ the Grand Mystery and Mysticism of Life. As Grandmaster Xu is pointing to, our bodies are extraordinary vessels, so much more than just physical baggage that allows us to ‘get through’ life. Qigong practice offers many simple, powerful tools to cleanse, refine and develop our physical, energetic and spiritual bodies. Having good health, feeding ourselves a clean diet (this includes food, thoughts, energy we ‘take in’), giving ourselves good rest and exercise lay the basic foundation for further development. With this foundation and continued training (either qigong or other similar disciplines), we begin to refine our vessel, our body - like a fine tuned instrument. We also develop our sensitivity and receptivity…..and then we can receive, receive oh so much more!
Receiving from Nature & Other Spiritual Teachers
As I’ve shared before…Nature is one of our Greatest Teachers and has so much to give. Just like the saying, “When the student is ready, her teacher will come” – when our bodies, our sacred vessels are ready our Teachers will come – we will be able to receive more deeply from Life’s Mystery, from our Mountains, our Wild Lands and other Spiritual Teachers. Traveling, bringing our practice out into Nature, and in my case this fall, visiting another Land, a land high up in the Tibetan Plateau, is an essential component of this receiving and of our Soul’s development. Each Soul is guided in our Hearts as where to go, and I find the more I listen, the more confirmation I receive on how important it is to do as the saying says, “Trust and follow your Heart.” .....And, our analytic mind doesn't need to understand the why, how of where to go....and doesn't need to understand the 'details' of all we receive and digest....this is some of the beauty of the Grand Mystery of Life.
Back to Litang ~ Bean Cakes, Pigs & Prepping for our Trek in the Tibetan Highlands
So I last left off with us safely making it to Litang after our harrowing 14 hour bus ride. …And I could take a whole blog entry just to talk about the beautiful people here, the super cute pigs walking in the streets and sleeping together as a family on the sidewalks at night, not to mention a family of pigs in which Dave almost promptly tumbled right into their slumbering pile when walking down the dark street to get some hot food! :) And the amazing green bean cakes (gluten-free!! Made with mung bean flour! :)) that Annie and I found and are both currently lamenting the fact that we’ve eaten our last ones, the stunning new monastery with its large population of compassionate, affectionate, happy monks, and more! And…I’m going to dive right into our next part of the journey….
After a day of rest and gathering an eclectic array of snacks for our backpacking trip in between eating green bean cakes :), we all piled into 2 jeeps with our Tibetan drivers found for us by our wonderful Tibetan guide/interpreter and dear friend, Rinchen, and….headed for the beautiful wild wilderness of Genyen Massif. One thing I’ve noticed in all our bus, van and jeep rides so far is that all the drivers have small to big altars on their dashboards. Many in this region have big pictures of the Dalai Lama (which Rinchen told me early on in our visit that all the Tibetans refer to as “The Big Double H” – kind of as ‘code’ language instead of saying the Dalai Lama’s name out loud or in text or email messages, etc). Well our driver had a piece of red cloth on his rear view mirror and as soon as we started out, he whispered something to Rinchen in Tibetan. Rinchen promptly took out his lighter and lit the red cloth just enough so it started smoking. I thought…”oh, this is incense?” But…then it didn’t smell great,..just like burnt cloth. Reidun then asked Rinchen asked what it was for and it turns out this cloth is the piece of a robe from a high monk. Lighting it is a way to show respect and to ask for blessings for a safe journey. :)
So with our journey blessed, we continued on our way…and soon made our first stop at our driver’s home so he could drop off some medicine for his mom. While we were stopped, a man dressed all in black came up to talk with Rinchen; I was suspicious. He spoke Mandarin so I could understand what he was saying. He said we can’t go to the monastery (Lengu monastery). The police closed the road. “What?!” I think to myself. “Why would they do that? And…how did he even know that’s where we’re going?!” I didn’t trust him. Rinchen immediately looked concerned because there is only one road for us to get to the Monastery. Then this man said, “Look, you can ask the police yourself. They’re right here.”
This situation points to another odd thing we observed in our short time in Litang. In one of the most peaceful cities I’ve been in (Litang…that is mostly Tibetans), there are police EVERYWHERE. It seems so crazy b/c it is a small and peaceful population (a large portion of whom are monks). Yet there are these police vans and little portable police booths all over. And on our grueling bus ride, we saw soooo many army trucks, some of which are heading to Lhasa with banners saying “Tibetans and Chinese under one government.” We also saw many subsidized Tibetan housing developments (where the government is encouraging nomadic Tibetans to ‘settled down’ so they can keep better track of them) with banners saying to give thanks to the Communist party. While I don’t sense much animosity among the Tibetans we’ve met, there is a level of distrust with the government/police. ….So back to my story, Rinchen went over to the portable police booth and sure enough is told the road is closed.
….Well…after Rinchen had a short powwow with our driver, they promptly concluded to continue driving and be on our way! What else are we to do, right? …Yay! I didn’t believe that man and apparently Rinchen didn’t either. I’m glad we didn’t because as we continued to bumble and bounce up the dirt road, traveling ever higher into the now rocky mountain tundra terrain at 15,000 feet, we saw fewer and fewer cars, and no police….until we were one of the only vehicles on the road…. And, most important, the road was open! We also came into some of the most stunning terrain I’ve seen….Huge mountain mounds made up only of boulders and stone (reminded me some of the Upper Enchantments in Washington state) with views of huge, huge snow and glacier covered mountain peaks! And eventually as we turned the corner and summited the pass, both our driver and Rinchen broke out in joyous Yoddling!!! :) What a great tradition this is! (I had a first thought something went horribly wrong with our jeep…until Rinchen promptly explained they were yoddling, of course, b/c we just reached the pass! :))
Rockin’ to the Dalai Lama!
Our first day and a half out in this glorious wilderness was spent camped at the site where the new Lengu Monastery is being built. It’s about 4 miles from the old monastery which is only accessible by foot and…motorcycle :) – used to be foot and horses but now motorcycles make their way up to the new monastery. On a side note, I found it so amusing seeing these monks putts around on the motorcycles, that are, just like the inside of cars, decorated with beautiful cloth and pictures of the Dalai Lama. Also, each one is equipped with some sort of round plastic radio strapped to the back of their seat. Sometimes it blares some tinny sounding Tibetan music,….but often times it’s “blasting” dharma talks by the Dalai Lama!! Ha! Yeaya!! That’s the kind of ‘rockin’ out ‘ I’m talkin’ about! :)
The old monastery is amazing!! It’s over 700 years old, built at the base of the 20,000 foot towering sacred Genyen Mountain, and is the oldest monastery in China that wasn’t destroyed during the Cultural Revolution…precisely b/c it is so remote. (Even in our modern day of transportation….you’ve already seen just how long and grueling a trip its been for us!) Over 200 monks of all ages live there now and as they have some well-known Dharma teachers from India visiting, more and more monks desire to come. Hence they are building the new monastery down the road that is accessible via vehicle, and easier for transporting in supplies.
We Are Family!! ~ Family of Monks & Wood Carvers
Down at the site for the new monastery we got to witness some of the stages of one of these great monastery structures being built and meet the people who build them….especially the wood carvers. Wow! What a sweet community!! They are all men ranging from 17 – 47 years in age that travel from near and far villages to work on such projects.
Here, they work under a wooden structure with yak-hair tent tarps over them to keep out the rain. (I haven’t mentioned all the rain we got on this trip!! I think somehow I took all of Seattle’s rain with me!...still raining here in Yunnan too :)…and I know you all in Seattle are enjoying one of the driest, sunniest autumns ever!! :)) And they have a head monk who oversees the whole operation. He is the head designer who first sketches all the drawings, and then “dots” them (pokes dots on the drawing lines) so that the carvers can use some sort of chalk over the paper on the wooden pillars and then have the Master’s drawings sketched out onto the wood.
The carvers then work from 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. carving away these amazing, ornate, detailed and beautiful images into what will be the massive pillars and archways of the new monastery. They are all working so hard so they can put a roof on the new monastery before winter comes.
And they are the most loving and affectionate group of men I’ve ever met. It may be the influence of the monks too. Several monks, including the head artist monk are overseeing the operation and they so take care of everyone! Monks are often seen with their arms around the younger carvers, taking a fatherly or uncle-erly (new word!) role. And the carvers to me look like a bunch of girlfriends in that they are so comfortable with each other! So friendly and loving. One carver shared his camera with me so I could see his photos (as we had been sharing ours…indeed the main entertainment that afternoon on their lunch break was looking at all of Annie’s photos on her iPhone…which she remembered after they had it…had several bikini shots of her and her girlfriends in the states. They were quite intrigued!). In looking at his photos, they were all of him and his carver buddies, posing for different shots in the tall grasses just as I would normally do with a bunch of my girlfriends in the States :).
The monks were so welcoming of us and intrigued too. While we were camping and cooking in the rain, they came by and invited us to warm up by their fire and to drink their hot water and yak butter tea (an acquired taste for sure! :))
An Intimate Exchange ~ Why is the sun getting hotter?
On our 2nd evening before we headed up to Lengu Monastery for our 2 of 3 basecamps, 3 monks came to join us while we were sitting by our….well, I’d like to say campfire…but it was too damp!…so we were sitting by our camp stove. :) We, being curious travelers, proceeded to ask them all sorts of questions about their lives here…and Rinchen was our gracious interpreter…as they were most comfortable speaking Tibetan. Once our curiosity was well satiated, these 3 monks proceeded to ask us several questions. The first was, “Why did you come so far, travel around the world and then on such long, arduous roads, at least 2 days of buses, one day of jeep rides to finally come here? Why?” We each answered….to come see them, to see their beautiful monastery, to learn from them and the Land, to practice with and in the presence of these Sacred Mountains….Dave shared that he has traveled all around the world and this is one of, if not the most beautiful place he has ever been to. Then they asked (many of whom have lived here at Lengu for many, many years), “Why is it the sun is getting hotter and stronger? Why are the glaciers melting and the springs starting to dry up?” They have been noticing these changes in the last many years and are alarmed. While they still have plenty of water, they know that these changes can become very dangerous in the not too distant future. We each, through Rinchen, shared our understanding of global warming, how out of balance we humans are with our carbon emissions on this planet and the clear cutting of trees, etc. They all listened intently. They also shared of the government mining, the destroying of much land, especially now in Tibet too. These pristine lands are being destroyed, raped for minerals. They said they hope we, America, people in the West can help them and the Land.
Dreamtime, Dream Spirits Speak
My heart was full, and had many emotions. We had just shared a deeply touching and intimate evening and connection with these 3 monks as nighttime closed in. As the cool dampness turned to cold, we soon all wished each other good dreams. They left for their monks’ quarters and we went to our somewhat soggy tents to sleep. That night I again wrote in my journal and asked a posed a question for my dreamtime….”How can I be of service here at Lengu Monastery and Mountains of Genyen Massif?”
I woke up early, the sky was still dark and remembered my dream clearly. I was deeply moved and still had tears in my eyes…. In my dream I had come back to Seattle from China to attend the last session of a 10-week seminar I was taking at Landmark called “Velocity.” (I was actually in this seminar before coming to China :)). My seminar leader, Justina was surprised to see me (as she had known I had already left for China), but said that she had also prepared something for me that was on my seat in the seminar room. She had actually prepared something special and specific for everyone in the room. On each of our seats was a sheet of laminated paper with a reminder of who we really are and what our specific Gifts to the World are. I walked up to my seat, picked up my sheet, and turned it over. It said and radiated “Divine Joy” in beautiful rainbow colors. Below it had a bunch of text, all still in beautiful rainbow colors (that I wish I had read in the dream!). I immediately started crying. I was so deeply moved. Justina gave me a few more things that I couldn’t recall when waking up…but she also then promptly reminded me to go back to China, as that is where I am to be right now. Oh yes, I thought in my dream, and I went to buy my plane ticket to head back….. That was my dream. I awoke knowing what my gift to bring and share with the Land and the people here was/is….Divine Joy. Thank you, Thank you, Thank You.
….So this may be one of my longest updates yet. I’m going to save the rest of the trekking trip up to the Lengu Monastery and our trek into the high country for the next one….:)
Thank you for those of you who made it through this long update :)....and for this opportunity to share!!
So much Love and Joy!!
KarenJoy ~ Kailun 凯伦