Rise & Shine Horns, Bodhidharma’s Cave & 5:30 a.m. PracticeOur days here start with the “rise and shine” horns going off in the schoolyard at 5 a.m. outside our windows. :) Even if one had the slightest inkling of an idea or intention to sleep in….well, first you’d have to successfully sleep through these horns!! And then within minutes, you’d have to continue to sleep through the strong pitter patter of young boys getting up, running down the stairs and then beginning their group running (each of them counting out loud “yi, yi, yi, er, yi” “1,1, 1, 2, 1”), their training drills, sprints, squats, flips, jumps, splits, punch and kicks across one of the many quads all accompanied with various grunts, calls and shouts. :) It’s actually quite a sight to see!! So, yes, no sleeping in here (just like in Zhengzhou with Dr. Zhao!! :-D) but I love getting up early and experiencing the magical mist on the Song Mountains, morning birds and fresh air, and walking by (or dodging, really!) these flying, running, jumping, kicking boys as I and my friend, Richard, make our way to the Shaolin temple gates to begin our qigong exercises along with our other ZY Qigong friends/ retreat-mates. After early morning outdoor practice (and for some people this is even earlier, as a whole cohort of students often make the 4 a.m. climb up the mountain to Da Mo Dong 达磨洞 － Bodhidharma’s cave to meditate. Bodhidharma is considered the father of Zen Buddhism. He came over here from India to share these teachings and is said to have meditated for 9 years in this cave before becoming enlightened – from 527 A.D. to 536 A.D. – long time ago!! He then also saw that many of the monks at Shaolin were weak from sitting too much…so he taught them some movement forms to strengthen their muscles and tendons :) – okay, that was a long tangent!) So, after early morning practice, we meet from 8 a.m. – 12:30 p.m. for class and meditations with Mingtang in our training hall. Then we have from 12:30 to 6:30 p.m. for our own time to hike and meditate in the mountains, local temples and learn directly from Nature. From 6:30 -9:30 p.m. we have class and meditation with Mingtang, go to bed and start the whole process over again with the lively 5 a.m. horns the next day :).
My time at Shaolin is short this trip, as I’m about to start our Tibetan Plateau trekking trip and am meeting my trip mates tomorrow to begin :) – BUT I so so so love being here and have also enjoyed being re-united with several qigong friends from around the U.S., those I met in my travels with Mingtang throughout Europe in 2005, and other friends I met at Kundawell Institute in Beijing last December for Image Medicine.
One of my friends, Lenka, is a woman I met 9 years ago when in Slovakia with Mingtang. She was one of the few who spoke English and we’re close in age….so we quickly became good friends. Well, in my first morning back to Shaolin, we ran into each other while heading out for morning practice…and oh my gosh!! So great to be with her again!! She has a beautiful 5 year old daughter now and just arrived a few days before me for a shortened training at Shaolin.
“Just Do It” & the Way of HappinessMingtang’s teachings are changing and I feel I came into the retreat at just the right time. Actually several people (Lenka from Slovakia, Tamara from Ukraine, and several others) all for one reason or another arrived all about the same time. I so so so love Mingtang’s teachings and always feel my soul and wisdom seeds have an expansion and inner transformation and growth when with him and when practicing together with our group. Sometimes, some of the phenomena and “goals” of practice he discusses, though, feel rather far away. When first starting with ZY Qigong, I got caught in the snags of “wanting” to experience certain phenomena, wanting certain signs to tell me I was “doing it right”, and wanting to develop certain special abilities NOW …mainly so as to calm my inner doubts and to boost my ego that I was “okay”. Well, needless to say, I soon found out that that path of wanting did not work and only produced inner suffering and sapped my joy. As I shared in one of my blogs last year, I came to a turning point after experiencing 6 months of severe depression and anxiety. I had talked to Mingtang during my travels with him in 2005, sharing my concerns of …well really that maybe there was just something fundamentally wrong with me and that’s why I hadn’t “gotten it” yet. And he shared 3 words with me…”Just do it” - just do your practice and let go of expectations. Well, I listened, but at first only half way, as I did “just do it” but without letting go. I just did my practice, but from a place of pushing, efforting, needing to strive to do it, get it right….and further down the rabbit hole I went. In 2006 I hit bottom and that’s when I made a change. Inside something lit up and I realized what I was doing. I made an internal commitment to let my practice, my life and cultivation be one of joy. So then I continued to follow my teacher’s words, only this time, I only did practices in a way that nourished my inner Joy and wellbeing. And I brought my practice outside…as I found when in that depression, I couldn’t stand being inside. Outside in the fresh air, feeling the breeze and presence of the trees and sky and Life, then I began to relax and remember my inner wellbeing…as when the mind relaxes, Nature rushes in. This commitment spread step by step into all areas of my life…as qigong practice is not something that is just practiced in the morning or afternoon…it is a way of life, of cultivating, living, and sharing the Life Blessing within us.
So while Mingtang does often speak of certain phenomena that happen in advanced practice and of the goal and way to reach the 3rd Level of Pause state, experience Soul travel and more, this time he still spoke of these things, but in a different way, a way I so understand and resonate deeply with….and in a few short days, I feel Mingtang’s teachings, my meditations and walkabouts in the local Mountains and temples helped me see and receive the unity and integration of so many teachings living inside me…those from the East in my Qigong lineage, Daoism, Buddhism, teachings from St. Germain and the I Am Discourses and teachings directly from Nature.
Mingtang spoke of a lot about the importance of Happiness as a spiritual practice in this world. He spoke of short term happiness-es that we all enjoy, like completing a big project, receiving praise for a job well done, gathering with friends and dancing, eating chocolate :), etc – these are all wonderful forms of short-term happiness and they bring much joy into our lives. The other is long-term happiness which does not depend so much on our outer conditions, situation, but instead comes from inside. It is this happiness that simultaneously develops our wisdom and compassion as well. This is a happiness that others also feel, and can be “activated” by – activating the growth of their own inner happiness and wisdom. He spoke of how we all have 2 parts of our being …one that is pure, bright and honest, and other that is more ugly, greedy and selfish. Part of our practice is to transform the bad natures (Buddhism teaches denying these bad natures) and cultivating our good nature. In this way, as humans we naturally go through an “upgrade” from living more from a selfish place to becoming a “public being”, as Mingtang put it, giving to others and to Life.
Make Yourself BrightMany of our meditations also focused on developing our Light Being and absorbing and bringing Light into our bodies. All animate and inanimate objects emit light. Spiritual traditions around the world speak of this Light – in Daoism it’s often referred to as developing Yang Shen (ridding of the Yin and developing Yang – as a way to Ascend this world – be Master of our Self), in Buddhist murals we see all the many deities encircled in Light, in Christian traditions, Jesus is encircled in Light, our I AM Presence is enclosed in Light…most, if not all traditions recognize this Light, and in this retreat, Mingtang emphasized developing our light energy as a fundamental key to our spiritual practice. “We must absorb light, produce light, generate light,” Mingtang said. “Continue, continue to make yourself Bright….Don’t waste time. Try your best to realize Yang Shen in this lifetime.”
Mountains of LightOne of the many things I love about my home lineage of qigong, Zhong Yuan Qigong, is the emphasis on learning directly from Nature – on Nature being one of our most powerful teachers. In this retreat, I saw in a new way how our Mountains and forests are such powerful bearers of Light!! And they can help us immensely. In one of our meditations, Mingtang had us stand, focusing on Light pouring into and illuminating our bodies from the Baihui point on the top of our heads, radiating through and from our bodies. When I did this, my whole body would disappear and just turn into Light....and again, Mt. Rainer showed up. My body was gone but I was in the sky by beautiful Mt. Rainer. I kept crying and crying throughout this meditation. Tears of love and gratitude for our Nature and Mountains…And for the awakening possible on our Earth. These mountains and Mother Earth are huge bearers of light and so so pure.