A Love Letter from Zhangjiajie
There is a gathering, she says — will you come?
Those of you reading this now likely read the invitations: Master Yuan Miao and Master Axun, joining together to await, to welcome, to celebrate the transit from one age to another.¬† The end of one calendar is the beginning of another. What better, more exciting place to be than with Yuan Miao — on the other side of the world — welcoming come what may?
The invitation comes days after Hurricane Sandy has hit. America is fine. Here as elsewhere, when tragedy strikes people have an opportunity to be their highest selves. New Yorkers are known for resourcefulness if not being friendly, but the latter is as true as the former as people band together to help one another in the face of Nature’s fresh onslaught. What has been foreseen is now coming to pass.
As the winds of changes shift, there is always a “that’s good” to be found. Perhaps the hurricane winds have blown the election in another direction. Time would tell.
Six weeks later, arriving in Beijing, the lead story on CCTV is of yet another Sandy — this time the tragedy of murder and mayhem at Sandy Hook. The world has indeed grown small as this sad news from America instantly reverberates in China. We arrive to close one calendar and open another. We don’t believe the world will come to an end, but wonder if it is a new age dawning. We’ve come to find out if an answer is imminent.
Beijing is icy, cold — frigid, but this does not thwart throngs from streaming to Tiananmen Square and into the Forbidden City. Nearly all Chinese tourists, our Western faces stand out in the crowds. It’s easy to smile at all of them, now carefree, having left work and responsibility behind on the other side of the world. With their rich cultural heritage, the immense spaces and great stonework buildings stand as monumental messengers of another era long since gone.
We want to walk to the Temple of Heaven. Asking directions is impossible. Our Mandarin is next to non-existent and the map is confusing. Yet somehow we make our way, and climb, triumphant to a breathtaking view of the city and some moments in a quiet place that feels sacred and old beyond time.
Traveling by plane to Zhangjiajie at night with the workshop beginning first thing in the morning there is no time to adjust. We are in it. A handful of Westerners and a throng of expectant Chinese — at least we have some idea of what we are in for. All smiles all around — even down to the :) buttons everyone is wearing — the sentiment is clear.
Those of you who’ve met Yuan Miao know she is irrepressible, irresistible, magnetic and deep. She is herself a hurricane, yet one with a smile and a gleam. Things are not as they seem — can your world can be as bright and shiny as hers — how to bridge the gap?
She has teamed with Master Axun. Like Yuan Miao, he was a former CCTV star, turning away from fame and fortune after awakening to a calling. Witnessing tragedy up close, he discovered his path is to lead others to hope and beyond. Axun is in counterpoint to Miao — cerebral, stolid, quiet and deliberate. Tech savvy yet timeless, he connects modern physics’ discoveries to troves of ancient wisdom’s teachings.
Lunch break is our first look at where we are. It’s all misty grey impenetrable. We’re told it’s there, but there’s nothing to see, not yet. James Cameron scouted the world to find the location for his magical leafy green world of Avatar and he chose the national forest just up the road. It’s clear his visit was in spring or summer, but even in winter it’s intriguing, mysterious and perhaps even magical.
What better stimulant than bitter cold to warm us to hours of teachings in a heated hall. How would the masters convey their message? They alternate sessions, yin and yang. We are blessed with a translator — like the United Nations but better because it is the truth being spoken. Mellifluous Chinese coming from the front, whispered English from the rear in simultaneous translation; our minds are being spoken to while our bodies absorb the lessons.
The hall is filled with expectancy and thirst for what’s to come. How would Master Miao begin to “explain” her world without concepts? Trilingual, she begins with Sanskrit terminology rendered in phonetic English — mantra, sutra, mudra, yantra. To this she adds vibration, weaving words with demonstration, sounds and gesture delighting and enthralling at once. The reciprocation of affection is nearly instantaneous — we’re all invited into her world to avidly partake of its richness and depth. Some have been here before; their delight lies in seeing how new found family welcomes it and warms to the layers of message and meaning. Miao chants, her fingers painting mudras, everyone is afoot, alive, dancing, celebrating. Tears are flowing, all expression is permitted, release, joy, wonder, all at once.
Master Axun invites access to truth from another direction. His speech is poetic. He proffers visualization techniques and tools to train mind and body. There are readings of sutra and elucidation of Taoist doctrine. Somewhat shy, several students blossom before us as he nourishes their self expression through his gentle direction and encouragement.
And so it goes for several days. Absorbed in the teachings, it’s easy to forget there is a world outside our cozy hall. The group is cohering, sharing, opening, and singing together. Then — outside, there appears a glimmer of what treasures Zhangjiajie has to offer. A hint of hazy sunshine admits veiled silhouettes of hills and mountains that are actually impossibly close to us — there all the time — yet unseen and therefore unknown. They stand in for the teachings; truths once revealed have been there all along.
Finally a day arrives with some warmth and some sun. We Westerners leave the hall behind and head back towards the city to approach Heaven’s Gate. Zhangjiajie is noisy and dusty with construction cranes everywhere, and a kaleidoscopic mix of antiquity with ultra modern. A city of 1.5 million is growing while you watch.
In China it is not surprising to see the streets being swept with centuries old brooms fashioned from tree branches along side the biggest, longest, tallest tram found anywhere in the world. This very tram takes us up and out of the city, over greener than green terraced farmland, exploding in lush profusion despite the midwinter’s chill.
Then up even higher we go, entering a world of hushed mountain quiet. Amongst rocky spires we only glimpsed from below, Heaven’s Gate is now revealed, within sight.
The day is crystalline. The wet wintry world has coated trees and rocks and our pathway with ice. It’s all crackling and dripping as we creep over miles of trails, sidling along the edges of cliffs.
We’re certainly not alone in this delightful landscape, but there’s plenty of space to drink in the expanse and the wonder — nowhere else you’ve been looks quite like this.
We make our way delighting in the vast expanse and eventually reach an enormous complex. It could be said that Nature makes mountains for man to build temples on top of, and this one is no exception. Forget America’s hundreds of years of infancy — this place looks and feels like it has been here longer than forever. To think that all this stone was carried by hand before machinery was even a glimmer in someone’s mind, this space exhales timelessness and reverence. Here you can feel the heartbeat of the world if you listen closely enough. This splendid scene is enough to explain why of all the possible places to be that we find ourselves here, now.
Back down in the real world of our workshop, Yuan Miao has advanced a simple prescription for dealing with modern life — engage thousand year old yoga traditions with a modern twist. No Drama Yoga entails pulling back from attachment, reducing the drama we create in our life situations to reduce their pull on our emotions and attention. Freeing our lives from this drama invites experience of the empty heart. Cultivating Empty Heart Yoga enables us to receive and reflect a greater love at a higher level of consciousness. Practicing Smart Body Yoga involves learning to pay attention, listen, and trust our body’s innate intelligence. And practicing the Yoga of Joy develops a supple body and relaxed mind free of constructs and concepts.
These harmonious tools are liberating and re-juvenating — connecting us back with our childlike nature to render our now grown up world as playful and joyous as youth.
Yuan Miao is always pointing to the same place: Wei Jia — Go Home!
We reach the first week’s graduation and it’s time for celebration and dance. A photo gets taken. We relinquish the hall and take to the streets. The mood is exultant, a bonfire rages and the night is electric.
Axun is delighted, playful and light. Everyone follows in circles — laughing, dancing, hugging, and festive at once. Miao is all smiles — her children are children once again.
Welcome to the New Year 2013!