NCF Newsletter Winter 2012

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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!

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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.

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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.

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Welcome to the New Year 2013!