Trips and Tales: Part 129
Truer Paths #5
Hainan island was a revelation: “More profound than anything I experienced before,” is PA‘s summary. He talks of a “profound sense of grace” which is hard to quantify from my perspective, here, on the outside. PA undertakes a discipline and practice aimed at rendering him truly present, not dwelling on past or future certainties and uncertainties alike. Instead, this mindfulness grants peace – even happiness: a valuable and yet under-valued commodity in bustling, modern-world minds. “It doesn’t always work!” he admits, of things that on occasion get to him. Ah, well practice makes perfect.
It’s not without some effort that this state/outlook is achieved though. This becomes apparent as PA grants me a window into the teachings at the island’s Qigong centre.As mentioned in a previous blog post, the form of Qigong that PA practices is Zhineng Qigong, – or medical Qigong, specifically focused upon healing, and now of particular relevance to PA due to his ongoing battle against (and, life with) leukaemia. PA is relatively circumspect about the hand that fate has dealt him and jokes that everyone is ultimately carried off by one thing or another. “If I can make 75, that would be OK, and the chances of me dying at the hands of a jealous love rival are looking increasingly slim!”. It’ll have to be something else then. He’s doing well considering that the initial diagnosis was in 2002. Perhaps it’ll come down to a freak space exploration accident – who knows?
He praises Dr Pang, central to the centre’s creation and who, upon fleeing a crackdown against Falun Gong, settled and indeed flourished upon reaching Hainan island. “He was the founder of the largest drug-free hospital in China”. PA tells me, with obvious admiration. No mean feat. In passing, it reminds me of the spread of Buddhism; paradoxically driven by Chinese attempts to suppress it. Like trying to jab a finger onto liquid mercury (not recommended); it just scatters elsewhere.
There are set forms in Qigong, a commonality with other arts from the East. I’ve touched upon one, introduced as an extension to a yoga class. “Standing like a tree,” apparently, though I was unaware of its title at the time. PA would spend around 90 minutes before breakfast: “repeating phrases, merging with Chi and the universe”. Then follows a similar time-span “opening and closing energy”. An evening session of “physical” Qigong would consist of various exercises and meditation concerned with promoting a “flow of energy”. You would have to be there for these abstract concepts to make sense I’m sure – how can you relate such a personal physical and spiritual experience to someone else? And in words alone? Trying to make objective sense – to think it out seems to be missing the point.
As PA puts it: “In this society we live in our heads, exercise brings you into the body”. Again, you have to be there. He also includes Daoist guidelines in his practice: “Always face north, use (i.e. be near) a tree”. Apparently, various trees have their own energies, and if you can muster a tree, water and mountains too – then that is ideal.
PA spent three months on Hainan, engaged in such a regime, adding to his ongoing practice across years; before and after. He’s had to reduce the intensity due to his illness, but the practice continues. Perhaps down to three forty-minute sessions a day, but it’s still there. Oh, and the meditation is actually work too, incidentally. That’s for those of us who think it’s all about a nice nap on a yoga mat. Meditation is not relaxation – at least when you are trying to master it. I’ve tried it and found it frankly (surprisingly) irritating. PA interjects: “Ah, it’s working if it’s irritating”. Maybe there is hope then?
He tells me of its benefit in enabling him to recognise a thought, know why it arises, its origins and have the mental “space” to deal with it and let it go without being dragged along for the ride on another emotional/intellectual roller-coaster. How easy it is for us to let our thoughts and feelings control us: “Don’t believe everything you think” – as I read somewhere.
It’s all helped him deal with his illness, to accept its place in his life without letting it be all of his life. He talks of compartmentalisation and perspective, warning that “Where the mind dwells, it becomes”. He recognises that from the off: to be born a human being is in itself a blessing, and I infer, so why waste it on some mad trip?
We could learn so much from this – I know I could, after years of being dragged down yet another rabbit-hole by some mad thought-explosion. Enough!
More next time.
Next time: Trips and Tales (Part 130) Arrival Beijing #19
[Photo by Marc van der Chijs]