There is an old saying in the Zen tradition – “locking eyebrows with the masters.” This is a description of merging of oneself with the teachings and examples from the ancient masters in a physical and energetic way. It is different than merely reading a book or watching a video or even attending a weekend workshop. Instead it is by going to the places where the masters taught and lived and being in the presence of their spirit or shen that we get to really feel the presence of the masters “in our bones.”
Of course it is possible to learn qigong and meditation from the many books and videos that are available (including my own) but there is something special about going to the sacred mountains where the Taoists have taught for many generations. There is something special about following in their footsteps as we climb the many, many stairs leading to the temples and sacred spaces that exist on the sacred mountains of China.
Taoists have long believed that there is something special to be found in the mountains, where the de or spiritual potency is so much stronger than down in the plains. Taoist and Buddhist sages have gone to the mountains for their intense practices for thousands of years all over Asia.
I have visited many of the sacred Taoist mountains in China – Hua Shan, Huang Shan, Qingcheng Shan, Lao Shan, Louguantai, and Wudang Shan – and it is in the last one, Wudang Shan, that I have felt more deeply the presence of the ancient masters as well as the masters that are still practicing in these beautiful environments. There is something about Wudang that just pulls you in and settles your spirit. Yes there are many tourists there as well but whenever one passes one of the local Taoists, in their unique and ancient style of dress and hair (grown long and worn on the top of their head (bai hui) and tied in the traditional two knots (yin/yang) that we get a strong and special feeling and sensation of their inner power. These folks live very simple and even spartan lifestyles yet their sense of themselves, their qi, their groundedness, give off palpable waves that we feel each time we encounter one of them.
Of course there is lots to see in Wudang. And after morning practice with Master Zhou we will hike many of the wonderful trails and see various temples (including my favorite, Nanye, built into the side of a cliff), and the Purple Heavenly Temple which is filled with Taoist nuns (kundao), see a outdoor wushu show by local students, hike into Monkey Valley and visit with the wild macaques there and one of the highlights of my visits to Wudang, visit Jiaye, the old grandfather hermit who has lived in a cave for over 23 years. His wide toothless grin and his propensity to laugh at whatever anyone says typifies the real spirit of Taoists in China. Everyone I bring to his cave falls in love with this warm-hearted hermit.
It is so important when visiting these kinds of places that we take the time to allow ourselves to fully enjoy and inhale the wonderful qi and de of the mountains. Once we are there is no hurry, no stress, no need to be anywhere than just where we are – in the beautiful and sacred mountains. There we will learn new qigong and a very special Wudang Taoist tai chi and also spend time hiking, drinking tea, eating wonderful food, practice meditation and sharing together in our evening meetings, going into depth with the Tao Te Ching (with my new book Practicing the Tao Te Ching: 81 Steps on the Way, from Sounds True), and practice qigong and tai chi with Master Zhou, as well as our two co-leaders, who have years of qigong experience, and be in the presence of a loving and jolly hermit.
This will indeed be an opportunity to “lock eyebrows” with the masters who have lived and practiced on this mountain for hundreds of years – from Zhang San Feng to today. So let us keep an open mind and heart to really be able to learn and experience and enjoy our time together. We are all teachers for each other, we are all compatriots in travel in the sometimes confusing world of modern China, we can all learn from each other and, if we share deeply, from our deepest heart places, we will have an opportunity to be transformed by this short yet potent time in the sacred mountains of Wudang.
Of course we will also be spending a few days in Hangzhou, my favorite city in China. Hangzhou has long been associated with artists and musicians. There is a beautiful lake there called West Lake where we will practice qigong and see an amazing show produced by the famous Chinese director Zhang Yimou where the actors glide along on top of the water (the stage is set a few inches below the waterline). We will also visit the tea village in the mountains where the famous Lung Jing (Dragon Well) tea is grown. We will visit one of the tea plantations there. (This is the tea that I start each day with.)
Hangzhou has also been associated with another beautiful city called Suzhou, famous for its many canals and classical gardens. There is even an old saying in China, “Heaven above and Hangzhou/Suzhou below.”
Our last few days in China will be spent in Beijing where we will visit the world famous Great Wall (called the Long Wall in China), attend some amazing acrobat shows and possibly visit the tea market and do some last minute shopping.
We will be accompanied the whole trip by our wonderful and amazing guide and translator, Dana Xu. All along the way she will guide us through the culture and customs of China. She is also an excellent translator, perfectly able to translate everything from our meals to our teacher in Wudang.
To find out more about this magical trip to China go to www.chinatrip.mystical-abode.com or write/call to firstname.lastname@example.org/541.345.8854
Solala Towler has taught and practiced Taoist meditation and qigong for more than 25 years. He is author of Tales from the Tao, Tao Paths to Love, and most recently, Practicing the Tao Te Ching: 81 Steps on the Way. Solala is the editor of The Empty Vessel, a widely respected journal of Taoist philosophy and practice. He teaches qigong and sound healing at conferences and workshops around the country.