TESTIMONY STUDENT 1
It has been just 24 hours since the first part of our wandering walk came to an end, and i know i need to write about it now, before too much sense impressions, too many words of human language, too many dishes of food cooked in a kitchen, polish my being again into the human world, the man-made world, and its many illusions.
We walked for only 3 days and 3 nights, and i feel that it lasted 3 weeks, or 3 months – a feeling that something beyond time happened, that we went on a real journey, an inner journey. We just walked on mountain trails, and small roads – areas still inhabited by villagers or farmers here and there, far from a truly wild zone.
We carried bag-packs that contained all the necessary equipment we needed as creatures of civilization to make ourselves home in the woods : everyone had a tent, a sleeping-bag, an inflatable mat, a set of clothes, a pair of shoes, an umbrella, a notebook, and, for all of us, a pot to cook rice, bowls, a big knife to chop wood, a bag of emergency medicine, and the wooden fish and the bell we use for ceremonies. We tried to carry the least, and it was already so much, heavy on our shoulders. I would wonder often, why is it that we, humans, need all this things to survive in the wild ? Why can’t I just surrender myself to Mother Earth as naked as i was born ? What happened to the ancient knowledge that would allow us to do so ? Why did we, humans, grow so far away from Nature that we are rendered powerless without all these things we think we need ?
We walked around 70 kilometers during those 3 days. This isn’t even a lot of walking, but the mountain landscape and the paths up and down was enough to make our legs and feet sore. In the evening, we would just lie down there exhausted, unable to move or to do anything anymore. Why is it that the human body is such a fantastic and fragile creation at the same time? A tiny blister under the foot of the best athlete and walking becomes painful.
We did not carry food with us, and just a little water. We begged for rice at people’s houses on our ways. We gathered water in fresh mountain springs, and sometimes filled up our bottles at people’s houses. Most of the time, people offered us the 2 bowls of rice we were politely asking for, and few times we got turned down too. We begged for salt a couple times. We picked wild greens on our way, and cooked them over a fire with the rice. We drank fresh spring water and sometimes muddy water too, sometimes boiling it and sometimes not. No one got sick. No one got badly hungry. Our bodies started to cleanse. Something different nourished us. Why is it that we grow up so accustomed to thinking we need so much food to be well ? Why is it that our mouth needs so much attention ?
Li Shifu was with us all the time. He was, as always, our guide, our mentor, our master really. He held the space of the walk for us at every step, through all the ups and downs, clearing the path through the forest, pointing to us the plants we could eat and those we could use as medicine, chanting invocations, telling us stories, commenting the Feng Shui of houses we passed on the way, and sometimes of course telling us off too. I am humbled and grateful in the face of his dedication and integrity, of his true power and love, of how little he needs and of how much he gives us. And, of his patience with us, small children of the Way. Thank You Master. Why is it that he cares to do that for us, small little people ? What inspires him the trust to teach us in the most profound ways ?
For me, the first day was the hardest day. We walked a lot, and it was very hot. My body did not know of that way yet, it had to sweat and to detox first, as well as my mind. I could not settle in the moment and just let everything unfold, i felt under so much pressure of always being stronger and stronger. I tried to keep up the pace, connect with the plants on the way, ignore the headache and the growing frustration. The first kilometers had me travel back into the past, into the many dusty roads i had walked upon, the highways in the nights, the closed chapters of my life, and all the things i saw of heaven and of hell. I started to feel estranged to the world around me, estranged to the people walking with me. I felt anger arising in myself, and sadness. I knew it was all about just giving up the endless narrative of who we think we are, of how we think things are or should be, and just accepting the moment as it is, with the heat, the exhaustion, the discomfort, the insecurity. I realized how scared i was, deep in myself, before we even started walking. It is quite contradictory, because i am a person who travelled for most of her life. I know of traveling, and it is probably my most natural element. I can adapt anywhere, find my way around any situation, even very dangerous ones. I have been to war zones, to red light districts at night, to places that are considered as some of the darkest on this planet, when i was just a young woman in full bloom. I did beg many times when i was younger. I ate from the trash, from the street, and from the forest too. I know of the freedom of owning almost nothing, of living on the fringe of society, and of going where the wind blows. I suppose that is how i have grown into someone who badly needs to ground, to be clean, to feel at home somewhere, while being almost unable to do so in normal society. And i suppose that is how something in me felt so oppressed while packing that bag, getting ready to leave the temple that has become the home i haven’t have in years. It was the same oppression again, and also the fear that my body would not endure the long walk. Negative feelings battling my mind – as Shifu says, what you can not let go of, you must carry. Why is it that we think that the past or the future matters ? Why is it that the depth of our minds are so full of residues of past memories and feelings, long after we think we have already let go of it all ? Why is it that our view is so short-sighted, unable to distinguish far enough into the endless interplay of causes and effects ?
For a whole morning, while my heart was battling itself, i found relief in brief moments of rest in nature : inside the Golden Light Cave, a deep cave, fresh and soothing, of ancient power of light, that still carried the energy field of the masters who cultivated there; in a pool of muddy water, in which i could bath; in the breeze in the leaves of the trees under which we rested. Great Nature started doing its work on me, healing, relieving, purifying, returning me to its simple truth.
Only on the second day did my mind start to truly shift. We crossed over a mountain and as we were walking down to the other side into the evening, the sky filled with clouds, and we were soon walking under pouring rain. We stood under the side of the roof of an old house for a while, as the rain washed away my last resistances. When the rain slowed down, we kept walking in our wet shoes, with Shifu teaching us to sing an invocation. The power of the song carried us forward when our feet felt numb, and for a moment we had forgotten our bodies. It took some time to find a place for the night, and we were all exhausted. An old lady allowed us to use her kitchen to cook our rice and our wild greens, and we followed her into the darkness of the night to the mud house where she was living with her husband, perched on the side of the mountain. They took us into the simple kitchen, and offered us oil and home-made spicy bean paste. Something in them was so simple and generous, just true. They asked us if we could bless them, and of course we did. My heart felt so full. For a moment we were truly together. A space had been created for us to return to our original inter-connectedness, as children of Nature. While eating the food cooked in their kitchen that night, i realized it had a different power than the food we normally eat. It was free from the pollution of economy, greed, and selfishness that food from the market carries. Because it had been begged and offered, because it contained these people’s compassion, generosity and kindness, and our gratitude, blessings and prayers, it was not just food anymore, it was higher vibration nourishment.
When i woke up on the third day, my heart was still full of that true power, and ready to be broken open. We kept walking down the valley, and the landscape was of stunning beauty. The air was more fresh, with a slight breeze, which made the walk easier. We came into a small town, and ran into a giant pond of lotus in full bloom. The delicate fragrance of the flowers was carried in the air, and we were amazed at so much beauty. We walked all the way to the river side, of emerald green waters, and talked to some villagers to find out about the boat that could take us upstream. We sat on the roof of the boat, admiring the landscape of water and mountains, savoring the moments of rest and relaxation. In my heart, i was now feeling truly free and peaceful, just simply happy in the present moment. We got off the boat and found a place to cook by the side of the lake. We bathed and washed, ate and rested. By mid-afternoon, refreshed, we started walking again, and when the sky turned into evening light, we reached a turn on the road that seemed just like any other turn. Just before it, by the side of the path, was erected a small temple, with only a red fabric hanging inside of it. I walked toward it, with the thought of opening the fabric to have a look at what was inside, when i felt strongly repelled, as if something of darker nature was living there. After the turn of the road, i almost walked on a small grey snake, the most poisonous type of snake in the area. It swiftly disappeared into the forest. We kept walking, looking for a place to set up our camp. A bit further, some tombs were erected by the side of the path. This is very common in rural China, but this place felt strange, as haunted. We finally arrived to a small hamlet. In front of the central house of the hamlet, a woman was sitting. She started yelling at us all types of non-sense, and we realized she was just mad. We kept walking, and met a couple other villagers but no one of them was smiling. The whole area felt as a distinct field of negative distorted energy, heavy with lower spirits and unsuitable for humans to inhabit, and we walked further away. Just before the night fell, we found a good place in the woods, set up camp, and started our fire to cook. Dozens of fireflies lighted up the darkness of the forest, creating a magical atmosphere. The places we had been through during the day revealed such a deep contrast. Like the landscapes of our minds, our many feelings, emotions and thoughts, all the light and all the darkness we experience, are always changing, and we are just that traveller, walking step by step along the way, not sure of what the next turn will bring, still unexperienced and unsure of where to stop and which way to go. Why is it that we often don’t realize that we are the traveller, and not the landscape, and that the landscape keeps changing anyway? Why is it that we lose ourselves outside so easily, believing that we are the landscape, and forgetting that we are just the traveller ? And who or what is the traveller anyway ?
On the morning of the fourth day, after an hour of walking, Li Shifu announces us that our wander is over and that we will today return to the temple. Something in myself is relieved, and something in myself wishes he will take us into the other direction, further into the wild, further away from the man-made world, further into the purification of ourselves. A deep silence arises in my being, only filled by humility and questions. I know something very profound has been awakened and purified in me. What i feel is so big that my heart can hardly contain it. It is a call to return to the profound truth found only within utmost simplicity, to surrender to the mighty power of Nature, and in the same time the knowing that i am so tiny, so ignorant, and so weak. When we have our first meal at a table again, with many dishes cooked in a kitchen again, as all the mixed flavors fill my senses, and as my body gets heavier, i feel like we are losing something very precious. The food doesn’t feel nourishing, it feels too rich and impure. I realize that everything we have, everything we think we need, even if we are living a very simple life-style such as in the temple, is just taking us always further away from realizing the truth, from the essential power of this universe. The material world seems so vain, the body seems so tiny and fragile. Suddenly i understand the old story of the founding master Wang Chong Yang, who, one day during his cultivation, realized he still had a hut, and so burnt it down. I wish i had the power to get rid of my tent, of my sleeping-bag, that i would have enough skills to survive in the wild with just my body as it is, that i would be able to live in Nature as One, completely independent from the treachery of society that sucks up human souls. And, not only this, I also wish i could reach that breaking-point that leads beyond the physical body, beyond the material veil of this world, into the realm of Spirit itself. I understand it is all about severing attachments, one by one, and that it is a very hard path to walk. I see in myself the strong seeds of needs and habits, grown over countless generations of ancestors. I know old desires will return quickly. I know the attachment to the body and to the self will evoke shadows of fears and selfishness again and again. I also know, if i could only give it all up, that something would shift in the fabric of my being, and that only offering the whole of one’s life can lead one to that breaking-point.
So, for now, i just stay in awe at the depth of the teaching, the heart filled with wonder and humility. Xie Xie Shifu.