I was chatting with one of my students recently about life at the Five Immortals Temple on Baima Shan in Hubei Province, China.? I had been living at the Temple for three months before I went down for the first time into the nearby city of Shiyan.? I found myself sensitive to and impacted by the ?noise? of the city, all surfaces covered with something, whether a building or pavement or cement, so many people and so much traffic.? It required the expenditure of so much energy to remain balanced and quiet inside, and I felt a little overwhelmed.
It brought me back to my first day in Shiyan early in the year, before I climbed the mountain for the first time, and how little I was affected by that ?noise,? as I anxiously awaited Cheng Feng, the senior student who was coming to meet up with and bring me to the Temple.? I didn?t really think about that first meeting too deeply at the time other than her being the first Temple student I met, but I have thought a lot about it since.? As I have replayed that day in my mind, I marvel at how calm and collected, how balanced and centered, she was as we navigated our way around Shiyan to eat a meal and to catch the bus into the mountains.
I think back to the three other times I left the mountaintop in the following months, including the last time I walked down Baima Shan on my way back to the United States, with a greater understanding of her calm and her presence.? My daily Taoist Longevity Practice of qigong, taiji and meditation, the skills we use to cultivate stillness, has allowed me to do that, and has provided me with an insight I hope to be able to pass on to my students.? That insight is the portability of stillness.
With each time I went down the mountain, I found the adjustment to the ?noise? of society to be easier, and the energy I needed to spend in that adjustment to be less and less.? And here, in the mountains of western Massachusetts, I find it to be no adjustment at all.? The example set by Cheng Feng, the teachings of LiShifu, and the camaraderie of my Cheng brothers and sisters, all contributed to my understanding of stillness and its cultivation.
How many times have you thought, or have you heard others say, how wonderful and relaxing it will be to ?get away,? to go to warm beaches or snow-covered mountains, to ?unplug? from the hustle and bustle of modern life, to open that bottle of wine and unwind?? While I always look forward to my next stay at the Temple, I do not need to be there to ?get away.?
A single breath enables me to ?get away.?? A single breath, a slow inhale and exhale, will induce the relaxation response I feel when I ?sit still, doing nothing? in the morning and evening, when I run to nearby Windsor Lake, for an hour of Shui Taiji, when I wash the dishes after a meal, and when I plaster and sand the walls of what will be the dining room of my little shack on the mountain here at home.
It eventually becomes unnecessary to get away to find peace and calm.? Once you understand cultivating the stillness within yourself, it goes with you wherever you go.? Once you understand to let go of your past, and not hurry the future, once you learn to be present as each moment arrives, and simply be, your stillness is always with you.? And stillness travels well.
Of course, you?ll bring it with you to those warm beaches and those snow-covered mountains, those vineyards in Italy, and the woods of Maine.? The point is simply that it will not be required.? It?s already a part of you, needing nothing more than its daily cultivation.
Your stillness is portable.? Find that calm within yourself, and let the currents of the Great Tao carry your raft wherever it is you belong.