Magic and Stillness
Autumn in the Berkshires
By: Cheng Tong - Oct 27, 2021
I have lunch once a week with a dear friend. It is the only entry on my social calendar. Writing those two words just now made me smile . . . social calendar.
We gather, enjoy a meal, and in 90 minutes solve the problems of the world. We congratulate ourselves on a job well done and vow to do it again in one week’s time. It is a magic moment for me.
My life is mostly solitary. This is by choice. When I returned from my first year in China to visit my daughters, I found living in society once again to be noisy. The temple where I lived is isolated in the Wudang mountains 30 kilometers from the nearest city, Shiyan. The temple complex sits atop the mountain, and life is very quiet, simple, and hard.
After a time, I adjusted. I turned inward and found my balance. As one of my Zen Buddhist masters would often say when presenting the next Koan in my teaching, “You already know the answer, Michael. It is always present in you.”
We wondered, my temple mates and I, as the year was coming to a close and we were preparing to leave the mountain for a few months, what we had learned in our time together, and whether we would bring it with us when we left. I came to realize a truth I continue to remind myself of now, six years later.
Each day, we learn something, whether about ourselves or about life. Sometimes it is significant, sometimes subtle, sometimes virtually imperceptible. But we learn.
And each day, we are tested, all of us. We know before we go to bed each night the one question on that test for the next day. It’s the same question each day, the same question for everyone.
Can we live what we have learned?
My personality is retiring, withdrawing, by choice now. I spend each day in meditation and prayer. I spend most days teaching, too. My students come, and together we examine qigong, taiji, meditation, a little Chinese medicine, and Daoist philosophy. When I am not teaching, I am simply being, whether working in the garden, working on my very old house, or feeding the squirrel who comes each morning to eat with me.
It is not shyness, though. It is my choice on how I will live my life. All of the skills I teach on the training platform in my garden are the skills we use to cultivate stillness, to find that quiet spot inside where all answers reside. Brought into present moment awareness by these skills, I find clarity, the clarity to see everything merely as it is.
I, in my quiet and retiring life, navigate this clear path letting events simply happen as they will, and in that clarity, the correct response to those events presents itself almost without thought. Most of the time, that is. I am human, and sometimes I stumble on that path.
But I remain true to it always. Occasionally I encounter someone on it who needs help. If I am able to, I must, as this is the duty of us all. If I cannot help, I offer a bit of comfort and encouragement, and then continue on my way. We all have our own paths to walk.
Not everyone will understand my journey, and this is okay. I am here to live my life, not to help anyone understand it. I walk my path, stay with the Great Dao as much as I am able, and learn something each day.
In Chapter 36 of the Dao de Qing, Laozi wrote:
“The soft overcomes the hard.
The slow overcomes the fast.
Let your workings remain a mystery.
Just show people the results.”
While I hope my results will offer someone somewhere helpful inspiration, I do not spend my time looking for anyone to recruit to this way. As I said, we all have our own paths to walk.
We have been afforded a magical and wondrous opportunity to participate in creation. That magic surrounds us everywhere we look. Stillness brings us foursquare into that magic, and it is where I choose to live.
Qigong, taiji, and meditation – the three pillars of a Daoist Longevity Practice. Cultivating stillness, and finding present moment awareness.
This morning, I drank tea on a bench in my garden while my squirrel ate honey-roasted peanuts in my lap. As I said, magic is all around us.