Everyone who really knows me knows my hair is my thing. I love to get it cut in sassy styles and color it in ways where natural is not even a question. I have a great hair stylist, Lyndon. He has been getting me ready for trips for 25 years. This time was no exception. I got on that plane highlighted and sassy. I bring a blow dryer too. Yep. I do. And this hair that looks so great? It was a topic of conversation at breakfast the other day when I was reminded it has been under a hat the whole time! Still, one must have their rituals, seen or unseen. I have other’s too: tea, Earl Grey in the morning and Floating Leaves Pu’er and Ooling throughout the day. I bring creams and salves for my face and knees. A pack of dried Mangos. Over the years I have honed these comfort rituals to the bare essentials; they all help smooth body and soul through this rarified experience of Village Training.
Yesterday was Day Three. Day Three has a sacred place in the ritual of our Ten Day trainings. It is the day where the rhythms of wake, eat, train, eat, rest, train, eat walk around, get a snack, do laundry, fall asleep while reading or taking notes, set it. It is the day where our group’s sense of humor goes hilariously dark and a bit, as the Brits might say, dodgy. Its the day where swearing is easier. Its the day when the pain really sets in: shoes can never have enough padding to give comfort as Grandmaster sinks you deep onto and then far below the hard tile. Day Three is when every thigh cell explodes and screams for mercy and the only comfort ritual is to count to one hundred over and over again, digging deeper into discipline and determination to stay bent that low. Its the day the mind considers again why it is putting the body through what it is going through and decides if it will never or always bring that body back to this floor in this place to do this again. And its just over half way through to the halfway point.
Day Three can come anytime. There have been years where it has been the third day. Others where is has been the sixth day. This year my Day Three was Day Two. For who knows why things were just not clicking. I was feeling uninspired, uncomfortable and dejected about my practice. It was the day where I thought I hadn’t been practicing enough or not making enough progress or I’ll never get this so why bother. It was the day I was sure my teacher had given up on me. It was the day I thought about the many other things I could be doing with my time. I worried about my school, my family, my house, my money, my cat. And to top if off, my hair is in a hat! So when I entered the practice hall on Day Three, I had some choices to make.
As I set my body in position for Standing I decided. I decided if I was to make it through day three I needed to very intentionally let go of all that chatter. No matter what happens, no matter what corrections I receive or do not receive, no matter how I feel about myself, my future, my past, my skill and lack of it, no matter what is going on, will or will not go on out there, I had to let all of it go. And I had to do it over and over again for as long as it took to be inside of my practice and not somewhere else. Chen Xiao Xing arrived behind me and the correction process began. It was brutal. The myriad corrections I received throughout the day were similarly brutal. I stayed with it. I kept looking for that place in my body where my mind had nothing to say. I found it once or twice. It evaporated. Chatter began. I decided to let it go, over and over again. The chatter, the lack of chatter came and went many times on Day Three. I kept deciding to let it go. I had one of the best days of training I have had in my life.
I know people wonder why we do this. It has to be a strange thing to read about friends and teachers and family coming all this way to be cold, eat simply, sleep in hard beds and be in such a high level of discomfort for so many days without relief. We wonder why we do this. Why we take ourselves out of our fluffy down comforters, stocked refrigerators and closets full comfortable shoes. So many choices to be at ease in an easy life. Why be so uncomfortable? Why be so challenged? For years I have been writing about this same question, looking for answers. They are always the same: I want to find my personal Taijiquan as deeply as possible in my body. I want to eat at the table with the rarified community of others who ask this same question of themselves. In any number of circumstances over my 60+ years, I have learned I will endure a great deal of discomfort to glimpse that place between the duality my mind is addicted to. I don’t know if the duality or doubt or questioning ever leaves, it hasn’t yet, but I will live ten thousand Day Threes for just one of those glimpses where it might.
Over the past couple days I continue to wander around the Village during our breaks, taking in the changes. I get lost in the mazes of new and still relatively uninhabited Hutongs. In one wandering I was so turned around I had no idea how to get back. Fortunately one of the residents was outside eating her noodles for lunch. The green puffy-clad foreigner must have looked forlorn! I simply said: Chen Xiao Xing! She laughed and strongly pointed the way. I found my way back to the school and the dorms, relieved. How I could get lost in Chenjiagou was beyond me. But, I found my way back. It is a unique place, this place. No matter what external changes rise and fall, for hundreds of years children and adults train and train and train. Are they looking for their glimpses I wonder? Or perhaps even better, they have found the answer I have not yet found: they have ceased looking for them at all.
As it turns out I have created a bit of a mythology about Day Three in my earlier reports of these Village Adventures. Robert from Reading, one of the newbies here, writes about it and his personal adventure in his very fine blog.
The image on this post is from the mural along the street. It represents the Well from which we drink the water of Chenjiagou. Upon drinking, it is said, our legs shake.