Every road you take in life teaches you something new. So it’s not a surprise that traveling to the other side of the world holds many new discoveries!
And since we strive to be enlightened travelers, we brought back some of our favorite insights to share with you!
We’ve been so excited to share our pictures of China and stories about what we learned!
Off the top of our heads, some of our favorite experiences were:
Hiking in the Wudang mountains.
Learning elemental Qi Gong from a grandmaster
Attending a gala thrown by the Wudang Wushu Association.
We Are All Living On One Earth
The first thing we noticed, before we had ever landed from our horrifically long flight over, was how surprisingly similar the landscape looked to ours in the U.S.
It looked just like we were flying into Los Angeles! There were just normal houses with backyards and streets and hills. It looked just like Earth.
Now, this isn’t exactly surprising in some ways, we all know we’re on the same planet. But having flown to the other side of the world, we expected things to look more unusual!
But the airport looked just like an airport at home, and the landscape looked just like a landscape usually does.
It was so clear from up in the air just how connected the whole world is.
As astronaut Sultan bin Salman al-Saud put it, “The first day we all pointed to our own countries. The third or fourth day we were pointing to our continents. By the fifth day we were aware of only one Earth.”
We may not have gotten as high up in the sky, but we got the same lesson none-the-less. Earth looks like Earth. It’s one planet and one people.
This made all the harmful fighting between countries over time seem even more meaningless, and highlighted just how important it is to remember we are all one.
Sadly, we were too excited to remember to take a picture of our first view of the first landscape. But if you were there, you’d totally get what we mean.
Wudang Mountain: Just As Spiritual As It Promised To Be
Soon we were on our way to the historic Wudang Mountain.
This is the place where Taoism came into being: where masters have meditated and searched for enlightenment, where historic figures witnessed natural occurrences that inspired Taoism, and where students have practiced for centuries honing in on the power of chi.
In fact, there are still monks out in the mountain ranges meditating on the meaning of life, enlightenment, and internal power today!
Sure, there’s a little hotel, and tourism in the most iconic places…
But there are also hidden caves and temples all throughout the mountain ranges of Wudang where people still practice in solitude.
Nothing has really changed there. It’s still the same spiritual hot spot it was centuries ago!
Every great natural wonder is powerful in its own way, and being near a huge mountain range like this one is incredible. There’s a very distinct feeling to them.
With soothing mist and fog, majestic pointed peaks, and lush vegetation, Wudang is stunning. But its unique energy is one of the most beautiful parts about it.
When you’re in the mountains, it feels like everything is rising up. Almost like the mountains are about to start levitating, and you want to float up with them!
This may not be not what you might expect from such massive mountains, but we all felt the same floating sensation!
And when you look at all the spiritual leaders who came from Wudang (and their specific emphasis on enlightenment, yin energy, and connecting higher) it makes complete sense.
The mountains in Wudang have an energy that clearly influenced the great people who have lived there.
It is definitely the wonder it is said to be. And this was, without a doubt, the most moving part of the trip for us!
Yin and Yang
Throughout our research, studies of qigong, and experience in China, it became abundantly clear that yin and yang are two of the most misunderstood concepts in the West.
In fact, most people don’t even pronounce it right! That’s how little we know.
Some people pronounce yin as “ying.” Others pronounce yang with a hard “a” sound like in “cake.”
But yin is actually pronounced in a way where it would rhyme with skin, and yang is pronounced with a soft “a” so it would rhyme with “song”.
Pronunciation aside though, there’s 3 MAJOR lessons we want to share with you guys.
We really enjoyed learning these 3 concepts and hope to revisit it later on and really expand upon it further:
Yin & Yang can be used in a way to describe the nature/state-of-being of something RELATIVE to something else. That means nothing is permanently yin or yang.
However, when people talk about something being either yin or yang in a more “permanent” way, the standard is its comparison to human energy (chi). That’s because we’re already very effected by our own energy levels.
Here’s some examples to highlight this point:
When describing the nature/energy/state-of-being of the sun and the earth, we’re not saying what the energy is permanently, but what the energy is like in comparison to human energy. That means that the sun would be considered yang, while the earth would be yin.
But let’s say you were comparing the earth to the moon in relation to human energy. The earth would be more yang than the moon, which would be yin. (This is what we mean by relative…the earth can be either yin or yang when comparing to something else in relation to human energy).
However, the earth and the sun and the moon all have “permanent” labels. This is because it’s all in relation to the general state of human energy. That’s why the earth and moon are both considered yin, while the sun is yang.
(Long story short, if you were an alien species living on another planet, it could be entirely different. Permanent labels aren’t permanent, just the standard in relation to human energy.)
To say something is yang would mean that it has a stronger energy whereas yin would be a lighter energy.
Anything that is living (plants, animals, human, etc.) consist of both yang and yin energy. It’s through the maintenance and upkeep of the yin and yang chi throughout the body that keeps something like an organ healthy and functioning.
Yin & Yang are much more than just philosophical concepts and terms to define the state of something. Most people we’ve talked to consider them to be very physical and real energies.
In fact, one advanced lineage of qigong considers yang energy to be very similar to nuclear power whereas yin energy is very similar to the force of gravity.
Bonus fact: Yin & Yang don’t attract each other like magnetic poles. They’re actually constantly struggling, trying to compliment one another, only to repel against each other.
One of the days we actually practiced on the large Yin-Yang outside our hotel.
Even the potholes in Wudang have a Yin-Yang on them!
Because of this, yin and yang are two concepts that are HUGE elements of the Chinese culture, no matter your religious affiliation. And it’s through the interaction of these energies and basic principles, on both a large and small scale, that they have come to understand the world around them.
In fact, the whole premise of qigong focuses around these concepts. Obviously in a much deeper way though.
Grand Master Ting-Jue Zhou
On this amazing trip, we were fortunate enough to be traveling with a Grand Master of Qigong.
Our teacher, Master Zhou is renown in China as a true spiritual healer and practitioner of qigong. He has helped many people through his healing, and shares the philosophies of Qigong and Tai chi with the western world.
We were fortunate enough to learn from him while traveling through his home country, the temples where he studied healing and martial arts, and personal hometown, as well as back here in LA.
He shared some of his experiences training and learning in the mountains and surrounding temples. He even demonstrated some of his skills for us and government officials who met with us.
One story he told us really drove home how devoted he was:
Back when he was training in his younger years, he would to have to carry all of his food up to the peak of the Golden Summit (the highest peak of the Wudang mountain range) on his back! It would take him a full 24 hours to hike all the way up! He hiked at day and night, uphill, carrying all of his provisions, just to get to the top and start training!
He had to be very dedicated to learn about Qigong and healing! That being said, he was pretty thrilled about the modernization that made Wudang more accessible now. And was happy to take a bus and cable car up instead this time.
It was amazing to share in the experiences of a Grand Master, especially since there are so few. We felt honored to be traveling with him!
But Why Are There So Few Teachers Of Qigong?
Secrecy is a huge part of the qigong world. Most of the healing and internal martial arts practices that originated in China 2400-ish years ago are long out of the public’s reach.
Instead, most of what we’re left with are watered down versions of an ancient art.
But why is this?
A long time ago (NOT in a galaxy far, far away…) there was a guy by the name of Da Mo (also known by his Indian name Bodhidharma) who pretty much brought Buddhism over to China from India.
At some point he arrived at the Shaolin Temple, only to find the monks sickly and weak from their rigorous meditation training.
Well, 9 years later, Da Mo wrote two major and respected works that are fairly well known as being some of the more authoritative works of qigong.
The first work taught the monks how to become stronger through a series of exercises and meditation training and greatly effected their martial art abilities. So much so, it pretty much led to different branches/studies of kung fu.
The second work was much more difficult and demanding. It taught how to use energy for health, longevity, and enlightenment.
Now, many yogi’s and qigong monks were known then for their amazing power and abilities they attained from their rigorous training and meditation. Because of this, the government at the time wanted to not only learn this, but use it to their advantage. Essentially, they wanted to weaponize the monk’s abilities to help maintain power and authority.
As a result of both the demanding training and the interest of powerful rulers, the training became more and more secretive over time. Not only that, but to be worthy of such an art required a student to show significant dedication, morality, patience, and trustworthiness.
It was very common to have a master withhold key secrets to their practice until a student had proved themselves worthwhile. And you can bet that those key secrets made all the difference.
Now fast-forward hundreds of years later, and you’ll see how little the practice was successfully passed on, compared to the first work that Da Mo wrote.
That’s why today, most of what used to be the result of hard work and dedication is instead known in myths and legends.
And the rare few who have learned elements and portions of the ancient practice either retreat from public in fear of being used and studied (preventing them of pushing their potential even more), or come forward to try and teach and spread awareness of their art, only to be met with intense skepticism by the public (which is a whole other can of worms that relates back to our current problem of spiritual materialism in modern society).
The Kindness Of Strangers
The last lesson we learned didn’t actually have anything to do with Qigong, Tai Chi, healing, or Taoism. In fact, it was just about the human spirit and how inspiring people can be.
Everyone has heard stories of being stopped to take pictures with locals when you visit certain countries, one of which is China. This was our experience as well.
But it wasn’t weird at all! In fact, it was incredibly open-hearted!
Sure, sometimes when we found ourselves in a small town or place where tourism is very infrequent, we were seen as a novelty. And people did come up and ask for a picture.
But what people don’t always share is how flattering everyone is! Every one of us what complimented profusely every time someone wanted to take a picture with us. It felt like being a movie star!
But this isn’t actually why most people take pictures. It more about being open and friendly!
In China, locals were so open and kind it was overwhelming. Even with limited communication, people expressed so much friendship.
People would take our hands, pat our shoulders, or pet our arms, all the while complimenting us and saying how much they hope we enjoy China.
It was so open it would be seen as shocking here in the states. But there it was, as natural as saying hello to a neighbor. People introduced themselves and showed kindness to strangers like we could be best friends if we stayed a little longer.
We were called kind nicknames like, “American Sister” or “Qigong Brother.” It was like building instant friendships. There was such an openness expressed by them that it was easy to put our walls down and feel connected.
So when someone suggested we take a picture, it was the only appropriate choice! Of course we’d want a picture with our new friend!
The only downfall was how sad it was to have to leave so many new friends, especially since they seemed almost as affectionate as people we’d known for years!
This warmth and kindness were foreign at first, and we missed taking some of our own pictures as we acclimated to such openness. But after being around it for a few days, it was so sad to leave it!
It’s definitely a trait we aspire to absorb into our way of life. And those pictures with “strangers” are actually pictures of dear “5 minute friends!”
A Trip To Be Remembered
Our trip to China was amazing, and we definitely hope to return some day! It’s a beautiful country of wonderful people, places, and teachings.