This is the story of my time at Tian Long Gong (Palace of the Celestial Dragon); a journey to Mt. Qingcheng, a journey to my heart. This was something that the child in me had fantasized about, but never did I think I would find myself in such a place, with such a teacher. Time, it seems, will yield the fruit of our dreams should our heart find it self; how wondrous to be a human soul.

Traveling found its conclusion after weeks of making new friends abroad. I was now somewhat accustomed to the pace of life here, but most certainly looking forward to staying in one place and pressing the pause button for a bit. Our van comes to a halt after winding through green mountains. The dirt road gives way to a stone path, going up, up and you guessed it; more up. We unload our packs and supplies needed for the stay, luckily we didn’t need food for the trip as we were to forgo eating while we were here. I knew the walk up the mountain side would be a task, the altitude had already been breaking me in; how quick it was to let me know I’m only a lowly human. I was determined none the less, I would race up and down that mountain in no time and it would be done with! I was bigger and in good shape so of course it falls to me to carry more of the weight, besides; there were ladies there. These are the things you tell yourself right before reality has you huffing and puffing. You know, the pep talk that launches you running, running, panting, sitting; hmmm, this is way harder than I thought! With a little determination we find ourselves relaxing once again, taking in the new surroundings and looking for a sense of what is to come.

Green moss and beautiful plants were all around, no space was wasted and nature was given all the room she needed to stretch out, lending her vibrance to all who could hear. Inside the gates was just the same, the courtyard grown over with all manner of life, how perfectly Taoist! Master Zhang showed us to our rooms and instructed us to stay away from an area where a monk (Master Huang) was going through a practice requiring solitude. After getting the gear settled I made my way to the inner courtyard and found a place to sit atop the stairs there. My eyes closed and I began to breath with the life around me, taking in the energy of the place. Quite suddenly I was overwhelmed, my heart broke open and tears made their way down my cheeks; what was this thing that touched me so? I sat as the water of the spirit flowed over me, cleansing me and preparing me for the days to come; how wondrous it is to have a heart.

Night fell quickly, a welcome conclusion to the laborious day. Our rooms and furnishings were quite simple, this is how it is in a world untouched by the desires of those who would profit from it. I marveled at the construction of the place, elaborate hand carved woodwork that no doubt was built from local materials procured at the hands of a man rather than industry. My bed was simple, but peaceful; outside my room was a beautiful view from the balcony overlooking a valley with all of the colors of life. I smiled and laid my head back, marveling at this new world I had found; marvelous thoughts become a well earned slumber.

Master Zhangs Bells

Morning came with the sound of bells, the call of Master Zhang; a sound which we would become well accustomed to. I sprung to life, eager to experience the day in this newly discovered wonderland. I quickly dressed and made my way downstairs, it was breakfast time and life was on the menu. Following the lead of Master Zhang our group assembled a circle of 5 woven cushions, this would become a common routine and the construct of our classroom. Breakfast was now served, not the breakfast one would expect, but a meal made for immortals. So how exactly does an immortal eat breakfast? With their ears, their nose, their sight, their hearing and their heart! We sat in silence as Master Zhang prepared the water, using an ancient method he began to move energy and infuse it into the water; this is what would sustain our physical bodies for the next 7 days. Along with the water we also ate a dried goji berry, this practice is known as Eigu. After the water was prepared we each received our portion in a small bowl, beautiful tasty water that had come from a mountain spring no more than 50 feet away. Slowly and with great pleasure we took in the water. It’s not enough simply to drink it, one must do so in realization of its beauty. We would pretend like we were monkeys with the most delicious food ever, so delicious that all of the other monkeys around were envious of its splendor!

Having enjoyed our meal, Master Zhang proceeded to explain some of the process to us. The outer doors were closed, he said, this is a symbol of the internal work that we were doing. He instructed us not to speak any more, but to breath and to be in love with the air. With these parting words we were left to practice until the next meal which would be at noon. The palace had been unattended for some time so I decided to put my hands to work, to lend my heart in servitude so that I could that place from which a mans heart can see. There was something in the place touching me and although I could not see it, I wanted to find my hearts sincerity and bow my head.

The days moved along, at each meal we would come together at the beckoning of Master Zhang’s bells; the rest of our day would be spent in meditation or group Qigong practice. I wasn’t bothered at all by not eating, but I did start to feel like a wild animal. My eyes procured a gaze of primal intent, my senses were expanding and I felt as if I was a creature of nature being reborn in the womb of her wilderness. In time this became a strange detachment from the person and senses that first came here.

The next phase was wrought with the emotions I needed to deal with; a tumultuous thing had found me or perhaps I was simply seeing it for the first time. I quite felt like a wild man at this point, I enjoyed each day, but there was a person who I had allowed to bother me. This person was there to observe us in a medical capacity and wasn’t someone who even considered that it was possible for us to be sustained from chi alone. I told myself that I was entitled to practice in peace, that she was out of place and disturbing my practice. Entitlement, as I have learned, is prides twin. I struggled with this for a few days and even became snappy, this person would constantly provide interruption! From the moment I laid eyes upon her I saw a cantankerous spirit. Ironically I first saw her in an airport and immediately knew she would be trouble even though I had no idea she would be part of our group. I still wonder if what I saw in her was true or if it was simply a reflection of the entitlement in my heart. In either case, I clearly had a lot of work to do, but that is why I came here in the first place; to learn and to grow.

My dreams became completely different, not in an subtle manner, but with a vigorous awakening that shook my very consciousness. The first night it happened I was upstairs sound asleep when suddenly a sound and a vibration evoked my consciousness. I found myself floating and meditating, there was a sort of alter and another monk there; the sounds I heard were coming from him. It felt as if I were an intended part of what was happening. A massive energy was all around, the sounds penetrating existence in such a way that they seemed to be free of limits. I was in this state for some time, simply meditating in communion with a ceremony already in process. I didn’t know what to make of this, but I know I was there and that something had lent my being a new awakening. The next day I learned that Master Huang had been meditating in a ceremonial room which was right next to mine, I had somehow become a part of his practice or perhaps just a passive observer who was awakened to it.

The wild feeling in my eyes had began to subside, perhaps a purging which yielded up a newly exposed softness. I hadn’t given much thought to going without food, but I suppose that in the back of my mind I expected to be weakened by laborious efforts of traversing the mountainous terrain; this was not the case. I felt vibrant and was eager to practice my kung fu, there was absolutely no lack of energy. I spent nearly all of my waking moments breathing from my dan tien and communing with the life around me; it had become a permanent canter giving me life and making me one with nature. Breath is everything, realizing the beauty and connection of our breath is the key to our communion.

We were there to learn Qigong, but what better place to practice your Kung Fu! My first attempt was quite humorous and filled my belly with hilarity. I love the Dao (sword), you can fly through the air with it and wrap it around your body, such a magnificent expression of a humans playfulness. In my exploration I had found a few rooms with training tools, I found many strange weapons I had not seen before and eventually procured a Dao… yes! The courtyard was covered with an algae or moss of sorts, very slippery when it rains which is almost a daily routine at Mt. Qingcheng. I stepped out into the courtyard with sword in hand, ready to express my energy in what is a very familiar practice for me. I got about 2 steps and 1 spin in when the earth slipped right out from under me and I found myself face up in a puddle, what can you do but laugh? Who was I to think I would express mastery without a reminder of humility; how playful this place is, together we laughed.

Brian practicing BaGua

Over the next few days I would spend some time practicing my Bagua linear forms; Yin Fu is a personal favorite of mine. One afternoon Master Zhang called out to me, Brian.. come here! I stopped and made my way to his perch, eager to carry out what ever task he had for me. He complemented my Kung Fu, but said that I was only playing at the beginner level. Don’t worry, he said, most masters only play at the beginner level. He told me that I needed to use the sensory connections developed in my Qigong, to practice your Kung Fu without this expression is all for not. He then motioned for me to go and try it again. I understood just what he was saying and in realizing the truth in his words I shook my head at the years of practice I’ve given in vain. I took my place in the courtyard and began the form again, this time with all of the animal expression I had learned from him. The form became alive and vibrant, energy moved with 100 times its normal feeling. When I came to the end there was a loud thunder on the mountain, Master Zhang said, see Brian, even heaven applauds! I was not so eager to relish in success, rather I was humbled by the beauty of our being; heaven smiled upon me that day and my heart was brighter for it.

Before we knew it our 7 days were coming to an end and it was time to journey to a sacred cave for a special ceremony. We started out single file up a footpath winding around the mountain, life was in bloom all around us and we felt quite connected to it all. Along the way we paused to learn about some of the edible plants there, Master Zhang was showing us how to eat the plants and use their essence to nourish us. I thought, how cool is this, to be able to walk outside your house and live off of the wilderness; nothing ever tasted so sweet. There was a lot of walking ahead of us, but we were full of life and literally vibrating with its energy. Master Zhang showed us how to breath as we walked, by communing with the plants we can continue without stopping to rest. I tried it and wow… works like a charm! I thought, why didn’t he tell us this before!? Then I thought, how could I have not deduced this on my own!? I’m a smart fellow, but an oblivious one too; in any event I was now able to run up and down the mountains with out tiring. Eventually we made it to the cave, I would tell you more, but what happens in the cave stays in the cave.

Morning dawns and I find myself sitting at the front gates looking over the valley. A steam rises from the canopy like a dragon making its way up the mountain side; I was breathing with the steam and filling myself with the life of ancients. As I sat there I felt something rub against my back. I had heard the sounds of a cat the previous day and being fond of animals I knew that the cat had found me and was loving on me. I sat there as I received a beautiful gift, nature was there to love me and my heart was glowing. Eventually the cat stopped and I turned to greet it, but to my surprise there was nothing there! There was also no place for any animal to have escaped my sight! I’ve experienced many strange things, but this most certainly perplexed me; I just received a massage from a force I could not see! I quickly found Master Zhang as I was anxious for an explanation, but asking a Taoist for an explanation is like asking to know the riddle of life; you’re not going to get a straight answer. He laughed and said that it was an immortal spirit. I would certainly entertain such a notion, but I also know how playful Master Zhang is; I eventually concluded that he was leaving me to discover the truth for myself. It was once written; The Way is not an ordinary path; it’s the root of nature and destiny, the opening of life and death. To speak of it is constraining, to practice it sublime.

My smile couldn’t have been any bigger which is quite a feat because I’m the goofy sort who is smiling all the time. I felt as if I could have floated down the mountain! Life and love was mine to hold, and with this, I was ready to return to America a new creature; a man with new eyes. It’s now months after my journey and things are still opening inside of me, some medicine takes time and luckily I have plenty of that! Tian Long Gong will forever hold a special place in my heart.