By Germaine Fraser
"Thirty spokes meet at the wheel's hub.
It is the center hole that makes it useful.
Shape clay into a vessel.
It is the space within that makes it useful.
Cut doors and windows into a room.
It is the holes that make it useful.
Therefore, benefit comes from what is there,
Usefulness from what is not there."
—Lao Tsu, Tao Te Ching
Here I am in Beijing 's White Cloud Temple, one of the oldest temples in Beijing . An ancient walled-in refuge from the bright shiny new Beijing face the Olympics will be exhibiting shortly. I am in China with a group of Taoist Qigong practitioners, studying at various places in the ‘middle kingdom’, Beijing being our first stop. We will learn a shamanic form from a Female Immortal lineage holder, climb vertical mountains, explore and live in temple caves and search our individual practices in a place that has deeply cultivated these activities for over 4,000 years. Beijing is said to have the best fenshui of any city in this enormous country. The city planned 3,000 years ago, is very intentionally placed at the base of a ring of mountains. Even in the most hectic places in this hugely populated city and in its parks, there is a softness. Having walked through TianTan Park (their Central Park) and spent time watching and waiting there, I can tell you there are thousands of Cypress trees which aid and support this softness. I am intrigued, beguiled and charmed by them and how they diffuse energy.
My main intention coming here is to find a little corner to do some Authentic Movement (a spontaneous Qigong form which is very like AM). Since I woke up this morning, it has been very clear this is what I am needing to do today. The temple, like most temple compounds is maze-like. Composed of little houses juxtaposed and connected to each other, divided and related to narrow pathways that take you to yet other small squares of one-room clustered buildings, small gardens or temples. Fat sticks of incense burn in large cauldrons outside specific temples which house huge ceramic figurines bedecked in ornate silk clothing. I meander, mostly alone, happily getting lost in the maze. I find a temple dedicated to Kwan Yin. She is the bodhisattva goddess who refused to become immortal until all suffering was alleviated from the world and who is very present in all our travels on this trip. I credit the softness in the mountains and in the country at large at least in part to her radical spirit of selfless caring. Her spirit is very active. She's everywhere. So I try to keep her message of compassion close, to keep my heart open as I travel forward or sideways (or backwards!) in these alleyways. Her temple, not surprisingly, is very crowded; not the place to do moving so I keep wandering.
At the farthest backend of the compound I find a lovely open square pleasingly framed off on all 4 sides by open corridors and small gardens. Someone’s laundry hangs on a short line. There is a large square raised platform, off the uneven stone ground 10-15 feet. The side near the building’s wall has an exquisite painting; the other three sides are open but have a protective wood railing serving to contain the space. The floor is wide red-painted wood planks. Here I am. I’ve found my Authentic Movement space.
I am one of the more furtive seekers looking for a movement space from my group of 40, so I have reached this far end first and am quite alone. I go up to the space and walk around it a few times and take some time to look at the floor to ceiling painting. It’s one of these impossible epic odyssey paintings that has ten plots happening at once. It is depicted from the angle of an angel looking at the aerial side of a mountain. There are deities riding chariots through clouds, expressive humans and immortals creating peace and havoc at various landing spots, while different precipitations and weather patterns move through and flying dragons get ready to make their move. Beautiful. Overwhelming. I feel humbled before it. The rafters in this covered platform are brightly painted and gorgeous with little vignette paintings in the center of each beam. I am surrounded by nature and art, my favorite place to be.
I sit quietly for a bit, sinking into the depth of the space and the self. I am aware of the light white pollution soot that covers everything and which is everywhere. I feel it on my skin, in my mouth; my clothes are dusted with it. It’s impossible to escape. So, I take it along with me. Some of my qigong colleagues are beginning to filter in and out of the space below. I feel quite safe and unencumbered up on the platform. A couple of dour monks have walked by, hands behind their backs, scowling as they inspect today’s invasion. Some young assistant-initiate monks, their long black braids swinging, look curiously from one side to the other. And there is a nondescript old woman. She is sitting on one of the high thresholds of the corridors watching me. She is my Authentic Movement witness. The distance between us is considerable, but even from here I can see how centered she is in her own body and I can feel her female interest. I decide to have a relationship with her from 200 yards. I move into the space exactly when it feels right, rising to stand to face the painting.
One of the great things about being fifty years old is I’ve stopped caring who sees me do what anymore or how I look doing it. (Or maybe this is from doing AM for 20 years?) I feel very free, unrestrained, un-selfconscious, caution is to the wind. I am only interested in this Moment, Now, and how this body’s intelligence stays with that. And it’s a ride, alright. Perhaps the dragon, chariot and deity energies have jumped off the wall and entered this body. The movement starts off in large fast dynamic arcs, eating up huge quantities of space in short periods of time. There is leaping, arching and high legs, deep dips and extremely fast pivoting turns. The panting is surprisingly minimal. I am wearing a loose opaque rayon shirt over a silky camisole. I find myself enjoying the shirt lightly gather around my ears as my torso is thrust forward, or whipping around the back, sliding easily over the slippery camisole as the body torques left and right and legs/arms whip along with it. The raised wood floor makes its uneven heaving sounds as I pounce and flash about. I find myself running the circumference of it at fast speeds, the inner arm playing the sharp stabilizing point on a compass’ needle.
My witness has moved to a different viewing angle, but is still quite strongly attentive in her body. I think I see a small smile as she sits very still on a step under one of the corridor arches. There are a few still points in the session where I find myself facing her, these many yards away. There is something so liberating in just facing another person, a person you don’t know and they are facing you, and you are breathing together. For some reason, this is such an unlikely occurrence in this world we live in. But there we are, in the back of the temple compound, steeped in time, simply facing each other. Open. Don’t know each other. But do. She’s my grandmother, mother, my sister. She’s me. She is the cut door and window in Lao Tsu’s room. Maybe I am the spoke to her wheel hub. Or maybe I’m an eccentric Caucasian woman leaping around her temple’s compound. When I see her as I am standing there, I have a sense she is seeing something she never thought she’d see, something imagined or hoped for. I feel like I am making her day. God knows she is a part of making mine. Her gaze is very strong and steady and she is very planted in herself. I too am reflecting this. And I think maybe this raised platform was meant for a woman to move ecstatically on it and here I am answering some ageless bequest or perhaps, the prayers of masses of others, be they painted on a wall or delivered osmotically from ages past. Obviously, this movement is not my own; hugely influenced by antiquity, this place and a time. I am somehow embodying something someone in me understands, but damned if the rest of me knows what it is. Mystery. China exudes it. And it is the Authentic Movement form’s unspoken understanding.
This session is about 45 minutes long, during which time I occasionally slow up and look around to see my colleagues doing their slow, focused practice, sometimes watching each other, sometimes quietly moving out of the space. I feel supported here, whether I be sweating profusely, sooty whiteness sticking to wet flesh or crossing diagonals backwards in large swooping gestures. I finish by sitting quietly as I began, on the dusty ground. I feel released, that universal prayers have been answered, that wide red planks have felt a woman’s thunder. Upon rising to go, the air is clear and cool against my damp skin, my body is loose and grateful. I see my witness’ back enter a door into a small house beyond the corridor. I pause, face the maze back from where I came, transformed from when I entered.
ⓒ Germaine Fraser 2008