The Dragon’s Teeth Mountains
It has been said that a river never looks back. The Lijiang is no exception as it meanders magnificently through the magical karst landscapes of Guangxi province towards the South China Sea. It is here that I dubbed the karst formations that garland the Lijiang, ‘The Dragon’s Teeth Mountains’ – for that is what they looked like, large teeth sticking out of the earth as if from nowhere. No gradual slopes, no foothills, just a mountain standing tall and erect with steep inclines that barely a mountain goat could clamber. Some were majestic, others imposing, and still others beckoning the hearts of poets and artists to entwine their soul with the spirit of the mountains and mark their encounter with either a quill or a brush.
Just a month after my close encounter with death in South Africa, after having been hogtied with a gun to my head, I arrived in China in the dead of night. Earlier that day I had crossed the Hong Kong – China border on foot between a coach that had just dropped me off on one side of the border and one that awaited my appearance the other side of the formalities. Having travelled to Hungary and Czechoslovakia during the early 1980’s, I had expected much the same as I entered the belly of Communist China. To my surprise the welcome was warm and friendly, a far cry from the Eastern European apparatchiks of yesteryear. A little while later I found myself sitting in a lounge at Shenzhen airport casually chatting to Chinese businessmen whilst waiting for my delayed flight to Guilin, a city famed not only its landscape but also for its osmanthus flowers and the delectable osmanthus wine, a fortified and sweet elixir.
As my taxi left Guilin airport we started the two hour journey to Yangshuo, at first hobbling along an unlit pot holed dirt road, then negotiating sharp bends with oncoming trucks that were bellowing enough black smoke to darken even the night sky. As we joined the main country road to our destination I experienced my first glimpse of the Dragon’s Teeth silhouetted against a crisp and clear obsidian canopy bejewelled with stars. I was captivated by the mysterious forms, each appearing to be an individual or a presence in its own right, standing tall above paddy fields and orange groves as if they were ancient guardians whose task was to oversee and protect the land that rests at their feet. As I absorbed the mysterious images I uttered to myself ‘Oh my good God, I’m in the middle of China, how did I get here?’.
Two hours passed and in the chill of night my taxi finally arrived at the Snow Lion Inn situated on the banks of the Lijiang. It was very dark, just a light or two casting their beams out into the blackness. Despite my tiredness I was wide eyed for I was indeed in China, a land cloaked in so much mystery for a curious western mind. The entrance to the inn was a large double wooden door decorated with traditional Chinese characters, it was of course red. I was captivated by the doors themselves and I imagined that they were perhaps just smaller versions of the type of doors protecting the Forbidden City from the invading Mongol hoards. As I gazed with both curiosity and wonder at the imposing doorway, suddenly a crack appeared along with the unmistakeable groaning sound of such large objects moving. The door opened in a fashion reminiscent of a castle door to reveal the slight statures of two young women. They eagerly rushed towards my vehicle, greeted me in English, and then proceeded to gather my belongings with the help of the driver despite the fact that my large suitcase had to be bigger than either of them in both dimension and weight.
Shortly afterwards I was in my room making acquaintance with my first Chinese bed. It was hard. However, I knew that both my tiredness and my jetlag would not keep sleep away, no matter the hardness of the bed. I had been in my room for less than ten minutes attempting some rudimentary unpacking when a knock came to my door. On opening it I was greeted by Linna, a young woman of twenty two, who presented me with a bowl of hot soup and a bottle of water. I felt welcomed and settled into to my room, almost merging with the warm and tasty soup like a young child cuddling up with a teddy bear. The large brown bowl of soup expressed welcome in a way that only soup can. Minutes later I entered a deep sleep only to be greeted by a dawn chorus in what seemed to be just a fleeting moment later. My Jetlag only deigned to afford me six hours sleep and wide awake I was. I could have done with nine hours sleep but the Dragon’s Teeth were beckoning to my soul to venture out and explore this hitherto mysterious land that was so richly adorned with thousands of years of history and tradition. I stepped onto my balcony on that early morn to see giant bamboo of the like I had never seen before. Many were taller than a three story building with deep green thick trunks that I was later to learn were fashioned into bamboo rafts. My images of bamboo had hitherto been of delicate plants being daintily chewed upon by an adorable Panda or as an adornment in a refined royal garden. This bamboo was positively substantial almost to the point of being megalithic. Again, as I looked at my new surroundings the thought and feeling I had had the night before arose within me: ‘Oh my good God, I’m in the middle of China’.
Whereas visiting China has become fairly commonplace for many a western tourist in the past decade, in the mind of a child of the sixties being in China was as exotic and mysterious as travelling down the Nile to Khartoum on a dhow, or traipsing to Lhasa, Mandalay or Timbuktu, the stuff of Indiana Jones. However, a modern aeroplane, not a biplane, dropped me off in the most modern of cities, Hong Kong, bringing me most of the way to my current location. I’m fairly convinced that I was born not only in the wrong decade but also with the wrong financial credentials which is testimony to my expectations when buying a first class train ticket from Pune to Bombay earlier that year. What I had expected was a dining car with a mahogany interior replete with wallahs, a silver samovar and linen table cloths. The price should have been the give away, what I got was the least dirty and dishevelled carriage on a journey that took five hours to cover just one hundred and eighty kilometres.
China had beckoned me and in answer to her call I spent the next few months deepening my experience of her traditions and culture and embarking on my own path of self healing through Tai Chi and Chi Gong. After a brief stay at the Snow Lion Inn I moved into an apartment in the centre of town. It was busy, full of traders, market people and street vendors offering everything from trinkets to live chickens in a woven basket. After several weeks of studying at one school, I moved on to another teacher, Mei. She spoke good English and I learnt that it was rather unusual to have a female Tai Chi Master, not only that, but that she personally had to go against the wishes of her family and challenge the culture in which she was raised in order to follow her passion for Tai Chi. I arrived at her school full of the expectation that she would be most impressed with my Tai Chi, after all, I had dedicated six hours a day, six days a week to the task. However, to my dismay she was underwhelmed by my attention to detail and my ability to actually be fully present in my body. For two solid weeks she had me practise one movement and one movement only – grounding my Tan Tien into the earth, sinking the roots of my feet deeply into its core and allowing the upwelling of pure positive Chi to fill me from the bottom up. After a couple of days of what seemed like monotonous torture I complained and asked her why she was holding me back when so many other students seemed to be progressing towards ballet like graceful skills. She looked at me and told me the following story.
‘Long ago a Tai Chi master was travelling across the country on a long journey when he stopped at a village for some rest. The men of the village on learning that he was a Tai Chi master begged him to teach them the secrets of Chi and the Tao. He taught them the first movement, grounding into the earth and did so for more than a month. One morning the men of the village noticed that that the Master was gathering his belongings as if to leave the village. ‘Where are you going’ they cried. ‘I must be on my way, I have a long way to go’ he replied. The village men were dismayed and said to him ‘How can you leave? You have not yet taught us the other movements? The Master replied ‘Did I say that I wouldn’t teach you the other movements? For surely I will. I shall be back in a year or two to check on your progress with the first movement’.
It was a defining moment. Not only was I humbled by the story but also touched by the care with which it was told. I realised that I had fallen foul of the Westerner’s disease: ‘I want it now, I want it all’. I continued for another week with the first movement and it was in that movement that magic began to happen. Intense life force energies began coursing through my body, my spine becoming hot and tingly and my pelvis becoming alive with sensations that were akin to sexual orgasm.
Each day I would walk two kilometres to school and two kilometres back. Sometimes with a friend, sometimes alone. As my energies increased, so did my sensitivity. I had been somewhat numb in the aftermath of the armed robbery and the new aliveness was both a blessing and also a challenge as a wide variety of feelings began to surface. During my morning, lunch and evening walks along the river to and from school my relationship to my environment began to change. I began to experience the river as a being, a being that was as real as you or I. It had pulse, it had moods and it had consciousness. Not only that, my initial experience of the karst formations as beings began to be revealed to me. I would often sit on the banks of the Lijiang simply gazing across her at the mountains that formed the Dragon’s Teeth, watching her every movement, fascinated with the array of currents within her. One bright and sunny day as I sat in the dappled light under the canopy of fresh green leaves that adorned the many trees along the Lijiang’s banks, I stared into the crevice between two mountains on the opposite bank. There in front of my eyes stood a vast angelic being, wings spread high and wide, filling the space between the two megaliths. I was captivated by what I was witnessing and as I had not seen such things so vividly since early childhood. I welcomed the experience as if I was greeting a friend I had not seen in many, many years.
‘Who are you?’ I asked
‘I am a guardian of this land’ the being replied
‘Guardian? How can you be a guardian if you cannot stop them from polluting the land?’ I questioned
‘I am not a guardian who rules or punishes I hold in my heart the longing of all beings, Earth and everything on it to be at one. I cannot dictate who listens to the call of my heart, but I sing night and day anyway, for those who will listen, who can listen. Neither do I mourn nor weep for the loss of nature for it simply returns from whence it came as you shall too one day, everything it temporary, you, this entire world’ came the Guardian’s reply.
‘So, you are not hurt by all of the plastic bags that are thrown into the river? You are not hurt by the lack of birds as too many have been eaten?’
‘The spirit is never destroyed; you simply forget that you are it, that you are spirit. You have forgotten and in this moment you are remembering again, re-connecting to what has always been here. Do you remember the old man by the tree who spoke to you when you were young? Do you remember?’ The Guardian asked
‘Yes, I remember. Well, I do now, very vividly’ I replied.
‘That was me. Not me in the form you see now, as a spirit of the land and mountains, and not me in the way you think of individuals, but me as connected to all life in all forms in all places. We are many voices, many forms of one soul that is both you and not you. We are the ever present; we are the silence,that which is yet to be born and yet has always existed. We dream the dream in which you find yourself in this very moment. When this dream comes to an end, we will dream another, and another and another until you learn to be awake and mindful of the dreams you are dreaming instead of suffering in a nightmare over which you believe you have no control of or any part in. Awaken young one, awaken!’.
‘So, all the plastic bags and litter flowing down the river doesn’t matter?’ I asked
‘Your mind is littered with lies you have told yourself about your true nature just as the lies you have all told yourself about being separate from the river, the mountains and the sky. This litter you speak of is but an expression of how you have polluted your own mind with the all the denials of your own true nature. You hold yourself separate from that which is the deepest truth and this separateness is manifest in all that you witness here. Dream a new dream and the litter will disappear’ the Guardian admonished. Little did I know that these words would lead to even greater discoveries.
I sat in silence contemplating this communication and what my eyes had seen. The Guardian was right. Just as Jesus had once said to his disciples ‘you will deny me three times before the cock crows’, I too had denied my true nature for many years. I had had so many glimpses of the truth of who we really are and yet I invariably walked away from it, falling into the trap of believing that it was what I did, had and became that defined me.
As a child I could see dead people, who were very much alive, I could see fairies, devas, gnomes and the spirit of trees. My childhood world was alive with the other worlds, unseen by most, felt by many, and yet denied. In the days that followed this fresh encounter with spirit I contemplated not only my own separation from Self but how humanity had managed to separate itself from its true nature. I truly began to see that when we are separated from ourselves it would be quite easy to toss a plastic bag into a river or to discard waste with no thought to the consequences. When we are not aware of Self, how can we possibly be aware of our environment? If I am not aware of my own true nature, how can I possibly be witness to another’s true nature? If I only look at the world through my mask then I can only expect to see my own projections.
My life story had been one of disappointment; it was the theme of so many aspects of my life – relationships, finances, my work, opportunities. It seemed that so many things simply crumbled just before I could grasp at them or take them in. They would be there, all visible in their shining glory and as I would reach out to them, they faded, came to nothing, simply dissolved into nothingness.
The telepathic communication went to the very core of my being. I had been reminded of a voice I had once known very well, not only as a child, but also as an adult about a decade previously. It was so easy to dismiss such voices for everything and everyone around me seemed to be telling me that such things were fanciful to the extent of being some sort of escapism. After all, I had much I wanted to escape from. The tears and trauma of a childhood in which little to no care was demonstrated or given and the recent trauma of having a gun to my head. What was true?
As I sat on the river bank contemplating my experience my linear logical mind kicked in and called it into question and then I remembered the miracle that had taken place during the armed robbery. The voice. Yes, the voice that had spoken to me so loud and deep. The miracle of the assailant simply walking away. Indeed, the voice. How could I forget so easily? How could I call anything extra sensory into question so quickly after that?
The mind cannot and does not understand that which does not emanate from the mind or that which is behind the mind, the ever present beingness that is everywhere. I spent years trying to understand, analyze and mentally grasp the many experiences I had had and after years of this exhaustive quest to understand the unknowable, I concluded that the mind cannot fathom the unknowable, only the heart can experience the unknowable within the depths of silence. It was only in deep silence, the silencing of thought, of worry, of the eternal and incessant questions that I could hold both the known and unknown in an experience of expanded ‘awareness’ that required no words and for which no words existed to describe that which is beyond the mind. In this space there are no questions and no answers and yet everything that is, was and would be was known and yet not known. In the silence was everything and yet it appeared to be nothing, a great spiritual paradox. To the logical linear mind all these descriptions are total gobbledygook for the mind is a mere servant of consciousness, it is not consciousness itself.
The longer I remained in China the more I began to question the fundamentals of beliefs and of reality itself. I found myself in a country that had only recently opened its doors to external influences and a country whose history and language stretched back for millennia. China is a vast and populous land whose people had not been touched by western philosophical thought and belief systems. It was in China that I suddenly and shockingly gained the insight of just how ‘Christian’ I was in my outlook and in my belief systems. Prior to entering the dragon’s belly, had you asked me about my belief systems and way of viewing the world I would never have even seen that indeed much of my thinking was heavily influenced by Christian principles and western philosophy.
My time in China had not only re-awakened within me the magic of being the psychic child with the ability to see into the world of subtle and yet very present energies, but the murmurings of my devotion and longing for the Divine started to be felt once more. The following months and years would see me not only adventure back into the world of spirits, ghosts, fairies and elves, but also back into the world of Gods, Goddesses, Gurus and aspects of religion I had long since walked away from. China re-awakened my love for nature and it is in China I discovered my love of photography.
The healer’s journey has been a grand realisation. China had provided not only a safe, peaceful and quiet setting for that which had been so deeply hurt in order to start the process of healing, she also challenged the core of my assumptions regarding the nature of reality and morality. Somehow all of us assume that our own culture’s view of the world is the correct one and I was no exception.
Today, several years later, I fully claim my gifts and abilities in terms of interacting with other worlds and the generally unseen aspects of our own domain.