Speaking Mountain

Kripalu.mountains.I am learning to love
the mountains, though
their language is still
a mystery to me.

Every day they speak in
new tongues of light
and dark, shadow and
fire, warmth and frost;
but always the silence,
the stillness underneath.

Just when I think I understand
your dark ridges, the swings
and sways of the forest, the
mists dappling and quiet fogs,
you go all afire, or crystal
clear or dark as pitch under
tangy pines. I almost
hear you and then
again, I am lost and
alone, clueless in you.

Talk to me mountains, I
want to understand!
Like my dearest love,
the faraway Ocean,
teach me your language,
tell me your secrets,
show me your broken places,
your joys, and I
will show you mine.
Embrace me and
I will hold you too!

I will bring you my triumphs,
my failures, my bruises and
my songs. Don’t be
distant! Like the Ocean
I will give you my heart
and be your friend forever.
Love me, talk to me
so I can love you too.

Red Tree Standing

There is one lone red tree in the sea of green covering the mountains where I work. I don’t know how it got there. I don’t know why it is different from every other tree in the forest. But it is there, being not-green. Like a thorn, a stem, a speck of something that is not supposed to be there. It shocks me every morning as I look out my window.

It is not taller than the other trees, it must have been born at the same time. But it has no siblings; it seemingly has no parents. It is alone, shining in the green. I would walk to this tree, if I could get through the forest, to see what kind of tree it is. With red-brown leaves. I can see all manner of trees adorned with their summer green, yellow and dark forest piney boughs. But still there is that red tree standing, crowded, but distinct. Different. A rebel.

Was this lonesome tree the result of a seed carried by a bird, or a fox or a bear? Why was only one seed able to plant and take root in all these hills? Why are there no other red trees as far as the eye can see? Surely it isn’t a dead tree, it seems vibrant, bobbing its leafy head as the mountain winds sweep down to the lake. Even today, as the fog shrouds the hills and peaks the red tree smiles up at the sky. From my perch on the second floor, I feel for the tree finding its happiness surrounded by strangers. I too am a stranger. I too am a transplant from a place far away. I too am finding my happiness while remaining my red-tree self.

The other trees crowd and press, murmur and complain. They try to steal the sunlight and water and struggle to tangle the red tree with vines and mar its beauty, cover its spirit. The trees whisper — be like us, think like us, breathe like us, feel like us, look like us, talk like us and be saved. Be comfortable. Be right. The red tree bows under the green crush. Loneliness. With its red-tree language and red-tree thinking and red-tree feeling its heart beats slowly, deep, between the roots. Bubbling up from the sadness there, the red tree hears: I am who I am. I can be only my red-tree self. Even it if means aloneness. I am the red tree standing. A simple beauty, in my own way. Destined to live and love among strangers, while being my red-tree self.

As the red tree straightens and embraces her redness, the murmuring and whispering falls away. A nearby pine brushes its boughs against her slender branches and they hold hands in the summer breeze. Nesting birds sing while chipmunks chase each other across the forest floor, tickling the red-tree’s bare roots. Delighted, the red tree shares all of herself with them, and with me. The forest is at peace.

Berkshire Mountains
Aug. 10, 2012.

Death in the Afternoon…

Red-tailed Hawk

I took a brief walk after a working lunch. The sun was high in the sky and the air was cool. It was a beautiful September day in the Berkshires. I walked down the hill from the main building at Kripalu and hadn’t gone too far when there, to my right, on a wire overhead was a red-tailed hawk looking this way and that. I stopped and watched the wind lift his tail feathers. He stretched and showed me his white belly and fluffy legs. He — or she — was awesome in structure. He looked strong and powerful.

As he sat, he moved his head from side-to-side. He turned once to look at me as I cautiously took a seat on the low wooden rail along the road, then turned his attention back to the tall brush, tangled weeds and wild flowers that framed the woods. I sat contentedly in the sun, thrilled to have this opportunity to be so close to such a creature. I studied the way he slid his head across his back and tried to move my head the same way. Taiji [Tai chi] teachers always imitated animals — some say Taijiquan was created after Wudang Daoist master Zhang San Feng (12th C.) witnessed a fight between a crane and a snake.

My neck cracked just as I heard little throaty chirping sounds come from the underbrush. It sounded like the noise squirrels make, not too loud though, and it didn’t sound alarming — just a steady series of clicks and chirps. Suddenly the hawk spread his wings and dropped straight down into the brush. A terrible squealing commenced and I knew the hawk had caught something. I was struck, mouth open, by the sudden change from sight-seeing on a lovely day to the wailing of an animal dying in the claws of a predator. The racket was awful, but it didn’t last longer than a minute, maybe two. It was heart-wrenching none-the-less.

I didn’t know what to do with myself. A city-girl for decades — I was curious, frightened, repulsed and paralyzed. Here was the truth of nature, not on television, but barely five feet in front of me. I didn’t know why this was happening for me to see, but I thought I’d best finish it. I slowly walked closer to the underbrush. I could see the hawk’s white feathers and stopped. He was no more than three feet in front of me, barely concealed by dried grasses and weeds. I didn’t want to see blood. But I couldn’t not look. I stood still. The hawk looked at me the same way he had earlier, unafraid, unconcerned, unimpressed.

As I watched, he made a small jump and the captured creature came up with him in his talons. He was in a small clearing, now two feet from me. I could see the eye of the squirrel and the hawk’s talons on its belly. I didn’t see any blood. He kept squeezing his talons into the squirrel — perhaps to make sure it wasn’t playing dead or that it wouldn’t suddenly get up and run away. He fluttered his wings and hopped and the squirrel came up and down with him again, a few inches closer to me. He was coming straight toward me, out of the brush and now, onto the mowed grass. This was more than I wanted to see. I couldn’t fathom why the hawk was coming toward me, with his prey, his prize.

I thought of a time my house cat caught a mouse and brought it to me. What did they want me to see?

I continued to watch the hawk, two feet in front of me, in plain sight, without cover. Then I realized he was not eating. His lunch was getting cold. I didn’t understand.

Out of the corner of my eye, I saw a woman — one of our guests — crossing toward me into the parking lot off to my left. When she got close enough, she looked where I was looking and saw the hawk.

“I don’t think you want to see this,” I turned my head and said to her.

She looked from me to the hawk. “You’re right; what has it got there?”

“A squirrel,” I replied. “It made a horrible sound when he caught it.”

The woman grimaced and turned and walked in the other direction, toward the main building.

When I looked back at the hawk at my feet, he was slowly pulling up with his beak on a long string of something red from the side of the squirrel. I turned and followed the guest up the hill toward the center.

Origin of Taijiquan

A Yang Warrior is…

The Great Taiji

A Yang* Warrior is…

A force for good in people’s lives;

Says what needs to be said;

Does what needs to be done;

Protects the innocent;

Receives what is given to her;

Continues to develop her art, her body, her mind and her spirit;

Is responsible for her actions;

From self-love moves out into the world in love;

Makes choices that nourish her on all levels – whether it is food, literature, companionship or work;

Heals with food, herbs, breath, massage, meditation and movement;

Knows that compassion sometimes looks uncompassionate;

Honors herself and others;

Is respectful to her masters, ancestors, family and the Dao;

Marshalls her time to be of best use and service to others;

Is patient, waiting on the Dao, and therefore has impeccable timing;

Conducts herself with honor and respect and humility;

Reads from scriptures to nourish and heal and share;

Listens with her whole being;

Is always ready to be of service;

Doesn’t complain;

Is in command of her energy and her boundaries;

Seeks to be clean and clear and pure in her heart and her actions;

Treats all beings with respect, gentleness, compassion and honesty;

Is natural and lives simply and honestly;

Does not waste resources;

Freely walks her destiny;

Treats fear as a teacher;

Trusts the practices and doesn’t stray from her truth.

Knows the soft overcomes the hard;

Accepts both the dark and the light as the Taiji teaches;

Acts with purpose in all things;

Seeks precision in her art, her words, her thoughts, her actions;

Sees her students as teachers;

Trains hard, fights easy.


A soldier fights, a warrior protects, a martial artist serves.

We can go through this life as a victim or as a warrior. It is our choice.

If we are handed a bag of stones, we do not have to pick it up and carry it.

Most of all, a Yang Warrior strives to live these principles all the days of her life with the goal of progress, not perfection.


*There have been books, movies and operas made over the centuries in China of the Woman Warriors of the Yang Family [Yang Men Nü Jiang, 杨门女将] during the Song Dynasty. I’ve picked up the phrase to mean a warrior of the Yang Family Style of Taijiquan martial arts that I study and teach. It is solely and wholly my understanding as influenced by my studies and training with masters and teachers in martial arts. If I fail in my principles or character it should not in any way reflect upon any of them.

Yang Warrior in the Mountains

Wild flowers

Walking in the Berkshires

The sun came out today after two chilly, rainy days. The warmth inspired the flowers to show off these last few days of summer. There were delicate cosmos in orange and pink and white, some few remaining blue bachelor buttons, sunflowers, and a lone poppy stuck his crimson head out in chorus. In the fields, my favorite for wild flowers, there was purple clover and small, white daisies mixed among the plantain. Plantain stalks stirred in the breeze and furry plantain made handy landings for the insects. Small yellow butterflies danced in a helix, rising above the green like a fountain.

Along the edges of the woods were tall golden rod, leaning over, heavy with flowers. Dragonflies, butterflies and dirt-brown grasshoppers were everywhere. Mosquitoes too. I walked on a trail for a while, until I heard the sound of crunching and breaking wood — with a heaviness that signaled, at least to me — that whatever it was or whomever it was — was my size or bigger. I split after that and walked on the more travelled path. I could feel the heat coming off the ground and the sun on my neck, but knew it was fleeting. It would soon turn cold. Some maples were already displaying red and orange and gold.

The days are shortening, shorter and shorter, dwindling down the hours of sun as the yin begins to stretch out and embrace the season. I loved my summer; nights with Kevin at the ocean or in bed in his arms. Waking up naked and happy and safe in our world. Showering and drying off, lying side-by-side and breathing in and letting go.’Tis the season of letting go — the trees and flowers and bees tell me so as I walk along the way. I talk back to them all — cooing and aaaahing at their magnificence.

We all know nothing lasts. But we take refuge in the cycle. The season of endings gives way to the season of beginnings. The yin will grow and surround our world and plunge us into the midnight of winter, and the yang will creep up slowly in the heart of darkness, with tendrils of light to awaken the world and inspire newness. That nothing lasts is our pain and our blessing. Tears make way for joy, love makes way for loss and death makes way for life. This is our world.

Chinese New Year

Jess In China

Chinese New Year — Surprise!

3/14/2009 9:42:44 AM  


Gongxi facai – Congratulations and may you prosper.

Gongxi, Gongxi – Congratulations!


It is my first Chinese New Year and I’m alone. Like Christmas in America, when people see you alone on the holiday, they look at you with that ‘where are your people’ frown, or worse, the sympathetic, ‘maybe we should ask her to join us’ look.

Fortunately, I’m in China and I’m a blue-eyed, foreign woman, so most everyone leaves me alone. I stop and have dinner at the local noodle shop, after having seen my partner off at Hangzhou International airport for his trip back to the States, and they treat me normally, but wonder where my partner is.

In my halting Chinese I tell them that my zhang fu has left today for America and that I will mingtian hui jia — return home tomorrow. I’m left alone then to enjoy my noodles in their rich broth in relative peace. I qualify that, because blasts of fireworks and firecrackers are beginning to erupt throughout the neighborhood at Nan Du De Jia.

The noise continues throughout the night. A constant series of sharp bangs interspersed with rapid-fire snaps as long, red snakes of firecrackers explode in succession.

I enjoy them at first. I like the idea of scaring away evil spirits and hungry ghosts who might take my happiness, wealth or health from me. It’s a little harder to deal with as I’m trying to concentrate on calligraphy in our little ground-floor apartment in this usually serene apartment complex.

The bursts and booms rattle me and make my brush jerk. It was the same earlier when I practiced tai ji in the complex’s courtyard after dinner. So I’m a little jumpy from the noise and from my normal pre-flight jitters. I eat some chocolate covered almonds I just discovered at the local C-Store, which is like a 7-Eleven in America. I haven’t had chocolate in a long time and it really tastes good to me. Unfortunately, it also makes me feel jumpy. I was told that the noise will go on throughout the night. I wonder how I’ll sleep through it all.

Chinese New Year seems a lot like Christmas, despite the Fourth of July noise-makers. It is the one holiday, without fail, that everyone goes home for. No matter what. Last year, there was a blizzard in the north and east of China and people had a terrible time traveling. Still they made the effort and expected the government to ensure that everyone would get where they wanted to go because no one wants to be alone on New Year’s.

There is a mass of humanity traveling at this time in China and trying to get anywhere can feel next to impossible. But everyone goes somewhere and amazingly everyone seems to get where they are going. Migrant workers, people who have left their children or parents or spouses to work in the factories to make a better living than on the farm, return to see their families. For some it is their only chance to see them all year.

The holiday travel starts about one week before the New Year builds to a peak just before the actual day and then falls off and rebuilds for the return trip. In total it’s about three weeks of holiday travel, feasting and parties.

Naturally, emotions run high in the queues and check in lines at buses, airports and train stations. But everyone seems to have extra patience and despite some queue cutting, a typical Chinese response, crowds are generally orderly and friendly.

And everyone is carrying food, lots and lots of food, in bags, and bins and barrels. Some packages are strapped to their backs, some carry sacks on their shoulders. Everyone has rice and oil at least and is unloading it from cars, bikes, and vans. Little mandarin oranges are carried by children in bags while the parents carry the heavier items.

On Wen Er Lu, where we live, tents have sprung up everywhere on the sidewalk selling fireworks and firecrackers. Huge packages of bright red boxes filled with noise makers to celebrate are selling like crazy. I’ve never seen such a thing. Fireworks are illegal back home in the U.S. and to see people openly buying them seems so strange!

This year the New Year falls on Jan. 25. It is held at a different time every year, because it is a lunar New Year, not a solar New Year like ours in the West. The lunar New Year begins on the first new moon of the new year. I’m told that by tomorrow, the 26th, when I have to travel to Shanghai to make my trek home to Rhode Island, people will be out to visit friends after spending the 25th in the bosom of their family.

That means I’ll be able to get a cab to the Sports Center in Hangzhou to catch the bus to Shanghai. At least I hope so.

We were worried that my partner wouldn’t be able to get a cab today, but we were fortunate that our Mandarin teacher knew someone who could drive us to the airport. Fiona and her husband actually took the morning out of their vacation to join us on the trip. Fiona was very helpful in hundreds of ways and I sent a silent thank you to the Universe in gratitude.

 Although It turned out that there were plenty of cabs this morning, despite the rumor that only about 25 percent of cabs would be on the street during the holiday, Fiona and her husband, newlyweds, and the driver made our trip less anxiety producing and lots more fun.

Finally, she and her husband walked me around the airport until we found the bus ticket window, she showed me how to buy my ticket for the bus back to Hangzhou and I hugged her and bid them both a happy new year. Comforted, and a little teary-eyed, I returned upstairs to waiting for the check-in with my partner.

After I returned from Hangzhou Xiao Shan Airport, I also managed to get my hair done. A local shop was surprisingly open and I walked in and got a hair wash — xi tou — and blow dry, for a pittance, 20 yuan or about 3 dollars US.

I miss the hair salons in Fuyang though. Last term I taught English at the No. 2 High School in Fuyang — about one hour west of Hangzhou. I loved it there. It is a city of about 300,000, surrounded on all sides by mountains and divided by three rivers. There’s some old architecture there as well. Fuyang was once the capital of China, during the Three Kingdoms Era, a very long time ago by American standards.

In Fuyang, a hair wash and blow dry comes with this remarkable 40 minutes or so of massage. After your hair wash, your ears will be gently cleaned with a q-tip and then your head and shoulders and arms and back will be massaged. Afterwards, you get a blow dry. I’d spend about two hours there with my partner — who’d get a cut and a trim for his beard at the same time. The price: 40 yuan total. An amazing bargain.

I have my fingers crossed for an easy trip tomorrow. It’s a long way home, moving backwards in time, to America and each leg of the trip takes its toll. I’m not as young as I used to be. The trip to Shanghai Pudong International Airport will take about 3.5 hours I’m told. I originally was going to take the D train — a fantastic high-speed train that gets into Shanghai from Hangzhou in under 2 hours, but I was told it would leave me far from the airport and that I’d have to take a subway and transfer to another subway before even getting near the airport.

The locals assured me that the bus is more door-to-door service and will be less stressful for an yidian Mandarin speaker such as myself. Again, the Mandarin school came to my rescue. Our calligraphy teacher, who was on his way after our class on Friday to his hometown, Huzhou — famous for its bamboo — about an hour north of here, walked me over to the Sports Center, very near Hangda Lu where the classes are, and in about 20 minutes I had a ticket to Shanghai on the bus at 10:30 am Monday morning.

John, the calligrapher’s English name, suggested that I get my money back for the D train ticket and I promised to try to do so tomorrow – in Mandarin. Shanghai bus ticket: 100 Yuan. D Train ticket: 54 Yuan.

How can I describe the New Year? There are decorations everywhere. In some cases, the front doors and pillars of entire buildings are covered in red and gold paper, lights are also put out on trees and bushes, very much like Christmas, and there are decorations of Chinese symbols for double happiness, wealth, prosperity covering doors and windows everywhere.

This year is the year of the Ox, so pictures of happy bulls, strong bulls, peaceful looking cows with horns and stuffed oxen of all sorts are available and hanging from every hook and nail. Fish, a symbol of plenty, are everywhere too. There are special foods eaten at this time and everyone, I’m told, must wear new clothes on the New Year. I’m also told by my students that they receive red underwear from their parents — both tops and bottoms — for girls.

My students blush, but give me no explanation for why red underwear is a custom. I wander into a local Wumart, like a Walmart, and sure enough, lots of red underwear for sale. I buy a pair of bottoms, just to get into the groove of the holiday. My partner likes ’em, but I wonder if they will bleed when washed next week.

There is special music as well. I hear the same Gongxi, Gongxi song over and over whether I’m at the hair salon, the restaurant, the Wumart or in a cab. Everyone wishes everyone, strangers included, a happy new year and Gongxi, gongxi’s are shared.

Despite the frenicity everyone seems happy and content. There are plenty of warm smiles and happy faces. There is a Christmas like spirit around everyone. I like this holiday and although I am not Chinese I feel the absence of my loved one’s as if it is my holiday too.

In some ways it is. I’ve finished my first term of teaching and I’m off to visit my family for the first time since coming to China last August. I have mixed emotions — happy to be going home, sad to be leaving my new home, China, excited about everything and all that I’ve learned in the last four months of my new life in China and nervous about the long trip there and back.

I tuck myself in after a light cup of tea at 9:30 pm, prepared for a long sleep into the night. There are still occasional blasts from firecrackers and such, but it is considerably quieter. I snuggle down into my electric blanket and drift off. Of course, as anyone from Hangzhou or China knows, I wouldn’t rest for too long.

At midnight, I was woken up, as it sounded like all hell had broken loose. There were screaming fireworks and hundreds of strings of firecrackers going off all at the same time and deep, blasts that shook my teeth and rattled my brains. The sounds practically knocked me out of my bed.

What in the world was going on? I got up in the cold room — our heater had taken this week, one of the coldest of the year, to conk out — and peeked out of the one window we have near the bed.

There was every kind of firework going off and reflected dozens of times over in every window of the complex. Green and white and red and sometimes showers of whistling fire were falling all over the sky. Boom, boom, boom and more firecrackers than I could ever imagine being fired at the same time snapped and popper ferociously.

From my window, on my tip-toes, I saw a father light a long string of crackers, while his young daughter bounced around the sidewalk in her quilted pants and jacket to keep warm. I have never heard such a racket! The small window in the apartment rattled and my breath steamed it up. Every complex in the area — and this is a huge residential part of Hangzhou — was setting off noise makers.

 I looked at the clock and it was 12:07 am — New Year, I guessed — and I realized there must be lots of people outside. I hastily pulled on my pants, my boots and a jacket and went to the courtyard. People were everywhere, couples hugging, families and young men all watching fireworks being exploded where the fountain used to be. Tai xihuan, I like it a lot, I heard a woman say. It was so smoky I could hardly see anyone’s face.

Earlier, when I had done tai ji near the fountain in the courtyard of the complex, I had wondered why the statue of three children was covered up in bags and why the lights and floor of the fountain were covered with cardboard. I thought perhaps while everyone was away on holiday, the apartment management was going to clean or renovate it.

What I discovered was that this was firework central. This was the stage for all those huge red boxes I saw on sale for the last two days. Each box exploded with a succession of roman candles shooting into the air and bursting into fiery flowers with a loud bang to punctuate its beauty. Row after row exploded, while the neighbors watched.

The ground was littered with paper remains from the fireworks and now-dead firecracker snakes lay limp and quiet. Someone had set off a round circle of firecrackers in front of my front door. I didn’t know who to thank though. My belly shook from the sounds. My face turned up to the sky, I felt all the excitement of a child at her first fireworks on July 4th. I had some tears at the corners of my eyes and the excitement from the noise and the people made me shiver. I didn’t feel cold anymore.

Things started to quiet a little — not much, but in our complex — and some people drifted off. I saw more people on the balconies slip inside, arms around each other, and other windows were dark. I walked through the courtyard out to the front where the guards were and one of them shouted happy new year to me in English. I smiled and nodded. I peeked through the strings of Christmas-like lights in the front of our complex and Wen Er Lu was filled with smoke too. Every community was doing the same thing as ours. Making as much noise as possible to bring in the new year. There were no cries or screams or shouts though, just the bams and booms of fireworks. China invented fireworks. Now I know why.

At 2 am I am ready for bed again. It is mostly quiet now. I am warm and happy and a little stunned by the experience. I’m still worried about getting a cab in the morning. With all the noise and lateness of the hour. Would anyone be up at 8 am?

No matter. I would muddle through. There are constant surprises I’ve found in China. Not all as exciting as this night’s, but well worth the travel and challenges of moving to the Middle Kingdom.

Happy New Year China. I wish you many more and I hope to share many of them with you!




Upcoming Classes and Workshops at Better Body Works — 2011


Practicing Yang Family Style Dao form, West Lake, Hangzhou, PRC 2009.


Coming soon to Better Body Works in Westerly, RI on Monday evenings from 6 pm to 7:15 pm, Daoyin and Taijiquan. Learn practices that will stretch, tone and purify your mind, body and spirit while also enjoying the healing benefits of the ancient Chinese martial art of Taijiquan [Tai Chi].

Movements are gentle yet profound, allowing students of all types and physical conditions to practice safely and enjoy.

Classes will begin with Chinese yoga – Daoyin – to open qi [energy] meridians and prepare the spine and body for Taiji practice. Thereafter we will move into the first section of the Classical Yang Family style 108 form and conclude with 15 minutes of harmonizing Daoyin for breath, mind and spirit. Students should leave class feeling lighter, stronger and centered – freer to live, enjoy and engage in their lives to the fullest.

Daoyin and Taiji can help:

Heal the aches and pains of modern living and aging, including shoulder and neck pain from computer work, back pains of all kinds, repetitive stress and balance issues whether physical, mental or emotional.
Rediscover a natural center which fosters peace and confidence regardless of life’s circumstances.
Restore harmony in breathing, eating and weight control. Digestion, elimination and weight issues may resolve quickly with regular practice.
Strengthen, tone and firm the body inside and out.
De-stress and relax, releasing toxins – physical, mental and emotional — encouraging natural immunity for optimum health.
Provide clarity and focus to meet the challenges of life.
Nourish the entire system with healing qi [energy] that juices the body, retarding aging and the complications of aging.
Unravel mental and emotional patterns that cause suffering.

Classes are taught by Jessica Sommar, M.Sc., recently returned from two years in China, a student of Classical Yang Family Style Taijiquan – including three fist forms and three weapons forms –Traditional Chinese Medicine, Western and Eastern herbology, Daoyin [qi gong] and alchemical practices of Daoism learned over a decade from disciples of Master Wang Liping, lineage holder of Quanzhen Longmen Pai; Martial artist, acupuncturist and herbalist Rene Navarro [http://www.renenavarro.org/] (a student of Master Gin Soon Chu, second disciple of Grandmaster Yang Sau-Cheung [www.gstaichi.org]) and various other teachers from the Healing Tao and Western Energy Medicine. Healing and counseling sessions will also be available with Jessica at BBW by appointment.

Upcoming workshops:

Daoist Dietetics – bringing Eastern dietary practices to Western students to improve health and restore sanity to weight control issues.
Daoist Internal Practices for Women – to preserve and strengthen internal qi for healing, beautifying and longevity.
Daoyin – a one day workshop on rare breath, movement, dietary and meditative practices of Daoist Masters seldom taught outside of temples today.
Eastern Energetics and the Western Body – an introduction to Traditional Chinese Medicine principals and practices and how they can help Western bodies. We will explore how to unify Western and Eastern traditions to bring body, mind and spirit into harmony with the natural cycle of the seasons.

A Year of Letting Go

In the world of knowledge, something new is added every day. In pursuit of the Dao, every day something is let go — Daodejing.
My New Year’s Resolution is to let go of something everyday and record it on FB and Twitter beginning January 1. It should be an interesting journey. Letting go may mean something physical, mental, emotional …or spiritual. It may mean something is still in my life, but I have let go of the attachment. It may mean letting go of something forever.

Lao Tzu off into the Mountains

Holiday Food Tips

Originally posted 12/20/2008 on my Jess in China blog, reposted for my Mom’s annual Xmas party next week!

1. Avoid carrot sticks. Anyone who puts carrots on a holiday buffet table knows nothing of the Christmas spirit. In fact, if you see carrots, leave immediately. Go next door, where they’re serving rum balls.

2. Drink as much eggnog as you can. And quickly. It’s rare. You cannot find it any other time of year but now. So drink up! Who cares that it has 10,000 calories in every sip? It’s not as if you’re going to turn into an eggnog-alcoholic or something. It’s a treat. Enjoy it. Have one for me. Have two. It’s later than you think. It’s Christmas!

3. If something comes with gravy, use it. That’s the whole point of gravy. Gravy does not stand alone. Pour it on. Make a volcano out of your mashed potatoes. Fill it with gravy. Eat the volcano. Repeat.

4. As for mashed potatoes, always ask if they’re made with skim milk or whole milk. If it’s skim, pass. Why bother? It’s like buying a sports car with an automatic transmission.

5. Do not have a snack before going to a party in an effort to control your eating. The whole point of going to a Christmas party is to eat other people’s food for free. Lots of it. Hello?

6. Under no circumstances should you exercise between now and New Year’s. You can do that in January when you have nothing else to do. This is the time for long naps, which you’ll need after circling the buffet table while carrying a 10-pound plate of food and that vat of eggnog.

7. If you come across something really good at a buffet table, like frosted Christmas cookies in the shape and size of Santa, position yourself near them and don’t budge. Have as many as you can before becoming the center of attention. They’re like a beautiful pair of shoes. If you leave them behind, you’re never going to see them again.

8. Same for pies. Apple, Pumpkin, Mincemeat. Have a slice of each. Or if you don’t like mincemeat, have two apples and one pumpkin. Always have three. When else do you get to have more than one dessert? Labor Day?

9. Did someone mention fruitcake? Granted, it’s loaded with the mandatory celebratory calories, but avoid it at all cost. I mean, have some standards.

10. One final tip: If you don’t feel terrible when you leave the party or get up from the table, you haven’t been paying attention. Re-read tips; start over, but hurry, January is just around the corner. Remember this motto to live by:

“Life should NOT be a journey to the grave with the intention of arriving safely in an attractive and well preserved body, but rather to skid in sideways, chocolate in one hand, body thoroughly used up, totally worn out and screaming “WOO HOO what a ride!”

Shameslessly picked up from around the world wide web….

Shaolin Grand Master Visits RI

On Saturday, the hamlet of Pawcatuck was graced with a lecture and demonstration by Songshan Shaolin Temple Grandmaster Shi De Li. Jim Leach, the Rhode Island Representative of the Shaolin Cultural Foundation, hosted the event at his studio – Imperial Martial Arts – overlooking the river that separates Connecticut and Rhode Island on a sunny Saturday afternoon.
Master Yon Lee of the Harvard University Tai Chi Tiger Crane Club and Shaolin Cultural Foundation organized the event with the monks and Jim Leach. Master Lee translated as well. The training room was full of Tai Chi [taiji] and other martial arts enthusiasts as well as acupuncturists and alternative health and healing practitioners.
My guess is there were anywhere from 75 to 100 people in attendance, not surprisingly. GM De Li is the current martial abbot of the Songshan Temple, the 31st generation successor in lineage from Bodhidharma — considered the traditional first patriarch of Ch’an (or Zen) Buddhism.


Master Lee started with some background on the Harvard club and some history on Damo Zen. Master Lee spoke about a special form that GM De Li teaches called Tongzigong – which translated means to return an older person back to a child. The GM wants to examine the medical benefits of this qi gong and has a passion to share this practice as far and wide as possible.

Master Lee then gave us a koan:

Kung Fu [gong fu] is basically Zen.
Zen is also medicine.
Medicine is also Kung Fu.

He added:

Zen is also music.
Music is medicine.
Music is Kung Fu.
Music helps to heal.

From this the Grand Master and his teaching monk were joined by Jim Leach in a ritual to bless the training space and Leach. Leach was presented with a mala blessed by the GM.

Jim Leach, GM Shi De Li and Monk at ritual.

Then the demonstrations began. The training monk sat at an 8 stringed zhang and began to strum. GM De Li began to demonstrate his form to the haunting music.

Thereafter, the training monk took up a wind instrument and played upon it. When he finished the simple melody, he bowed and began a martial form using the flute – quite heavy, made of red wood [which we were assured floats in water] as a club.

After the impressive and energetic form, he followed with a fist form and the demonstrations were ended.

The GM made himself available for questions and answers out of which I only include some interesting points:

He said there were only two conditions to someone wishing to join the Temple and learn the martial art: 1. They must attend Buddhism college and 2. They must have the gifts to learn martial arts.

When asked about the daily routine at the Temple, the GM said they eat at 11 am and practice until 3 am. Then the master seemed to balk, or Master Lee did. Lee apologized. Apparently it was/is a secret that the Shaolin practice at night.

The GM gave a demonstration of breathing in the cosmos, with hand gestures and posture.

Finally, when asked about weapons he said that sticks were the most common training weapons at the Temple, but that there were 30 plus weapons and the young, training monk with him was an expert in 20 different kinds – including an umbrella.

After the questions/answers we were given a lesson in three forms by the training monk. Many of us participated, while the shy among us hugged the back wall and watched.

It was a fun form and invigorating and not at all complicated – though I’m sure it would take years to perfect. Too soon, it was all over.

For me, I was able to watch the GM do his daoyin or qi gong before the demonstrations and saw the similarities to some of the Daoyin I practice as well as learning and moving in a ‘hard style’ martial art, anchored in Buddhism. Taiji is a ‘soft style’ or ‘internal’ martial art, anchored in Daoism — China’s indigenous faith. And of course it was fun to get to know the martial arts community in my new hometown. Whether we all got that kung fu was music and medicine, and Zen I can’t say. But I left there feeling grounded and happy to be alive.


Me and GM De Li

The GM is in the US for another week and will be teaching again at the Shaolin Center in Quincy, Mass on Dec. 12. Master Lee will also give a talk on Kung Fu Medicine and there will be a dinner and dance at the China Pearl Restaurant. Contact Master Lee at yon@yonlee.com for tickets and details.

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