Power of Place

Empty Force
The chi kung practice lawn at Tao Garden

Sawadee khap from Doi Saket, where i’m planted once again in the Tao Garden, polishing my inner smile. ๐Ÿ™‚

Yesterday was the first slow, leisurely day i’ve had since i left India two months ago… and now, after a whistle-stop tour of my world in Oakland (mostly my desk, truth be told), i’m finally catching up on missed breaths, and feeling grateful to be exactly where i am.

(In a heartbeat, it’s suddenly raining buckets here.)

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A week ago, in a jetlagged layover dream, i sat on the shore in Kowloon (notably more graffitti’d under Chinese administration), watching the clouds blow by in the mirrored windows of the feelgood Hong Kong skyscrapers, then took the subway into veggie paradise. Dinner in Bangkok a few hours later… why can’t i do this every day? ๐Ÿ™‚

Like life, but somehow denser, Bangkok is always a mixed bag, but the mix keeps getting sweeter as i navigate more knowingly. This time was extra-special though, since the whole city threw a double birthday party for the Buddha and me. I wondered how we should celebrate, and he suggested we hit the streets early and find some folks who could use a little love. The first person i invited to our heart party was a 50-something leper propped up against the Skytrain stairwell. I bought him a few meals, but i got the impression that the smiles were even more nourishing to him, by the way he lit up. Likewise for all the other partygoers i recruited across the city. May those candles stay alight…

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Spent most of the last week within a few blocks of my beloved Hoan Kiem Lake in Hanoi. Yes, the sequel! We’ve returned for another round of recording and filming, and oh am i glad we did!

Duc listens to Khanh's musicThe reunion with our Vietnamese musical-kung fu family was very sweet โ€” and somehow even warmer than before. No committees, no toasts, just love and music. Felt like coming home to family. We recorded in a well-appointed home studio run by a new friend, Ho Hoai Anh, who is a very popular musician in his own right but, like his elder Khanh, is very down-to-earth and can’t be bothered with protocol. Hoai Anh was a godsend as a second engineer, helping to keep us all in sync with graceful technical and cultural translation. The result is a solid hour of good performances, cleanly captured, and i can’t wait to get home and mix them.

My only regret is that everything went so deliciously smoothly that i have no fodder for drama to keep y’all cliffhung this time, so i guess your entertainment will have to come from the two CDs we’ll be releasing in September. ๐Ÿ™‚

Ho Hoan KiemOn the inner plane, the big news in Hanoi was my reunion with Hoan Kiem Lake. Saw familiar faces there โ€” others who, like me, seem drawn to her, sit facing her, in silence. The old folks, doing what matters most. Young lovers, in pairs and alone, longing. The tai-chi ladies with their fans and swords. The kung-fu dudes whacking their wrists and forearms against the poles to toughen themselves up, and eyeballing the growth of each other’s muscles. A woman in her 60s, with a condition that renders her helpless as an infant, being held by her husband or brother, who every day brings her to the lake, lovingly feeds her on the bench, then takes her walking Butoh-slowly around the water.

I don’t know how to explain, except to say that, somehow, the spirit of that lake is one of my best friends in this world. Doing my morning chi kung with her, strolling around her, or just sitting by her banks, i feel more like me. Kinda wish i could take her home in a bottle, but she definitely lives in my heart.

We are already wondering what the next mission to bring us back might be…

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Meanwhile, here at Tao Garden, there’s nowhere to go but in and nothing to do but bloom. Returning after several intense months, i’m awestruck by the dramatic non-impact of peace… My arrival here was a meteor hitting the ocean with no splash… just a gentle rippling, a rustle in the leaves, and i’m here, floating…

FountainI notice that when i’m so deeply peaceful i don’t need to eat much. The food here is divine, but i feel so nourished by everything else around me that my (famously enormous) appetite for gourmet Asian vegan grub is quickly satisfied, despite the fact that i’m quite physically active. This is in sharp contrast with my life in the city, where i’m often moving only my eyes and fingers (and the hard drive in my head) yet feeling ravenous, insatiable.

Looking deeper into these contrasts, while my perspective is fresh, i am humbled in recognition of the undeniable power of place. I could be doing the same thing with the same attitude and intention in a dozen different places and have a dozen utterly different experiences. Just being in a city makes me hungry, even when by all appearances i’m not doing much… but in the light of contrast here i see the truth is i am doing a lot when i’m in the city, just being there: my system is being bombarded with myriad stimuli, and of course it’s going to react, and those reactions burn energy. But, as Marshall McLuhan aptly put it, “whoever it was discovered water, you can be sure it wasn’t a fish.” We become desensitized to what is all around us, to the point where even some of the biggest influences on us can become invisible.

It seems i’m getting a tiny bit better at it. Though i certainly didn’t arrive at Tao Garden this time in the same great shape i was in when i left it last October, i clearly did arrive here in much better shape than when i arrived last time. That’s something.

But, inevitably, i have to ask: why leave?ย I’m feeling more motivated than ever to build community in nature. It just works.

Yo ho ho, a village life for me.

Everyone please go outside. ๐Ÿ™‚

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Speaking of the village life, a week from now i will transplant my retreat from the manicured majesty of Tao Garden to the fertile terraced slopes of Sikkim. I’ll be in India till mid-July, doing a combination of creative and meditative retreating and project-related advancing, starting with the former and ramping up to the latter. At some point (dates still in the air), i’ll be heading back to the land in the West Bengal Hills to meet with Ani Sonam La, her family, and our South African friends to take the next steps on our project there.

For the last week of May and most of June, i’ll be very, very far from the Internet (yes, there are still a few places it doesn’t reach), so if you don’t hear from me again till July (which is likely), well, no news is very, very good news for this flower who blooms in stillness.

Juicy love from the mango forest…


Thoughts? I'm listening…

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