August 09, 2008
Not too long ago, I had a shot at enlightenment. And despite the fact that I live right outside of Boulder, CO – the enlightenment capital of the universe with the exception of Sedona and perhaps the chocolate aisle of the World Market – I cannot say that I have yet had the privilege of sitting in God’s palm. So when the opportunity presented itself, I jumped at it.
I was living on Lamma Island, just outside of Hong Kong – already the consequence of playing chicken with Fate – when I met Jack. Jack lived down the street from me and was the friend of a friend. He is of medium height, has sandy blond hair and comes from Liverpool. (Read: cute with an accent).
He looks me over, waiting for our mutual friend to arrive and extends an invitation that would change my life.
“Care to join me for some Wing Chun?”
I wrinkle my brow and pretend to consider whatever the hell he has just offered. Finally I give up.
“Some wing what?”
“Wing Chun. Only the most deadly of the arts, Bruce Lee’s mother’s milk, arsenic to your enemies, tiger balm for your soul.”
My eyebrows raise of their own accord.
“Kung Fu,” he explains when it is obvious that I’m not tracking. “It’s all about takin’ energy and givin’ it back in lethal doses.” He begins a series of strange snapping movements with his wrist.
“Sounds interesting,” I say politely.
“It is. Would you like to accompany me, then?”
“Where do you do it?”
“In Kowloon. With my master.”
That sounds profound, so I just nod. “All right. I’ll give it a try.” What did I have better to do?
Soon, I am following him across the waters by ferry until we hit Hong Kong side. Another short ferry ride and we’re in Kowloon. Apparently we’re late so I’m speed walking on his heels and sweating profusely in the 85 degree heat and equivalent humidity and thinking the whole time I just may not be cut out for this and perhaps we could stop somewhere for a large slice of pizza.
When we finally reach our destination - a large gazebo in the middle of the main city park - I am sweaty and panting like a Pug with asthma.
Apparently oblivious – or perhaps wickedly amused – Jack kind of steps aside and swings his hand wide toward the entrance as if nothing unusual has happened and I am not about to, by all practical appearances, die. Looking past him into the gazebo, I feel my stomach bottom out somewhere around my ankles. I am going to have to dig deep.
Fortunately, the teacher leading the class takes my wheezing as a cue and puts me at the back of the group. Besides Jack and me, there are about ten other students – all westerners like us from the looks of them. While I am clearly the only new one in the group, I learn rather quickly that Jack is the highest ranking student in the class and I watch as he moves around the room pushing on shoulders and positioning arms.
Ah yes, I think to myself as my breath returns to me, enlightenment just might be within my grasp. An easy answer is hardly worth knowing, after all. A bird in the hand and…stuff.
At the front stands Jack’s master, who demonstrates the nuances of each move with conviction while repeatedly flashing us with a view into his loose tank top of a flamboyant dragon tattoo, which swoops down his left pectoral toward his solar plexus – his “solar flair,” if you will. He speaks slowly and with precision – a British David Carradine.
I follow along as best as I can, without letting myself get too distracted by his mind-blowing manliness.
The class continues well into its second hour before showing any signs of slowing down and I notice we have attracted a small audience. Elderly Chinese men, mostly, making no attempt at hiding their park bench critique of a gazebo full of smelly, hairy gweilos practicing kung fu in the middle of their park. Finally, our leader calls us all into a group. We line up into rows and face him. Jack stands on my left, the sandy blonde hairs on his chest matted down with sweat from the combination of activity and humidity. He’s so close I can smell him.
“Now, close your eyes. I want to do a little exercise with you,” speaks Dragon Master from the front.
I close my eyes and attempt to stand still.
“Now, quiet your minds. I don’t want you to think about anything other than what is here and now. Concentrate on the sound of my voice.”
I try to shut Jack out and concentrate on his voice while at the same time leaning down as discretely as I can to brush away a mosquito that has decided to make a quick snack out of my leg.
“Breathe in slowly through your nose and exhale through your mouth. Be still.”
I suspect he has witnessed me swatting at my legs and is directing this last set of instructions at me. I am tempted to open my eyes and peek at him to see if he is watching me, but I restrain myself. This man might be the key to my enlightenment, after all. I have to represent.
“Just breeeeathe.” He then inhales and exhales loudly from the front of the group producing quite unexpectedly a sound akin to Darth Vader moments before revealing his paternal identity. I draw blood from my lower lip trying to keep it flat, just as a wave of shame beats me down for my own flippancy in the face of nirvana.
For the next full minute he has us all doing the “Vader” as if we are practicing for auditions for the next Star Wars movie. It takes me a while, but I finally relax into the flow of the Force. I am centering myself. Living the westerner’s dream. Here I am – in Asia – learning from the source of all internal knowledge. And while the instructor may be as white as a calla lilly, I have already learned from Jack somewhere between huh huh’s that the instructor’s teacher is actually Bruce Lee’s teacher’s son – the legendary Yip Chun. I swat at another mosquito on my leg. At the front, Lord Vader is speaking.
“People forget that we have voluntary control over our minds and bodies – that we can control our thoughts and our physical well-being with our minds.”
Kchhwooo-whoooo, we answer back.
“A happy body leads to a happy mind,” he continues. “The converse is also true. A happy mind leads to a happy body. I once knew a woman with horrible menstrual cramps. And simply by concentrating her chi on her womb, she was able to rid herself of them for life.” His voice has taken on a melodic tone somewhere along the way. I look up at him and our eyes meet for a brief moment before he winks at me, apparently satisfied with the indisputability of his conclusion.
Kchhwooo-whoooo, we answer him.
I contemplate the randomness of the wink.
Again, I lean down to scratch at my legs. I’ve apparently been bitten a couple more times in the midst of my philosophical moment.
“Imagine with me your heart. See your heart within you. Your heart is happy. Do you feel it being happy?”
I try to imagine my heart happy. In my mind’s eye, I look past my skin, muscles, sternum, and locate that quivering control station within, all reddish and spidered with life lines. I try to envision a happy heart. What would it look like? Without facial features, how would one be able to tell if one’s heart is happy? Happiness seems like such an arbitrary label. Couldn’t I just look it over for signs of gratification? If it were gratified, surely I’d recognize that. And pleased. And maybe joyful, but I think that might be pushing it. It would have to be lighter. I mean, well, not giddy - giddy would definitely require a mouth and perhaps playful eyebrows – but content, at least? Yes, content.
I smile ever so slightly at my conclusion. Surely enlightenment is within my grasp. I swat at my legs again and smash a mosquito against my leg. I look down at its crushed body in the midst of a messy blood smear in the palm of my hand. My own blood from my happy heart.
Crushed mosquito heart.
“Your pancreas. Oh yes. We don’t often think about our pancreas. Try to picture it there. Imagine it being flooded with the warmth of happiness.”
I force myself to move beyond unhappy insect heart and focus on my pancreas. Happy pancreas. The itching on my legs is unbearable. Happy, gleeful pancreas. Goood pancreas. I look down just in time to see two more mosquitoes circling my calves. I wave them away. The sound of one hand clapping.
“Now your liver. Flood it with the warmth of your happiness. Imagine that it’s smiling. Your liver – just smiling up at you – through you.”
Damn! More bites! Happy liver! Happy liver!
I begin slapping feverishly at my legs. The mosquitos have smelled my blissful blood and have begun some kind of feeding frenzy and I am hit with a thought of great profundity straight from the mind of God: “the tingle tells you it’s working!”
I straighten up and try to block out the pain and the itchiness.
“Now your anus.”
Ow! My legs are officially on fire. (The fire of faith! The fire of true knowledge!)
“Just let your anus smile!”
That does it. Try as it will, my anus refuses to smile. I leave before anyone opens their eyes.
Enlightenment would just have to wait.