When I was planning my trip to China, I hoped to solidify whatever bond I might have with the nation that gave me taiji and qigong. I also hoped to have some profound energy experiences, particularly on Emei Shan, a 10,000-foot mountain. When I considered possibly writing about my trip, I thought that I would title whatever I wrote “My Pilgrimage to China.”
Well, I do think I solidified my bond with China and the people of China, if only because I’m now even more interested in what’s going on there and have read newspapers accounts of the Communist Party’s 18th National Congress that I probably wouldn’t have read before.
And I did have some interesting energy experiences, particularly in Beijing, when I was walking to the Forbidden City after doing some particularly intense qigong at my hotel and felt myself being lofted along, step by step, by qi. I also felt some good energy doing taiji at Renmin Park. And while doing qigong in my room at Martin’s apartment, I had a flash of inspiration for how I could approach preparing to teach Yi Ren Qigong.
But I did not go to Emei Shan, the place I considered myself most likely to have a profound energy experience, because I would have had to go alone, and by that time, my courage had all been spent. And I did not return to Seattle energetically transfigured, although somehow, I find I’m not disappointed. My qigong journey will continue here; I’ve learned that I don’t need China to transfigure me.
So was it a pilgrimage or just a trip?
And what exactly is a pilgrimage, anyway?
According to Merriam-Webster Online, it’s a “journey to a shrine or other sacred place undertaken to gain divine aid, as an act of thanksgiving or penance, or to demonstrate devotion.”
By that definition, I took a trip.
But Wikipedia says: “A pilgrimage is a journey or search of moral or spiritual significance. Typically, it is a journey to a shrine or other location of importance to a person’s beliefs and faith, although sometimes it can be a metaphorical journey into someone’s own beliefs.”
By Wikipedia’s definition, perhaps I did make a pilgrimage—a pilgrimage that turned out to be not so much about China as it was about myself, as perhaps all pilgrimages really are.
In the crucible of travel, I learned some things about being alone and about the importance of human connection that seem to have texture and grain, if not quite enough shape to put into words.
Being in Beijing was humbling. I had not realized how hard on me it would be to be totally on my own in a city where I could not speak the language. I was so busy figuring things out and taking in amazing experiences that I didn’t suspect I was headed for a meltdown, particularly since I rarely have full-fledged meltdowns at home. And I did not expect that messages from my daughter and a picture of my grandsons holding a hand-drawn heart would so deeply touch me when I hadn’t felt my heart was in trouble until the moment I received them.
I live alone and have liked living alone, so when I got to Chengdu I was surprised to find how much I liked staying with Martin and his wife in their apartment. I liked that there were other people in and around the multi-story building, especially when I could hear them waking in the morning and beginning their day. I liked that when I was knitting and drinking beer, Martin was working in the next room, and I liked walking to dinner and eating with him.
I love my house, which is relatively distant from other houses, even though my garage is attached to another garage. But increasingly, it feels just a little too big, a little too separate, a little too much to be responsible for—and I feel a little too alone. As well, I do not particularly like to drive and I dislike my dependence on my car and the lack of transit access where I live. Not driving for more than two weeks was lovely. Walking around Martin’s Chengdu neighborhood was lovely. Riding the subway and bus were lovely.
No, I do not want to live in a commune, and I am not going to move to downtown Seattle. But I am thinking about moving on, somewhere. Nothing more is clear or sure.
Feeling compelled to write this account of my pilgrimage to China created more pressure when my body was already having difficulty handling the transitions I had imposed upon it.
However, I stopped kicking myself over putting more pressure on myself when I realized that I wasn’t just being compulsive, that writing about my pilgrimage to China was helping me to remember and process the experience. I might otherwise have come home and become engulfed by the life I had left, without giving what I had seen and done and felt in China enough thought.
As I was writing, I wondered if anyone would ever actually read what I wrote. But then I realized that at least one person would – my Aunt Ellen in California, who is 98 and not traveling these days, but who traveled quite daringly when she was a young schoolteacher with summers off.
So, besides writing this for myself, and for my children, I decided I was writing it for my Aunt Ellen. Knowing that she would read it helped to keep me typing.