So there I was,standing in Rome under the arch of the Pantheon, alone. I had come back to see it after living in the city for nearly a month, teaching workshops at Heaven Fight Arena – the largest Martial Arts facility in the country. I had a few more days left to walk the streets and steep in the ancient world I had always wanted to see. So there I stood under the huge pillars at the entrance and could see the rain falling through the oculus at the center of the building. What an amazing place, even without the original statuary of the roman gods in the alcoves. (It was originally a roman holy place but was taken over by the vatican and made into a church. Although this has now preserved it to modern day.)
So what to do ? Alone, standing amongst the pillars of Rome with my life coming apart at the seams? I started to walk.
They say the circle walking found in baguazhang came from the long men (dragons gate) sect of Taoism on Wudang Mountain. It was called “rotating in Worship of Heaven” (Zhuan Tian Zun 顓天尊) and was used to induce trance states in moving meditation. It was during his training in the Long Men sect that Dong Hai Chuan learned this method and had an enlightenment moment that helped him find the way to combine his martial arts and circle walking into the beautiful and complex style he built. Which later came to be known as Baguazhang.
I started to walk and press my hands towards the ancient pillars, staring as they say “into the distance” and tried to let my troubles fall away. My marriage was falling apart and the heaviness in my chest was like a stone. I was not training baguazhang as it turned out that day. I was walking circles looking for myself. I can remember as I began to settle down inside that the morning tourists were leaving me alone and soon started to disappear to me. I began to heat up and saw the steam rising from my wet coat, making a fog in my vision between here and there. Soon I could not feel my feet any longer.
I can see clearly in my mind the details of that pillar, the old cracks and weather worn stone. Ancient graffiti and glyphs of people long dead stating “I was here”. The sound of my breath became like a slow rumble in my chest and then it happened. It was like I stopped walking but the world kept rotating around me, the pillar and the background scenery gently moving around my stationary position. I could see my hand outstretched towards the pillar but it almost felt as if it was someone else’s palm as though I was just an observer in this body right now.
I remember stretching my neck and opening it fully and feeling my shoulders so soft and round settled into my back. It was like everything stopped in me. The world rotating and my hand outstretched, the steam coming from my arms and floating upwards like smoke. My eyes were watering I remember and a few droplets of rain ran down my cheeks. I was there, but not there. Alone but not alone. I was in a place of real true quiet.
Finally my legs came back to me and were tired, my waist was aching and my mouth wished for water. I stopped the world from rotating and shook my head. The weird Canadian tourist walking circles around the pillars finally stopped being so strange and I saw the sun come out through the clouds between the buildings. I sat on the ground and drank from my water flask and drank in the place as well as the water. When I realized I had a smile on my face I knew that the one thing you can always count on is your training. The old stories are not just fairy tales but point directly at the truths that training can give you. By no means do I think I am an enlightened person, but tapping into the strength within even for a brief moment has showed me I can live with myself. Besides it is only for a short time we are here, best do something with it of import!
Thanks Dong Hai Chuan, thanks to every teacher who helped pass on and keep the art alive. It is saving my life in more than one way.