Last September, I came up to the top of a mountain in China, to live in a Daoist temple for a couple months. Beyond learning how to live with the temple rules, training qi gong, meditation, water and fire tai chi forms, learning about Daoist medicine, Daoist principles and spirituality, I learned so much more to life while staying in the Five Immortals Temple.
Simple lifestyle, let’s go back to the basics!
I had read that the living conditions at the temple were going to be very basic. Indeed, we slept on a wooden bed with no mattress, we stacked some blankets up on top of each other to have some cushion between us and the wooden board. We had a closet and a desk, we didn’t need anything more besides maybe a heater,…that was a luxury that I missed the whole time there, especially when we started getting ice!
Actually, before coming there, I was a little worried about how I was going to adapt to living this way. Not that I am a city girl, but I am used to having certain comforts. The bathrooms were what I was the most worried about. I don’t know why but before coming here, I would be such a baby about using the squat toilets. Of course, there is a difference between the ones you find in public restrooms where hundreds of people use in a day and those from the temple where just a few women go. It was even more basic than the ones in the city, a rectangular hole in the ground. We would flush the toilet with a bucket that we filled with water from the pond.
We had a simple lifestyle, we did our chores, trained, ate, meditated, sometimes we would watch a documentary in the common room together. We made our own brooms with bamboo sticks that we found in the mountain, we cut wood to make a fire to keep warm during our breaks, we heated water from the mountain to make it clean enough to drink, we cleaned our clothes and our bodies with a bucket, we tried to not waste any water as much as possible …While we were lucky enough to have electricity up there which did make things easier, especially that it was getting dark early, we were still needing an adaptation period from our usual habits.
For the food, it was simple, but amazing. The cook cut up some vegetables, mixed them with some spices, cooked some rice or noodles in a wok over a fire. It wasn’t anything fancy, but she made us some tasty meals with non-processed foods.
This showed me that we can live in a simpler and more minimalistic lifestyle pretty easily, not that we need to go that far or get rid of all of our comforts. But not only did I come out of my comfort zone, became more adaptable and independent, but it also showed me that we can make efforts for the environment easily if we accepted to make a few changes. I have read a lot about how to create less waste by cooking your food with natural ingredients, using a bottle of water that you can refill, use cotton bags to get your groceries and so much more.
You are way stronger than you think!
The fear and the thought of being too weak, combined with feeling tired all the time held me back a lot. I am quite small and have very weak arms. When I did the training, I struggled physically a lot. I had never worked out this hard in my whole entire life. By the end of the afternoon, my body kept telling me “No, no, I want to go rest now, I can’t move anymore, my muscles are so sore and I am in so much pain”. Then another voice spoke up to tell me to stop listening to that nonsense, it’s almost over, move it!!!
Through the bitterness and struggle, you can find your inner strength. I was so exhausted and sore, but I pushed myself far beyond what I taught was possible before I came here. I practiced kung fu and tai chi for 6 hours a day. I honestly never felt so badass in my life. I was so excited to see my progress over the weeks. Not only was I able to last longer but one day I was totally caught by surprise when I lifted my leggings, there was this bulge coming out of my leg, I yelled “What is that?!! OMG I have muscles!!!”.
This is coming from the girl who had her gym teacher in school tell her to get a doctors excuse to not continue gym class (yes I was that bad at it). I have come a long way and a lot of what I accomplished started in my mind. I became more confident in my abilities and also in myself. If you don’t listen to your fears, you will notice you are so much stronger physically and mentally than what you thought, you are the warrior of your life.
We are stronger in a community
I feel sometimes like people in western countries have forgotten what it means to be in a community. Back home, we have a special day in the year that is called “Neighbor’s day” so that you have an excuse to meet your neighbors. You usually have a little get together with some snacks and drinks. I find it sad that we need a day in the year to talk to those who surround us every day.
Here at the temple, I realize that the circumstances were different, but we were people from very different backgrounds with a common goal. We would go down the mountain to pick up some very heavy vegetables and tofu or not, nobody would eat. Sometimes, we went into the woods to find some wood so we could stay warm around the fire in the shed. We picked the medicinal plants for the future students, since we had used some other dried herbs that previous students had gotten.
The group helped each other learn when some of us had difficulties with certain moves. If any of us had any pains, there was always someone who would give a massage or do some fire healing on us. We did our chores together, ate together, meditated together. Some days, we also held each other up when our old wounds came back up, we shared our stories, we trained together and sweated together. We connected on so many levels and I felt that we had created a family with strong bonds where each person can count on one another. Connecting with others clearly made us stronger.
A place to heal…
On top of learning amazing traditional Chinese medicine techniques such as fire healing, cupping, prick bleeding, moxibustion, healing music, acupressure, I learned to heal myself physically, energetically and emotionally.
The first week of training was brutal for me. Having lived with chronic fatigue for several years, I was worried of how my body was going to deal with training all day long. I did end up struggling with exhaustion in the beginning.
Shifu (=teacher in Chinese) knew that by practicing the qi gong, meditation and tai chi, I would get better but to help me get started, he advised me on some healing herbs that I made into medicinal balls, combined with one of the da gong movements called “The Five Dragons carry the pearl” ( how come Chinese kung fu moves always sound so awesome???). It’s a technique that really boosts your internal power. Within a few days, I already noticed a big difference. It helped me get enough kick-start energy so that even when I wasn’t taking any more herbs, I had gained enough energy from the daily exercises to feel stronger for the rest of my stay.
Feeling the chi in my body
Qi gong connected me to nature and to my inner energy. Since I got sick a few years ago, I had lost the feel of my internal energy. One morning while practicing the last exercise in the qi gong moves, my eyes were closed, I could feel my fingers touching, but when I opened my eyes, they weren’t at all. I was so excited I could feel my chi again!
The power of the scriptures
Scriptures (ritual of singing and reciting incantations, * see end of the article for more information) healed my lower stomach pain. One evening, something strange happened. One moment I was fine, then the scriptures started and Shifu was hitting this small wooden box and that’s when the pain started in my lower stomach. It lasted the whole time of the ceremony and when it was finished the pain went away. The same thing happened at the scriptures the next morning. I told Shifu what had happened afterwards and asked him why something like that would happen. He seemed very pleased and said “hen hao”, which means very good. He then said that the scriptures were healing me. I think he is right because I noticed something wonderful afterwards… (answer in the next paragraph).
This one is for you ladies, healing my menstruation problem. Last May, I had a copper IUD put in and it was a total disaster, my body completely rejected it. The pains were so intense and I bled for two weeks out of three very heavily. I started getting weak and lightheaded. I had to have it taken out. After that, my period hadn’t come back to normal. Since then, my period had stayed extremely heavy and painful. I couldn’t do much because of the cramps that lasted for days and the exhaustion that accompanied it. But apparently, several women got their periods more balanced after they trained here. Well, it was definitely my case. I noticed a huge difference. Even though I still have cramps the first day, my period has come back more balanced and like it was before the IUD. Between the scriptures and the special training, maybe it finally healed my body.
The hardship of forgiving
I have been carrying within myself lots of pain, anger and sadness from my past. We all know that forgiveness releases you. I taught that I wanted to forgive, but deep down I didn’t really. Forgiving also felt like saying “I accept what happened and it’s ok”, but it’s not… Having nightmares from the past, feeling scared and weak all the time is not a healthy way to live. The more I trained, the more I had anger boiling back up.
I talked to Shifu one evening. After making me face reality, that I could choose to hold on to this and keep suffering or let go of the heavy bag that I was carrying, Yannick helped me through the process of saying out loud that I forgive. He asked who do I forgive and what for. I said it for the first time out loud, which somehow didn’t feel the same is telling myself, in my mind, I wish I could forgive.
I went through this process for a long while that night and something finally clicked in me. It didn’t miraculously take the pain away, but I felt lighter and more serene. The next day, I also felt my energy circulate better. It’s a process that has just begun but it’s finally in motion. I feel like an onion and I am taking down the layers away little by little…
Finding the right teacher
I have had previously a teacher who taught me a lot of information, but he was manipulative and controlling. He did a lot of harm because he wanted power. I felt broken and mistrustful when I arrived at the temple. But what I found was someone who couldn’t care less about what anyone thought of him. He didn’t take sides or tried to make some students shine while minimizing others.
Discussing the subject with others who have had a teacher to follow, it seems that we need to be careful who we choose to help guide us. No teacher is perfect, they are only human. For example, Li Shifu smokes a lot. This only affects him, so it doesn’t bother me. Yes, he could be sometimes harsh, but he said what I needed to hear to move forward. He only gave me guidance or help with my healing if I asked, he never came up to me and forced me into anything. Some people told me that their teachers completely rejected them when they tried doing things differently in their lives, others had teachers that tried to seduce their female students or build up their esteem and then bringing them down completely. They made them completely dependent on them emotionally.
I feel that it’s important to have someone in your life who can teach you and help you when you feel lost. But someone who won’t force you into anything, who doesn’t care if you apply what they have taught you, someone who simply gives you what wisdom they have and then you decide if that knowledge corresponds to you or not. You are free to choose to listen to your inner voice, is this for me? No, then that’s ok, I will try something else. Yes, let’s see how this will help me.
Discipline VS motivation
Waking up before the sunrise to run up to the peak of the mountain (well crawling while heavily hyperventilating in my case). Doing burpees or the iron ball push-ups as a warm-up was so difficult for someone like me, especially since I just ended up falling on my stomach because I totally lack upper body strength. Struggling with the splits already but then seeing your friendly senior student pulling on your foot to pull on those sore muscles! Training for hours every day while you feel all the sweat pouring down your back. Every morning, pulling your legs up to put them in your leggings, because they were too heavy from all the kicks and the Ma Bu stance (horse stance) you did. Doing your maximum and hearing “Go lower!!!!” every few minutes. Yes, this was intense and the craziest training I did in my whole life, well…until I got here, I would be struggling to do only 20 minutes of exercising. This taught me something that is so important for everyday life. Discipline, without it, you can’t achieve your dreams. Motivation is important, but it fluctuates. Discipline is what will permit you to push yourself and make accomplishments daily.
So much more…
These are only a few examples of what I experienced while I was there. If I were to explain everything, I would be writing for weeks. I already had to put some subjects aside for another article and force myself to stop writing.
This place has brought me so much more than what I expected. I am truly grateful for learning not only all the tai chi moves, the qi gong, the meditation, the different healing methods but also all these life experiences that will change my life forever. I can’t wait to see how much more I can develop myself!
If any of these subjects interests you and you wish for me to develop them more, ask me in the commentaries!
If this place inspired you and you want to study tai chi, Daoist medicine, kung fu, internal alchemy and so much more, here is the website where you can find the schedule for next year’s courses and all the information about what they teach : http://fiveimmortals.com/
*If you want to read more about the scriptures that were practiced at the Five Immortals Temple, here is a link: