tirsdag 20. desember 2011

Self mastery

Life seems to be a series of moments in which I can decide to live up to my highest potential, or scrape along providing myself with excuses for performing at my absolute minimum. The liberating thing about time being manifest as consecutive moments, is that I can choose where I want life to go next when I become conscious of it. In times of extreme physical or mental hardship the equilibrium of my apparently solid determination is prone to upset, and that is when unconsciousness around my own emotions and negative thought patterns can result in a downward spiral into self-pity, and numbing myself to what I’m really feeling. Consciousness around times of intense emotion and stress is one of the hardest and most important practices I’m struggling to cultivate right now. When my mind is at it’s weakest and most vulnerable and I feel like numbing out, is also when I need to pay most careful attention to what I want from life. The desire for relief can sometimes get in the way of my mission, and once I start down that path it can take a while before I snap out of it. I’m present to the fact that there will inevitably be fluctuations. 
There often seems to be a notion, especially in new age communities, that in order for our path to be successful we should be happy and loving all the time. If you are truly seeking truth on a spiritual path, I don’t think that is natural. The masters that we exalt and revere are seen as examples of how successful we can be. They are seemingly perfectly in balance, immune to emotional disturbance, and in possession of unattainable skills. I have been guilty of putting them on a pedestal many times. This illusion of them being somehow ‘better’ than us isn’t serving their egos, and it is definitely not serving us. They likely have their own flaws and weaknesses that we are not seeing. Masters should be seen for who they are, unique individuals, just like you and me, who have come a long way, but have their own issues to deal with. Rather than prostrating ourselves in front of them and praying and hoping that just possibly, one day, we might be just like them, we should be standing with them and exploring life with their wisdom and experience guiding us. A master may be extraordinary, but it is possible that someday, if you work hard, you may surpass them. In the beginning it will often seem unattainable, but I like to remember a famous quote: “Go as far as you can see; when you get there you’ll be able to see farther.”
To be clear, I’m not advocating disrespect for masters, but a perspective where instead of distancing ourselves from them, we are getting closer to them. Not through fake worship, or exalted adoration, but through a realization of our shared humanity and kinship.

Love from Wudang

onsdag 14. desember 2011

Sharing without telling

The unexpected twists and turns of life are testing my mettle. What am I really made of? What kind of man am I? Do I deserve to be in the position I am in? Is my life headed in the direction I want it to? I am in a space now that I didn’t think possible when I left Norway two months ago. My heart and mind is cracking open and it is taking me to places that are both beautiful and starkly revealing. I’m at a crossroad on my journey and at this point in time I am still not sure on which path I will continue to stride. Now I’m letting things crystallize and settle into place before any judgements are made as to where fate will guide me. What I am learning is that I am human, and so is my master. I create my own fate, but life will continue happening to me. What matters is how I handle the undulations that will inevitably come. Do I buckle, or do I stand firm? Do I wallow in despair, or do I use the potential and soar? Do I learn my lessons, or do I continue along the well-worn track of previous ones unlearned? I am uncovering a man that I didn’t see quite so clearly before, but the little boy inside is still afraid of letting go and stepping fully into what he will become. I sense a transformation on the horizon, and it’s both terrifying and exciting. 
With love, peace and a fair amount of ambiguity,

mandag 28. november 2011

Dealing with exhaustion

Hi guys,
I’ve been here in Wudang for five weeks now, and I’m slowly starting to settle in and find my place in the family (which means I’m at the bottom of the hierarchy symbolized by serving rice and doing the dishes after dinner). I’m making progress with my training, and I’m adjusting to life under what feels like constant supervision by my master. 

Here's a video of my practice for those of you who are not on my facebook.

The first month here was more than anything hard on my psyche. The training was unrelenting, and by the end of the first month I felt like I was running on fumes. My mood was unpredictable, and thoughts of leaving and going back to a more comfortable life started appearing in my mind with increasing frequency. I started questioning if this really was what I wanted to do. What I think was the prime contributor to my feeling down, is that I was told I wouldn’t be allowed a day off. I had three months of nonstop training to look forward to before the spring-festival, and I felt trapped. I was questioning the physical soundness of training that intensively without any time to recover.
Close to the end of my first month back on the mountain, Hallgrim Hansegård, who founded the dance company Frikar, arrived in Wudang to continue working on his collaborative dance project involving a group of Chinese Wudang Kungfu students. We decided to meet up and have a chat while he was here on the mountain. I worked up my nerve and asked my master if I could have the day off to climb to the top, the Golden Summit, together with Hallgrim, and lo and behold he answered “yes” (albeit I would have to do early morning and evening practice). Now climbing a few thousand stairs might not fit your definition of a day off when you’ve been kicking, running, and standing in horse stance for the better part of a month, but I was ecstatic about the prospect of no kicks for an entire day! Master Zhong left the day after to go to his home town for three days to take care of some business, leaving his wife, the friendly Daoist, my master’s three-month-old baby, and me to take care of the house. The next day I met Hallgrim and brought him to the house of Master Zhong. He was invited to stay for lunch and when I during our meal told Master Zhong’s wife, Xia Lingfan that he was a professional “laus” dancer, she immediately asked to see a performance. After dinner her wish was granted when Hallgrim put on some traditional Norwegian mouth harp music and gave them a performance they won’t soon forget, spinning, yipping, doing acrobatics and topping off the act by kicking a hat off a bamboo staff I was holding up high. It was truly a surreal sight to see such an amazing display of traditional Norwegian culture, in the middle of the setting I had been kicking and sweating, to the sound of my master commanding me to speed my lazy ass up.

Speaking of Norwegian culture: this is Master Zhong's daughter
wearing a Norwegian hat knitted by my friend Hilde Barstad
The day after our walk up to the top I felt reinvigorated. I had enjoyed good conversation and speaking Norwegian again. My energy was replenished, and I was enthusiastic about going back to my practice. I told Dong the friendly Daoist what an amazing effect that single day off had had on me, and he agreed that it is wise to have a day off at least once a week. "Otherwise the pressure becomes too great." “If only Master Zhong felt the same,” I said. “Hmmm, I’ll have a word with him,” he said and winked. If it wouldn’t have been hugely inappropriate I would have hugged him and professed my ever lasting love to the man right then and there. 
On the one month anniversary of my arrival in Wudang I got my first whole day off. It was a misty day, so I decided to use it for catching up on old e-mails I hadn’t replied to, and reading a book. At lunch time Master Zhong told me I had to leave the house and do something, or he wouldn’t give me a day off again. So, not wanting to tempt fate, I promptly left the house and went for walk up to the temple, muttering to myself about how unfair it was that I couldn’t even decide what to do with my own time on my day off.

I think most of my master's behaviour results from him wanting me to develop my "yi", which means my mind/will. I'm realising how much of this is just based on that. Without pushing myself and developing my yi, my Kungfu won't be going anywhere.
Ultimately, I realize how blessed I am to be in this situation, and I’m often reminded of that when I’m down by my friends. I know there will be ups and downs during my time here, and my discipline and willpower will be put to the ultimate test, but when I'm down and feel like I've just been thrown out of a vehicle moving full speed, I take comfort in the fact that the only constant here in life is change. 
Love and miss you guys,
Bjarte Ling Yuan Hiley

søndag 13. november 2011


Hi guys,

These last few weeks have been tough! I knew this would be hard, but... I guess you’ll just have to hear the story. 

A few days into my training I started to get anxious about when I would get a day off. He still hadn’t mentioned anything about a break, and wasn’t giving any sign of letting up on the pressure. Going for my morning run was a thoroughly unrewarding experience. I could hardly lift my legs off the ground as I was trotting, clumsy-hippo style, along the road at the pace of a turtle. On the sixth day my body felt like it had been through a meat grinder, and I couldn’t restrain myself any longer. I asked as deferentially as I could, “Master Zhong, when do I get a day off?” To this he simply replied, “Day off? You don’t get a day off! If you’re too tired you rest.” Implied in this was that I shouldn’t take a rest unless I really, really needed it. The mention of him bringing out the staff still fresh in my mind.

The weather had been foggy and humid since I got here, so the clothes I’d washed the day I arrived were still not dry. That led to me having to wear them dry, which after nine days straight of hard training inevitably led to me getting a cold. Luckily Master Zhong wasn’t completely without sympathy towards the sufferings of his new disciple, so he let me sleep and rest until I was better. On day two I recovered from the cold, and my legs no longer felt like divorcing themselves from my body due to assault and battery. After being on the receiving end of a string of insults about how appallingly out of shape I was, I started training again, regularly raising the number of kicks and extending the duration of the mabu. I was making progress with my stretching (my forehead is about 5 cm. away from my toes while my leg is straight), and I was starting to feel like this could be handled. 

Yesterday Master Zhong came up to me and said, “I haven’t given you a rest since you came here, why don’t you join us up to Five Dragons Temple for a walk.” I jumped at the opportunity to have a much needed break, and joined him up there with another Daoist who is living in the house with us, and we took some photos of the Daoist while he was meditating. This morning my master invited me along to do some work in his garden, we weeded it and harvested some sweet potatoes. “Whew, this is nice, finally a break!” I thought foolishly. Apparently he was just resting me up so he could break me back down.

A few pictures from a temple by Five Dragon Temple

This afternoon I started my training again after a 24 hour break (except for my morning run and taiji). This afternoon is when training really started. After running three kilometers down the mountain, and three back up I came back to a little surprise, today Master Zhong was going to supervise the whole thing and increase the amount of kicks to 1500 kicks which should be completed in half an hour. After 1500 kicks while I was trying my best to keep my composure, avoid fainting, throwing up, and burst into tears all at the same time, while my master was shouting at me from the side, I completed the kicks in 40 minutes. I did not harvest any compliments for my apparently horrendously subpar performance, and was told to walk around for a bit and gather myself. Still woozy, I continued on to pushups, mabu, frog-jumps, pushup-jumps, and other “fun” exercises. After two hours of what felt like pure torture, I was told that I could rest, and I scampered into my room feeling completely - excuse my French - shit and demotivated. After I had a shower, we all had some food together, Master Zhong, his wife, the visiting Daoist, and me. The Daoist (who is a hilarious man), told a funny joke, and we all went off into peals of laughter. Master Zhong was even holding his sides because he was hurting from laughing so hard! It’s moments like those that make all the hard work worth it. I am starting to realize what I have embarked on. It will not be an easy two years, that’s for sure. Xuanwu, give me strength!

Ok, I feel like I should polish this a bit, but I’m just going to post it as is, off to sleeeeeep for a few hours. There's so much going on, and I wish I could post about it all, but I just don't have the energy. Thinking about you guys back home!

Oh, and I've shaved my beard!

Lots of love!

torsdag 27. oktober 2011

Getting started as a Wudang 16th generation disciple

Hi folks!
I hope you enjoyed yesterdays little story. I know, two blog posts within the first week of arriving in Wudang Mountain, I’m on a roll here. 
I’m not sure where to start telling this story, so I better just start at the beginning. 
Sitting on the bus on my way up the mountain I am struck by how natural it feels to be here, slowly climbing the winding roads of the Wudang Mountain chain. My thoughts go back to when I arrived back in Norway last Christmas after becoming Master Zhong’s disciple. I felt like I was separate from the rest of society, I saw how foolish we all were, stressing around, grumpily trying to find gifts for everyone we cared for while they were fretting over the same thing. It did not feel natural. And here I am again in Wudang, almost one year later, riding the same bus up the friendly mountain to see my master, and it’s as if I never left.
Beautiful Wudang

Super-comfy wooden-mattress bed
I arrive at his home as he instructed me to. I don’t know what he has planned for me, all I know is that he has prepared a room somewhere for me. I get to his place before him and wait for him to come back from some business he had to take care of. When he returns he greets me with a smile and tells me to bring my luggage into his house. He places my staffs up against the wall and suddenly asks me how tall I am, I’m probably looking a bit flustered by the abrupt question so he stands next to me and compares our heights. I’m only slightly taller than him. “The bed will be just right for you,” he says and points to the bed in the room, “I used to sleep in it too. You’ll stay here at least until next year, we’ll see then.”  Then he walks off to let me settle in. I’m letting the fact that I’ll be staying in the same house as my master sink in, and start mentally preparing myself for what is to come. 
I wake up the next morning relatively well rested, the reason I write relatively is because I’m basically sleeping on a wooden floor with a blanket underneath me... It takes some getting used to. Breakfast is prepared by my master, as was yesterdays dinner. I’m starting to get used to eating in silence with him, since every time I tried asking him a question while eating I get shut down by a slightly irritated yes or no answer. The training begins by him telling me that these first months until next year I’ll be practicing basics, starting with 900 kicks a day, working up towards 5000. I start stretching and he says that by next year I should also be able to reach the tip of my toes with my mouth while holding my leg straight. I stare at him in disbelief and say “Really? I’m nowhere near being able to do that.” “You will have to work hard,” he replies sternly.
My basic-training space and tea house in the background
After my first training session and lunch we sit down in his tea house to drink tea and relax for a bit, and he goes on to tell me what his requirements from me as his disciple here are. “You should prepare to ‘eat bitter’ (in Chinese this means “endure hardship”), I will not always be here to make you train, so you will have to train on your own some of the time. If you don’t practice while I’m not here, I will know, and I will bring out the staff. You have committed yourself to train here for two years, so you have to remain here for the entirety of those two years.” “I understand and accept this,” I say, while what’s really spinning in the back of my mind is, “Oh shit! What have I gotten myself into?” The rest of our talk is about more pleasant topics, like what he wants to teach me during these two years. He wants me to become a true Wudang disciple, so I should not only learn the martial aspect, I should also begin to study the culture, meditation, Cha Dao (the art of tea), calligraphy, massage, Chinese medicine, and literature. “Prowess in martial arts is not the highest achievement, do you know what is?” He asks. After a short while I offer a tentative reply, “Dao?” “That is correct!" He exclaims happily, "Martial arts is only a small aspect of Dao, as is calligraphy, Chinese medicine, meditation, and Cha Dao, together they create the whole. I want you to treasure every moment you have here, and always make the most of it so you will not have any regrets.” To this I nod and agree wholeheartedly. I vow to not take this opportunity for granted, and truly value the precious time I will spend here.
After an hour or two an old Daoist doctor who is going down to town with Master Zhong comes by. I sit and have a talk with him before they leave while Master Zhong makes preparations for his short trip. He is a friendly old man with a big wispy beard protruding from his chin, I contemplate complimenting him on his beard, but decide not to. It turns out he came here for the first time some 30 years ago, and hasn’t been here since until this week. So I ask him what he thinks about the change on Wudang Mountain with the tourism blossoming and the renovation of all the temples. He simply replies “Tian Di Zi Ran”, which I think means something like “everything between heaven and earth is as it is”.
When Master Zhong is ready to leave I say farewell to the friendly Daoist, and get some last instructions from Master Zhong on what to do while he’s gone. He gives me the keys to the house, tells me that I can eat whatever food is there, and he tells me what to train (which is pretty much just kicks and horse stance). He leaves and says he will be back tomorrow. 
Master Zhongs front gate

I stand in Master Zhong’s front yard alone letting everything sink in, and am not sure if all of this really happened or not. I look myself in the mirror in the courtyard and say to myself “You lucky bastard!” With a huge grin on my face. “Now get training before he grabs his staff and beats you.”

onsdag 26. oktober 2011

Travelling to Wudang

Hi folks!
Wow, so it’s almost a year since I left my masters house after becoming his disciple (story in separate blog post below), and went back to Norway. I have now returned to Wudang Mountain for two more years of study, and practice.
First, I just want to share a small story of what it’s like being a blond foreigner with a beard, I experienced on the train on my way down here from Beijing. As those of you who have been reading my blog for a while already know, I had a less than elegant departure from Beijing the last time I set off for Wudang. Well, apparently I will never learn since this was pretty much a rerun of last time, except this time I was lugging a guitar and two staffs in addition to everything else whilst tottering towards the departure hall and a boarding time deadline. Bucket loads of fun as I’m sure you all can imagine. Anyway, when I got settled on the train, and we were well on our way, I decided to go get some grub in the restaurant carriage. As I enter the carriage, the noise dies down and heads turn to look at me like some scene out of a horror movie, and the police man who saw me get on the train with my staffs whispers discretely (in China, that means hollering loudly while gesticulating with great enthusiasm), “This is the one practicing the staff.” Briefly acknowledging him, I swiftly move on to the chef sitting smoking a cigarette close to entrance of the carriage. He looks at me and makes a “shuffling noodles into your mouth” gesture, while looking at me with a mix of curiosity and confusion. I ask him "Could I look at the menu?”. He looks mildly surprised, and says “oh, he speaks Chinese”. This is then repeated by the waitress sitting next to him and subsequently by most of the other people in the carriage who are still staring at me quite flagrantly and completely unabashed. I order my food, and the chef who has had a ponderous look on his face for some time while I was looking at the menu exclaims “He looks like Liening! Am I right? With the beard and everything!”. “Who is Liening”, I ask. “You know, Makesi, Sidalin and Liening”(it sounds closer to the original names with Chinese pronunciation), he replies, hardly able to contain his amusement. “Oh, you mean Lenin”, I say ”Yes, exactly, Liening!”. “Ok” I say, and sit down to enjoy my meal while simultaneously being the subject of a discussion at a table close to me of which I couldn’t quite make out the topic of.
So what do you think? I’ve been compared to many people since I grew long hair and a beard, Viking, Techno Viking, a Chinese posing as a Norwegian, a lion,Thor, Saint Stephen, the Kungfu King, and a few others I can’t quite recall, but never Lenin. Maybe it’s just the fact that many Chinese think all of us westerners look alike anyway, and that having a beard disguising some of my facial features just exacerbates this conundrum. Hmm, but the lion doesn't really fit into that conclusion though. Who knows, judge for yourself!

Spot the difference

Ok, so this wasn't a Wudang blog, but I'll try to write one tomorrow describing all the exciting stuff that has happened to me since I began my life as a Wudang 16th generation disciple (which is a lot!) But right now my legs are hurting, and I want to sleep!

Lots of love!

Bjarte Hiley 凌远