being busy, relished the frisson of deadlines and decisions, and the freedom
to make her own mistakes. (Long Read)
Sandy gunned the engine and dropped smoothly into second as she raced
for the rapidly closing gap at the road works on the outside lane. She
loved driving and had to travel a lot for work. Smugly she glanced in
the rear view mirror at the irate van-man, now forced into the space behind
He had tailed her for some distance, testing the engine of his companies
white Mercedes Vito against that of her black Saab 9-5. She was well aware
that her car evoked this chase reflex in the baser sort of male, and it
still rankled that she had finally had to resign herself to giving up
her beloved red Porsche. In her younger years, as a blonde babe,she had
enjoyed turning heads where ever she went in it. Sadly it had also drawn
the unwelcome attention of every chauvinistic driver she ever came across,
and she had become utterly weary of the hassle. Life had become too serious
a game for such energy drains.
Trickling slowly forward in the queue of traffic, she changed the tempo
and volume of the music on the quad-stack system to something less urgent.
She had never outgrown the tendency to use tracks that had an aggressive
edge, purely to help her focus her attention on her driving. But then,
she tended to do most things in a full-on z kind of way.
Now though, with little opportunity to make any quicker progress, she
relaxed in her seat and caressed the silky leather surface of the steering
wheel. She had become reconciled to keeping a low profile on the road
, and was quite content with the Saab. It was powerful, responsive, technologically
slick, and very discreet. The extra-spec tinted windows afforded her some
measure of anonymity, but the obscure glass did sometimes seem to provoke
She had found that impeccable road manners usually deflected this, and
as a result of her strategy she had become an expert at reading the road.
She needed to drive defensively in order to be left alone to get where
she was going, and she hated wasting time.
Impatient now , she craned her neck in an effort to see the extent of
the queued traffic. She had a particularly full schedule for the day,
unusually so for a Thursday, and would have to sacrifice some of her treats
if she were to be delayed further. She consulted her Palm to check for
any flexibility in her schedule, and found that if she cancelled the ten
thirty appointment and moved the eleven o clock meeting to after lunch,
say around two, she should still be able to drop in for that final fitting.
She was very much looking forward to the weekend, and knew that the magenta
silk velvet number would be indispensable. Figure hugging,expensive, not
too short but deeply decollete, it was just right for the new field she
had chosen for her next play-time. With some classic accessories it should
strike just the right chord.Over time she had become so adroit at this
kind of machination that familliarity with it had begun to breed contempt
in her for expending energy on something so easy. She went over the agenda
for the meeting with Tom in her head.There was the matter of the outstanding
accounts of course; they were important, and she considered a range of
shrewd tactics that she might deploy against the late payers. She was
good at this part of her job, tough and ruthless. She had an arsenal of
moves ready for situations like this. She played to win,quite fairly on
the whole, but there seemed little ground for generosity on this occasion.If
she could talk Tom around to her way of thinking then the meeting could
be over by four.Then maybe she could get to the gym in time for that lecture.
Reaching for the hands-free car phone, she called in to the office. Her
P.A. Brenda answered as she expected, sounding tense and a little anxious.
"Hi Brendy, its me. Look, Im really sorry, I know I promised
to get in early today, but Tom e-mailed me first thing with all the data
for this morning, and now here I am stuck in a jam out on the north-bound
road works." Sandy knew that good old dependable Brenda could be
relied upon to bend every rule in the book when necessary. Brenda was
very dazzled by Sandys success, her natural authority, her efficiency,
her flair and business acumen, and of course her glamour...also she was
not a little cowed by Sandys impatience when things went awry.
"Its okay, Sandy, I can hold the fort at this end as long as
youre here by half-past. Or shall I try to reschedule Tom for later?"
Tom was Head of accounts, but Sandy pulled rank on him as a Board member.
He found her quite intimidating. Sandy was well aware of this and found
the necessity for putting on such a show a tiresome drain, but she knew
that in the male dominated world of corporate management an aggressively
competitive approach was expected as the norm.
Sandy smiled as she heard Brendas response. Always the sign of of
a good P.A., being able to anticipate the bosses needs. "Good girl
Brens; yes, if you can switch it for around two, after lunch, that would
be great. And can you get hold of whatsisname pencilled in for the ten-thirty
slot, and put him off till next week? Ive got a few things to se
ue to before lunch, and Ive no idea how long this jam is going to
last. Call me if theres a problem, will you?"
Sandy replaced the car-phone handset and checked the queue up ahead. Having
slowly rounded a long bend in the motorway, the vista showed that the
contra-flow ended a mile or so further on.Through narrowed eyes Sandy
watched the van-man in her rear view, eating a chocolate bar and reading
his tabloid. She could probably lose him if she was quick off the mark.
She liked being busy, relished the frisson of deadlines and decisions,
and the freedom to make her own mistakes. She had been married, once.
It seemed like a long time ago, but the time she had spent being thus
held to account now seemed like a much longer time. She felt herself to
have lived through several lifetimes already. Orlando-like, transiting
mysteriously from one set of circumstances to the next, she had not yet
reached the age of forty five. She was generally comfortable in her skin,and
believed she had wrought a life for herself that suited her capabilities
and propensities. Not to say her predilections, which she was now very
well able to indulge. She took very good care of herself, and felt that
she was probably at the peak of her powers. Physically fit, always perfectly
groomed, she was polished, influential and experienced. But she was becoming
aware of a growing unease with her life, and the demands it made on her.
Somehow there was a hollowness, a hunger for greater authenticity, a dissatisfaction
with the personal costs involved in having to work so hard to uphold values
she no longer found sufficient.
Dismissing this vague disquiet she thought again of the magenta silk velvet,
voluptuously skimming her contours.She thought of it as necessary armoury
on the battlefield of amorous encounter. Having tired of the trammels
of courtship, and the treachery it usually entailed, she had embarked
upon the pursuit of sexual adventure untrammelled by any such considerations.
Her sensuous nature required expression, release, realisation, and she
was clear about her right to claim this. She was good at compartmentalising
her life, and recognised the benefits of it.Indeed it was one of the health-checks
she had practised for years. To function effectively she recognised the
necessity to separate work and play rigorously, juggling one against the
other, just as she was intending to do today. These were her rewards for
her diligent self-sacrifice in the service of her duties she felt, but
she knew too that she must maintain a core of herself that was not subject
to either work or play. This part of herself she held aloof from either
of these, a safe place where nourishment w ías neither material
nor sensual. This was where she really lived, and the thought steadied
and stabilised her, reassured and comforted her. She sometimes envied
those whose vocation did not seem to require such a dislocation of the
self. She imagined that perhaps those who were engaged in creative pursuits,
artists poets, musicians and so on, might enjoy a greater sense of synergy
and continuity in their lives.
After the fitting and a quick sandwich lunch in front of the computer,
the meeting with Tom went smoothly. He was a methodical and conscientious
man, but with a carefully cultivated streak of sentimentality a mile wide.
She dealt with this anomaly, as always, by driving coach and horses through
his objections, reminding him obliquely of the company policy on arrears.
Thus had she forged a strategy to overcome the obstacles, as she was paid
to do. It was her job to get a little heavy sometimes. It was a game he
often forced her to play, but she didnt enjoy it and found it all rather
tedious. She was tired now as she gently ushered a bewildered Tom out
of her office and towards Brendas desk and the Diary.
Back in her sanctum, she closed the door and slipped off her shoes. Now
was a good time to refuel. She took up position on the rug in front of
the plate glass window and stretched, luxuriously. As she went through
her programme of Hatha yoga asanas, she felt the tension ebb away from
her muscles and from her mind. At the end of the sequence she finished
off as normal with a concentrated spell of meditation, breathing smoothly,
focussing deeply on the tan tei, centre of chi. Lying supine on
the deep pile rug beneath the window afterwards, she felt refreshed, reinvigorated,
light and clear-headed, alert but relaxed. She was centred again. This
was her very safest place within herself, and Brenda always knew when
to hold the calls.
She consulted her Palm again, and downloaded all the latest entries onto
the office computer for Brendas attention.There were a few unanswered
letters, some e-mail enquiries she could shuffle off to R&D, some
appointments to make in preparation for next week, some she could cancel.She
checked the itinerary for Friday. Not too demanding,mainly loose ends
to tie up, issues to formalise, like todays head-to-head with Tom.
She should be able to leave a little earlier tomorrow,pick up the dress
on her way home, then have time to pack for the weekend. She had made
it a rule that when she played the field she played away. This time it
was to be in the next county as a house guest at the stately home of a
magnate with political aspirations. It would be opulent, impressive and
sufficiently well-peopled with enough of the right sort to enable her
to make a considered choice, should she feel so moved. Diplomats might
make an interesting change perhaps; suave but thrusting ätypes, well-educated,
and keen to make the right connections. She would probably have a lot
of fun, if they werent all stuffed shirts.
At twilight Sandys Saab 9-5 glided quietly into the last available
parking space at the Country Club; Janes silver Lexus was on one
side, and Simons dark green Cherokee on the other. She glanced around
the car park at the other vehicles. Robs red Beamer she saw, in
its usual spot in the reserved staff area. Some vehicles were familiar
and belonged to friends, but there were many others today that she didnt
know.It was unusually busy, probably because of the lecture, she decided.
Opening the car door she swung out her long elegant legs and slid smoothly
from her seat. Of above average height, slender and athletic, she moved
easily and fluidly,almost catlike.She hiked her gym bag from the boot
of the car and slung it over her shoulder. As she clicked the Çbutton
on the remote she glanced up at the sky. Crimson clouds chased with gold
scudded quickly across a cerulean expanse of ripped silk. The wind rustled
at the few remaining leaves on the towering beech trees, as the rooks
coming in to roost for the night screamed and quarrelled and fought for
position. Sandy felt the strange mixture of excitement and relief that
her arrival at this place usually evoked.
It was a very special place, and secretly she felt privileged to be a
member. The clientele was very exclusive, and membership required nomination.
To achieve full membership status was a signal to the world that you mattered,
were of consequence, had arrived.
Sandy pushed open the heavy glass door at the entrance, and was assailed
by the familiar blend of the comforting aromas of fresh coffee,wood smoke
from the log-burner in the relaxation area, and perfume from the huge
display of lilies gracing the foyer, all mingling together with a faint
whiff of chlorine wafting through from the pool complex. It was warm and
humid inside,and she slipped off her jacket as she approached the polished
blonde-wood reception desk.
The pretty young red-haired receptionist greeted Sandy warmly, and took
her membership card to place it in the rack on the desk."Hi Abigail,
how are you today? Rushed off your feet I should think, to judge by the
state of the car park. Ive never seen it so packed." Sandy
leaned across the desk to scan the rack of cards to see who was in.Abi
also leaned forward to look. Only about half of the spaces in the rack
were taken up, which meant that many of the people in the building were
visitors, by invitation only, of course."W ell the pool is really
busy, and the fitness suite as well, but I can probably find you an empty
jacuzzi if you like?" Sandy nodded and Abigail glanced down at the
video screen on the lower desk. She hit a couple of keys on a control
panel to survey the different areas within the pool complex."Theres
only Jane in number five. Looks like shes asleep though."Sandy
grinned. "Great; she wont be for long I promise you. Thanks Abi.
See you later.Oh, by the way which room is the talk being held in this
evening?" Abigail hit a key on the console. "Its in the
Blue room in the meditation suite, but I should get in early. Its
drawn a lot of interest.Be there for ten to if you want a good seat."
The wall clock showed it to be just after five. No time to waste then.
In the palatial changing room Sandy wriggled into her red bathing costume
and slipped on the fresh white robe Abi had given her. Quickly she arranged
her clothes on a multi-hanger and put them with all her other stuff in
her locker. She checked the contents of the little cabinet built into
the door; more body lotion needed. Sandy fished out her Palm from her
bag and made a note for herself.
At the door to the jacuzzi Sandy paused to look through the glazed panel.
Jane was still there, apparently asleep, eyes shielded by a bright pink
eye-shade as her body bobbed and floated on the bubbling surface of the
water. A faint cloud of steam enveloped her. Sandy opened the door a crack
and hissed "Ssssnakes Janey, Sssssnakes in the water..." Jane
came to groggily and giggled at her friend.
"Sandra darling- " she bellowed over the noise of the tub, "how
the devil are we, so nice to see you. Come on in sweetness,theres
room for a little one." Jane moved over in the tub to make room as
Sandy slipped off her robe and hung it on a peg.
Jane was dark and petite, curvy and ebulliently confident."Well,
what are you getting up to this weekend? Old Shannons place I bet.I was
planning on going myself, but then Simon called, and well, I don't know,
I thought Id just give him one more chance.You know what an Achilles
heel I have for the blonde cherub,and such a Hercules when hes trying
to mend fences! But I might see you there if he gets tedious."
The two of them sat in the hot raging water gossiping avidly, sharing
secrets about discreet indiscretions and howling with laughter. They lived
by the same code, were partners in crime, and loved plotting and planning
thei r escapades together. Sisters under the skin, they were very
similar in many ways, but there were important differences too, mainly
to do with outlook.
Jane came from a wealthy background, and cultivated all the arrogance
she felt her birthright entitled her to.She could afford to be empty of
any values that she did not consider to be useful to her.Sandy, by contrast,
had fought her way up from obscurity, and had wrested her good fortune
from the teeth of destiny by dint of sheer determination and talent. She
was well aware that self-preservation for her would be an on-going venture,
a learning curve into infinity, an evolution towards something other.
The clock on the wall of the jacuzzi showed five thirty, and Sandy knew
that she should make a move to get ready for the lecture. Although she
and Jane had both attended Aikido classes for some time together, she
knew that Jane would be unlikely to be interested in attending the talk.
It was too seriously hard edged for her, ťand anyway she had a massage
booked with the new masseur at six. Sandy felt that she needed to find
friends that could share the new preoccupations she felt stirring within
Sandy stepped from the tub and slipped on the soft white robe again, preparing
to take her leave of her friend. They made a flexible arrangement to meet
up later in the bar, and then Sandy returned to the changing room. She
showered, dressed herself comfortably in loose trousers and a tunic of
soft navy cashmere. Carefully she dried her fine fair hair, and tied it
up casually on top of her head. She reapplied make-up. Just a little,
not too much. She was off duty now. But perfume was still nice, just a
touch, not too much. She was relaxed now and felt at home, but was aware
that s he shouldn't appear to be too frivolously female. She checked her
image in the full length mirror.
She knew from her Aikido classes that a certain deferential seriousness
was required. Originally she and Jane had taken up Aikido after the Belly-dancing
classes had folded,mainly because they felt that it would make them less
vulnerable at times when defensive action might be needed. And they had
liked the elegant costume, with the simple white top and the voluminous
long black split skirts. The movements were fluid, graceful and controlled,and
the two women had been amazed at the degree of suppleness and tensile
strength they had conferred.This had had the effect of making them more
daring than before. They knew they could get out of tricky situations
when ne wcessary.
But they had had to acknowledge that it wasn't as much pure fun as the
Belly-dancing classes had been. There the all female class had been able
to enjoy the freedom to be as frivolously sensual as they pleased. There
was no sense of competition among the women as they learned to gyrate
gracefully, and laughter had been a concomitant benefit they had all derived
from the excercise. It had been good clean fun, but with a serious side
that allowed for each woman to find and express her femininity. They had
been very sad when the classes ended.
Sandy made her way along the plushly carpeted, softly lit corridors to
the meditation suite. Here the paintings and sculptures were simple and
contemplative, evoking a peaceful and Zen-like atmosphere.
She found the Blue Room empty but for a handful of people she knew from
the Aikido class, and she found no trouble in securing a couple of plump
floor cushions and a good site for them near the front of the seating
area. The room was laid out simply but elegantly. The subdued lighting,
she noticed, came from a dozen fat candles set in polished granite bowls
ranged on the floor around the perimeter of the room.A low table at the
front constituted the only furniture, and was empty but for a sparsely
graceful arrangement of a single orchid in a small glass phial, and an
empty brass bowl with a hardwood striker. On the wall behind the table
hung a yellow silk banner bearing the sign of the tai chi in black,
surrounded by the eight trigrams.
Partly as a result of the sound-proofing put in for the purposes of meditation,
the hush in the room was also due to the reverential whispers coming from
the rapidly assembling audience. The speaker was to be an eminent Master
of the martial arts, who rarely travell yed to the West. He was billed
as one of the very few practising Masters of the Shaolin Temple tradition.
To be able to hear him first hand, and perhaps see him demonstrate his
art, was a rare opportunity.
Sandy became aware of a gentle fragrance in the air and identified it
as amber coming from an incense burner in the corner.She had to concentrate
hard in the diffused light to make out the introductory notes on the leaflet
she had been handed as she came in.
Sandy had taken the Aikido classes much more seriously than Jane, and
had begun to find a greater depth and value in the practise than she had
at first thought possible.She had even begun to read Lao Tzu and suddenly
recognised the verse at the bottom of the page;
"The best soldier is not soldierly;
The best fighter is not ferocious;
The best conqueror does not take part i n war......"
Sandy felt she was at a stage in life when she was ready to delve deeper
into the Taoist principles involved in such ideas. She liked the literal
meaning of the word Aikido ; "way of the divine harmony". She
liked the soft, purely defensive approach which seemed to embody somewhat
higher ideals than those martial arts of a more combat-oriented nature.
The stress in Aikido was on complete relaxation of mind and body by always
preserving a calm still centre. Fighting techniques were thus always purely
defensive, being based on reaction to attack by evading the opponent,
and then pressing the power points which attacked their chi or life force.
Central to the concept was the idea that the sporting and competitive
aspects of training were to be discouraged; sparring was considered to
be logically unacceptable. and even morally repugnant.
Sandy knew a bit about the Shaolin Temple tradition from previous reading,
and had been intrigued to learn about this exoteric hard school of the
martial arts. S áhe had explored something of the history and diversity
of many of the different forms, and had practised a little of several
of them.Typically she had set about a structured reading programme, and
this was where she had picked up some of the ideas that underpinned the
traditions of the Shaolin Temple school. Sandy was fascinated by the antiquity
of this Zen Buddhist sect, and wondered that something so complex and
sophisticated had been practised for fifteen hundred years.Further back
still, the roots were thought to lie in shamanistic naturalism, a way
of thought still extant among some Mongolian tribes and their relatives,
the Indians of the Americas.It had been their ancestors of more than twenty
thousand years ago that had begun the migration northwards from Asia,
and thence across the land bridge that linked Siberia and Alaska. With
her own roots left far behind several lifetimes ago, Sandy felt an affinity
with the very idea of origin.
Sandy had learned from her studies that perhaps these ancient peoples
had not yet separated the notions of spiritual being from material physical
being, and that they therefore saw living beings as the highest examples
of a fusion of spirit and matter, and the idea appealed to her own sense
of herself as a free spirit.She had a sense that her own perspective was
in some way more limited. She felt that somehow the universe might indeed
be populated and driven by immaterial forces, and that these notions were
perhaps key to the feeling of her life being now somehow dislocated.Thus
was her curiosity thoroughly ignited.
An old Chinese saying that went "All the martial arts known under
Heaven began in Shaolin" made Sandy long to visit the temple in Honan
Province. The chi of its site at the centre of the vast plains of
China, home to Fo Tuo the jolly laughing monk an d the other Zen
warriors, was reputed to be one of the most resonant places of antiquity
left in the modern world. Maybe here were answers to her underlying confusion.
Maybe she would plan her holiday around a visit there, perhaps next year.
She had become bored by the skiing trips and gin palaces that had made
up most of her vacatioal destinations over the past few years, and wanted
something that would provide an opportunity for growth and personal expansion.
She wanted to explore ideas that were clamouring for expression, just
on the edge of her conciousness Sandy gazed dreamily at the printed images
in the leaflet. There was the beautiful and ancient Shaolin temple itself,
somehow as permanent as the clear blue sky above it, or the glittering
Songshan mountain range within which it was set.
Suddenly she became aware of a deeper hush in the room. Looking up she
saw, at the periphery of her vision, a group of shadowy figures moving
quietly toward ¬s the front.
As they came more fully into view, she saw that the first two were strongly
built men in dark robes, belted at the waist. Following them was a smaller
man in pearly grey robes, slender and of more delicate proportions. Behind
him came two more strongly built men, dressed as the first two. All of
them exuded a quiet and powerful presence.The five figures filed behind
the low table, and made a deep and sustained bow to the audience. Fluidly
they seated themselves on the floor, their gaze directed somewhere above
the heads of the people.
The smaller man in grey took up the striker from the table and gently
tapped the brass bowl. A clear and resonating tone rang around the room
, a pulsating vibration, eddying, flowing, echoing, filling consciousness,
and diminishing only very slowly. Softly the sound faded and floated away
into the ether.
A deep calm pervaded the room. The small man in grey smiled beatifically
at the people before him, and replaced the striker on the table.Sandy
saw now that he was much older than any of his companions, but could not
guess at his age. The Master turned and gestured to the man on his far
left who had led the group into the room.He elevated himself slightly
to a kneeling position and prepared to address his audience.
Sandy appraised the man keenly. Charismatic, of well above average height
for an Oriental,he was lithe and sinewy, but powerful. His bearing was
one of easy grace, assured, that of a natural aristocrat.
"Good evening and welcome. My name is San-do Chan, and I am
here tonight to assist my grandfather, Master Chan, in introducing
to you some of the traditions of the Shaolin Temple school. Our aim is
to enlighten people everywhere as to what we see as necessary for t Dhe
evolution of the martial arts."
Sandy was taken aback by the delivery of these opening remarks. San-do
Chan spoke in the cultured and measured pitch characteristic of
one the better public schools. His enunciation was faultless, with no
trace of a Chinese accent, and this was so unexpected that it seemed totally
incongruous. With all expectations now suspended Sandy scrutinised him
A strikingly attractive man, probably in his mid-forties, he had finely
chiselled Asian features with high cheekbones and a strongly defined jaw.
A broad brow framed deep-set slanting eyes of a penetrating intelligence.
Sandy wished he would smile.He caught her gaze momentarily and Sandy looked
"My grandfather, Master Wushu Chan, is one of the few remaining
exponents of the pure Shaolin tradition, and has decided to limit t he
extent of his teaching specifically in order to preserve those traditions.
This may seem to you to be paradoxical, but I would ask you to consider
the text of Lao Tzus poem , which appears on the front of the notes
we have provided. It reads;
The best soldier is not soldierly
The best fighter is not ferocious
The best conqueror does not take part in war.......
In todays world conflict has never been so prevalent. All over the world
mankind is engaged in mutually destructive activity of such a profoundly
negative nature that the future of the planet itself is in some doubt,
as you are no doubt aware. Our Shaolin tradition embodies the most ancient
teachings known about combat, and we feel that these teachings have never
been more relevant, even with regard to modern warfare.
But we will begin this evening by demonstrating some of the practices
and forms of Shaolin, and then there will be an opportunity for r you
to put your questions to Master Chan."
Sandys attention was alerted by some of the phrases, ones that she
related unconciously to her own circumstances. "Mutually destructive
activity of a profoundly destructive nature". She realised fully
in one instant what it was about her work that had triggered her response.
It was mutually destructive insofar as success was chiefly demarcated
by defeating the goals of ones opponent, regardless of their broader contextual
value. Winning was all important, regardless of how you shared the glory.
But glory was conditional, and could only be enjoyed if it could be shared.
Even Custer knew he would at least be appreciated posthumously. But then,
he had not had the luxury of being able to take the longer view, hampered
as he was by the constraints of his limited world.
The table was removed to make a clear space at the fro nt of the room.Then
there followed the most astonishing display of agility and speed that
Sandy had ever seen.San-do Chan remained at the edge of the proceedings,
giving a running commentary on the action.He explained to the audience
how Shaolin students learned a series of forms based on the movements
of twelve animals, all of them indigenous to the wild mountainous regions
of Honan Province. The reason for this was to understand the meaning of
the animals movements, and why they moved the way they did.
Sandy watched, fascinated as the two pairs of figures swooped like swallows,
slunk like leopards, leaped like antelopes. Master Chan was the
fastest of them all. Light and lithe, mercurial as he spun and whirled
and flashed from one shape-changing stance to another. One moment a cockerel
poised on one leg, then a wriggling snake weaving from side to side,now
a tiger crouched to spring on its prey.Sandy found she was holding her
breath from sheer excitement, but the protagonists remained calm and controlled,
even their facial expressions playing a part in the process in which they
were completely engaged.
As an exhibition of grace combined with power, and speed used as a basis
for considered action, what was offered up to the audience made a huge
impact on their psyche. The people were awed, and filled with a respect
bordering on reverence.
The tempo of the action slowed as stances and postures were analysed.The
subject of vital points was touched upon, with a brief explanation of
how it was possible to int errupt the flow of chi by using the junctures
of the acupuncture meridians, applying pressure at these points in particular
ways. Then, after about twenty minutes of activity the low table was reinstated
, and the five Shaolin proponents seated themselves on the floor, with
the Master once again flanked by his assistants.
San-do Chan addressed the audience once more. "Now that you
have seen something of our Shaolin tradition, you may have questions you
wish to put to us. My grandfather speaks little English, b
ut my father and my brothers and I will try to interpret his answers for
The first questioner wanted to know to what Master Chan felt he
owed his longevity. The old man chuckled, and spoke in Chinese to the
questioner. San-do smiled too as his grandfather answered, his face suddenly
transformed by a merry humanity that spontaneously banished his previously
rather forbidding demeanour. Sandy too found her own face responding in
"My grandfather is now ninety years old, and still rises at three
every morning and walks five kilometres across the city of Taipei to his
favourite place, a spot on a low hill under some trees, where the air
is fresh and healthy and full of chi. He does his exercises and then walks
back again in time for my mother to open his c »onsulting rooms.
Then he takes some tea of jujube fruit and ginseng. He quotes for you
his own Long Life Poem which goes;
Sound sleep, early rising,
When eating, stop when still one quarter is empty
Always walk, and smile, always smile,
Be free of worries and busy every day.
You will not grow old."
The audience laughed with Master Chan, who had sat chuckling quietly
as his grandson spoke. Sandy found herself comparing which of these reccommendations
reflected her own daily patterns. She was certainly busy every day, too
busy perhaps to know how much or how little she smiled.
The next questioner wanted to know whether it was true that the Master
was a practising doctor. The Master became serious and thoughtful, and
answered at some length.San-do took his cue to translate at intervals,
as his grandfather so indicated to him , with glances and nods. It was
confirmed that Master Chan was indeed a highly respected healer
who specialised in acupuncture and bone -setting, and that all students
of Shaolin were expected to undertake study of the healing arts as part
of their training.
Then someone wanted to know why animal movements constituted such an important
part of the Shaolin tradition. San-do listened carefully to the Master
before explaining. "In meditational practise Taoists seek to rediscover
purity, such as that of a babys breathing, and to experience as
closely as possible mans natural place in the world. Humans are
the weakest of the animals, and our ability to adapt and survive is comparatively
poor, except for our intelligence.The ancient masters observed the movements
of many creatures, and learned their basic defensive and fighting postures.
The idea was to learn the meaning behind the form, the emphasis always
being on defensive rather than offensive postures. Thus, by working in
harmony with the natural world do we harmonise our own nature. The Master
believes it is now time to make this idea more widely understood in the
West, so that our collective future can be safeguarded. When we move from
the study and imitation of the natural world into a corporeal performance
of the combinations and separations of the basic elements of the world,
we literally enact the elemental dramas of creation and destruction. The
Master believes the time has come for mankind to shift the emphasis more
constructively towards the creative '." Sandy flinched inwardly at
the phrase "corporeal performance".
San-do looked to his grandfather for confirmation of his interpretation,
and the old man rewarded him with a smile and a slight bow.
The audience had fallen silent, considering the implication of the message
they had received.San-do looked around the room. "Are there any more
questions for Master Chan?"
Once again Sandy encountered his gaze and had to look away.There was something
in his look that frightened and shamed her.
There were no more questions, so the vis itors brought the meeting to
a close amid appreciative applause. The robed figures bowed, smiling ,
and applauded too before moving through the room to take their leave.
People began to talk animatedly as they made their way to the exit, and
Sandy waited quietly for the crowd at the doorway to thin out. She felt
vaguely unsettled and somehow discomfited, and she did not know why.
Her mood was pensive as she made her way from the meditation suite to
the bar. Across the busy room she could see Jane, perched on a bar stool,
head to head with a young man with blonde hair. She was giggling flirtatiously
and seemed to be very pleased with herself. Looking up she saw Sandy and
"Sandra darling, how was the dusty old meeting poppet; ooh you look
like you could use a drink!" She gestured to the bar man for another
glass and grabbed the bottle of champagne from the ice-bucket on the counter.
"Sandy, this is my friend Gustav, our new masseur all the way from
Austria, and hes absolutely gorgeous, ar ent you sweetie?Sandy-Gustav,
Gustav-Sandy." Jane beamed at them over her glass, and Sandy smiled
and nodded at the new toy, and held out her hand. The young man snapped
to attention and bowed as he took Sandys hand. He was all hard-rock
biceps and tight tee shirt, and she thought she had heard his heels click."Hello,"
she said, " nice to meet you Gustav." The young man flashed
his perfect dentition as he returned her greeting in a clipped Lutheran
accent. Sandy thought she knew the reason for Janes radiant vivacity.
Poor Simon, she thought, no fence-mending for him this weekend then.
Sandy settled herself on on the bar-stool next to Jane, and sipped her
glass of champagne. She raised her eyebrows quizzically at her friend,
and Jane laughed as she slipped her a rm through Gustavs. She whispered
something in his ear and laughed again.Sandy had seen all this many times
before, and knew that Jane was smitten . She decided she would finish
her drink and then leave them to it.She felt tired and out of sorts, and
probably in need of an early night.
Jane was now thoroughly absorbed in her new play-mate, and Sandy looked
again at the leaflet she was still carrying from the lecture. Her sense
of tension faded as she re-read the text, and she reflected on what she
had seen and heard earlier.
She gazed again at the picture of the beautiful Shaolin Temple, and dreamed
of distant lands. Lost in reverie she sipped the cool champagne. Her gaze
slipped into focus on her reflection in the mirror behind the bar, and
the face with th be finely chiselled Asian features there smiled, as their
eyes met in the glass.
Tao begets one; one begets two; two begets
three; three begets all things.
All things are backed by the Shade (yin) and
faced by the Light (yang), and harmonised
by the immaterial Breath (chi).
What others teach, I also teach: "The daring and violent do not die
a natural death."
This (maxim) I shall regard as my instructor.
Tao Te Ching-- Lao Tzu –—
© Maggie Pishneshin 2001
MORE FICTION in DREAMSCAPES
This is Maggie's first fiction piece for us. Previously she has
been writing about the difficulties of buying houses in Spain.
She is currently studying for an MA in Creative Writing in Exeter
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