The Infinite Tao

Overcoming a limited belief requires ignoring that little voice in your head that says, “I can't”, “I'm not good enough”, “only so and so people can do that” - one could spend a lifetime coming up with excuses.

I came to China with the intention of learning Tai Chi as well as the more internal alchemical principles of Chi Kung. I've ended up sometimes feeling I'm on a wild goose chase, yet it's mostly been both exhilarating and rewarding. That said, it is difficult to find good teachers who speak English, and the schools are largely commercial operations with the intention of making money.

My school, China Wudang Kungfu Academy is at the foot of Mount Wudang. The school is filled with fascinating people, and definitely some of the most interesting personal stories I've heard. Real people breaking away from their lives to find themselves. For some it is the fulfilment of a lifelong dream, some were inspired by kungfu movies as kids, or just followed an inner calling.

Noel, an intellectual from France, had an epiphany one day after a sleepless night – his software business he'd spent years developing – was not all he was – not all he wanted for his life. He gave it all up that very day. Now he has embarked on a 3-year sojourn in China studying wushu.

A typical day involves a minimum of 4 hours' training in Tai Chi and Chi Kung with a Master or Coach. There is group training as well as private training. All practice is performed in the school's Taoist Temple, which is the ideal backdrop for one's learning. The school is overseen by Master Chen, an imperious kungfu talent with an educational vision – plans are afoot to expand the school of currently over 100, to a 1000. When students are not practicing the numerous forms of Tai Chi, they focus on building internal energy. The wushu (self-defence) students train 7 hours' daily starting with a gruelling early morning run up the mountain. Some of the training can be relentless, yet they are more gentle on the foreigners, who number about 10% of the school. This eclectic collective of internationals (men and women) from mainly US, Germany, Brazil and France, ranges in age from their teens to forties - an eccentric crew of brave people in search of their dreams.

The Tao is infinite, eternal.
Why is it eternal?
It was never born; thus it can never die.
Why is it infinite?
It has no desires for itself;
thus it is present for all beings.
-Lao Tzu

I had never been to China and one hears many stories, some quite negative. There are so many scaremongers amongst us. Even a Chinese friend of mine kept sending me warnings of diseases and crimes and seemed to see everything as dangerous. The reality was quite different, pretty much all the negatives are grossly exaggerated. I felt safe 100% of the time, walking on my own at night, even walking in the mountain at night.

The really hard part is when you make the decision is when you have to face doubts. When you actually take the jump, it's often much easier than you imagined. I believe in following one's path and staying true to it. Everyone has things they know they need to do and experience. Sometimes it feels impossible. In time, opportunities appear as if by magic. And then the timing is perfect.

Coming to China was taking a different path. The road diverted and at the fork, I took the “road less travelled.” Instead of suppressing my dreams, I stepped forward right into them. What is it inside a person that inspires him/her to take a different path?

Overcoming a limited belief requires ignoring that little voice in your head that says, “I can't”, “I'm not good enough”, “only so and so people can do that” - one could spend a lifetime coming up with excuses.

Society generally places limitations on what people perceive to be their range of possibilities. Most people are most likely to “play it safe.” So we get pacified by entertainment, facebook, smart-phones, empty addictive high-calorie foods.


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David Arenson is the founder of Shambhala Retreats.
A Naturopath, Intuitive Healer and Transformational Coach, David writes and educates people internationally at some of the world's leading retreats and resorts. Born in South Africa, his work has taken him to Australia, USA, Middle East, Asia, Caribbean since 2002. A lover of wisdom and master healer specializing in holistic wellness, his retreats and wellness programs are focused on transformation. David is committed to inspiring and empowering people to live the lives of their dreams. David's mission via Shambhala Retreats is to guide people to places of mystery and power to rediscover, balance and ground themselves.

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http://www.findshambhala.com
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Beer is history's happiest accident. Though the discovery probably happened much earlier, our earliest evidence for beer dates back roughly 13,000 years ago. Around this time, the people of the Fertile Crescent had begun to gather grains as a food source and learned that if they moistened them, they could release their sweetness to create a gruel much tastier than the grains themselves.

One day a curious — or perhaps tightfisted — hunter-gatherer hid his gruel away for a safekeeping. When he returned, he found the bowl giving off a tangy odor. Not one to waste a meal, he ate it anyway and enjoyed an unexpected, though not unpleasant, sensation of ease. By pure happenstance, this ancestor stumbled upon brewing.

That's one possible origin story, but we know that our ancestors learned to control the process, and beer took a central role in Fertile Crescent civilizations — so central that Professor Patrick McGovern, a biomolecular archaeologist at the University of Pennsylvania, argues that beer, not bread, incentivized hunter-gatherers to relinquish their nomadic ways.

Beer may also be proof of a God who wants us to be happy (Dionysus?), because the beverage* would be independently rediscovered by peoples across the ancient world, including those in China and South America.

One such peoples, the pre-Inca Wari Civilization, made beer, specifically chicha de molle, a critical component in their religious and cultural ceremonies. In fact, a study published in Sustainability in April argues that the role was so important that beer helped keep Wari civilization intact for 500 years.

Brewing social capital

Twenty years ago, a team of archaeologists with the Field Museum of Natural History, Chicago, discovered a brewery in Cerro Baúl, a mesa in southern Peru that served as an ancient Wari outpost. The brewery contained original equipment, clay storage vessels, and compartments for milling, boiling, and fermentation.

The team recently analyzed these on-site vessels to uncover the secrets of the Wari brewing process. Removing tiny amounts of material found in the spaces between the clay, they were able to reconstruct the molecules of the thousand-year-old drink. They then worked alongside Peruvian brewers to recreate the original brewing process.**

Their molecular analysis revealed several key features of the beer: The clay used to make the vessels came from a nearby site; many of the beer's ingredients, such as molle berries, are drought resistant; and though alcoholic, the beer only kept for about a week.

These details suggest that Cerro Baúl maintained a steady supply of chicha, limited by neither trade nor fair weather, and became a central hub for anyone wishing to partake. The Wari would likely make such trips during times of festivals and religious ceremonies. Social elites would consume chicha in vessels shaped like Wari gods and leaders as part of rituals attesting to social norms and a shared cultural mythology and heritage.

"People would have come into this site, in these festive moments, in order to recreate and reaffirm their affiliation with these Wari lords and maybe bring tribute and pledge loyalty to the Wari state," Ryan Williams, lead author and head of anthropology at the Field Museum, said in a release. "We think these institutions of brewing and then serving the beer really formed a unity among these populations. It kept people together."

The Wari civilization was spread over a vast area of rain forests and highlands. In a time when news traveled at the speed of a llama, such distinct and distant geography could easily have fractured the Wari civilization into competing locales.

Instead, the researchers argue, these festive gatherings (aided by the promise of beer) strengthened social capital enough to maintain a healthy national unity. This helped the Wari civilization last from 600 to 1100 CE, an impressive run for a historic civilization.

Bringing people together (since 10,000 BCE)

A Mesopotamian cylinder seal shows people drinking beer through long reed straws. Image source: Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Of course, the Wari weren't the first civilization to use beer to reaffirm bonds and maintain their social fabric. Returning to the Fertile Crescent, Sumerians regarded beer as a hallmark of their civilization.

The Sumerian Epic of Gilgamesh tells of the adventures of the titular hero and his friend Enkidu. Enkidu beings as a savage living in the wilderness, but a young woman introduces him to the ways of civilization. That orientation begins with food and beer:

"They placed food in front of him,
They placed beer in front of him,
Enkidu knew nothing about eating bread for food,
And of drinking beer he had not been taught.
The young woman spoke Enkidu, saying:
"Eat the food, Enkidu, it is the way one lives.
Drink the beer, as is the custom of the land."
Enkidu ate the food until he was sated,
He drank the beer — seven jugs! — and became expansive
and sang with joy.
He was elated and his face glowed.
He splashed his shaggy body with water
and rubbed himself with oil, and turned into a human
."

Tom Standage, who recounts this scene in his History of the World in 6 Glasses, writes: "The Mesopotamians regarded the consumption of bread and beer as one of the things that distinguished them from savages and made them fully human." Such civilized staples not only demarcated their orderly life from that of hunter-gatherers, they also served a key role in their culture's unifying mythology.

Furthermore, Standage notes, Sumerian iconography often shows two people sipping from waist-high jars through reed straws. The earliest beers were consumed in a similar fashion because technological limitations prevented baking individual cups or filtering the beverage. But the Sumerians had the pottery skills to make such cups and filter the dregs. That they kept the tradition suggests that they valued the camaraderie brought by the experience, a sign of communal hospitality and kinship.

The ancient Greek's similarly used alcohol as a means of maintaining social and political relationships — though their drink of choice was wine.

During symposiums, upper-class Greek men would gather for a night of drinking, entertainment, and social bonding. In Alcohol: A history, Rod Phillips notes that symposiums were serious affairs where art, politics, and philosophy were discussed throughout the night and could serve as rites of passage for young men. (Though, music, drinking games, and sex with prostitutes may also be found on the itinerary.)

Of course, we can amass social capital without resorting to alcohol, which has been known to damage social relationships as much as improve them.

In the 17th century, London's coffeehouses stimulated the minds of thinkers with their caffeine-laden drinks, but also served as social hubs. Unlike the examples we've explored already, these coffeehouses brought together people of different backgrounds and expertise, unifying them in their pursuit of ideas and truths. Thus, coffeehouses can be seen as the nurseries of the Enlightenment.

Relearning ancient lessons

The Field Museum archaeologists hope their research can help remind us the importance social institutions and cultural practices have in creating our common bonds, whether such institutions are BYOB or not.

"This research is important because it helps us understand how institutions create the binds that tie together people from very diverse constituencies and very different backgrounds," Williams said. "Without them, large political entities begin to fragment and break up into much smaller things. Brexit is an example of this fragmentation in the European Union today. We need to understand the social constructs that underpin these unifying features if we want to be able to maintain political unity in society."

So, grab a beer or coffee or tea, spend some time together, and raise a glass. Just try not focus too much on whether your friend ordered Budweiser's swill or an overpriced, virtue-signaling microbrew IPA.

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