The teacher was doing something strange with his hands. Everyone around me was doing the same thing.
So I did it, too.
Then I stopped looking around, because of what I felt.
I was in a park in Beijing, in 1991. It was at the end of a tai chi session. I had briefly studied tai chi, in 1980, and I knew when I went to live in China that tai chi was practiced in parks everywhere, so I joined the nearest park group in the mornings. (Properly, it’s t’ai chi ch’uan, which means roughly “supreme ultimate fist” in reference to its use as a martial art.)
The tai chi sessions were when I felt most at home in China, when I could be just another person instead of the big-nose foreigner. I silently thanked the millions of Chinese who had continued to practice tai chi alone, in their homes, to keep it alive during the most radical years of Communism.
But this hand movement was not tai chi. It was qigong, energy work.
The teacher held one hand cupped beneath the other, and moved his hands as though holding a ball.
He began small, forming a ball about the size of a softball, and kept moving in that circular way, his hands describing the shape of the ball. Gradually he made the ball bigger and bigger. Then he began to play with it in his hands a bit.
We followed his movements, and then I could feel the ball in my hands. It was a full, perfectly round ball of energy. It was soft and slightly squishy, with just enough resistance so that I knew for certain it was there.
I let it get bigger. It felt stronger. I felt stronger too, and softer too.
That feeling was the most beautiful thing.
Today, I leaned against a big old tree and close my eyes. I soaked up the qi.
Now I am doing the silent work.
Today’s penny is a 1991, the year I went to live in China.