The Healing Art of Qi Gong : Ancient Wisdom from a Modern Master
By Master Hong Liu, Paul Perry
Master Kwan's cave was the presidential suite of sacred caves. It was a gift of nature, a place where healing arts were intended to be practiced.
The cave was divided into three sections. The first room in the cave was a large living room where people would come to be treated or to visit. All of the furniture in this room was made from wood and other objects from the mountain. It was decorated with gifts brought by grateful patients and was a virtual museum of art objects from all over the country.
This room alone was worth the climb for many people. A small stream flowed from one of the walls and trickled across the floor into a large pool at the center of the room. Koi and other fish drifted near the pool's surface among many water plants. Foliage surrounded the entire pool and gave a lush setting for the benches where patients drank tea and waited for their treatment after the long climb up the mountain.
Through an archway in the back of this room was the chamber for the apprentices and students. There were usually ten to fifteen underlings in the cave at any given time, which made the living in this room very tight. We had thin mattresses that were placed side by side on the hard dirt floor and were covered with one blanket for warmth. Any personal items we had were kept against the wall so they would not be stepped on in the crowded room.
Even though the living conditions could be described as grim, Master Kwan considered them necessary. He considered such Spartan accommodations an important part of the learning process. "It is difficult to learn Qi Gong, but it is supposed to be," he said. "Valuable knowledge does not come through comfort."
Through an archway in the back of the second chamber was Master Kwan's private quarters. This was an extraordinary room, the likes of which I have never seen since. It was in this room that Master Kwan meditated and slept.
The roof of his quarters glistened with moisture and shone with crystal rocks that reflected their beauty in the amber glow of the candles that Master Kwan used for illumination. Benches and a large table crafted from mountain wood occupied the center of the room. This table was always heaped with medical books. Typical of the books to be found were the medical texts of the Yellow Emperor, a classic medical text called On the Causes and Symptoms of Diseases that described hundreds of specific Qi Gong exercises for diseases, and books about the pharmacological effects of various herbs and plants.
Philosophical books also had a place on Master Kwan's table. I remember once reading a line from Lao-tzu that Master Kwan had underlined. It was about the power of breathing and it read like this: "Inhaling and exhaling helps to rid one of the stale and take in the fresh. Moving as a bear and stretching as a bird can result in longevity."
At the back portion of this chamber was the master's bed. As you would expect, this was no ordinary bed. It was a thick layer of straw underneath a thin mattress that was topped with a blanket. The bed was six feet above the floor on a ledge of rock that was reached by steps that nature had cut into the stone.
There was never any question that this cave had been created by nature as a sacred place. To just enter it was to be filled with the energy of the universe. I felt that every time, no matter how tired I was from my long voyage.
For eight years I made voyages to Master Kwan's cave. At least twice a month I scrambled to get out of the hospital early and to the train station. Trains are not so comfortable in China. At certain times of the year, the heat would be so bad that people literally passed out from dehydration. Other times of the year we froze. Groups of strangers huddled together to share body heat. This was a good way to meet people, but not a very pleasant way to travel.
These frequent trips took their physical toll on me. I lost weight and was more susceptible to colds and flu. My first days back from the master's cave were usually spent in a haze of exhaustion. My feet and legs were always tired, too, if not from climbing up and down the mountain, then from standing for long periods at a time during the train trips.
The physical toll these trips took on me was nothing compared to the professional toll. I was always in trouble with my bosses. Even though the doctors who headed my department were understanding and curious about my studies, I was testing the limits of their flexibility. I was always late for work after these trips south and I was always trying to get a few extra days off so I could spend more time with Master Kwan.
There were many reprimands in the early years. I was once even threatened with court-martial for dereliction of my duties as a military medical officer. I remember one time being scolded by a doctor who said that I should be ashamed for studying Qi Gong. "You have just spent five years in medical school. Isn't that enough?"
For me it was not enough. I knew the limits of allopathic medicine and had seen Master Kwan use Qi Gong to go beyond those limits in some cases, and to approach a problem differently in other cases. Since my job was to be a healer, I felt it was my duty to learn this ancient method as best I could.
It was clear that I had taken the difficult path in my life. I could easily have settled into a standard medical practice like the rest of my classmates did. Instead I chose to examine alternative therapies because had seen them work on others.
On top of that, the path to learning Qi Gong was difficult, and one that not everyone could understand. There were always people begging for explanation. One day, for example, I fell asleep during a staff meeting at the hospital. It was just after maybe the tenth time I had made the journey to Master Kwan's cave and I was extremely tired and a little depressed. I was awakened by a colleague who laughed and said that I was spending too much time traveling and not enough time sleeping. Later, however, he talked to me outside the conference room.