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Remembering - Chapter Ten
Remembering - Chapter Ten
Flitting at first, then slowly opening, Damian’s eyes adjusted to the light that was flowing in through the window of the strange and barren room in which he found himself. “Where am I?” Damian asked himself as he came to. He felt he that he was in another world, such was the appearance of the room. Everything was Chinese, from the cot he was lying on to the scrolls on the wall. Was he dreaming? With each passing second, his mind became acutely aware that this was reality, but why was he here? And what was he doing in a strange country? He searched his memory for answers, but soon found there were none to be had. Damian felt a slight pang of panic. Why couldn’t he remember? It made his head feel spin from not being able to put all of this together in a way that made sense. He felt lost and vulnerable.
As Damian pondered his lack of memory, three young men in yellow robes and shaven heads suddenly entered into the room. They seemed to glide, rather than walk, as Damian noticed that each of them emanated a very calm grace. They couldn’t be priests, he thought, because all the priests that he had ever come into contact with had been bad, and these men seemed to actually radiate an inner peace that suggested goodness. That intrigued Damian. Why had he just thought about priests? Did he know any, he wondered? He couldn’t remember.
“Who are you? Where am I?” Damian asked them.
One of them stepped closer and spoke.
“I am Shi T’ien Chun. These are my brothers in the temple.” Turning to point to the others, “This is Shi Tieh Fu, and this is Shi Hai Lu,” he said by way of introduction. “This is the Shaolin Temple. We brought you here after we found you buried under rocks. The earthquake which we had three days ago must have been the cause. You were unconscious. Had it not been for your foot protruding from the bushes where we were gathering herbs for our medicines, we would never have noticed you.”
“Earthquake,” Damian mused aloud. “I was in an earthquake?”
The monk told him about the earthquake, then offered more about the temple and life there. They talked for quite some time. Damian found that Shi T’ien Chun had learned English as a child before coming to the temple to become a monk. His father had taught English as a professor at the university before the Revolution. After the Revolution, his father had been put to death, and his mother died of an illness shortly thereafter. As an only child, his refuge had been the solace of the temple. During his discussion, it became more and more apparent that Damian had suffered amnesia, as he could remember none of his past to tell Shi T’ien Chun.
Shi T’ien Chun told him that they would care for him until his strength and memory returned. Meanwhile, they would do everything in their power to help him recover.
“We train in the art of Kung Fu here,” Shi T’ien Chun said. “Perhaps, since it is no longer forbidden to teach outsiders, and since we have been assigned to look after your recovery, we can help you best by teaching you this art of discipline.”
That excited Damian, yet he could not understand why. In his past, had he wanted this? It was confusing and saddening each time he realized that he could not remember anything before this present moment.
Life at the temple was definitely disciplining. The monks rose early in the morning for their prayers, followed by a very plain meal and chores. There were classes to attend, more prayers, more simple meals, and later in the day, actual training in the forms that taught the secret techniques of Kung Fu. Damian was excluded from the religious training for the acolytes, but he was permitted to join in on the exercises that the Abbot deemed productive for Damian’s good health and the recovery of his memory. The Abbot felt that Damian should remain until his memory returned. It was his opinion that, if he were sent to the authorities, nothing could be done for treating his memory loss, resulting in an innocent foreigner being detained possibly in a prison until he could tell the interrogation officers what his business in China was. Spying was a crime punishable by death, and the Abbot knew there were many overly zealous patriots who would only be too happy to have a foreigner with which to further their careers.
Shi T’ien Chun had been taught two styles of Kung Fu, one being Chang Ch’uan, the Long Fist, and the other being Bai He, a style based on the movements of the bird called the White Crane. When Damian first saw Shi T’ien Chun go through the moves of what he called a “ch’uan,” he felt both a feeling of déjà vu, unable to remember the moves he had watched so often in the Chinatown Kung Fu school, and a tremendous awe and excitement. Partly, he was excited because Shi T’ien Chun performed the forms with such speed and skill that he resembled a bird in a deadly flight, and still, more excitement came from the hope that Shi T’ien Chun would be able to teach him how to do these intriguingly exotic moves.
“God, you’re good!” Damian exclaimed. “Good? You’re great!” he said, correcting himself with a laugh. Shi T’ien Chun brushed off the compliment and said modestly, “There are better. I need much practice.”
He then explained to Damian that, before he could learn an advanced form like the one he just saw, he would have to learn certain basics. He explained that they would build a foundation first, and if time permitted, they would work on higher material. Since Damian would not be spending a lifetime there, time would be of the essence. They started right in learning a standing posture called “Ma Bu,” the “Horse Stance.” Damian thought he would die doing this, because he had to stand in a low posture like he was riding a horse, feet shoulder width apart, back straight up and down, the tops of the thighs parallel with the ground, and he had to hold this position forever...at least that is what it felt like to Damian...forever! God it hurt!
Shi T’ien Chun explained that this exercise would strengthen the legs in the most beneficial way. From this, he went on to teach Damian other stances such as the Bow Stance, the Cross Stance, the Hanging Horse Stance and the False Step Stance. Damian was a fast learner. Shi T’ien Chun was amazed that everything he taught Damian was learned immediately, like water on a dry sponge. It just seemed that everything sank in as if Damian had learned Kung Fu before.
“You learn at a rapid rate, my English speaking friend,” Shi T’ien Chun would often say. “Soon, you will be teaching me.” They both laughed.
The days drifted by, and they turned into weeks. With his intense interest in practice, Damian did not realize how long he had been at the temple, but it was an awakening, so to speak, when Shi T’ien Chun informed him one morning that he had been in Shaolin now a month-and-a-half. With no sign of his memory returning, the Abbot had given permission to begin teaching Damian the secrets of the inner meditation techniques which he hoped would begin to unlock Damian’s past to him.
“We will begin tomorrow by teaching you how to sit and breathe,” Shi T’ien Chun said, as the great bell for prayer began to sound. Bowing deeply, he took his leave of Damian with as much mystery as his last statement, and Damian sat thinking to himself, “Sit and breathe? What’s so hard about that?” And he sat down and inhaled.
The next morning, Damian had a question for Shi T’ien Chun when he first saw him. Damian said that he saw a man breaking bricks the day before with his bare hands, but what had impressed him so much was the method that the man used to perform these breaks. He struck the blocks with his palm held flat, like a slap. Shi T’ien Chun explained that the man simply knew how to breathe properly and had conditioned his hands to endure the stress. How could breathing be the secret, Damian mused? What an understatement! It did not seem to have any logical connection, but Shi T’ien Chun assured him that there was great importance in the application of the art of proper breathing, and with that, he began to give Damian his first lesson in sitting and breathing.
Shi T’ien Chun taught him to imagine a circular route from the nose, over the top of his head to the bottom of the lungs, and then, from the bottom of the lungs back to, and out of, the nose. The route was divided into two halves—nose to bottom of the lungs was the first half, bottom of the lungs to the nose was the second half. Sitting with his back held straight and erect, he was to imagine his breath traveling the first half of the path on each inhale, and finishing the second half of the path on the exhale. He was to focus entirely on the path of the breath and nothing else. Slowly, each day, Shi T’ien Chun expanded on this basic exercise, teaching Damian more advanced techniques. When Damian had been at it for only a week, he had his first reaction...a nightmare! He told Shi T’ien Chun that he had had a terrible dream which awakened him out of a sound sleep, and that he had seen a man’s face, but could not remember what he looked like. He did remember, however, that this man had tried to pull the necklace off his neck.
“Your dream was truth,” Shi T’ien Chun said. “Soon, you will remember everything.”
Shi T’ien Chun told him that now that he had reached this level, it was safe to accelerate the process with another ancient procedure. He instructed Damian to follow him. Damian went with him to a chamber deep within the halls of the great temple. An old monk dressed in unique saffron-colored robes was sitting on a seat made of cushions in a room filled with the thick, pungent smell of incense. Damian had never seen robes of this color worn by anyone in this temple before now. Appearing to be in a deep trance state, his head slightly bowed, the monk’s eyes were closed, and his lips were moving silently. Damian stared in awe and wonder, trying to be as silent as possible lest he disturb the monk’s meditation. Shi T’ien Chun told Damian to place himself completely in the trust of this mysterious old man.
“He is a Lama from Tibet. Do not speak. Simply open yourself to whatever he does,” said Shi T’ien Chun, as he and Damian took their places, kneeling in front of the old monk. Though Damian wanted to know more about the Lama, this monk would remain a deep secret which would be forever hidden from him. Only a lifetime lived behind these walls would ever open that door. Damian sat quietly and waited for the old man to open his eyes. Damian felt no fear, only the expectation of a child when he is about to open a present. What would this old man show him, he wondered? On a given signal from Shi T’ien Chun, they both began meditating.
The Lama extended an aged hand from beneath his robes, picked up a glowing stick of incense, and then, while audibly chanting a strange musical tone, leaned close to Damian and suddenly opened his eyes. The sensation was as if he had stared deep into Damian’s soul. Electrifying! At that very same moment, the Lama touched a spot on Damian’s head with the burning coal. Instead of hot pain, Damian suddenly saw the face in his dream...and he saw more! He saw the last few moments before the earthquake hit, Antellio Vanucci introducing himself, telling him about the necklace. He saw the ledge and the cave. He even saw the hotel in Hong Kong, Nell and Rosa. It seemed that his entire life was suddenly played before him like a fast movie. Damian could remember...and he remembered everything!
Go to Chapter Eleven
Go to Chapter Eleven - The Hand of God