As I mentioned a couple of posts ago, I’m working on a research project in the Chinese countryside, way out in rural Hebei. I went back this weekend for a second survey, which didn’t exactly go as planned, but that’s another story. Suffice to say, I decided that I needed to review my expectations and questionnaire, and instead of conducting surveys, had a free morning.
I got up fairly early – early for a city slicker like myself, though the farmers were up much earlier, of course! My Chinese friend, Winser, who was helping me with translation, had gone off to practice his Chen taijiquan. I went to the northwest corner of the village to do a few yiquan standing exercises.
Here’s the spot:
To give it some context, this spot is a few paces behind where I stood when I was taking this picture (on my first visit, back in the winter):
In other words, there are the village walls, then the field, and then the sharp drop into the hollow where I did the zhan zhuang, falling away towards the river bed, and then the ground rises towards the mountain.
So anyway, I was working on the zhan zhuang, and feeling pretty comfortable and relaxed. As I settled into it, I was aware of the clean air, of the birdsong and grasshoppers, and slowly my mind became clear and still. And then something odd happened: I began to hear chanting. It was clear, but I couldn’t quite place where it was coming from. It seemed to last for a minute, and was several voices, in some language that didn’t seem to be Chinese or Sanskrit/Pali, but more… well it seemed Mongolian, though I’m not sure why I would think that. As I started to look around, trying to place it, it abruptly cut off. I stayed there for a while longer, but didn’t hear it again.
I’d walked around the whole area before I’d started the zhan zhuang, and there were a couple of individual farmers nearby in their fields, but no groups. It wasn’t amplified music, such as from a radio – and there are few enough of those in the village anyway.
Now, I’m not sure that I would even credit myself as even “a minor precognitive” – generally speaking, I don’t do psychic. However, even I have had my moments. During my teen years, I found that I when I was shaking dice, if I visualized the result I wanted I would usually get it – which was a great asset in board games! I’ve had my precog moments as well, though I probably wouldn’t need two hands to count them; these are moments when I simply knew that something would happen – usually jobs, once knowing that I was going to live in a place that I hadn’t ever visited, in one case a relationship. It’s hard to describe the sensation; I knew it in the way that day is light and night is dark, in a way where you wouldn’t even consider an alternative to be conceivable – except that it was a future event. Plus of course, I’ve met people whose world is very different to my own (that’s a link to an earlier version of this blog). Enough, in short, to wonder what on earth I had just experienced.
Later, I asked my host whether there are any ghost stories connected with the village – it’s stood there for 3000 years, after all! He told us about the village’s origin story, which involves two dragons fighting over a pearl, and an intervention by the King of Heaven. It didn’t seem to anything to do with the chanting, so I asked him whether there had ever been a temple to the north-west of the village. That surprised him. Apparently, there had indeed been a temple, to those same dragons and Heaven King. It was several hours’ walk from the village, from where its location is not visible. I’m not sure when it was built, but it was destroyed during the wars that preceded the Ming dynasty. It was rebuilt during the Qing dynasty, but destroyed again during the Cultural Revolution. More recently, several villages had collaborated to rebuild it once more. My host thought that to have heard the chanting, I must have some kind of connection with the temple, and told some other stories about it, which suggest that it is a powerful location. He’ll take me there on my next visit, he said, which I am very much looking forward to.
Sorry if this sounds weird or unexpected to you; I’m simply telling you what happened.