I was ten years old, lying in my bed.  My dad was standing in the doorway speaking in a low deep voice, "10, feel your body relaxing, 9, going deeper now, 8, very relaxed, 7, your body is so relaxed that it feels like your floating on a cloud…" He was guiding me through a visualization.  Every night before bed, either my mom or dad would guide us kids through a deep relaxation technique.  By the time I was 15, I was proficient in self-relaxation and visualization techniques. I would use the technique to help with school, sports and martial arts classes (Karate, Kung Fu, and even Capoeira).  

Each night, my practice would get more and more intense.  I started feeling a tingling and a buzzing coursing through my body.  I was both excited and a little scared.  This new sensation was mysterious.  Intrigued by the new discovery, I would practice diligently each and every night.  The electricity in my body was palpable.  My hands were lit up, my spine felt like a super conductor, my head was light as helium, and my feet buzzed like a street corner light.  What was happening?  What was this strange and amazing sensation?

Since these early discoveries of my qi, I have been fascinated with internal energy.  It wasn't till I was browsing a spiritual bookstore in downtown Berkeley that I discovered more about the experience. I collected and studied piles of books on Taoism, qi gong and Chinese medicine.

There's an old Chinese saying, "The journey of a thousand miles begins with the first step."
For me, this journey started three decades ago.  I was about to start my thousand-mile journey with a giant step in the wrong direction.  I had just graduated from college and was pondering what to do with my life.  It was a milestone that I hadn't crossed before.  Up to this point, I hadn't questioned my life.  And now, I was wrestling with the question of "now what?"

I was feeling the pressure to "get a real job" in the Silicon Valley boom that was happening in the mid-1990s.  My friends that had graduated a year before me were getting rich on the rising, hot air balloon of the stock market.  Part of me felt compelled to participate, to jump into the basket and float in the same direction as everyone else.  My mind was pointing a parental finger at me saying, "You should get a job, be responsible, make lots of money." But my heart and soul pulled on the other end of the rope, tugging in a different direction.

I had been interested in Eastern philosophy all through college.  Right after graduation I decided to do a meditation retreat.  I wanted to clear my mind, climb the inner mountain and get some perspective. During the retreat, a visiting professor from China gave a lecture and a guided meditation practice.  At the end of his lecture he said, "You are born arrived."  He said it slowly, annunciating each word with a Chinese accent.  He was a young 88 years old and had taught English, qi gong, and meditation for 50 years at a University in Beijing.  I had no idea what "born arrived" meant but it resonated within.

My assumption was that you had to do something with your life, get somewhere, be somebody.  I was an athlete at a prestigious university.  All my young life, I worked diligently to be good at my sports, studied hard to get good grades.  I didn't question the direction of my life until now.

He continued, "Life is to be enjoyed.  You don't have to prove yourself to anyone.  You don't have to be anyone other than yourself.  Life is a gift."   In that moment, I let go.  I let go of the "should," "ought to" "have to" and relaxed into myself.

He said this as his final words before leaving.  I decided that my first step was to travel through Asia and dive deep into this ancient wisdom.  I had no idea what this looked like or where to go exactly, but it felt right and I was flying high on the excitement of what was possible.

My Dream Job

Previous to this experience, I had taken some workshops by Qi Gong Master Mantak Chia.  He was the foremost authority on Taoist esoteric practices and spent his time touring the U.S.A. and Europe teaching.

When Master Chia returned to Berkeley, I asked about his retreats in Thailand and if he had any job opportunities.  I was half joking, not expecting him to answer.  He answered with a quick and very casual, "You write the next books for me."  My smile turned serious, "What do you mean by that?" I asked pursing my eyebrows together.  "You come to Thailand and write books.  Ok." And before I could speak, he said, "Ok, good."  And walked away.  Just like that, I had my first post-college dream job.

Working with such a revered Master like Mantak Chia was an awe-inspiring experience. I remember the first day of my new assignment, being at Master Chia's house at 5:30 a.m., and training with him, before his group lectures and class instruction. I walked from my room to Master Chia's house through the lush Thai palm trees and jungle orchids. The sky was just beginning to open with color, the deep violet of night giving way to streaks of bright orange light peaking onto the horizon. As I walked, everything around me was a new experience. The tropical air was warm and thick. Even the sounds of the birds were a mysterious melody, like listening to music in another language.

Despite the beauty all around me, I was nervous. I had no idea what to expect or what Master Chia expected from me. As I approached his door and lifted my hand to knock, I hesitated. What if he meant 5:30 p.m.? I stopped, leaving my outstretched fist frozen in the air. I stood there listening for at least a minute. No sound. Just then, a voice above me said, "Your monkey mind is already thinking too much." I jumped at the words. Master Chia was above me stretching on his balcony. "Come up," he said without looking down, or breaking the flow of his movement.

The above is Part 1 of an original article by Lee Holden.

Read PART 2 of the article.