“As I walked through the square this morning I saw old folks playing badminton (better than I can) and square dancing. The place was buzzing with positive energy. As old as these people were, the place felt full of young life, of vibrant colors and smiles. These people are making the most of their time. Despite the aging bones and muscles in their bodies, they are making meaning. Connecting with one another through the beat of the music. So powerfully beautiful. I think I may need to retire in China.”
I wrote these words in the beautiful city of Langzhong where I spent six weeks while studying abroad in China last semester with Goshen’s Study Service Term.
During my time in China I was exposed to the religious and spiritual traditions of the Chinese people.
One of the ways I was exposed was through reading the book “The Path: What Chinese Philosophers Can Teach Us About The Good Life” by Michael Puett. This book introduced me to one of the many names for the divine power at work among us that I have previously named God or the Holy Spirit, qi.
Qi, as Puett explains it, exists in everything whether it is “mind, body, matter or spirit, whether it is earth, people, animals, or air, is composed of this very same substance.”
Qi seems to suggest there is beauty, connection and balance when we let go, awake and allow ourselves to be fully human.
In a world where we’re told to have personal brands and hone our online identity, qi seems counterintuitive. Qi invites us to open up rather than try to find and refine our niche.
While I was in China, especially as I was reading Puett’s book, I allowed myself to become open to letting go of the ways my identity as an American and, as a Christian, informed my language and attitude.
One of the ways this looked like was naming qi in the energy I felt and experienced in a way more tangible than I have ever felt before. It felt authentic to the elderly I observed in the main square.
I think it is so easy for us to latch onto one concept or even one person and pour ourselves into them. As college students, I see us doing this in our relationships. We surround ourselves with people who think like us, look like us and talk like us.
By doing this I believe we lose the ability to articulate what it is we believe and more importantly why we believe what we believe. We miss out on the beauty of diversity. I believe we are meant to live a life of curiosity, always growing and never settling on one path or rule book to follow religiously.
Puett writes, “When you hold too tightly to a plan, you risk missing out on these things. And when you wake up one day in that future, you will feel boxed in by a life that, at best, reflects only a piece of who you thought you were at one moment in time.”
With all that said, my hope and promise to myself is to continue to open my mind, heart and soul to the wide and deep time that is waiting for my creative hands, young feet and curious eyes to experience. To live into the spaces I am present in with contagious authenticity, intentionality and passion.
And when the time comes for me to leave this earth that I can look back on my life and take a long deep breath because I have lived life to the fullest, embracing every joy and challenge.