I will be honest with you. Of all the things I have on my bucket list, going to China was not among them. Meditating in an Indian ashram? Been there. Trekking in the Himalayas? Done that. Going diving in the Maldives? Check. Whisky tour in Schotland? It was fun, as far as I can remember. Visiting China? Why? I never liked Chinese food nor was I particularly attracted to a country with rigid political suppression poised to become the next financial superpower of the world. To me China was something big, dark and unknown, something to be avoided.
My surprise was big when I got an invitation to go to Shanghai to run a workshop. Two years ago two Chinese women participated in a group I led. What I did not know then was that one of them was running a production company in China, organising personal growth workshops.
China has gone through a massive transformation in the last 20 years. From being a communist, state run economy, China has adapted many of capitalism’s tenets and applied them with great succes. As a result, the material standard of living has improved tremendously. In the hierarchy of needs, once your basic needs are covered, your next step is to fulfil your need for purpose and growth. A large part of the Chinese population not only have their basic needs covered. By now they also have cars, iPhones and money to take holidays. The market for personal development is growing in China and my invitation to work there was to help cater to that need.
My initial answer was just plain no. Not now, and probably not later either. I am busy. Fortunately my Chinese contact was not deterred and insisted that I come. On my part I had to admit that my first reaction was based on fear, fear of the unknown. Why not give a group in China, actually? I decided to give it a try.
Something I found puzzling at first is the fact that in the west we embrace ancient Chinese healing modalities such as Acupuncture, Chi Gong, Tai Chi and lately also the practise of cupping. In China they want western style therapy. I was asked to run a workshop on intimacy and relating. On this planet of ours we talk different languages, have different alphabets and eat different food, but one thing is universal for all humans: the need for fulfilling human contact. What also seems to be universal is finding relating difficult. By realising that they have the same struggles as us, my feelings around going to China turned from fear to excitement and I decided to give it my best try.
The workshop became a succes and I had to change a lot of preconceptions I had about Chinese people. At first I started with light sessions, meditations and sharings. I was treating them like the delicate porcelain China is famous for because I was not sure of what they could handle. What came back was a request for stronger work: “Give us what you’ve got!”. Fine. I introduced bodywork and dynamic meditations, sharing withholds and honest communication. Deep work to which they responded by taking steps out of their comfort zones and move into new and more functional ways of relating to each other. At the end of the four-day course the participants had bonded and there was a distinct change in the group energy. The initial fear and anxiety had been replaced by openness, trust and honest communication. People were glowing and I was thinking to myself that this could just as well have been in Holland, or anywhere else.
When people are authentic suddenly nationalities and cultural identities become less important. Clinging to your habits and cultural norms seems to be born out of insecurity and fear, like clinging to a life raft in stormy weather. When you touch your deepest core and become aware of what you want and what you need, you are no longer Chinese or Dutch, christian or buddhist. You are just yourself and you feel empowered to pursue what makes you happy. For most people that would be loving connections with others and purpose to your work. It’s that simple. By then you are no longer clinging to a life raft, but you are a rock in the surf.
I got my trust in humanity back working in China. It was no longer a just a country of 1,3 billion nameless faces, but of human beings with the same wants and needs as everyone else. They too long for fulfilment and struggle with their own shortcomings. They too, showed me the true beauty of being human by overcoming their fears and stretching their limits in order to meet face to face and heart to heart. Needless to say, I am now going more often to China for groups, but now it’s more like visiting friends.