Echoes from a White Lotus Grandmaster

“The most fundamental lesson in Tai Chi is to never forget; the root is love.”


The cool, night breeze washes over the front porch of Grandmaster Al’s house where his own master Calvin Dallas, or simply ‘D’, shares his wisdom.  He’s on older black man from the States whose wide eyes shine with a glint of wild green just like King Bumi’s.  Also like Bumi he speaks in Zen koan-like riddles that make you wonder just who in the world this man is.


“Tai Chi is not from the earth.  It’s from the cosmos,” he says, peering into my soul with his knowing eyes. 


As he begins to show us a snake-style form he says, “Now breathe.  Through your feet.” 


After he catches me fully off guard by saying, “Now you’re outside your body, but you’re inside of your body,” he turns to Al to demonstrate push hands, the Tai Chi version of sparring.  He plants his feet firmly, eyes closed as he turns to face Al.  With a deep, slow breath he opens his eyes, raising his arm to Al’s.  They begin.  In fluid, circular movements the two grandmasters push then pull, ebb then flow into each other’s arm before flowing out again in a rhythm that harkens the eternal dance of moon and ocean spirits Twi and La.  I am staring straight at them in incredulity as somehow D’s arms seem to be moving less like the limbs of an erratic old man but more like the melting blur of a glowstick twirled in the dark. 


Thus went our first meeting with a White Lotus grandmaster.




Two weeks later I’m standing in line at Café Gratitude in Brooklyn.  The young woman standing before me says, “I went out this morning to juggle and instead I got a tattoo.”  I tap her on the shoulder, intrigued, and ask to see it.  She shows me a single line, straight down her back.


“I’m really not sure why I did it.  I feel like I’ll understand soon enough, though.”


We sit down at a table and she begins to tell me her story over vegetable and avocado sandwiches.  The daughter of a military man, she grew up constantly moving around.  Even during her late teens and early twenties, she continued to travel Europe and Asia while pursuing her first love; theater.  After a year in New York City, however, she feels, “stuck and trapped and confusedly depressed” despite (or, perhaps, because of) a steady job and group of friends.


Without thinking, D’s words spill from my mouth,


“In a circle, find the line.  In a line, find the circle.

In movement, find stillness.  In stillness, find movement.”

I watch as a sense of understanding spreads across her face and she releases a sigh of relief like opening the lid of a pot after steaming rice.  I realize then that the teaching was given to me so that I might pass it on to her.

“I understand my tattoo now.  Thank you,” she says.

We say our farewells, I strap on my pack and am off into the light of early afternoon.  As I turn my face sunward, my face begins to smile.  It has been doing this more and more frequently since the start of the trip.  I don’t consciously do anything.  The cheek muscles just pull themselves into a smile, a phenomenon that seems to happen most often in moments of deep gratitude, acceptance or love.  In moments when I seem to be most fully alive something within my spirit is tapped and flows up and out through a smile in my face like a geyser bringing forth the current of an underground river.  Although it’s delightful, I still don’t understand why this happens. 


Again, D’s words arise.  When I asked him about this strange phenomenon, he simply looked to me, his wild, Bumi eyes brimming with kindness and said softly,


“Let it happen”


BY: Tomás Quiñonez-Riegos