December in Taiwan – Journey to Snow Mountain

Travel is many things. An opportunity to see oneself reflected in the mirror of another culture, immersed in the verbal ocean of another language; and an opportunity to be with loved ones.  We live in a time of climate emergency, fueled by human caused carbon emissions which are due in no small part to jet exhaust.  Nonetheless, my dear wife is following her heart offering service with the Buddhist Tzu Chi community in Taiwan.  Boarding a plane for the first time in 4 years was my only reasonable option to visit her.  I traveled with a strong intention to create family harmony, bond with sentient beings from another culture, and to bring back inner treasures.

first day in Taipei on the Maokong Gondola.

Too easily we humans become stuck in our self-created views of who we think we are – our ego centered identity meticulously constructed from each detail of our familiar world, pasted together seamlessly from every experience across the arc of our lives.  This is not a criticism of what some term “identity politics”. Too often such an attitude at the root is inner frustration and denial by people of privilege – redirected at the suffering and oppression of those who are without power – including other species – marginalized based upon historical patterns of discrimination. Unless there is justice for all, the world will always experience conflict.

Spiritual health requires transcending a static view of identity. It requires movement, not stagnation, and not mere physical movement, going sight seeing, flying here and there chasing a bucket list around the globe injecting tons of carbon into the climate emergency with every trip by plane , but internal movement, reflecting on the meaning of our lives and whether our actions are based in love, compassion, and wisdom or self-centered consumption of resources and materialistic indulgence.

Identities. I am an American, a Buddhist, acupuncturist, husband, father, brother, globalcitizen, vegan, climate activist, ally to all struggles of oppression. These identities and more, are all valid within the conventions of human society. But on a deeper level, they are also merely language based concepts, definitions imputed upon societal mores and agreements. They are words on the page, familiar scribbles which can be electronic, ink, or pencil. Or they are vocal utterances formed from the complex interaction of brain cells directing tongue movements and the movement of air molecules pushed upwards by the rhythmical movement of the diaphragm compressing our lungs.

In other words, who we are, our identities, are not fixed but highly contextual, dependent upon language, culture, and ultimately, thoughts – movements of the mind. I once met the abbot of a Buddhist temple in Korea who told me “I hope you can go on a one-year meditation retreat and reflect on the question “who am I?”  I’m starting small – next May, I plan to go on solitary retreat for a month in a remote cabin to ponder the ultimate riddle.

This question can’t be answered intellectually, but only when the perpetual motion of
thought has been stilled and wisdom naturally arises like a lotus petal unfolding out of the
mud in a still pond with no ripples. Such an awakening is also built upon a foundation of
living a life of impeccable ethics – not harming any living being through actions, speech, or
thought. May all beings awaken their innate wisdom mind, develop self-less compassion for
others.


tea garden overlooking Taipei from Maokong Mountain – Taipei 101 rises into the mist.
vegetarianism is very popular in Taiwan. This meal is all vegan!
Qijiawan River flowing off of XueShan Mountain
Heading up to Qika hut to acclimate to high elevation on our first day at Xueshan (Snow Mountain).
Our second day started early – up at midnight, on the trail at 1:15 a.m. Morning tea at 2 a.m. in a bamboo grove beneath the stars.
Complete silence except for the wind and the rise and fall of the breath. Empty mind, full heart. – photo credit Pema
First rays of dawn hitting the summit ridge of XueShan – photo credit Pema
On the summit – 7:30a.m. on the shortest day of the year. We missed the sunrise by about an hour but it was amazing to be there…and very very cold at 3886 meters (12,749 feet) above sea level. – photo credit Pema
Why climb the mountain? Because it is there. Oxygen level is 40% of what it is at sea level at this elevation. – photo credit Pema
The earth writes its story in rock.
nothing like being welcomed in a new home with a hot cup of tea
Climate awareness performance – and an encouragement to go vegetarian, at Jing Si Temple.
Learning the art of flower arranging at one of the workshops at Jing Si Temple.
on the Zuocang Trail (8k roundtrip) with an overlook of Hualien.
All meetings end in parting. Treasure your loved ones while you have the opportunity.

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