The Life of a Walker

19 Dec

My life has been one of movement, of never staying in one place.

I was born 137 years ago in southern Guangdong province, an only child like most of my generation due to the stringent laws on family size. Population limits were still strict at the time. Our present liberalization came a decade too late for my parents. My father, much older than his wife, died when I was only seven. My mother had to move north Shaanxi province with me, to work in an apparel factory. We then moved about a number of times from town to town as she found jobs in different industrial plants. I had little chance to make friends or put down roots of any kind. The two of us became rolling stones, always looking ahead to new locations. I learned to like our constant mobility because I had to. Schools were constantly changing for me.

My mother became very possessive of me. After all, I was all she really had.

Adventure tales in children’s books became my permanent obsession. I was a loner growing up. Reading became my most important private activity. I learned to avoid the mass silkscreen media, but I stayed by myself. My teen years were spent back in the south of our country, in Jiangxi province. What was going to become of the rest of my life? I wondered.

My high school grades were good enough to win me a scholarship to Chengdu University in Sichuan province in the southwest. I became fascinated with western China, its geography, history, literature, and folklore. What was to be my professional career? I accepted a slot at a school of education, hoping to win a teaching post after graduation. My position as a research assistant during my second year at the provincial university put me in contact with the department of educational philosophy. I turned into an enthusiast of the philosophical aspects of teaching. There were not enough hours in the day for my reading of the classics on education. I saw myself as a future pedagogic thinker, a teacher of other teachers.

But then I fell in love. It became a pivotal moment in my life. I met her in an art theory class that was part of my program. That course was nothing. I do not remember a thing about it today. But she became my beacon and obsession. No need to give her name here, it would add nothing to the story I am telling. What happened to her, what she became in later life, that is lost in the fog of time as far as I am concerned. All I know is that she could never have had as dedicated an adorer as me. I lost all sense of proportion. All my time and attention came to have a single point of focus. I lost contact with everyday concerns and reality. Life became a romantic dream. We were in total harmony with each other. We dated only each other. We spent most of our time alone together. She was an only child, just like me. She had never had a brother. I had never had a sister. We talked without ever tiring. There existed no secrets between us. There was genuine love between our two spirits. Nothing stood between our fever for each other.

Then she left me. In one day the separation happened. Why she departed, I was never able to find out. There was not a single sign of its coming. She left Chengdu and the university. Where she went, no one could inform me. There was no formal notice or reason available. I thought of tracing her parents and locating their home. But no records existed at all. It was as if she had never existed at all. No data, no connections, no relatives, no forwarding address. Had some dark, invisible agency eliminated her?

I grew frantic and impulsive, wandering the nearby hills for days on end, ignoring my work and studies, answering no one’s questions. I roamed about in a trance, thinking only of my loss. Not eating or sleeping much. Everyone who knew me judged me suddenly insane. Life in a sanatorium cell ended up my lot. I cannot remember all the details of my stay there. I was in a mental fever. Disorientation, inappropriate behavior, and an inability to hold a conversation characterized me. I was described as irrational and addicted to complete internal absorption. I felt as if my mind was on fire. I could not tell anyone what my name was. The whole world was a blank page for me. Nothing around me made any sense. I was desperately seeking relief, but there was none anywhere. Somehow, I was released out on my own.

Then, all of a sudden, an idea struck me one day as I was taking a long walk through the central park of Chengdu: I felt an impossible happiness as I looked in front of me. For what did I see? In the middle of the walkway stood a bust. It was the head of Socrates, here in Chengdu! The ancient Greek philosopher, the center of the dialogues of Plato.

I remembered my study of those Western classics of thought. As I walked the rest of that day, I went over what I recalled from my reading. That night I found a copy of Plato and read all the dialogues as fast as I could. Next day I roamed about again. Newly created dialogues formed in my mind. Characters out of Plato came to life in my imagination. They conversed and argued. People saw me walking through the city streets and parks, my lips moving, strange conversations taking place within my mind.

This sort of self-dialoging during my walking covered a multitude of ideas: the good, the nature of existence, the human soul, life and death, reason and emotion, etc. I was soon after released from my status as an outpatient mental case. Walking in a state of inner dialogue came to take up most of my time when not sleeping. That was my schedule every day, regardless of what the weather might be. I lived austerely on my citizen’s allotment and social share. My needs were modest ones. Other transient persons whom I met would ask me what I was up to. I explained that my walking was a way of clarifying my thoughts and finding the right path to follow. My quest was for the knowledge of how to live my life. Other walkers joined with me before long. They took up the same goal of self-enlightenment. Our long treks became a combination of internal and interpersonal dialogues. After a time, some left me to become walkers marching on their own, starting dialogues with new people they found along the roads.

My own routes started to expand outward. I was roaming all over Sichuan province. I found ever-new partners in the cities, towns, hamlets, and the countryside villages. It was surprising how many understood and entered into my philosophical army of walkers. News reporters heard of us and came long distances with micro-cameras to interview me and my stream of followers.

A psychiatrist from Hong Kong came to walk and study the movement that I had created. Why were we walking? Because life is a walk, I told him. Going away from something old toward something new was the essence of human living. We meet new persons and leave behind old companions. The doctor then wrote a research paper on “The Walking Socratic Dialectic as a Mode of Psychotherapy.” Word of what we were doing spread ever wider. Those troubled by problems sought us out. Our patterns helped them to discover the basic ideas they needed to escape their suffering. My method of thoughtful walking came to be accepted as an aid to health. It grew into a mass system of brisk exercise of both body and mind. The walking movement grew from one end of China to the farthest borders.

I endeavored to be a midwife of ideas, stimulating others to think for themselves. Every walker had difficulties that he or she would like to get rid of. Dialogue aids each individual dig down to the roots of their confusions. Early childhood drives and fears are examined. This allows the discovery of the beginnings of inner turmoil and troubles. The ideas of both parents are brought up out of memory. The walker finds out how the confusions of both parents are passed on to the younger generation. Through unlimited dialogue, one establishes the truth about oneself. A walker turns into a happy human being.

We walkers clear our minds and remake our lives. We remember what we have forgotten, or have been made to forget. What we once knew is recovered for us. There occurs a renewal of our existence.

My intention has never been to set up any kind of organization. A mass movement developed out of my self-care based on the condition I was then in. The walkers had no formal structure until we were joined by Jin. He came up with the idea of putting up the roadside stations where new recruits can be introduced to our dialogue methods. That is where the neophyte walkers start their long journeys. That is where they can rest and have something to eat. They serve those on the road as destinations on long treks across rough territory. These stations, which now number in the thousands, give us an institutional form. And they would not be out there were it not for the inspiration coming from Jin.

Today Jin is called by many an imposter, a fraud, a quack, and a swindler. That is unfair and untrue. He was a genuine Walker in every way. The bad publicity that arose from the newspaper expose of his pre-Walker past was the cause of his leaving us. He did nothing wrong while he was a Walker, I am able to vouch for that. And his so-called crimes were more technical infractions of the code of medical practice that is enforced in China. Since the matter has become so important to the public honor of our Walker movement, I shall give a short sketch of his life course as we, those who still walk, know it today:

Jin was born in the northwest, in Sian province, the oldest of three sons of a reputable surgeon. He grew up with all his dreams and ambitions centered on entering the medical profession of his parent. His intelligence was only average, but to make up for he developed extraordinary assertiveness and phenomenal energy. His capacity to apply himself in work or study was nearly unlimited. His father provided him a rich medical environment and atmosphere at home. His earliest vocabulary consisted of medical terminology. Being the first-born, he was expected to follow in his father’s professional pattern. His education, his leisure reading, and his hobbies were all tied to a future for him in medicine.

Since his father was a graduate of the world-leading Shanghai Medical University, Jin was sent to study there. His personal interest was always in the direct practice on individual patients, not general medical theory. That is what got him into trouble and final expulsion from medical school. His enthusiasm for curing the sick by any means available led to his being charged with practicing medicine without a valid license. Jin spent much more time in the hospital wards than any other student ever did. He already knew more than most interns even in his first year in Shanghai. In the gigantic emergency ward he was already performing procedures far beyond his status as a novice. Anticipation of his own future practice took possession of his mind and its imagination. Jin could not wait to graduate and be certified before giving patients injections of molecular dendrimers on his own, without authorization. Complaints arose among the permanent hospital staff about this student who was taking liberties with the patients of the licensed physicians.

Jin was brought up on charges before the faculty discipline council and summarily expelled from the Medical University. He returned to Sian in disgrace. His embarrassed father found him a job as a medical technician working with electronic implants in a hospital in Sichuan province. Within a year, his father died. His protection and influence were gone. Once again, there was an accusation of illegal medical practice. Jin was fired under a cloud of suspicions. We still do not know what happened to him in the next five years. Did Jin become a quack? There is no doubt but that his knowledge and experience equaled that of the best physicians anywhere in China. Jin used his father’s name in acquiring hospital posts in remote rural townships. He seemed to be always on the run. Whenever the authorities began to look at him, or had suspicions about his original identity, he would disappear and soon turn up elsewhere. He had become a medical migrant and roamer.

The curative claims of our Walker methods attracted Jin into our movement. He perceived the strong psychosomatic aspects of the dialogues used in tours of the Sichuan countryside. It was he who first extended our itineraries into the mountain regions, seeking pure air there. An inspired advocate of managed nutrition, he saw our road stations as dispensers of a healthier diet for all our adherents. He began to spread our food practices to the general public. Ancient Chinese herbal remedies were joined to micronutrient biology. Our stations became mass suppliers of biotin, cobalamin, pyridoxine, pantothenic acid, and niacin. All of our Walkers gained the advantages of the oldest and the newest knowledge. Jin’s medical program for our movement and the general population became central to his expanded conception and vision of what the Walkers were about.

But how were we going to finance all these activities? Jin came up with solutions for this. The Walkers would legally provide emergency first-aid, medical counseling, and nutritional programs to the general population of China. It was also a way of involving millions more in our movement and growing to a colossal dimension. We set up everywhere classes in self-treatment for physical and emotional problems. Jin organized the training of our Walker Corps of medics, nurses, medical technicians, and advisors. It became a widespread custom for Walkers to make voluntary donation of a portion of their citizen allotments and social shares to the stations they visited in their travels about the country. The roadside buildings became much larger and more permanent. Yet they remained a secondary auxiliary to our main activity, the continuing walking dialogues.

We succeeded in getting over the tragedy of the press’ exposure of the supposedly scandalous past of our Jin. Today we can thank him for his contribution to the organizing and structuring of our movement. Wherever he may be, we are grateful to him for his ingenious contributions to our growth and prominence in Chinese society. The Walkers can now roam from the far west to the coastal areas. We are expanding and thriving as never before. I can place no limit to our achievements yet to come.

The Walkers are often asked: what is your economic and political program? Even to present such a question shows confusion over what the nature of our movement is. The world has evolved into a solid system of living. China is a part of the Greater Pacific Community, which is not by itself the entire system of our planetary federation. Do the Walkers plan to remake the whole world, even the universe?

Each of us Walkers is simply attempting to find his or her place in the big framework of all of existence. And to define oneself you must know yourself. That is what our movement is aiming for. There is no doubt that we already today number in the hundreds of millions. But China contains over five billion human beings. Each of them is important and precious to the Walkers. Each is a potential dialoguer. Under Chinese market-based socialism each person is free to move wherever she or he wishes. Our agricultural surplus grows larger and larger. China has become the largest food exporter in the world with its breakthroughs in synthetic plant and meat products. Our guaranteed citizens’ allotments and social shares are sufficient to enable many more of our population to become Walkers. That is what we seek: the enlightenment of as many people as possible.

My life found its purpose the day I started walking with a philosophical dialogue going on in my mind. The same thing has happened to millions of others who followed me. It can repeat itself for many more throughout our solar system. We are not a new religion, nor a political party, but rather a path toward understanding and fuller life. Become a Walker yourself and talk with us, so that you too can share in that life.

Walk the Yanzi
To become wise and free,
Carry forth your dialogue
With your true inner self.

Walk the Yanzi
All your days and years,
Leave the dead past buried,
Search for the yet unseen.

Walk the Yanzi
Now is the proper time,
New places and faces
Will help you find your soul.

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