⌆ Yiming's 2020: Year in Review

Learnings from an unusual year

A year ago today I was in Chile, where I joined a group of friends hiking through Patagonia Park.

For the first time in my life, I carried a 30+ pound backpack for days straight, winding through grasslands, climbing up hills, sliding down ravines, and crossing rivers. Prior to the trip, I was informed that glacial river crossings would make this trek fun. However, for a city dweller who doesn’t know how to swim, fording rivers with a full backpack was scary. How would I respond to the unknown at the moment?

The first thing I learned in 2020: paying full attention opens a new dimension for personal growth.

Rapid water turned out fortuitously enjoyable. In the center of a stream, I carved the current, pushing its force out to form a meditative invisible sphere, where inside it’s just me and the water: the bustling sound, glittering surface, infiltrating coldness, its formidable weight. I was compelled to fully embrace a truly wild thing with all my awareness, and at that moment I discovered new territory in me — commensurately raw, powerful, and enduring.

Never could I have imagined this hike would be my last chance to travel. I had lunch on Lunar New Year’s day with a Chinese friend. We ate Russian dumplings at a restaurant called Mari Vanna, decorated like an opulent grandma’s cozy house. We sat at a big table under a chandelier, and we talked about the Wuhan lockdown. She insisted that I buy masks, of which I was convinced. It had rained all morning, and we were more or less alone in the restaurant. I’d been to Mari Vanna several times, and it had always smelt lively — like a stuffed tipsy cherry jar. But that afternoon, it was zestless. Its emptiness gave off an indistinct cosmic melancholy as if we could only make it to lunch because we didn’t party hard enough last night. Looking back, I must have caught some looming thoughts in the collective consciousness. Weeks later, China was under lockdown, and a few weeks after that, so was New York.

Experiencing a collective crisis like COVID, combined with techno-medical despotism, is difficult to communicate with language. New words and memes, as well as old fables and ethos, are called for to tell this odd 21st-century story. I ask myself, how is the pandemic changing the way I view this world and shape my narrative?

The second thing I learned: reading old myth reveals coordinates for understanding, and learning new tools for creating new myth, holds space for transformation.

My ancestors were farmers living by the famous Yellow River. The river basin offered abundance for them to build a civilization. In the old myth, the goddess Nüwa, who created humans, had to repair the leaking heaven to stop the flood on the earth. On the Mediterranean islands, ancient greeks didn’t need flood tamers but had to rely on the fire stolen by Prometheus, who is also credited with the creation of humanity. In both myths, humans were created out of clay, vulnerable, dirty, squishy, and struggling to continue their lives on earth. They needed a little help from the invisible world, and thus, the east gets its harnessed water and the west its fire.

Harnessing water or stealing fire are symbols for tools. Because of the pandemic, I had a lot of time to read and re-read myths. When I put more and more of these mythic metaphors together, the map of human consciousness gets bigger and bigger. In this process, however, I was lost in deep dives on maps from people like Carl Jung and Aleister Crowley. I kept mapping, forgetting that territory is what matters. How could I forget the human conditions we were in? If I looked outside, it was heartbreaking to see how we, as living beings with so much potential were trapped in our apartments, traumatized by the mazes of our old stories. I asked myself: what tools could empower us to write a new story?

I am grateful to have found sound and dreamwork.

In September, I participated in my first sound ceremony with my teacher, a sound magician, David. After integrating the event, I decided to go deeper into the sonic space and joined David to train as a sound practitioner.

The ceremony and the training happened in real life. I had my hesitations at the beginning with group events in COVID times. As a kid, I had a lot of respiratory issues. The pandemic triggered my deep-rooted fear of unwellness in the body. My favorite philosophers Giorgio Agamben or Michel Foucault both talked about how the body internalizes oppression from the collective ego (in their language, political machines), and freedom comes from recognizing this trap. However, from learning to living, there is still a big gap. Luckily, curiosity overcame fear. I showed up and came back with a new power tool in my pocket.

My partner and I facilitated our first sound ceremony in early December. It felt sacred to create a sonic container, holding the space for service, both to self and other’s transformation. Looking back at the start of my sound school essay, I wrote:

As a sound practitioner, the job is to carve out that space, where the psyche can be left in silence to learn to sing. This space is surrounded with intentional sound waves, converging into a moat, guarding the sacred silence. When the water of the moat starts to fill up and rise, the practitioner must remind the participants not to panic or indulge, instead, they should be ready to swim and across the sounds to silence.

Sound ceremonies are power plants for our body and psyche. The question is: once you are charged, how are you going to maintain and use the energy? In one ceremony, I slipped into a non-duality state. Ancient Chinese philosopher Zhuangzi once told a story: he dreamed of himself became a butterfly. Upon waking up, he couldn’t remember if it is him turning into a butterfly in the dream, or the butterfly turning into him in the reality. The non-dual experience rent the veil and showed me that this reality is a collective dream in which we choose to co-create. To maintain lucidity in this dream called reality requires technique. I needed to know dreams better.

I had dabbled in dream journaling because of my interest in Jung. I’d also read some Tibetan dream yoga materials. Intuitively, a consistent dreamwork practice seemed to be the missing thread I needed to knit. I discovered Jennifer Dumpert’s wonderful book Liminal Dreaming: Exploring Consciousness at the Edge of Sleep, which made it easy for me to understand and play with the basic mechanics of dream consciousness. Dumpert’s work focuses on the hypnagogic and hypnopompic states of the dream, which make up the bardo in between wake and sleep. I discovered a synergy between my dreamwork and spiritual practice. I’d lay down instead of sitting up in meditation, getting my body into the pre-sleep state while keeping my mind awake. This turned out an easier way for me to get to a deeper meditative state.

Sound and dreamwork are both useful tools to recognize the layers of linguistic labels we put on ourselves, which were given by ancestors, manufactured by culture/political systems, and passed on from kinship. My goal is not to denounce the value of language, but to understand how it constructs our reality. If we could transmute language and invent new myths, we would surely shift reality. We live by myth and its metaphors.

I had many reflections on my obsession with tools and abstract thinking in 2020. Growing up as a brainy kid, I regularly escaped into books and daydreams. Even though I practiced yoga for six years, I’ve only recently come to the revelation of what embodiment really means and why it is important.

The most important thing I learned in 2020: knowing my body and its signals, is my ultimate key to a deeper, richer, and more joyful life.

For almost all my life, I put mind over body and art over nature. I am satisfied with how far this perspective took me, but also recognize how it is no longer sufficient. The hoarded information became baggage for my mind rather than fuel for joyful expression. As a society, we are also experiencing a similar dilemma: data is everywhere, nowhere comes insights. In Thoth tarot, thoughts are symbolized by swords. When swords reach their peak as the final card, they all compete and break. This card is called “Ruin”, implying endless analysis with the complete loss of hope and belief. The bright side of this energy is since old belief is burnt out and ruined, we can anticipate that new hope is on the way.

For me personally, many good things in 2020 required me to use my body fully: an unforgettable hike, psychedelics, instruments, lucid dreams… These cosmic gifts showed me new ways to experience, to learn, and to engage. Collectively, this global illness made everyone reconsider how our bodies are governed, what wellness means, and if a new lifestyle is called for on earth.

2020 was an embodied year in spite and in light of us being socially distanced with sanitized touch.

The most important technique in lucid dreaming is touch. If a dreamer understands how to maintain their body sensation, they can remain lucid better and longer. I find this anecdote also applies to real life, this collective dream we are all in. Embodiment leads to a grounding lucidity, which makes us grow fuller and richer. If we are lucid, we can see each other and the earth in higher fidelity, so that we can appreciate true beauty. If we are lucid, we can hear with accuracy and communicate with clarity. If we are lucid, we can conjure smells connecting us to memories and futuristic realms. If we are lucid, we will taste all the sweetness and bitterness to know what truly nurtures. If we touch each other with our soul and spirit; heart and body, we will remain lucid.

2020 was a tough teacher, yet full of insights. Let’s hope 2021 brings tenderness for us to integrate all our learnings which will be woven into a better story.

✨ love from yiming