We tuned into an astrology talk recently (we know, very woo woo, but we like to live dangerously every now and again). And because most of you are most likely a little curious, we will tell you, the overarching astrological message for this coming 2024 year was one of love. To navigate the changes of this coming year, “all you need is love and your own personal gifts.” Not a bad thought, nor a bad prediction.
The other point that the astrologer emphasized was the importance of reflecting on the energy or emotion that we each put out into the world. What are the repetitive patterns of thought that we reinforce in our consciousness which in turn shapes the way we perceive the planet and its other occupants?
So many of us live in a near-constant fearful, frustrated, agitated, or negative airspace. Sometimes this is for good reason, but what does this suggest about the universe or state of being that we are in the process of creating and living? Make no bones about it, in this coming year, there are alignments, solar flares, a solar eclipse, a lunar eclipse, and quite a few elections to boot. The trick to riding these waves (real or imagined), our astrologer claimed, is finding means of developing an internal center and to work to be conscious about where one’s thoughts are originating from.
In his talk, the astrologer referenced David Hawken’s map of the consciousness which shows how we can move from restrictive states of anger, fear, and jealousy outward towards integrity, humility, willingness, kindness, compassion, love, and joy. And just like that the world gets a little brighter. The goal, becomes means of sustaining these intentions, and expanding this mode of being. In astrological terms, we are looking to find and maintain higher states of vibration within this greater field of energy.
Now we at Pop Rooms are at best intermittent meditators, and, while very well intentioned, we also live very busy and important lives (these blog posts don’t just write themselves). While we love the idea of daily practice or an internal mantra, like most people, we also know where this commitment will be a week from now. As such we became curious, might there be other ways of boosting one’s energy field?
The short version, after hours of rabbit hole internet researching, is Nangang Park. Yes, you read that correctly, but keep reading before you grab your picnic baskets.
In full disclosure, there are certain stories which are easier to write than others. We often prefer the ones where we don’t make ourselves sound like we are completely out to lunch, but alas this is not one of those tales.
The easiest piece to tell is the “where.” Nangang Park, (南港公園) was built in the eastern reaches of Taipei in 1988. It spans over 156,000 square meters and holds lakes, walking paths, basketball and tennis courts, and a number of places to sit, rest, and enjoy the natural scenery. It is best characterized by a large entryway arch, a large number of bird species and a fair number of visitors on the weekend. We were excited to visit. It’s near our favorite bus station and baozi stand, it is easy to get to, and it was a gorgeous blue sky Sunday in January.
Our interest in Nangang began with an article, a Facebook post, and an old expat forum which all referenced the work of a Dutch pseudo-scientist-psychic-lunatic-oven by the name of Jaap Van Etten. Now he truly is woo woo, but he has also made the claim that Taipei, and specifically Nangang Park has a very powerful energy field. In fact he suggests that it is one of the more powerful ones in the city if not the Island and the world. And well, you should know by now that we are suckers for a good dose of snake oil. The problem was, in this instance, there were no other articles on the English speaking internet about Taiwan or Nangang energy fields. There was nothing to cross-check these claims. Even the Dutchman, himself, became a little flighty in the course of successive internet searches and we were finding ourselves rather like sailors at sea wondering just what and who it is we were dealing with. Eventually, the only logical way to resolve this conundrum became to visit the park ourselves.
Rip Van Winkle is a popular American story and folk myth about a Dutch-American who went hunting in the Catskills where he meets these strange men who do not speak but offer him something to drink. He falls asleep and then wakes up 20 years later. It’s a completely fictional tale, but it is perhaps the closest analogy we have available to describe the sense of stepping into a slightly altered world. It somehow sneaks up on you, even with your eyes wide open.
As we walked to the park, we bought a bubble tea and told ourselves we would spend one hour exploring. We would be present, conscious of the direction of our thoughts, and would be open to wherever the muse took us and whatever was there.
The first thing we noticed walking through the gates was that there were plum trees blooming. On closer inspection there were small yellow butterflies flitting among the branches: yellow and whitish pink against a blue sky. The basketball and tennis courts had easy games going. It was around 24 or 25 degrees celsius, the sun was high overhead and people were strolling on shaded paths, chatting quietly, and eating lunch. Kids played with bubbles on the main lawn. The atmosphere was relaxed, but it was a Sunday after all. We marveled at the sight, seeing a capital city completely calm and at ease one a day after a historic election.
The sun was warm and our feet felt tired and we began to look for a bench to on which to sit, to get our bearings, and enjoy our bubble tea. Serendipitously, a couple sitting in the shade stood up and began to wander in the direction of the lake. From our bench in the shade we noticed that almost everyone picnicking or sitting near us had taken off their shoes — even a mother playing with her son on the lawn. It seemed like another invitation too good to pass up.
Normally, we need something to occupy our attention. We look at our phone, make lists, read, fidget, play music, spin malas or twirl worry beads. Yet, for over twenty-five minutes on a Sunday afternoon we simply sat, sipped bubble tea, and enjoyed the day and watching the people who passed by. We did not think about it until later, but everyone around us was doing the same. Conversations were softened against the bird sounds. There were no phones out.
Now we are not nor will we ever claim to be psychic or energy spectrum attuned. We enjoy learning about the unseen world, but we cannot see auras and are only truly aware of energy fields that come in the form of fences adorned with signs warning of a powerful shock. As such, it is rather challenging to explain what happened next.
After our bubble tea was finished, we pulled back on our shoes, leaving them a little looser than they had been before, and walked in the direction of the lake. Herons, ducks, and geese flocked in the shallows and a number of people fished from the banks. Parts of the imagery, but perhaps more the tranquility, felt like something out of an ancient ink-brush painting.
Crossing to the bridge to the peninsula in the middle of the park on a whim we turned right and then looked up to see what appeared to be an overlook above us. Taking the next set of stairs we wound our way up towards the top of the hill where we saw a group of people arranged in a circle. One was sitting on a boulder, another was standing and placing their hands on a different stone, a third was draped across the rock in front of them like they were giving it a bear hug. We have come to expect all different sorts of exercises in public in Taiwan, but these poses were new to us. As we climbed the last few steps we were finally able to read the sign in front of the area:
“We told ourselves we would be present, conscious of the direction of our thoughts, and would be open to wherever the muse took us and whatever was there.” And in all reality what else was there to do?
Setting down our backpack, it felt correct to enter the circle of stones with the solemnity of visiting a church or temple or place governed by a set of rules or beliefs you don’t entirely understand. With slight hesitation, we walked up to the central stone and laid our hands flat on the cool, burnt-red slab. In breath, out breath, a deeper breath, a slower breath… The sun, which had been obscured behind a cloud, chose that moment to reappear causing the whole world to glow slightly as we opened our eyes. Above the bird calls and the conversations of the fishermen below, we would eventually become aware of a high ringing noise that we would not be able to identify nor hear again afterwards.
We stayed with the stones for perhaps five minutes although it could have been longer. The people around us sat, stood, and hugged their stones. It was peaceful and the stone remained cool beneath our palms. Our rational mind wanted more than anything to break in with a stream of derisive thoughts about the sanity of our own actions and those of our collective group: “rocks for brains,” “stone-age reincarnates,” “stone-huggers,” “the permanently bouldered,” “Sisyphean spawn,” “Stonehenge unhinged,” “Between a rock and a retard…” We truly do have far too many options for colorful insults relating to stones in English. And yet, perhaps because of the astrology talk, perhaps due to the tranquility of the place, perhaps due to the rock on which our hands were resting, another part of our mind in that moment was entirely content to keep the peace. For those five minutes, the rational commentary lost its barb.
Keep in mind, there is nothing on the English speaking internet about a circle of boulders in the middle of Nangang park dedicated to the work of a half-baked Dutch-Oven. As such, we are not entirely sure what to make of the fact that we wandered directly to the stones as if pulled along by a magnet (almost a direct line). Afterward leaving the circle we would find ourselves sitting in a pagoda by the lake watching the fishermen cast their lures into the jade green water.
It was only as we were leaving that we realized, something about the park that we had not noticed on entry. No one, not the kids on bikes, not the joggers, the people walking, the fishermen, those playing basketball and tennis, nor the families picnicking, was moving in a rush. There was movement but it was defined by an absence of haste. It felt like something out of a Pablo Neruda poem where in the middle of a city of millions there exists a space where no one is in a hurry.
In all honesty, we are still not entirely sure what we encountered at Nangang Park. We are definitively not converted rock worshipers and we still remain impervious to all energy fields outside of an electric shock, but, rather like Rip Van Winkle, we can’t help but wonder what we wandered into. We have been ruminating on nature baths, the power of suggestion, the influence of good weather, and the benefits of taking an hour to just do nothing, but we are still unsure what might explain our afternoon in the park. Whatever it is, we will certainly be back and we would be interested in what others have to say or discover in their visits to Nangang Park. Until next time.