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  • Song of a Lotus LeafMy Dao Journey in Poetry
  • Dawn Li (bio)

It is not often that a poet gets the chance to introduce her poems in an academic journal. While appreciating this opportunity, I ask myself the question: What do readers want to know most from the poet herself? Do they want to know the intended meanings hidden in the writing of her poems—or perhaps the life experiences behind them?

Song of a Lotus Leaf is a collection of poems I wrote in my journal over many years as I went through life. I have taken poetic license for some of the specifics, yet maintained a laser focus on retaining the essence of my writing. My life is representative of a new generation of people who have lived between two cultures. In this point in my life, my experience has been split almost equally between my first 25 years in China and the last 25 years in America. My life philosophy was formed during my early years in China, while most of my adult life experiences have been encountered in America.

As the poems collected in this book were written during the most recent twenty years of my life, many poems are relevant to the American immigrant as well as the Daoist student. Struggles such as homesickness, loss of love, divorce, challenging adjustments to new value systems, financial constraints, and subsequent emotional breakdowns were all thrown on my path. Miraculously, awakening occurred at the same time on different levels in my body, mind, and spirit. These poems are the evidence of those awakenings, and the accompanying photos serve as further documentation of those experiences.

These poems are the result of inward reflection, spoken in a simple, meditative, and authentic voice, with minimum punctuation and all in [End Page 191] lower case, such as in the following from a poem called "Circles of Harmony":

life is full of confusing shapesuntil we've learned todraw circlesfrom within ourselves—our own life force

each of us is an energetic systemaffecting and affected by those around usour health depends onthe balance of yin yang principlesand the harmony of five elementsmetal, wood, water, fire and earthwithin us and around us

within us plays the alchemy of the elements(Lotus Leaf, p. 114)

A hundred years from now, my life might be an interesting case study of an individual who grew up with the Daoist teachings of living close to nature and later being transplanted into a culture that has much less dependency on nature.

My Dao Journey

My encounter with Daoism came when I sought to restore my health because I was sick with insomnia and a stomach problem. This occurred while I was studying Western literature in China in 1986, and it led me to an energy-healing workshop where I first learned qigong. My health was restored miraculously in just a couple of weeks. This amazing result piqued my interest. I became fascinated with qigong and in due course also with taiji quan and acupuncture.

This fascination eventually led me to Daoism because it is the philosophical basis for those practices. I kowtowed to my qigong master and the taiji master who followed, eventually engaging myself in an acupuncture [End Page 192] program. During this same period, I frequented temples and studied meditation, Daoism, Zen, and Buddhism to learn the collective traditions—receiving the name Renhui 仁慧 (Benevolent Wisdom) in a Beijing temple.

After years of reading and practicing energy healing, my eyes were opened to the Daoist philosophical basis behind classic Chinese art forms—from Tang poetry thorugh landscape painting, calligraphy, martial arts, and Fengshui to the cosmology of the Yijing. The creativity hidden behind qigong is present in every art form and at the center of each is the Dao principle.

I carried my enthusiasm with me when I arrived in Washington, DC, to work in a doctorate program at George Washington University. My understanding of Dao made it possible for me to look at modern writings by Western giants such as W. Somerset Maugham, Emily Dickenson, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Willa Cather, Wallace Stevens, Ezra Pound, and Charles Baudelaire in...


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pp. 191-207
Launched on MUSE
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