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  • Writer's pictureChris Toepker

Circuit Training, Cosmic Level

Updated: May 15, 2020

Then there was that time I went all the way around the universe.

No, really. Bear with me.

In the spring of 2013, I was living and working in Beijing. I had just gotten a new job in Scottsdale, Arizona. It was going to be the last year I lived in Asia (for the time being, at least). As the day of departure (more like "return"!) grew near, I was looking for a way to bring things to a close, and also prepare for new beginnings.

Beijing is a city built on ritual. At the center is the palace, the residence of the emperor. It faces south. Just as the north star looks down and south at the world, so the son of heaven must look south at all that surrounds him. As the stars spin around the pole star, so the world of people swing around the emperor.

A super fragrant grove at Temple of the Earth

In each cardinal direction from the center, there is a temple. To the south, the Temple of Heaven. To the east, the Temple of the Sun. To the North, the Temple of the Earth, and to the east the Temple of the Moon. These temples are not what you'd think. They're not the closed, cloistered halls you'll see in movies or comics. No, these are giant platforms. How giant? Hundreds of people could easily fit inside them. And they did!

To perform the rituals properly, hundreds had to prepare the cooked food, flowers, music and more. Then, the emperor would come to the center and make the offerings. In this way, throughout the year, he aligned himself to the ways of heaven, providing the gravitas to rule all under heaven.

After my planning and packing were complete, I realized I had an extra day. My mind turned to the ritual laid out all around me. If paying respects was good for the emperor, could it be bad for me? Isn't cicrumambulation a prayer? It was decided!

The defunct radio tower where the Moon's altar had been

I set out at dawn, starting at my neighbor the Temple of the Sun, paying my respects by going around. Then I headed north and circled the Temple of the Earth. Sadly, at the Temple of the Moon I could only stare wistfully at the defunct antennae, and hope my respects would be received despite the interference. You see, the Communists had long ago placed a radio station there, destroying the alter. Finally, I made the big push to the Temple of Heaven, making my rounds, before returning to the start.

In this one day, I circled the entire universe. Covering 20+ miles in just over seven hours. It was not a run, nor was it a tour. It was more of a thought and a prayer.

My trail around the universe

Why am I telling you this?

Looking back, this trek was the start of my distance efforts. Upon arrival in Scottsdale, that thought took hold. I began running regularly and hiking far and wide. That has certainly paid off! I can now pretty easily run that distance, and am striking out further and farther.

As for the prayer? I think it was answered - in the ongoing adventure I find myself on, with goals that stretch and challenge me, together with the happiness that accomplishment and the pleasure of good company brings!

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