Not too long ago, I had a shot at enlightenment. And despite the fact that I live right outside of Boulder, CO – the enlightenment capital of the universe with the exception of Sedona and perhaps the chocolate aisle of the World Market – I cannot say that I have yet had the privilege of sitting in God’s palm. So when the opportunity presented itself, I jumped at it.

I was living on Lamma Island, just outside of Hong Kong – already the consequence of playing chicken with Fate – when I met Jack. Jack lived down the street from me and was the friend of a friend. He is of medium height, has sandy blond hair and comes from Liverpool. (Read: cute with an accent).

He looks me over, waiting for our mutual friend to arrive and extends an invitation that would change my life.

“Care to join me for some Wing Chun?”

I wrinkle my brow and pretend to consider whatever the hell he has just offered. Finally I give up.

“Some wing what?”

“Wing Chun. Only the most deadly of the arts, Bruce Lee’s mother’s milk, arsenic to your enemies, tiger balm for your soul.”

My eyebrows raise of their own accord.

“Kung Fu,” he explains when it is obvious that I’m not tracking. “It’s all about takin’ energy and givin’ it back in lethal doses.” He begins a series of strange snapping movements with his wrist.

“Sounds interesting,” I say politely.

“It is. Would you like to accompany me, then?”

“Where do you do it?”

“In Kowloon. With my master.”

That sounds profound, so I just nod. “All right. I’ll give it a try.” What did I have better to do?

Soon, I am following him across the waters by ferry until we hit Hong Kong side. Another short ferry ride and we’re in Kowloon. Apparently we’re late so I’m speed walking on his heels and sweating profusely in the 85 degree heat and equivalent humidity and thinking the whole time I just may not be cut out for this and perhaps we could stop somewhere for a large slice of pizza.

When we finally reach our destination – a large gazebo in the middle of the main city park – I am sweaty and panting like a Pug with asthma.

Apparently oblivious – or perhaps wickedly amused – Jack kind of steps aside and swings his hand wide toward the entrance as if nothing unusual has happened and I am not about to, by all practical appearances, die. Looking past him into the gazebo, I feel my stomach bottom out somewhere around my ankles. I am going to have to dig deep.

Fortunately, the teacher leading the class takes my wheezing as a cue and puts me at the back of the group. Besides Jack and me, there are about ten other students – all westerners like us from the looks of them. While I am clearly the only new one in the group, I learn rather quickly that Jack is the highest ranking student in the class and I watch as he moves around the room pushing on shoulders and positioning arms.

Ah yes, I think to myself as my breath returns to me, enlightenment just might be within my grasp. An easy answer is hardly worth knowing, after all. A bird in the hand and…stuff.

At the front stands Jack’s master, who demonstrates the nuances of each move with conviction while repeatedly flashing us with a view into his loose tank top of a flamboyant dragon tattoo, which swoops down his left pectoral toward his solar plexus – his “solar flair,” if you will. He speaks slowly and with precision – a British David Carradine.

I follow along as best as I can, without letting myself get too distracted by his mind-blowing manliness.

The class continues well into its second hour before showing any signs of slowing down and I notice we have attracted a small audience. Elderly Chinese men, mostly, making no attempt at hiding their park bench critique of a gazebo full of smelly, hairy gweilos practicing kung fu in the middle of their park. Finally, our leader calls us all into a group. We line up into rows and face him. Jack stands on my left, the sandy blonde hairs on his chest matted down with sweat from the combination of activity and humidity. He’s so close I can smell him.

“Now, close your eyes. I want to do a little exercise with you,” speaks Dragon Master from the front.

I close my eyes and attempt to stand still.

“Now, quiet your minds. I don’t want you to think about anything other than what is here and now. Concentrate on the sound of my voice.”

I try to shut Jack out and concentrate on his voice while at the same time leaning down as discretely as I can to brush away a mosquito that has decided to make a quick snack out of my leg.

“Breathe in slowly through your nose and exhale through your mouth. Be still.”

I suspect he has witnessed me swatting at my legs and is directing this last set of instructions at me. I am tempted to open my eyes and peek at him to see if he is watching me, but I restrain myself. This man might be the key to my enlightenment, after all. I have to represent.

“Just breeeeathe.” He then inhales and exhales loudly from the front of the group producing quite unexpectedly a sound akin to Darth Vader moments before revealing his paternal identity. I draw blood from my lower lip trying to keep it flat, just as a wave of shame beats me down for my own flippancy in the face of nirvana.

For the next full minute he has us all doing the “Vader” as if we are practicing for auditions for the next Star Wars movie. It takes me a while, but I finally relax into the flow of the Force. I am centering myself. Living the westerner’s dream. Here I am – in Asia – learning from the source of all internal knowledge. And while the instructor may be as white as a calla lilly, I have already learned from Jack somewhere between huh huh’s that the instructor’s teacher is actually Bruce Lee’s teacher’s son – the legendary Yip Chun. I swat at another mosquito on my leg. At the front, Lord Vader is speaking.

“People forget that we have voluntary control over our minds and bodies – that we can control our thoughts and our physical well-being with our minds.”

Kchhwooo-whoooo, we answer back.

“A happy body leads to a happy mind,” he continues. “The converse is also true. A happy mind leads to a happy body. I once knew a woman with horrible menstrual cramps. And simply by concentrating her chi on her womb, she was able to rid herself of them for life.” His voice has taken on a melodic tone somewhere along the way. I look up at him and our eyes meet for a brief moment before he winks at me, apparently satisfied with the indisputability of his conclusion.

Kchhwooo-whoooo, we answer him.

I contemplate the randomness of the wink.

Again, I lean down to scratch at my legs. I’ve apparently been bitten a couple more times in the midst of my philosophical moment.

“Imagine with me your heart. See your heart within you. Your heart is happy. Do you feel it being happy?”


I try to imagine my heart happy. In my mind’s eye, I look past my skin, muscles, sternum, and locate that quivering control station within, all reddish and spidered with life lines. I try to envision a happy heart. What would it look like? Without facial features, how would one be able to tell if one’s heart is happy? Happiness seems like such an arbitrary label. Couldn’t I just look it over for signs of gratification? If it were gratified, surely I’d recognize that. And pleased. And maybe joyful, but I think that might be pushing it. It would have to be lighter. I mean, well, not giddy – giddy would definitely require a mouth and perhaps playful eyebrows – but content, at least? Yes, content.

I smile ever so slightly at my conclusion. Surely enlightenment is within my grasp. I swat at my legs again and smash a mosquito against my leg. I look down at its crushed body in the midst of a messy blood smear in the palm of my hand. My own blood from my happy heart.

Crushed mosquito heart.

“Your pancreas. Oh yes. We don’t often think about our pancreas. Try to picture it there. Imagine it being flooded with the warmth of happiness.”


I force myself to move beyond unhappy insect heart and focus on my pancreas. Happy pancreas. The itching on my legs is unbearable. Happy, gleeful pancreas. Goood pancreas. I look down just in time to see two more mosquitoes circling my calves. I wave them away. The sound of one hand clapping.

“Keep breathing.”


“Now your liver. Flood it with the warmth of your happiness. Imagine that it’s smiling. Your liver – just smiling up at you – through you.”

Damn! More bites! Happy liver! Happy liver!


I begin slapping feverishly at my legs. The mosquitos have smelled my blissful blood and have begun some kind of feeding frenzy and I am hit with a thought of great profundity straight from the mind of God: “the tingle tells you it’s working!”

I straighten up and try to block out the pain and the itchiness.

“Now your anus.”

My what?


Ow! My legs are officially on fire. (The fire of faith! The fire of true knowledge!)

“Just let your anus smile!”

That does it. Try as it will, my anus refuses to smile. I leave before anyone opens their eyes.

Enlightenment would just have to wait.

TAGS: , , , , , , ,

ERIKA RAE is the author of Devangelical, a humor memoir about growing up Evangelical (Emergency Press, December, 2012). She is editor-in-chief at Scree Magazine and nonfiction editor at The Nervous Breakdown. Erika earned her MA in Lit­er­a­ture and Lin­guis­tics from the Uni­ver­sity of Hong Kong and to this day can ask where the bath­room is in Can­tonese, although it is likely that she will not under­stand the answer. In her dream world, she fan­cies her­self a kung fu mas­ter clev­erly dis­guised as a gen­tle moun­tain dweller, eagerly antic­i­pat­ing dan­ger at the bot­tom of every latte. When she is not whipping one of her 3 children and denying them bread with their broth, she runs an ISP with her husband from their home in the Colorado Rockies.

3 responses to “How I Blew My One Shot at Enlightenment on Account of the Fact That My Anus Refuses to Smile”

  1. Erika Rae says:

    Original Comment Thread:


    Comment by Rich Ferguson |Edit This
    2008-08-09 09:30:33
    Nice one, Erika. I enjoyed reading this quite a bit. Also, no big deal about your anus not smiling. Enlightenment can come in other ways.

    For example, how’s your anus at juggling?

    Reply to this comment

    Comment by Brad Listi |Edit This
    2008-08-11 13:52:20
    Quick tech note: Everyone please upload an avatar so that your photo appears next to your comments.

    It’s simple: Just go to and sign up for a free account. (Takes two seconds.)

    Just remember to sign up at Gravatar using the same email that you use when you leave a comment here at TNB. And then upload a photo (or photos) of your choosing. Then click it and select “Confirm.”

    Your avatar photo will then automatically appear here on the comment board—and on any other site that uses Gravatar, whenever you leave a comment. Thanks!


    Reply to this comment

    Comment by Erika Rae |Edit This
    2008-08-09 10:01:54
    Rich: Not great, but you should really see it with the devil sticks.

    (Ooh – that was kinda bad, huh? Maybe I oughta tone it down, being a newbie and all…)

    Reply to this comment

    Comment by zoe b |Edit This
    2008-08-09 11:20:16
    my anus is smiling right now.

    it does that but mostly at inappropriate times. Thank you for providing a forum for it to smile and feel accepted.

    nice writin’, Tex.

    xx zb

    Reply to this comment

    Comment by N.L. Belardes |Edit This
    2008-08-09 12:17:39
    I’m not sure if my anus is smiling. I’ll get back to you on that. I am smiling in other places because this piece was so damn funny. Hey, at least you were adventurous enough to go explore your darth vader breathing in a Bruce Lee setting. That’s pimp!

    Reply to this comment

    Comment by Kat |Edit This
    2008-08-09 17:58:39
    Erica – I love it. Thanks for the laugh. You are truly funny.

    Reply to this comment

    Comment by Brad Listi |Edit This
    2008-08-09 19:47:05
    My anus is laughing.

    Reply to this comment

    Comment by JMB |Edit This
    2008-08-10 08:30:54
    Bruce Lee: Martial artist, philosopher, illusionist or cosmic joker?

    Very cool piece, nice the way you put words together.

    Reply to this comment

    Comment by Erika Rae |Edit This
    2008-08-10 09:43:40
    Zoe: I am mildly jealous. Does it, like, smile naturally – or do you really have to work at it?
    NL: I believe it is difficult to tell. May I suggest a mirror?
    Kat: You are laughing *with* me, right?
    Brad: Show off.
    JMB: I didn’t see “a god” as an option…and thank you.

    Reply to this comment

    Comment by Josie |Edit This
    2008-08-10 10:04:13
    Was my comment deleted?
    Consider me officially offended.

    Reply to this comment

    Comment by Erika Rae |Edit This
    2008-08-10 10:24:39
    Josie: Ha! Actually, my whole first post was deleted and along with it the comments (admin thing). Not to worry! I have found your original comments and are posting them below as if I were you:

    Reply to this comment

    Comment by Josie |Edit This
    2008-08-10 21:29:07
    If you get to be me then can I be you… cuz yous reeeal purdy.

    I’m going to get your book soon – sounds right up my alley!

    Reply to this comment

    Comment by Erika Rae |Edit This
    2008-08-10 10:25:24
    This is really “Josie:”

    I don’t know how you maintained your composure – I never can. Those moments always feel so contrived to me that I DO laugh. I can’t control it. Laughter overtakes my whole body. And so now you have me wondering, if my anus has laughed does that mean I’m enlightened?

    Loved it Erika – I’m thinking about moving to Boulder next year maybe we can Kchhwooo-whoooo together over a cup of tea

    Reply to this comment

    Comment by Erika Rae |Edit This
    2008-08-10 10:29:30
    Tea sounds great! We’ll have to do the Dushanbe together. ( :

    And while I believe there are many paths to enlightenment, yes, I think it is fair to say that an animated anus is one.

    Write me when you get here!

    Reply to this comment

    Comment by Jennifer Duffield White |Edit This
    2008-08-10 19:29:56
    Great piece. Loved it!
    Welcome to the tnb.

    Reply to this comment

    Comment by juliette |Edit This
    2008-08-11 08:23:26
    nice piece, mountain mama!
    think i’ll add darth vader breathing to my ‘to do’ list for tomorrow
    …poised to read more o’ your stuff!

    Reply to this comment

    Comment by Megan Leah Power |Edit This
    2008-08-11 13:38:18
    Erika, great title! the moral of this story is never follow a random cute guy somewhere, right?

    Reply to this comment

    Comment by Erika Rae |Edit This
    2008-08-11 14:24:02
    Jennifer: Thanks for the welcome – I love this strange, new land!
    Juliette: Thanks for stoppin’ by. Regarding the breathing: I sincerely hope you have better luck than I did. Let me know how it goes. Love to you from the mountain top!
    Megan: True, true. I find that the ones with accents are particularly dangerous.

    Reply to this comment

    Comment by lance reynald |Edit This
    2008-08-12 01:57:57
    nice one champ!

    good to see your smiling… face here!


    Reply to this comment

    Comment by Erika Rae |Edit This
    2008-08-12 07:02:50
    Yes, well, as I’ve already maintained, it’s the only part of me that I could get to smile for the camera.

    Good to see you, too.

    Reply to this comment

    Comment by Kaytie M. Lee |Edit This
    2008-08-12 10:34:16
    I wasn’t aware it was possible to *keep* one’s anus from smiling. Wouldn’t it smile of its own accord?

    Maybe not. Now I’m wondering if my innards are resentful that I don’t give them all individualized attention. Probably the oddest thing I’ll ponder all day.

    Reply to this comment

    Comment by Lenore Zion |Edit This
    2008-08-14 05:02:05
    there are so many adorable dorky references in here. i don’t believe that you can’t make your anus smile with stuff like this coming out of your brain.

    does that even make sense?

    who cares. you can make it wink. that’s sexier.

    Reply to this comment

    Comment by Malc |Edit This
    2008-08-18 08:55:42
    Wow! that one was a long time ago Erika!

    The Wisdom Heart Center is long gone, but Jack made an unexpected return to Lamma a month or two ago and people here still teach Wing Chun Kung Fu.

    Peace, Love , Lamma,


    Reply to this comment

    Comment by Carissa |Edit This
    2008-08-26 09:45:08
    Last week I attended a Bikram (hot) yoga class for the first time. I have been to yoga classes in the past, but I’m not super bendy. In any event, I found myself in a 2000 degree room on a mat with a towel as I coaxed my body into one position after another. About twenty minutes into the class I became extremely nauseated. In retrospect, an egg sandwich on a bagel and cup of coffee probably wasn’t the best way to hydrate beforehand, but I have none of the self-control that would have prevented breakfast.

    As the nausea escalated, I decided to take a break and lay on the floor on my back in a ‘pose’ called Shavasana. After a few minutes on the ground I rejoined the class for a pose or two and then needed to get back on the floor. It was at this point that the teacher announced, “feel free to lay in Shavasana if you need to.” Great, thanks. One pose later I’m back down and the affirmation becomes, “there’s no shame for lying in Shavasana.” Seriously, I’m the only person on the ground. I struggle back up only to be struck back down by the urge to ralph and then, loud and clear, “we don’t place any judgment on people in Shavasana.”

    At this point I had a mini burst of laughter (must stay serene) as I’m consumed by thoughts of your anus attempting to smile. The teacher proceeds, “Let’s move into eagle pose. Great, Sandy. Nice, Mark. If you are in Shavasana, keep your eyes open and stay with us.”

    With your permission, I closed my eyes. Thank you, Erika.

    Reply to this comment

    Comment by Erika Rae |Edit This
    2008-08-26 09:56:45
    We don’t place any judgment on people in shavasana.

    Oh my God, that’s priceless.

  2. […] RAE is THIS close to enlightenment, if only her anus would […]

  3. Sara Swati says:

    By the prose I thought you were a gay male; just the same, I don’t think this piece adds much to the world. But at least now I know that women can in fact sound like gay men. No disrespect at all to either group; just amazement. It is interesting, though, that you would put so much effort into being sarcastic in the face of a different culture. In your bio it says you enjoy Kung Fu. I guess you managed to get your butt-hole to smile, in the end. In the interest of serious self inquiry, when you can smile with your anus, your Kundalini goes up up up!

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