5 Things That Have The Biggest Impact On Your Health

By Emma Suttie, D.Ac, AP

Attitude

Positive Attitude for Health : Chinese Medicine Livingthis adorable image from entrepreneur.com

As we are all beginning to realize, health is not just about the physical body, it is so much more than that. We all know how much better we feel when things in our lives are going well and we are happy. Staying positive is not always easy with the many stresses that our modern lives present to us, but it has been scientifically proven that people who are positive get sick less often and recover more quickly when they do get sick. Negative energy depresses the immune system as well as the psyche and makes us more susceptible to illnesses. Being cheerful has become more difficult as our lives become increasingly complex and we become more and more disconnected. This is why internal practices like meditation, qi gong and tai chi are excellent ways to cultivate the happiness and positivity we need to stay healthy. Also, zooming out and looking at the macro instead of the micro in any situation really helps to put problems into perspective. Zooming out also reminds us that we should be grateful for all we have and to try to focus on the positive instead of the negative (because it just FEELS better). Your attitude makes a huge difference when it comes to your health, a positive attitude will also ensure that you live a happy life. :)

What You Eat

Nutritious Food for Health : Chinese Medicine Livingthis beautiful image from www.brigitte.de

The food that we eat every day is the best medicine out there. Eating clean, fresh foods, free of chemicals and as unprocessed as possible is one of the best ways to ensure that we never get sick. Chinese medicine was designed as a preventative medicine, and nutritional therapy is one of its most important aspects. In a culture that tends to wait until there is an illness to get treatment, the Chinese believed in living a healthy life, with balance in all things so that illness never had a chance to develop. In modern society, it has become more difficult to live in a balanced way. Our lifestyle is often full of stresses with relationships, finances, work, etc... and eating in a healthy way has become particularly difficult in the age of industrial agriculture with huge factory farms that use pesticides and chemical fertilizers. Our foods are much further from their natural state, and our health suffers. Another factor when it comes to food is the way it is prepared. This is also emphasized in Chinese medicine, with the energy of the person preparing the food and their intention when preparing and cooking it having an effect. A meal prepared with love and care is more delicious, and indeed more healthful than one put together at a drive through window by a stranger. Having a connection to your food makes a big difference in the healing benefits it provides you. There is nothing more healing that lovingly preparing a meal for yourself, then mindfully sitting down to eat it, taking in its nutrients as well as its good healing energy derived from this beautiful earth.

Expressing Your Emotions

Expressing Emotions for Health : Chinese Medicine Livingthis excellent image from livingstingy.blogspot.com

Expressing our emotions is essential for being a healthy, happy human being. Unfortunately, our emotional health is not something considered by many mainstream doctors, but it is absolutely vital for our health. In Chinese medicine, each organ is associated with an emotion, and often, symptoms in a particular organ can point to a disharmony with its respective emotion. People are more likely to come into clinic with complaints about physical problems, but their symptoms often point back to emotional issues. In Chinese medicine, not expressing the emotions can be a cause of disease, which illustrates how important emotional health is in the TCM model, and how powerful our emotions are and how much impact they can have on our health. It is difficult to know what to do when you are struggling with powerful emotions. It certainly isn't always easy to express them. Acknowledging them is the first step, then working through your feelings and finding a way to express them in a way that is productive so that you can let them go and move on is a good road map of how to cope. Until you express emotions and let them go, they are taking up valuable space, which you could be filling with other, wonderful things. Suppressing emotions also uses an enormous amount of qi or energy and tends to stagnate and block the flow of things in your body and your life. Talking with a trusted friend, journaling or simply giving yourself the time to reflect and work through your feelings are some good ways to feel through things and be able to ultimately let them go.

Connecting With the Earth

Connect with Nature for Health : Chinese Medicine Livingthis is beautiful Vancouver island. This image from blog.hellobc.com

One of the great joys of life is being outside and connecting to this beautiful planet. There is nothing more healing than taking off your shoes and putting your feet onto the earth. If you are sensitive enough, you can literally feel the earth's healing energy being absorbed into your body and filling you with light. Chinese medicine was developed in a time when all people lived in complete harmony with their natural environment. People changed their daily habits according to the seasons and were very attuned to nature, their lives depended on it. A lot of illnesses today come from an almost complete disconnect from nature, and each other. If you want to do something good for your body, mind, and spirit, take a walk in a forest or on a beach, take off your shoes and walk through the grass, or sit outside and read a book. Instead of going to the gym, run outside, allowing yourself to absorb some of the earth's energy. We spend so much of our time indoors, sitting at computers or in front of televisions when we were designed to run and jump and MOVE outside, at one with the elements. Our modern lives have pulled us away from nature when our happiness and indeed our health depends on being connected to it. So go outside, it's good for your health!

Community

In a recent TED talk on longevity, some National Geographic researchers were investigating why there were some places on earth where the people lived much longer than others. The researcher giving the talk cites a study that found that only approximately 10% of how long a person will live is dictated by their genes, and the other 90% is lifestyle. 90%!!! They looked around the world for the places on earth (called Blue Zones) where people lived the longest and tried to figure out what is was about their lifestyles that they all had in common. The one thing these places shared was that they were part of small tight-knit communities that all knew each other and looked after one another. It turns out that connecting to others and a feeling of belonging had a huge impact on how long people lived.

I know this from treating patients too. I see so many patients that have problems with depression, sadness, and anxiety who feel alone and disconnected. People used to live in small communities where everybody knew each other, but now, many of us live in big cities, away from our families and friends. Humans are social animals, and we need to be connected to each other to be healthy. This has become increasingly difficult, and the results manifest in many health conditions, especially emotional and psychological ones. We also live in a society, at least in the West, that values the "self" and not necessarily the "other". Our connections, the love, and friendships we have in our lives, are just as important as the food we eat and the exercise we get when it comes to health. Even connecting with strangers - holding a door open for someone with their arms full, smiling at someone on the street who is looking like they need it, or just being friendly and open when you are out in the world lets people know that we really are all in this together and that we all care about each other. It will make you feel good too.

Trying to stay healthy can be daunting. There is so much information out there, and it is easy to get overwhelmed when trying to figure out what to do. Chinese medicine teaches us how to live a healthy, balanced lifestyle using common sense tools that are easy to apply. Nutrition, emotional health, exercise, internal practices like qi gong, tai chi, meditation as well as modalities like acupuncture, herbs, massage and listening to your body and knowing what you need when you need it, are all ways that this wonderful medicine teaches us how to live a long, healthy and happy life. Chinese Medicine Living is dedicated to helping you do just that. <3

 

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Resources

How to Live to be 100+ by Dan Buettner - http://www.ted.com/talks/dan_buettner_how_to_live_to_be_100

The beautiful featured image photo by Joseph Gonzalez on Unsplash

Would you like to learn more about Chinese Medicine and why it is so awesome? See our sister site Learn Chinese Medicine Living for downloadable info sheets and other resources to help you learn about this wonderful medicine. <3


Gratitude. It's Good for Your Health.

By Emma Suttie, D.Ac, AP

I thought that in light of the events of the past few weeks that I would write about gratitude, and how it affects our health. I am not just talking about physical health, I am more talking about the health of your mind and spirit, which if course, directly affects your physical person.

The connection between how we feel and our health has been known about for a long time, certainly Chinese medicine puts great importance on the mental and emotional state of the patient and takes all aspects into account when evaluating overall health. Science now, has proven for example, that people with a positive outlook are generally healthier and get sick less often than people who tend to see things more negatively. Chinese medicine takes this a step further and partners specific emotions with their associated organs; sadness affects the lungs, anger the liver, fear the kidneys and worry the spleen, to name a few. This may sound strange, but I have seen it over and over again in practice, the connections are quite real.

Quantum physics now has postulated that reality can actually be changed by the observer ( see this double slit experiment which explains how) which just tells us what many of the Eastern philosophies have known for centuries, that we are creating our reality all the time. Buddhists spend a lifetime gaining mastery over their minds, because they believe that it is one of the elements that lead to great suffering for human beings. If we are creating the reality in which we live, it gives us all tremendous power to decide what that reality might be.

Gratitude is Good for Your Health : Chinese Medicine Living

The events of the past few weeks have been seriously bumming me out. There is the US election (which is bringing out the worst in a lot of people, and sparking such anger in so many), the mass shootings that seem to be happening on an almost daily basis, and the tensions between the black community and the police. Everyone seems on edge, scared, but most of all, angry. And as Chinese medicine dictates, people need an outlet for all those feelings or they can make you sick, and that seems to be what is happening.

One thing that I have found in my own life, is that in the past, when I was going through something difficult and feeling frustrated or sad about it, when I made a decision to change my attitude (which isn't easy, especially when you are in the dumps), I noticed that how I felt improved immeasurably. It may have taken some time for my situation to improve, but it inevitably did, and feeling good, hopeful, grateful, loving, made my reality a much lovelier place to be until that happened.

The biggest one for me is gratitude. This one is huge and has an enormous impact on how you feel, and what will come into your life if you are feeling it passionately. No matter what may be happening in your life, there are always things you can be grateful for. I have a ritual that I do every morning when I wake up. I go through all the things that I am grateful for (there are so many!) which floods me with good feelings and that sets the intention for the rest of the day. It is a lovely practice and I find it keeps me in a positive state of mind no matter what my day might throw at me.

There is another reason that I think that gratitude is so important. One of the most surprising, and the most profound things that I have learned in almost eleven years of being an acupuncturist is how many hard things people are dealing with on a daily basis. I have been so humbled by the things that my patients have shared with me about their struggles, their fears and their experiences in this life. I found that it made me a more compassionate, more patient, and more loving towards my fellow human being. It also, and this happened pretty early on, gave me an appreciation for how powerful gratitude can be. Every day on my way home from work I would think about those stories and remind myself of all I had to be grateful for, and, no matter what is happening in your life, you have a lot to be grateful for too. We are all alive, living on this beautiful planet and having this wonderful experience called life. It isn't always easy, but a little gratitude makes the journey one that is definitely worth taking.

Check out this fancy chart that lists the many health benefits of gratitude. Thank you to Megan Wilson and fix.com for sharing it. :)

The Health Benefits of Gratitude
Source: Fix.com Blog

Tips to Maintain Successful Gratitude Journal
Source: Fix.com Blog

30 Day Gratitude Challenge
Source: Fix.com Blog


The Ethics of Healing – The “Hippocratic” Oath of China’s King of Medicine, Sun Simiao

Compiled by John Voigt

Sun Simiao (581-682) was an outstanding Chinese physician, scholar and author who lived during the Tang Dynasty. Called the “King of Medicine” (Yaowang) Sun Simiao is said to have founded Chinese gynecology, pediatrics and geriatrics as individual healing modalities. [FN-1]

 The “Hippocratic” Oath of China’s King of Medicine, Sun Simiao : Chinese Medicine LivingThis image By 猫猫的日记本 - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, Wikipedia

Sun Simiao wrote the earliest medical encyclopedia in China, the Essential Formulas for Emergencies [Worth] a Thousand Pieces of Gold (Beiji Qian Jin Yao Fang), and the Supplement to the Formulas of a Thousand Gold Worth (Qian Jin Yi Fang). The first book lists about 5,300 prescriptions for medicines, the second book 2,000. Each book is composed of thirty volumes.

He is also known for his essay "On the Absolute Sincerity of Great Physicians," which has been called "the Chinese Hippocratic Oath." It is found in the opening chapter of the first of the above mentioned books. This portion of the book is still required reading for Chinese physicians. [FN-2]

Sun Simiao - China's God of Medicine : Chinese Medicine Living

Sun Simiao is also portrayed as a god of medicine, here seated on a tiger and holding a dragon above his head.
This image from itmonline.org

On the Absolute Sincerity of Great Physicians: The Healer’s Oath of Sun Simiao [FN-3]

  • When I go to treat an illness I first must calm my mind and make steadfast my intentions.
  • I shall not give way to idle wishes and desires but should first develop an attitude of compassion.
  • I vow to rescue all living beings from their sufferings.
  • If anyone comes to me because of an illness or any other difficulty I will not concern myself with whether they are powerful or humble, rich or poor, old or young, beautiful or ugly.
  • Enemies, relatives, good friends, Chinese or barbarians, foolish and wise, they all are the same to me. I will think of each of them of them as a close and loved relative - or indeed as if it was I who had been struck down by an illness.
  • I shall not worry about my own life or my fortunes or misfortunes. My purpose is to preserve the life of others.
  • I shall not hide away in the mountains. Day and night, in cold and heat, in hunger, thirst and fatigue, I will single-mindedly go to the rescue.  If I am able to act in this manner I may approach being a great doctor for those who are sick. If I act contrary to these precepts I am no more than a great thief to those who are alive.
  • People all too often look with contempt on those who suffer from abominable things, such as ulcers or diarrhea, however I shall maintain an attitude of compassion, sympathy and care. Never in a great physician should there arise an attitude of rejection.
  • I will not glory in my reputation. I will not discredit other physicians while I praise my own virtues.
  • Thus I shall fulfill my responsibilities and my destiny as a physician until I am no longer capable of fulfilling my obligations, or until the end of my lifetime.

China’s King of Medicine, Sun Simiao : Chinese Medicine Living

Sun Simiao.
This image from chinaexpat.com

In many ways Sun Simiao was a product of Buddhist, Daoist, and Confucian thought.

For example, Sun Simiao’s thoughts about showing complete compassion to all living things is distinctly Buddhist. In Essential Formulas for Emergencies [Worth] a Thousand Pieces of Gold he wrote: When love of life is concerned, man and animal are equal [therefore] I do not suggest the use of any living creature as a medicine or healing agent. This does not concern the gadflies and the leeches. They have already perished when they reach the market, and it is therefore permissible to use them. As to the hen's eggs, we have to say the following: before their content has been hatched out, they can be used in very urgent cases. Otherwise, one should not burden oneself with this. To avoid their use is a sign of great wisdom, but this will never be attained.

He also shows Daoist beliefs in rejecting the praise of others. He wrote: Lao-tzu has said, When the conduct of men visibly reveals virtue, the humans themselves will reward it. If, however, men commit virtues secretly, the spirits will reward them. When the conduct of men visibly reveals misdeeds, the humans themselves will take retribution. If, however, men commit their misdeeds secretly, the spirits will take retribution. When comparing these alternatives and the respective rewards that will be given in the time after this life and still during this life, how could one ever make a wrong decision?

Confucian ideology shows itself in various admonitions about the virtuous characteristics required of a physician: “In the homes of patients a physician must speak politely, and not indulge in fine food and drink.” “Wherever someone's life is at stake, one should neither act hastily, nor rely on one's own superiority and ability, and least of all keep one's own reputation in mind. This would not correspond to the demands of humaneness.”

Sun Simiao is not devoid of a sense of personal irony when he writes about physicians conceited about their own skills.  “Someone who has accidently healed a disease, walks about with head raised, shows conceit and proclaims that no one in the entire world can measure up to him.” … “In this respect all physicians are evidently incurable.”  When he write “all physicians” might he also be pointing a finger at himself?

In summary,  Sun Simiao placed the cause and treatment of illness within a social and spiritual context. He articulated the need for a physician to understand the relationship between the art of healing and their own inner state of being and enlightenment, and the society within which they and the patient lived. He believed such understanding would help the overall effectiveness of the provided treatment, as the healer recognized and gained a deeper connection to their role in restoring the patient to health. This is the basis of his code of ethics for physicians.

Further Comments

There is another classic Oath for Chinese Physicians which was written by Hua Tuo (c.140-208) [ https://www.britannica.com/biography/Hua-Tuo]. Sun Simiao may have used it as a starting point for his code.

The Vow of Hua Tuo

Treat people equally irrespective of their high or low status, of their poverty or wealth, of their distinction or obscurity.

Do not run after riches, fear no hardships and toils, and take it as your first duty to take pity on the old and help the young. [source: Bob Flaws. Master Hua’s Classic of the Central Viscera.]

Hua Tuo - Chinese Master Physician : Chinese Medicine LivingThis lovely image from alchetron.com

Footnotes

[FN-1] Newland magazine. [ http://www.newlandmagazine.com.au/vision/article/429]

[FN-2] [Wikipedia, “Sun Simiao.”] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sun_Simiao

[FN-3] The translation used in this article was compiled from the following sources:

Gregory M. Casey. “Mystic Dao.” http://www.mysticdao.com/#!The-Healers-Oath/cfkc/2ECEF164-1D5B-4F27-94EE-F8600BA10F38

“Code of Ethics.” http://www.heartofhealingacupuncture.com/code_of_ethics

Albert R. Jonsen. A Short History of Medical Ethics. pp. 36-37.

“King of Medicine: Sun Simiao.” http://www.newlandmagazine.com.au/vision/article/429

“The Oath of Sun Si Miao for Physicians of Traditional Chinese Medicine.” http://www.heartofhealingacupuncture.com/code_of_ethics

“On the Sublime Sincerity of the Eminent Physician.” http://www.happygoatproductions.com/qianjinfang-ethics

Subhuti Dharmananda. Sun Simiao: Author of the Earliest Chinese Encyclopedia for Clinical Practice. http://www.itmonline.org/arts/sunsimiao.htm

Daniel Fu-Chang Tsai. “Ancient Chinese medical ethics and the four principles of biomedical ethics” [in] Journal of Medical Ethics 1999;25. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC479240/pdf/jmedeth00005-0025.pdf

Paul U. Unschuld. Medical Ethics in Imperial China, A Study in Historical Anthropology. https://books.google.com/books?id=T8mB9rfZCBMC&pg=PR3&lpg=PR3&dq=Medical+Ethics+in+Imperial+China,+A+Study+in+Historical+Anthropology&source=bl&ots=lMi2Gb4Eiu&sig=Otaed6OOK9rLv622amqw7qb58hA&hl=en&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwjT0rOlrNvNAhWJVz4KHQpRBgAQ6AEIGjAB#v=onepage&q=whenever%20a%20great%20physician%20&f=false 1979 University of California Press, Berkeley, CA.

For Further Information:

“Hua Tuo.” http://alchetron.com/Hua-Tuo-1042352-W

“King of Medicine: Sun Simiao.” http://www.newlandmagazine.com.au/vision/article/429

“Lessons from Sun Si Miao - a Chinese patron deity of physicians.” pss.org. http://www.pss.org.sg/whats-happening/e-bulletin/issue-no-30/lessons-sun-si-miao-chinese-patron-deity-physicians#.V30DEyMrJL8

The story of China’s ‘King of Medicine’ is being told through ancient art. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=N5jCXq97vO8

“Sun Simiao.” tcm.cchinesecio.com. [ http://tcm.chinesecio.com/en/article/2009-09/18/content_66490.htm]

“Sun Simiao.” Wikipedia. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sun_Simiao

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*** The lovely feature image of Sun Simiao from Amazon.com

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Peace Love & Acupuncture Button : Chinese Medicine Living


Are You Yin or Yang?

By Emma Suttie, D.Ac, AP

The forces of yin and yang describe everything in the universe. Everything has its opposite, and yet, each is an intrinsic part of the other. Everything that exists has a yin as well as a yang aspect and health and the human being are no exception. In Chinese medicine, a person is seen to be made up of yin and yang forces. Each of the organ systems have yin and yang energies, and although this is a dynamic relationship and constantly changing, when these forces become unbalanced, illness can result. Below is a list of some of the basic things that are considered yin and yang, but remember, each of these individually also has a yin and yang aspect.

Yin

  • Darkness
  • Moon
  • Female
  • Night
  • Inwards
  • Contractive
  • Passive
  • Rest
  • Earth
  • Flat
  • Space
  • West
  • North
  • Right
  • Back
  • Below
  • Slow
  • Damp
  • Cold
  • Inside

Yang

  • Light
  • Sun
  • Male
  • Day
  • Outwards
  • Expansive
  • Active
  • Brightness
  • Activity
  • Heaven
  • Round
  • Time
  • East
  • South
  • Left
  • Front
  • Above
  • Fast
  • Dry
  • Hot
  • Outside

A human being also exhibits yin and yang energies. Each organ system is striving for a relative balance of its yin and yang forces, but the body as a whole often has a tendency to be more yin or yang. Are you the kind of person who can go out in the winter without a coat? Or do you need to wear socks and jammies to bed even on a hot sumer night? Are you drawn to frozen foods like ice cream, or do you crave hot drinks like tea and hot chocolate no matter what the season? Knowing the tendency of your body to be more yin or yang can help you determine how to bring it back into balance by using all the tools that Chinese medicine has in its impressive tool box.

The Yin and Yang of Foods

The Yin

Food therapy has been an integral part of Chinese medicine for thousands of years. The Chinese understood not only the medicinal properties of foods, but ascribed to each a thermal nature, contributing either a yang, or heating quality, a neutral energy or a yin or cooling energy to the body. This understanding, that all foods are either heating, cooling or neutral in nature helps to rebalance the body when the internal yin or yang energies are out of balance.

As part of my initial patient intake, I ask "are you a hot or cold person?" Most people know right away what the answer is. "Oh, I am always cold!" Or, "I am like a furnace running day and night." This is a clue to someone's relative level of yin or yang. Once you can determine if a person has an overabundance of yin or yang (cold or hot), I usually introduce a list of foods and their heating (yang), cooling (yin) or neutral nature. It is interesting how often a person with an overabundance of yang is actually eating mostly yang or heating foods, and a person with a constitution that is more yin may tend to eat more cooling foods. But this is the wonderful thing about Chinese medicine. Part of the job of the practitioner is to educate the patient and to empower them to participate in their healing. Once they become aware that they have a predominance of yin or yang, they can then take a list of foods and their yin or yang qualities and remove certain foods (that may be exacerbating the condition) and add in others to help the body to rebalance.

Here is a handy chart that lists some yin (cooling) and yang (warming) foods in Chinese medicine - but remember, there are neutral ones too.

Yin & Yang Foods in TCM : Chinese Medicine LivingThis lovely image thanks to rawayurveda.com

Yin & Yang Constitution

There are many clues that you can use to determine if you are constitutionally more yin or more yang. These are generalizations of course, an all of us have both yin as well as yang aspects, but below are some guidelines to help you recognize yin and yang traits in yourself and others.

Yang people tend to speak loudly, be excitable and move quickly (like fire). They tend to be robust, have thinner, stronger bodies, and can be red faced and passionate. Yang personalities are active, expansive and always on the move. They flare up and are changeable, like fire. They can also tend to frustration and anger.

Yin people tend to be quiet, move more slowly and are more grounded. They tend towards weight gain, or in Chinese medicine what is called dampness. They are generally soft spoken and introverted, enjoying to spend time by themselves. Yin personalities often have a rich inner life and live in their fertile imaginations. Yin people may also tend towards sadness and melancholy.

Yin & Yang Conditions

Diagnosis also depends on a deep understanding of yin and yang, and while there are many theories that are used in Chinese medicine to formulate a diagnosis, yin and yang are always a consideration. While each condition has a yin and a yang nature, there are some characteristics that point to weather a condition is more yin or yang.

Yang conditions tend to excess, exhibit heat and symptoms tend to change quickly. They are characterized by redness, swelling, red eyes, bitter taste, fevers, excess type headaches and pain with a sharp or intense nature.

Yin conditions tend to be deficient, exhibit cold or dampness and change slowly. They are characterized by discharges, lumps and bumps (dampness), a feeling of heaviness, slow movements and thinking, and a dull, achey type of pain.

The good news is, that once there has been a proper diagnosis, there are many ways to restore the relative balance of yin and yang in the body, from the foods you eat every day to acupuncture to Chinese herbs. Meditation and martial arts like Tai Chi and Qi Gong are also excellent to restoring health. Once you have an idea of your constitution, you can be aware of when you are swinging out of balance and will be armed with the tools to help yourself restore balance once again. Because the interplay between yin and yang is dynamic and constantly changing, it is helpful to be able to make small adjustments - which is why Chinese medicine works best as a medicine of prevention - rather than waiting until disease develops as the changes needed then are more drastic and generally things take longer to correct.

So... are you more yin, or more yang?? Once you begin to observe your behaviour and the ailments you tend towards, it might become obvious which you are predisposed to. But, hopefully, with the knowledge that there are foods, as well as other simple things that you can do to regain balance, it will help to keep you healthy in the present and long into the future. Yay Chinese medicine!!

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Spirituality and Traditional Chinese Medicine

By John Voigt

The key character in the Chinese word “spiritual” is shen ().

Shen Spirit in Chinese Medicine : Chinese Medicine Living

This image from West Learns East

From the Yellow Emperor’s Canon of Internal Medicine: If you have shen, you will progress towards health. If you lose your shen, you will lose your life. [1]

The modern standard reference book for Chinese characters, the Hanyu Da Zidian (2006) defines shen this way: Celestial gods/spirits of stories/legends, namely, the creator of the myriad things in heaven and earth and the supreme being. Spirit-mind-consciousness. Magical, supernatural, miraculous; mysterious, ability to divine the unknown, amazing foresight. And—(especially telling for our purposes)—a highly skilled doctor.

Shen can show itself as something good or something evil.  The word shen may be easily applied to such entities as ghosts, goblins, devils, monsters, and demons, all of whom (historically at least) have been said to bring about illnesses. [2]

The goal of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) is that by effecting a healthy flow of qi-life energy in the meridians, and gaining a correct balance of yin and yang energies in the organs, the body and mind gain health and wellbeing.  A goal of the spiritual path is turning away from the myriad attractions and distractions around us and returning to a union with the Infinite, the Absolute, the Divine.

Both these health and spiritual goals are alluded to in the opening of chapter 42 of the Dao De Jing.

Dao De Jing/Tao Te Ching

Chapter 42 (excerpt) - Genesis

(Before the beginning was)

Dao from which is born One (unmanifested Qi).

One which gives birth to Two (the static polarities of yin and yang).
Three - a dynamic Qi appears opening Yin and Yang into a harmony of interaction.

And from Three, creation [in time and space] unfolds and all things are born.

All things carry yin on their backs and embrace yang in their arms.

When female-yin and male-yang mix and blend their Qi (breath/life energy), harmony is obtained. And from Three, creation [in time and space] unfolds and all things are born.

The author, Laozi (Lao Tzu) purposefully has used the seemingly vague open-ended words: Dao-One-Two-Three-All Things. But their lack of specificity enables the thoughtful reader to creatively interpret each word.

The Dao (the “Way”) as an archetypal Mother giving birth to the One, its alter-image, the Hidden Qi: the potential for time, space and consciousness to exist.  From the Hidden Qi there appears Two, the separate as yet non-interacting Yin and Yang [3] - therefore there is no movement and so there is nothing to be seen.

From the Two comes Three, a manifesting  Qi generating interaction and movement between the previously static yin and yang.  And so is born all the myriad things and thoughts possible throughout the entire universe. [4]

The key to spirituality in TCM, as well as in certain mystical religious practices, is to walk the walk of this cosmological emanation in reverse. That is to say from the All (“ten thousand things” of the original text) to Three (Heaven, Earth and Humans), then Two (yin-yang), then One (unmanifested Qi) as the traveler maintains her connections to the commonplace ordinary world of others,  thus safely returning into the harmony, purity, power and compassion of the Way.

The Five Elemental Energies in Nature and in Man

5 Elements : Chinese Medicine Living

This image from wikipedia

There is another Daoist concept of creation that places Five after Three - (perhaps four is missing because, like our thirteen, it is a bad luck number in Asia).

From a primordial infinite nothingness (wuji) comes the One Supreme Ultimate (taiji), a source of creation but without any human personality of a Judaic-Christian God. Then appears Two as the always connected interacting polarities of yin-yang. Then Three as the Heavens above, Man in between, Earth below. [5]

Yin Yang : Chinese Medicine Living

This image from wikipedia

From Three comes Five: the “Five Phases of Universal Energy” - or more commonly but not more accurately called, “The Five Elements.” [6] These are the energies of Wood [actually the energies of growing trees, even all the green leafed flora that grows up from the earth],  burning Fire, fertile Earth, cutting Metal, and washing Water. They represent the changing conditions of all phenomena. Each of the Five has a specific correspondence with a season, direction, color, taste, and internal organ; which helps to explain how the body functions and how qi-energy changes during disease and during healing. Each of the Five has been deified into a god, or could be thought of as a god.

Animal gods have also been assigned to each of the Five. [7]

5 Elements : Chinese Medicine Living

This image from wikipedia

Five Animal Frolics

The Chinese physician, Hua Tuo (circa 140-208 CE) was famous for his abilities in acupuncture, moxibustion, herbal medicine, and medical qigong exercises.

Hua Tuo : Chinese Medicine Living

This image from wikipedia

Similar to the earlier Shamans and WuYi, Hua Tuo developed his “Five Animal Gymnastics” (Wu qin xi) from studying the movements of animals and birds. What exactly were the creatures and movements is now unclear,  but what is obvious is that the Five Elemental Energies, and their ability to heal, are in play here.

The Body heals with play. The Mind heals with laughter. The Spirit heals with joy, [Chinese Proverb].

Often in my qigong classes we do a free form interpretation of some the five creatures. It may be done alone, but it is especially fun with others or in groups. Not surprisingly little kids get it right away; we should be more like them.

Tiger. Walk in a slinky way like a tiger. Growl, and make clawing gestures.

The Tiger represents the elementary energy of growing trees. It relates to the Liver, anger and its opposite,  peacefulness. The grasping motions may help open the acupuncture points at the tips of the fingers and in the palms.

Phoenix. The Phoenix is a mythological creature that reincarnates itself by rising up from the ashes of the fires of its past.  With this qigong there is an implied rebirthing of the self. The Elemental Energy is Fire, the organ is the Heart.

The Gymnastic: In a wide stance, turn to the right, inhale and lift the arms up by your sides.  The heel of the left foot should rise up as you do this. When the hands are level with the ears, open and unfold the hands and arms as if you were a beautiful Phoenix unfolding your wings.  Pause then slowly exhale and float your arms (as wings) back down and return to facing forward with arms hanging down by your sides. Then turn to the left and repeat the gesture, now with the right heel lifting off the ground. Do six times or for as long it feels good to do. It may be viewed on YouTube done by its originator, Lin Housheng. Go to 32:47 of  “…18 Motions of TaiJi Qigong, Disk 2.”

Cat and Cow. The Yoga Cat and Cow pose is normally done on the floor by first arching the back up like an angry cat, then letting the belly loosen and drop down like an old cow. As with most hatha yoga these are static  positions. It becomes more of a qigong gymnastic if you make smooth, gentle and continuous cat and cow movements. The Elemental Energy here is Earth, the organs are Spleen and Stomach.  But this gymnastic also massages the spine, shoulders and all the organs of the lower torso.

An advanced way is to stand and with the chin and hips gently make vertical circles; first forwards then backwards,  the shoulders are kept loose. Go easy with this one: even a hint of pain and you should immediately stop. [8]

Gorilla. Be like Tarzan and tap around your collarbone area. You might make his “King Gorilla of the Jungle” call. (His girlfriend Jane did it as well). It’s great for the important thymus gland. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thymus .This qigong gymnastic relates to Metal, and the Lung area.

Peacock. Peacock Spreads Tail To Show Beautiful Feathers.  Pretend you are a peacock and raise your hands straight up. As they go above your head spread your arms open.  From the sides of your eyes using peripheral vision imagine your beautiful feathers.  With your arms uplifted and palms facing out, slightly bend the elbows and slowly sway to the left and right like audiences at a rock concert. The Energy is Water, relating to the Kidney area.

Healing Prayers

The Ultimate Absolute within Buddhism, Hinduism, and Daoism is devoid of any human qualities. But in the way that the Abrahamic God gained anthropomorphic qualities, the Asians added many buddhas, bodhisattvas, avatars,  gods, and immortals as a gateway into experiencing the divine Absolute. In both the East and West prayer to the Divine or to divine human-like forms, personifications, icons, etc. has had many instances of miraculous healing take place. Even if no cures happen, prayer can lighten the pain and travail of the passage from life to death.

For Buddhists, the traditional god of healing is Bhaisajyaguru who is also called Yao Shih Fwo. He sometimes functions rather like an Asian “patron saint of healers.” The Medicine Buddha Mantra

Bhaisajyaguru The Medicine Buddha : Chinese Medicine Living

This lovely image from wikipedia

NAMO (I take refuge in) BHAGAVATE (the World-Honored One) BHAISAJYA-GURU (the Master of Medicine) VAIDURYA (the lapis-lazuli colored ) PRABHA (light) RAJA YA (the king) TATHAGATA YA ARHATE (the Thus-Come-One, the One-Worthy-of-Offering) SAMYAK-SAMBUDDHAYA (the equal and correctly enlightened), TADYATHA (and I speak thus): OM (Hail!) BHAISAJYE (Healer) BHAISAJYE (Healer) MAHA-BHAISAJYA (Great Healer) RAJA (king), SAMUDGATE (the path to enlightenment) SVAHA! (So be it!).

Guan Yin / Kwan Yin

Guanyin/Kwan Yin is the goddess of Compassion. Her name literally means “Hearing the Cries of the World.” Although originally a Buddhist god, she is now honored by Daoists, Confucians, Hindus—She has gained the love of the masses in the East, and many in the west. As with Mary or Jesus, angels or saints she is often prayed to for healing.

Quan Yin : Chinese Medicine Living

This beautiful image from wikipedia

Her mantra/prayer is Namo Guan shi yin Pusa, meaning

“Salutations to the most compassionate and merciful Bodhisattva Guanyin who hears the cries of those who suffer.”  Here is a link: Kuan Yin Mantra - Namo Guan Shi Yin Pusa.

The mantra "Namo Guan Shi Yin Pusa" with a variety of artwork depicting the Chinese goddess of mercy who relieves suffering.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Y6JhSegPjOM

There are many more mantra prayers in the religions of the world that may be used for healing. Perhaps search on YouTube for one that captures your heart.  I typed “healing prayers OR mantra” on my browser and came up with this URL.

Of course with a clean and pure heart, you could compose your own prayer or mantra.

A Few Simplified Spiritual Techniques

Disclaimer:

This article is for educational purposes only. It is not offered for the healing of any illnesses.  If  a person is sick they should see a proper professional in either (or both) western or traditional Chinese medicine. If doing anything in this article is physically or mentally uncomfortable, painful, or feels strange or weird immediately stop doing it.

1. Since the harmony of the Dao is reflected in nature - take a pleasant walk by the ocean or in the country. Or have fresh cut flowers in your home.

2. Daoist and Buddhist rituals include lighting incense and candles, singing prayers, and ceremonial dances.  If at home alone feeling glum, why not light incense and/or candles, sing and/or dance?

Qi Breathing Exercise

Qigong (chi kung) is a basic modality of TCM. It often is defined as “breath work.”

A person can sit comfortably with a straight back, and focus their mental attention on their breathing. Then calmly breathe more slowly and deeply. If the mind wanders simply count the breaths up to five (or any other number) and repeat the counting, or use a mantra like “peace,” or “relax,”  or “I am calm,” etc.  More Advanced: next be aware of the coolness on the nostrils. Then move that awareness to the qi-breath entering the lungs, from there be aware (or just imagine) the oxygen–qi in the blood entering all parts of your body, helping healing and refreshing you.  Having a simple smile seems to help this qi breathing exercise along. A really easy version of this exercise is to slowly, calmly and fully breathe into your lower lungs, only paying attention to how it feels.

Get a massage; I recommend Chinese Therapeutic Massage (Tuina). But massage can be done at home with a partner or by one’s self: rub and squeeze the body - especially the arms, legs, belly and kidney areas and feel energy blockages open up inside. Again keep your attention on how if feels, what the qi flow is doing. That may aid in making this a spiritual healing experience

Amulets are often used for healing.  An interesting way to do this is keeping on your person a mini-sized Daode Jing. Shambhala Publications has a 3 x 1/4  x 4.5 inch size copy.  

At night when the sky is clear and the moon is full, with open eyes look up to the moon and see it smiling down on you then smile back at it. The advanced Daoist qigong version of this is in the Endnotes, see [9].

One Last Thought

The belief systems of a non-spiritual TCM practitioner and a practicing Daoist healer may differ; nevertheless a raison d'être of each is similar: the goal is the gaining of wellbeing. One might say the absence of illness while the other says being in harmony with the Dao. However putting the best of both together offers the possibilities of a long, healthy, and happy life.

Endnotes

[1] Zhang Yu Huan & Ken Rose. Who Can Ride the Dragon? pg. 211. Paradigm, 1999.

[2] Illness are said to be produced by xie qi: bad, evil, pathogenic, demonic, devilish, evil life energy. See “Turbid Qi” http://qi-encyclopedia.com/index.asp?article=TurbidQi by Jerry Alan Johnson

[3] Yin originally meant dark and shaded. Yang originally meant sunny, full of light.

As mentioned above, these are not hard and fast static concepts.  As time (night and day) moves forward each continually folds into and becomes the other. So by extension we have light-positive-masculine qi and dark-negative-female qi (no sexual value judgment is implied). Everything in the universe has both aspects of interchanging yin and yang.

[4] When this emanating process is balanced and in harmony all is as it should be. When disharmony happens (as in much of our modern civilization) there can be a harmful damaging chaos; things are no longer with the Dao. Examples are global climate change, widespread mental and physical illness, and continual killing warfare.

[5] The Chinese have different terms to expound on the meaning of this Three. With San Cai (Three Powers) yang becomes the Heavens, yin becomes the Earth, and in between are we, Humanity. Or San Bao, (The Three Treasures) of Jing (Essence) Qi (Vital Energy), and Shen (Spirit). Those knowledgeable with TCM working principles will recognize fundamental terms here.

[6]  The Chinese name for Five Energetic Phases is Wuxing (wǔ xíng -五行) which is an abbreviation of wu zhong liu xing zhi qi — “five types of universal energy [qi or chi] dominating at different times.”

[7] The White Tiger rules Metal and the Lung. Black Tortoise rules Water and the Kidney. The Green Dragon rules Wood and the Liver. The Red Phoenix rules Fire and the Heart. The Gold Dragon rules Earth and the Spleen/Stomach.  http://realm-of-midgard.wikia.com/wiki/Five_Gods_of_Wu_Xing .

[8] Sorry, I have no video for this, but Dr. Yang, Jwing-Ming’s “Simple Qigong for Back Pain Relief (YMAA)” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BObNy_LBFRU from 0:04 to 0:41 offers some clues; it’s all about those concave – convex movements of the spine.

[9] Taking in Moon Cream Tonifies yin-essence. Gathering Sun Essence replenishes yang-qi. As the sun begins to rise at daybreak, with mostly drooped closed eyelids, breathe in one mouthful of soft gentle reddish sunlight (imagine it); hold the breath, then swallow it; then exhale and send it down to the dantian. Do ten times. At night when the skies are clear and the moon is full do the same swallowing with moonlight, six times.  Adapted from Chinese Qigong, Zhang Enqin, (1990) p.108.

A Daoist source of this exercise may be found on pg. 54 of Early Daoist Dietary Practices, by Shawn Arthur. https://books.google.com/books?id=idBrd_dKCkYC&pg=PA54&lpg=PA54&dq=Early+Daoist+Dietary+Practices+%22solar+lord%22&source=bl&ots=9-fKlt71__&sig=UVFqKokBlpyKOz-1qk4wsF5L0Nc&hl=en&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwip4qzt24nMAhUFPj4KHYjTAakQ6AEIHDAA#v=onepage&q=Early%20Daoist%20Dietary%20Practices%20%22solar%20lord%22&f=false

Bibliography/Sources

“Chapter 1, What is Shen (Spirit)?” http://www.itmonline.org/shen/chap1.htm

http://www.yellowbridge.com/onlinelit/daodejing42.php

“The Chinese Cosmos: Basic Concepts.” http://afe.easia.columbia.edu/cosmos/bgov/cosmos.htm

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chinese_mythology

“Daoist Magic - a conversation with Dr. Jerry Alan Johnson, Ph.D, D.T.C.M.”

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ckpN8TWPbhE&nohtml5=False

Guan Yin Goddess of Healing. http://www.quanyinhealing.net/quan_yin.html

Timothy Leary. Psychedelic Prayers after the Tao Te Ching. http://www.holybooks.com/wp-content/uploads/Timothy-Leary-Psychedelic-Prayers.pdf

Lin Shi and Chenguang Zhang. “Spirituality in Traditional Chinese Medicine,” [in] Pastoral Psychology, October/December, 2012.

https://www.researchgate.net/publication/257635748_Spirituality_in_Traditional_Chinese_Medicine

Elizabeth Reninger. TCM (Traditional Chinese Medicine) and Five Element Styles of Practice. http://taoism.about.com/od/qigongchinesemedicine/a/TCM.htm

Taoism and martial arts-Opening Dao. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1SP0vS4hTJs

Terebess Asia Online (Tao). The Tao Te Ching by Lao Tzu, [125 translations]. http://terebess.hu/english/tao/_index.html

John Voigt. “Happy Fun Qigong.” Qi Journal, Vol. 25, No. 3: Autumn 2015

Ibid. “Qi in the Daodejing—The Way and its Power.” Qi-Encyclopedia. com http://qi-encyclopedia.com/index.asp?article=Qi-in-the-Daodejing

Ibid. “Six Healing Sounds: Chinese Mantras for Purifying Body. Mind, and Soul. Qi Journal, http://www.qi-journal.com/Qigong.asp?Name=Six%20Healing%20Sounds&-token.D=Article

Wu Xing. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wu_Xing

Featured image from wikipedia.
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Spirituality and Traditional Chinese Medicine : Chinese Medicine Living


What is Qi?

By Emma Suttie, D.Ac, AP

Qi is a huge and complex subject, and one that is central to Chinese medicine theory. Qi is a difficult concept to explain because it is difficult to measure, and impossible to see. To the Chinese, it is a given. It is the very force that governs life and all of its processes, but for us in the West, it is a little more difficult to wrap our minds around. In the West, we live in a culture that is largely ruled by science, and science is all about things that we can see and prove. Although science is now able to prove the efficacy of things like acupuncture, the HOW is still largely under debate. Qi is at the core of why all of the modalities in Chinese medicine - Acupuncture, Chinese herbs, gua sha, tuina, moxibustion, cupping, auricular, it is one of the main reasons that they are so effective, and have been for more than 5000 years.

Qi is a subtle energy that can be loosely translated as vital energy or life force. In India it is called Prana. In Japan, Ki. Many of the Eastern cultures know and understand this concept and its role in keeping the body healthy. In Chinese medicine, Qi is the force that animates all living things. Qi flows through energy pathways throughout the body called meridians or channels. There are 12 main meridians that correspond to specific organs and run bilaterally, mirroring each other. There are also extra pathways that run deeper in the body, but all are the channels through which Qi travels. Qi must move freely throughout the body for health to be maintained. A blockage of the Qi in the body usually results in pain (a main symptom of Qi stagnation) and if left untreated can cause a whole host of other, more serious problems. In addition to Qi running through the meridians, each organ also has its own unique Qi. Each organs’ Qi can become deficient, excess, or stuck, or stagnated. A stagnation of Qi starts energetically, but if left untreated, can manifest physically as things like tumors and other masses. This is why it is important to keep Qi flowing freely.

Acupuncture Meridians : Chinese Medicine LivingThis image from Acupuncture Media Works

The Qi in the body also flows in two hour intervals through each of the organ systems. This is used as a diagnostic tool by TCM (traditional Chinese medicine) practitioners. If, for example, you are waking up consistently at a specific hour every night, it points to an imbalance in that specific organ. If there is a certain hour of the day when you feel particularly productive, then it would suggest that the organ that corresponds to that hour is strong. You can see the chart below for the organs and the corresponding times.

Qi Clock : Chinese Medicine Living

Because of the importance of Qi and its ability to flow freely through the body, the Chinese have developed many exercises to help build Qi, as well as keep it moving freely. The external martial arts, like Kung Fu are excellent for cultivating Qi and keeping it moving, and the internal martial arts like Tai Chi and Qi Gong are excellent ways of cultivating and strengthening Qi and keeping it flowing throughout the body so that health can be maintained.

Kung Fu : Chinese Medicine Living

There are many ways to build Qi. Good food, clean air, and participating in positive activities all build Qi. And many things diminish Qi, like stress, not getting enough sleep and having an unhealthy lifestyle. It is almost impossible to stay away from stress and other things that can deplete Qi, but the good news is that we are always able to rebuild it by simply doing things that give us energy. Keeping Qi moving is extremely important and the best way to do this is simply by moving your body. The act of walking (preferably in nature) is a wonderful way to keep Qi moving and stay a healthy, happy human being.

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This article also appears on the website Qi Encyclopedia at -
http://qi-encyclopedia.com/index.asp?article=WhatIsQi-3

Chinese Silk Pulse Cushions : Chinese Medicine Living

What is Qi? : Chinese Medicine Living


Vipassana 2.0.

By Emma Suttie, D.Ac, AP

I am constantly reminded that the moment I think I might know something about something, I really don't know it at all. Sometimes this is a kind and gentle reminder, and sometimes it is like being hit by a train. Vipassana is the ultimate truth teller.

I have just returned from another foray into the bewildering/fantastical/frightening world that is my subconscious. That trip manifested itself as a 10 day Vipassana meditation in Georgia. It was my second, and so very different from the first. My reference above to the "thinking I know something" and the "not really knowing it at all" were at play during my time there. The reminders came gently, but relentlessly, with the cold, the hunger pangs, the bad taste in my mouth and my walks in the woods.

I tried to go having no expectations. I had only been once, and, intellectually at least, I thought, every time will be different. You are a different human being each time, arriving with different baggage that needs unpacking. But, even though I understood it with my mind, I didn't really believe it, because I was surprised and to be honest, a little disappointed each time something was different. Immediately I am reminded of the Sanscrit word for impermanence - annicca which we heard over and over again. Let things arise and then pass away. Don't have expectations. Just observe without craving or aversion. Lovely words, such lovely words...

Vipassana Meditation : Chinese Medicine Living

The two experiences were wildly different. I was surprised by how different they were, but I now have to consider that it was a different human being that attended a year and a half ago than the one that arrived on that cold Georgia morning a couple of weeks ago. I was wildly different. Both times.

One of the first observations I had about the difference was that this was a very yin experience. Very contracted. Serious, and a little dark. This was partially the weather I am sure, it was cold as @#*! (in Georgia, really?) and it felt like we were all struggling with our psyches as well as the cold in our bones for ten days straight. Waking up at 4am to haul yourself out of a moderately warm bed to plunge yourself into the middle of the night where you could see your breath and there was ice on things was simply more than I could bear on some mornings. I slept in my hat and sometimes my scarf, and I wore the one pair of long underwear I had day and night for ten days. (I lost my dignity long ago...). Another reason for the yin nature of this experience was also I think that the average age of most of the ladies participating was over 50 which was really interesting. I felt young. (whee!)

My first experience was in late June/July and it was hot as the devil. It was lush and green and everything felt very alive, including all of us. The experience felt like it was awakening something in me, something dormant and decidedly yang in nature. Also, most of the girls were under 30. There were a couple of older ladies, but the rest were young. It was a very expansive energy and much lighter. Less serious. There was joy in the air amid the occasional snore and sob heard in the meditation hall. An occasional titter when someone farted while we were all concentrating so hard.

The Silence

Noble Silence : Vipassana Meditation

 The ten days (actually it is eleven) that you are there, you are completely silent. There is no speaking. There is also no technology of any kind, so you hand over your phones, tablets and all things technological when you arrive. You cannot have books, pens or paper either. And there is no eye contact. This may sound harsh and kind of a terrible way to spend ten days, but honestly, it is the best way for you to get the most out of the experience. And it is sort of awesome.

Personally, I loved the silence. Both times, I was sort of sad when we were allowed to speak again. The world gets loud, and so do your thoughts. How many times in your life do you spend ten days in the woods being completely silent? What HAPPENS to you when you remove the noise from the outside world and the noise coming out of your face? Well, it gets quiet. Really quiet, and eventually, something amazing happens. Your mind gets quiet as well. And when it stops churning and running and make believing (I did a lot of that), then some pretty profound stuff can happen. And some painful things too. For me, this time was a lot about the pain. I brought a lot of it with me, and I knew I was going to have to face it while I was there, because there were no distractions and there is nowhere else to go. Vipassana is like holding up a very large mirror helping you to see things the way they really are. That is the definition of Vipassana. And sometimes the way things really are isn't pretty. But that's ok, because it will pass. It isn't permanent.

I found that this time I knew the mechanics of things, the way things worked. The logistics. And this seemed to free my mind up for deeper, slightly scarier and more intense work. I had a lot to work through this time. The last time I went with a problem, a question I was grappling with and a curiosity about what this thing was and what it was going to do to me, but this time I was arriving after a complete life collapse. And what I wondered about this time was that if I delved deep into the darkness that had become my world of late, if I would ever come out. If I faced my demons, if they would overcome me or if I would come out the other side, back into the light. I am happy to say that I did come out the other side, and was reminded that darkness can't exist without light. They are both there. Always. It just depends on which one you are focussing on at any particular moment.

My favourite part of each day was the hour after lunch when I would walk in the woods. The woods are so wonderful and full of healing energy. When there is no outside (or inside) noise, it is like every tree, every insect and every blade of grass is speaking to you. It is the hum of nature, the qi of everything that is alive. I remember this from the last time too. Nature becomes so powerful. So communicative. I wanted to touch everything. Appropriately. I picked up leaves, ran my hands along ferns and touched the bark of trees communicating back to nature through my hands. Interestingly, everyone else seemed to be feeling the same thing. All the ladies could be seen out and walking in the forest, drinking in every bit of energy that radiated from it. Some would be standing looking up at trees, crouching looking at something on the ground or inspecting some flower or plant along the path. At one point early in the ten days, something cool happened. Someone drew a heart with a stick in the sand on the path. I smiled when I saw it. Every time I saw it. And then some lovely being made a piece of art out of different coloured leaves and twigs and left it by the path for others to enjoy. And as the days went on, more and more of these lovely pieces of art began to appear along the path, like a burst of creativity, being pushed out through nature by the ladies in our dorm. I was amazed at how creative they were. And how up lifting. I was excited to get out each day and see what new ones would be waiting.

Something I was not expecting was that I didn't sleep. The last time I slept like a corpse. Every night. I was practically asleep before I got into my bunk, but this time I feel like I didn't sleep a whole night the entire time I was there. I felt haunted. And was uncomfortable in my bed. It wasn't my bed that was uncomfortable, it was me. My mind was uncomfortable. My thoughts restless and dark. Sometimes I was still awake when the gong rang at 4am and wondered how I would sit for 12 hours in meditation on no sleep. But amazingly, I did it. Every day.

Another thing I noticed about this time more than the last was the need (or attempt) to overcome the body. There are three meditations in the day where you are asked to sit for one hour straight and not move. You work up to this, and I think these start on day three or four. At first, you feel like you are going to be paralyzed. That your knees will explode or that you will simply go insane. I know because when speaking to the girls at the end, we had all had this thought. More than once. But after a few sessions, you start to be able to sit, and to not move and you sort of surrender your body to it and that helps. Eventually, you can drop into it no problem when only a few days before you were sure they were going to have to carry you out of there on a stretcher. You are not "in" your body identified with it, you are a casual observer, looking from the outside. This is the point. Start with the body, and move it into your life. Its a powerful lesson.

The lesson is compounded by the fact that as an "old" student - which means that you have done at least one full ten day Vipassana course - that you will not eat after the 11am meal. At 5pm there is a snack which consists of tea and fruit for "new" students, but old students must refrain from eating. So... breakfast is at 6:30am, and lunch is at 11am... then you don't eat again until 6:30 the next morning. Now, I don't know about you, but I am a lover of food. Eating is like the best part of my day. I am also not a breakfast person as it takes my stomach a while to wake up. This usually happens fully at around lunch time. This caused serious problems considering 11am was the only meal my stomach was awake for. I had to really maximize that meal without looking like a greedy lunatic. For the first few days I did pretty well. I just decided, well, there is no food after lunch so don't think about it. Even at 5pm when the others were eating, I made a point not to look at the fruit they were eating and that did it. I just didn't think about it and therefore, wasn't hungry. Then on about day 4 I accidentally made eye contact with a bowl brimming with delicious and tasty looking fruits and it was all over. It was all I (and my poor stomach) could think about for the afternoon and evening meditations. All 8 hours of them. I was hungry. SOOOooooooo hungry. And that continued every day until the end. I managed, but the feeling of hunger never went away. I am not sure my stomach will ever forgive me.

Another thing that is granted to "old" students is a meditation cell for some of your ten days. I was given a cell for two whole days. The meditation cells are in a hallway located behind a mysterious door next to the meditation hall. I remember last time I was there wondering fiercely what was behind that door and what the meditation cells were like... Behind the door is a narrow hallway and 5 or 6 doors, all very close together. I was in cell number one, the first. I opened the door and there was a meditation cushion on the floor. That was it, it was the size of a meditation cushion with enough space to open the door. I spent two intense days in that cell, burning through all the painful emotions that I brought with me. Those were by far the most intense days for me, but it was a good chance to feel through them and finally let them go.

All in all I am so glad that I went. People asked when I got home if it was a good experience. It was a difficult experience, but a worthwhile one. I came back exhausted and had lost some weight, but I felt clean. Purified. It was a healing experience. A friend who had come with me and I spoke at length on the way home in the car and this was a fascinating and extremely edifying conversation. How interesting how two people could have the same experience, but, at the same time have a completely different experience. It was a really helpful conversation.

Again, I am struck by how pure it remains. It doesn't matter what you believe, what colour you are or what your background is, all are welcome. The goal is to bring human beings out of suffering by teaching them to gain mastery over their minds. A worthy goal, and one the planet so desperately needs. I think the intensity of the experience is really up to each individual. How deep you are willing to dig, how much light you are willing to shine on the dark places. And what you brought with you. I will go back. I am going to try to go every year to keep myself sane. As an attempt to be a better healer and a better human being. It is a work in progress.

Happy Beings : Chinese Medicine Living*Image from Root Down Coaching & Yoga 

If you would like to read about my first 10 Day Silent Vipassana Retreat, you can do so here - My 10 Day Vipassana Retreat. If you would like to learn more about Vipassana meditation, you can watch this excellent documentary called The Dhamma Brothers. It will leave you inspired. :)

 

Vipassana 2.0 : Chinese Medicine Living


Words of Wisdom...

A lovely thought from Thich Nhat Hanh. Truly words of wisdom. <3


Ultimate Health - It's All About Balance...

By Emma Suttie, D.Ac, AP

2014 is supposed to be an auspicious year. For the first time in 19 years, the new year started on a new moon, or super moon, which is defined as a new or full moon that occurs with the moon at or near within 90% of its closest approach to earth. The themes for this year are major detox and cleansing and letting go which prepares us for rebirth and new beginnings.

The new year is also a time when people make resolutions, and many are focussed on health. We all want to be a little healthier, exercise a little more, eat better and have more time for ourselves. One of the things that I love about Chinese medicine is its emphasis on lifestyle. It is not simply going to the acupuncturist when you are having a hard time sleeping or taking herbs for trouble with digestion, in its purest form it teaches how to live so that we can achieve balance in every aspect of our lives, which is the goal to ultimate health.

Living your life with complete equanimity is no small task. It seems logical and is a wonderful goal, but anyone who has tried knows that balance, which seems so simple, is unbelievably difficult in the modern world. Below are some ways in which you can work towards balance in your life for every aspect of yourself, body, mind and spirit.

Meditate

The word "meditation" may be intimidating for some as you may think that you need to "learn how" to meditate, or "do it properly" to receive any benefits from it. I believe that simply taking as few as ten minutes, a couple of times a day to sit somewhere quietly without distractions is extremely beneficial for your health and wellbeing. You don't really have to "do" anything except just sit and try to relax your mind and body. You will find that, at least at first, your mind will race around wildly and it may not be relaxing at all - this is called monkey mind. The thing is, that we seldom actually give out minds time to simply relax and let go, allowing them to go where they like. Instead we are constantly forcing them to do this and that, so meditation is an excellent opportunity to allow the mind to relax, and then hopefully, to quiet down completely. Meditation is a way to take yourself out of the chaos of your life and get back to yourself. A bit of a reboot if you will. The results will leave you feeling calmer, more relaxed and better able to handle the stresses of everyday life with equanimity.

There are of course many meditation techniques, and each person should find the ones that resonate with them. But for the beginner, just simply taking some time out once or twice a day to sit without distractions is an excellent way to get back to balance.

Eat Seasonal, Local Food

It is wonderful to see how important things like farmers markets and clean, organic foods have become to many people. There is a definite correlation between the food we eat and the state of our health. We cannot live on a diet of fast and processed foods and expect to be healthy, and the increase in degenerative diseases has borne this out. The best way to stay healthy is simple. Eat foods that are as close to the way they came out of the earth as possible. This means staying away from foods in cans, boxes and bags. The chemicals used to process these foods are detrimental to your body and your health. They are put into the foods to help them last longer, not to make you healthier. Eat organic whenever possible. Eat foods that are in season, as this is the way our digestive systems have evolved over many hundreds of years.

We live in an age of complexity disguised as convenience, but I am a believer that as far as the digestive system is concerned, simplicity is key. When it comes to food combining and choosing ingredients, simplicity is what the belly likes and Chinese medicine has much wisdom when it comes to choosing foods, combining and preparations that are in harmony with the seasons. Being mindful when we cook and prepare food is also important, as the intention we put into it is as nourishing to us as the food itself. Ever wonder why anything your mom or grandmother makes for you tastes so delicious? It's because they are making it with love and intention just for you, and you can taste it!

Go Outside

go outside for health

There is nothing more healing to our bodies and spirits than nature and connecting with the earth. Many of us have lives lived in front of computers or in offices and get precious little time outside. Making the time to be outside, even for a little while every day will give you much needed energy from the planet and allow you to reconnect with yourself. Take off your shoes and walk in the grass, or on the beach. Breathe deeply. Lie in the sun. You can feel the energy of the planet washing over you, becoming part of you. Being outside reminds us of what is important and gives us perspective - that we are not living on the earth, we are part of the earth and its energy is incredibly healing to us.

Move Your Body

capoeira move your body for health

Many illnesses in Chinese medicine are caused by stagnation, or blockages of Qi in the body. Part of the reason that stagnation is so common is our sedentary lifestyles. Our bodies were designed to walk, run and jump - to MOVE. We spent thousands of years in our history hunting for food and living nomadic lifestyles, always on the move. The good news is that there are many, many ways in which to move your body and get your Qi flowing. While these people above and doing Capoeira (a Brazilian martial art) you don't have to go out and start throwing yourself around (unless you want to of course!). Simple things like walking are very moving for Qi. Qi Gong and Tai Chi are also excellent ways in which to cultivate and move Qi - and are considered internal martial arts. There are limitless possibilities, so choose something you like. Walk on the beach. Hula hoop in your living room or chase your children around the backyard - just moving your body will move Qi and help you be a healthier, happier being.

Be in Love

having love in your life is good for your health

Feelings of love, appreciation, joy and gratitude are excellent for your health. They feel pretty good too. The endorphins released when we experience emotions like love are powerful and very healing to both body and mind. The good news is that love (appreciation, joy and gratitude) are everywhere. Smiling at someone on the bus - that's love. Holding the door open for someone who has their hands full - that's love. Petting your cat - that's love. Appreciation, gratitude and joy are largely a choice. I have a tiny rock that I often carry in my pocket, and whenever I touch it, I think about all the things that I am grateful for. This is an excellent reminder that the list is long and by simply becoming consciously aware of them, I am bringing more wonderful things into my life. I try to remain in "an attitude of gratitude". Of course, life is not easy and difficult things happen, but consciously focussing on the positive will do wonders for how you feel and ultimately, make you a happier, more positive person which is... you guessed it, good or your health. :)

Learn to Let Go

letting go is good for your health

This is one of the most powerful things we can do for our overall health and wellbeing. I see so much imbalance in the body created by people needing to control things in their lives and an inability to let go. Letting go in Chinese medicine is associated with the lungs (sadness and grief) and the large intestine (our physical ability to let go of wastes in the body). Many people have had difficult and traumatic things happen in their lives and for some reason or another have not been completely able to deal with these events and let them go. The result is that we bring these issues, hurts and demons with us into the present where they continue to hurt us. Having the awareness to be able to look back and work through those hurts and be able to let them go will help you make space for things that will serve you, like love, friendship, joy and peace. Acupuncture can help with this by keeping the lungs and large intestines strong. Other things like journaling, walking outside and meditation are helpful to help develop our ability to let go. Letting go is incredibly liberating, and the more we can let go, the healthier and happier we will be. It isn't easy, but it is definitely worth the effort, because no one deserves a healthy and balanced mind, body and spirit more than you do!

 


Adventures at Meditation Camp

I wanted to share this with all of you as I had such an overwhelming response to the post about my Vipassana experience. I was very fortunate to, on the last day at the retreat, meet some wonderful ladies, one of whom went home and wrote about her experience as well. It is wonderfully refreshing and very funny.

She has very kindly given me permission to share it so that you can have a different persons take on the experience. It is a great piece and I have compiled her 3 entries into one post. Her original posts are on her blog - The Sparkler -  here - Adventures at Meditation Camp Part 1 - Expectations / Meditation Camp Part 2 - Monkey Mind / Meditation Camp Part 3 - Itching is Not Eternal. I hope you enjoy them as much as I did.

*I believe that she intends to add more posts so I will continue to add them to this post as she posts them...

Adventures at Meditation Camp
Part 1 - Expectations

I promised a full disclosure account of my 10 days spent in silent meditation at the Southeast Vipassana Center but I’ve been putting this off—trying to digest what I learned and put what I learned into practice but mostly trying figure out a way to summarize a VERY COMPLICATED experience.

A few days after my return, my dad (ever the pragmatist) asked, “So, what was the take-away?" My response to him was, “An ancient Buddhist meditation technique that (I hope) will help me maintain some sort of balance through the next round of challenges life throws at me." But my answer to him doesn’t really hint at the depth of what I experienced and learned, there and since.

Without a doubt, it has had a profound effect on me. Many who know me well have immediately recognized it in my face and demeanor (I call it the Vipassana facelift—I swear I have less wrinkles). But to tell the truth, it all seemed very ordinary at the start and quite a few days in I did not hold any hope of seeing any major changes. It was very peaceful there but it was almost over before I saw even the hint of the possibility of a change in consciousness, much less a drastic or revolutionary one.

There we were (me and about 60 strangers with whom I could not speak) in the middle of freaking nowhere in rural south Georgia (Jesup, GA, to be specific) on an enormous property accessed by dirt roads with no cell phone service within ten miles of the place.

The subtropical landscape felt like home, about an hour from the coast, lots of pines, magnolias and scrub oak, white sandy paths, cheerful waving palmettos and silvery Spanish moss in the trees (all very similar to coastal Alabama where I grew up).

I arrived just before one of the regular late afternoon thunderstorms. As we checked in everyone was supernice and calm, talking in low voices. Shoes are not worn in the buildings. There was a good vibe. Lots of cars in the parking lot had bumper stickers promoting peace and liberal political ideals. The folks checking in around me were diverse in age and ethnicity. The registration process included taking of all cellphones and other electronics and any belongings (car keys) that were not needed during your stay. All would be returned in eleven days as you departed. (This process was obviously scary for some participants. I watched as some students handed these items over with furrowed brows, many questions and nervous laughs.)

Eventually I walked into the freshly scrubbed and simply furnished dorm room I would share with three other women. I was immediately disheartened because they were all half my age and talking animatedly about things not remotely spiritual or enlightening. I was longing for a deeply spiritual, life-altering experience at this retreat and this was NOT AT ALL how I expected it to begin. I wanted to switch rooms, maybe join some of the older students, but I knew the dangers of holding on to expectations and made a conscious effort to just go with the flow.

Beyond this initial aversion to my dorm situation all was calm and generally blissful for the first few days. I enjoyed the quiet, the beautiful landscape around us, the food, even the meditation itself and the teachings of the guru, S. N. Goenka, whom we watched each evening by video.

Goenka is this adorable little man with a great sense of humor. I was often giggling to myself at his self-deprecating stories and his phrasing and pronunciation of certain words. Goenka would say slowly, “Alvays remain avare, remain avare," sounding more like Bela Lugosi than a Burmese-born meditation guru.

He repeated everything twice. And in teaching us Anapana breathing he would pronounce “nostrils" as “nose-trills." which actually makes more sense but still sounds amusing. “Focus all attention on the breath as it enters the nose-trills," he would repeat slowly like a hypnotist.

I felt that the breathing technique we were practicing was super easy, but little did I know this was just to sharpen our minds before we learned actual practice of Vipassana meditation. Once we began Vipassana practice, things began to shift for me. The process became more challenging, and things began to intensify on many levels.

More on that soon.

Meditation Camp Part 2 -
Monkey Mind

At orientation on the first evening of the retreat we all repeated a solemn vow to observe “noble silence" until the tenth day of our stay. We were even advised to pretend that we were alone on this retreat, to not even acknowledge one another or make eye contact as we passed in the hall. No need for social formalities here. Just stay within.

I was ready for this, ready and willing. This retreat was a last resort for me. I was in desperate need of profound, positive change and we all know the most profound changes come from within.

We woke at 4 am to start our first day of meditation, wandering by the light of the moon to the meditation hall. The Center is run very much like a monastery. Gongs were sounded for waking, breaks and meals. We ate full meals at 6 and 11 am and then had just fruit and tea at 5 pm. (I hear your question and no, I never felt hungry and the food was amazingly healthy and delicious.) Lights went out each night at 10 pm. Everything ran like clockwork so we had nothing to do but face the challenges of the silence and the meditation itself.

As I mentioned previously, I was finding the Anapana breathing technique easy, like child’s play, but maintaining my mental focus was a whole other story. It felt like an exercise in futility even though I was an eager student.

The mind has ways and wiles you will never know until you try to meditate regularly. In the world of meditation this is called “monkey mind," a mind that willfully refuses to be tamed (Very accessible discussion on this topic by Buddhist Lama Tenpa Gyaltsen herehttp://badlamaguide.wordpress.com/2012/04/15/enter-the-monkey/).

And oh, DID I EVER have a bad case of monkey mind. In those first days as I dutifully sat on my cushion for hours at a time, I wrote most of a comedic screenplay about a former job in my head. I designed dresses and came up with an entire business plan for the my company (which I decided to name Maude Designs after Harold and Maude). I had fantasies about Benedict Cumberbatch. I thought about baked brie and wedding cake and mojitos (not together). I also listened to long, grumbling south Georgia thunderstorms as if they were symphonies.

In other words, I found endless ways to distract myself and usually without even being aware that I was doing so until I had followed a random train of thought for a full half hour. But then, as the gentle Buddhists suggest, I did not berate myself for wandering. I recognized that I was following the monkeys, yet again, and came back to the breath. This is the process.

I did not have trouble staying awake as many others did (you would occasionally hear snores in the meditation hall) but instead my mind was in hyperdrive, perhaps from being denied the normal barrage of stimulation we encounter in everyday life.

But I also believe that a large part of the reason we cannot easily meditate (perhaps an even stronger reason than our limited attention spans) is fear. We are deeply afraid of what we are going to find when we really look within, and our mind does circus performances just to keep us from going there. This was definitely the case for me.

But by the third day things improved. I was able to sit for longer periods without shifting my position and I was much more focused. Goenka’s mind-sharpening technique seemed to be working. My mental focus increased and this happened just in time, because the next day we began our Vipassana training in earnest.

Will share the gory details about what happens next very soon. Peace out. ;)

image

Meditation Camp Part 3 -
Itching Is Not Eternal

Many people have said to me that they absolutely could NOT spend ten days in silence, much less in silent meditation. I readily admit that it is no easy task but I do believe that if I could do it and if prisoners in state penitentiaries can do it (http://www.prison.dhamma.org/), then pretty much anyone could do it. Being WILLING to do it is a whole other subject.

I was certainly willing and my mental focus was much-improved as I sat on the third day of this retreat, but physically I was still struggling. My foot would fall asleep. My back would ache. Random parts of my body would itch. A hair would fall in my face. I was suddenly too hot or too cold. All of these annoying and uncomfortable physical sensations would arise as I sat. But the teachings tell us to retain our composure of mind and sit through all of these annoying sensations, completely still and in the present moment.

One of the most basic tenets of Buddhist thought (across all traditions) is to have neither aversion to the unpleasant nor cling to the pleasant. It is believed that clinging and aversion are the roots of all suffering. And, an important aspect of meditation is to practice this non-clinging and non-aversion on the mat in order that you may take this practice into your daily life.

But me and my ‘beginner’s mind, beginner’s body" could not sit still. I tried different positions. I shifted around on the cushion in reaction to aches and pains. I could not resist the need to lean forward and stretch to relieve tension in my neck. I scratched things that itched.

Goenka knows his students so well. It seems that each time an issue came up for me, it would be the topic of discussion during discourse that evening. That night Goenka talked about sitting on the cushion, wanting to move or react to every unpleasant sensation. He laughed and said, “itching is not eternal."  He explained that sensations arise and they pass away. We were advised to just sit and observe. Eventually each sensation, pleasant or unpleasant, will pass. Everything arises and passes in meditation and in life. Nothing is permanent.

And with this teaching I began to observe my need to “scratch each itch." And I was surprised by how quickly the sensation goes away when you just observe it, not reacting. I have also been surprised how much easier aches and pains are to deal with when you focus on them, bringing your full awareness to the site of pain and observing it as an outsider, studying the sensation, not identifying with it. Separating yourself from it makes it easier to bear.

These were the things I was working on as we began our fourth day. This was the day that the retreat got really intense for me.

More on this tomorrow.

Image below of S. N. Goenka, teacher of Vipassana meditation

Meditation Camp, Part 4,
Equanimous Mind

I’ve delayed publishing this installment because I felt a moral conflict. I was hesitant to say anything remotely negative about my roommates from the retreat. But I finally concluded that if they ever read this, I would hope that they would not be offended and would know that by the end of our time together, I had no hard feelings and loved them unconditionally. So here goes…

I was already aware that silent meditation retreats are deeply challenging and not at all appealing to everyone but I became painfully and personally aware of this fact when several of my roommates decided that it was not for them.

The first of them to balk broke her silence on day three to announce that “she already knew all this stuff" and wanted to leave. She even went so far as to pack her suitcase a few times. I cannot deny that I was hoping she would depart on each of those occasions and make our dorm room a more peaceful place.

This roommate’s overall mode of being was forceful and determined. She moved in sudden confident bursts and slammed doors at entrance and exit. She would come into the room like a tornado, unconcerned whether anyone was meditating or sleeping. She was so irritable about being there that, even when she wasn’t exhaling long drawn out sighs of angst and misery, she exuded negativity like an angry thundercloud.

She reached a point where she ignored most every rule they asked us to follow. She even wore her shoes indoors which is a sign of real disrespect in this tradition. If she had been rooming on her own it wouldn’t have mattered but we were all sharing this intimate space with two sets of bunk beds and a single bathroom. She made sure that we knew how miserable she was at all times.

Mind you, I had real compassion for her. I knew her ego had taken over out of complete fear of dealing with the things she might have to face in the silence. Our minds will do all sorts of desperate and surprising things (even beyond the circus antics of “monkey mind") to keep us from dealing with our own dark stuff.

But even though I recognized what she was doing and empathized, I was still feeling abused by her disruptive behavior and disrespect for others. It was as if she was not only going to reject the experience but to ruin it for those around her as well.

Frustration began to brew in me because I could not speak up to ask to her to consider the rest of us. I had made a solemn vow, and to speak up would mean breaking that vow. I decided to do my best to ignore her and to enjoy my time there, focusing on the work.

But on the fourth day we began practicing Vipassana meditation (more specifically the Vipassana meditation technique as taught by S. N. Goenka which is different from Vipassana as taught in the Theraveda Buddhist tradition). In the morning I felt very happy. I was now accustomed to the routine of waking at 4 a.m. and actually delighted in walking alone in the silence by the light of the moon to the meditation hall each day. Later in the morning it was sunny and clear, dragonflies flitted around and all seemed right in the world.

But after the morning sessions of Vipassana it seemed that all hell broke loose. A second roommate broke her silence (soon I was the only one in the room determined to honor our vow). This roommate was in her early 20’s, beautiful and full of energy. Meditating seemed antithetical to her nature. She could barely sit still. She brought her exercise mat and would exercise in the tiny dorm room (which was not allowed) even when others were trying to rest or meditate, huffing and puffing with her exertion. She found infinite ways to change her clothing and hairstyle each day, even shaving one side of her head about halfway through. Even though I did not know her, I could tell that she was a delightful person, but she was also absolutely miserable and complained in loud whispersabout wanting to leave.

My frustration continued to build. In meditation, I was struggling with the new meditation technique because suddenly my body was wracked with all sorts of random aches and pains each time I sat. I was extremely uncomfortable on the mat and I was unable to remain still for the full two-hour sessions. I went from “monkey mind" during the days of Anapana breathing to extreme levels of physical discomfort during Vipassana. I also found that the Vipassana body-scanning technique did not come easy to me. There was visualization required and a constant maintaining of focused awareness. Every session was like a mental wrestling match and it was really exhausting.

This struggle along with my whispering and restless roommates was making it incredibly difficult for me to maintain what our teacher, Goenka, calls “equanimous mind." I kept talking myself down from getting really upset with each additional incident.

Each day there were times when we were allowed to meditate in our rooms. I found it to be the most physically comfortable place to meditate and it was full of light—a nice break from the dark meditation hall. But my roommates would not keep quiet in the room.

That afternoon as I sat in my bed with my back to the wall immersed in meditation I was interrupted repeatedly and on the fourth or fifth time, I gave up, slumped down in my bed and began to cry with my head in my hands. I cried because my roommates were making me miserable. I cried because I had such high expectations for change and healing during this retreat and because I felt that circumstances outside my control were ruining all my efforts. I mostly cried because it all felt so unfair. I just broke down.

But it was not long before all my Buddhist teachings came flooding into my mind, reminding me that suffering is caused by clinging and aversion, both of which were playing major roles in this meltdown. I realized that I was clinging to expectations for the retreat when I know full well that this causes great suffering. If we do not want to suffer we must accept things as they are, as they unfold, rather than constantly wishing that they matched up to some self-created ideal.

And I was feeling strong aversion to the behavior of the people around me when acceptance would have kept me from feeling increasingly frustrated and reaching a state of emotional breakdown. Both clinging and aversion are barriers to maintaining a state of “equanimous mind," that the Buddha taught as the path to enlightenment. If we want to be free from suffering we must accept things as they are. Even if we do not like things, we do not have to react to them with aversion. Even if we really like something (or someone) we do not need to cling to it. It is all about balance.

We cannot control what other people do. We can only control our reactions. We do not have to suffer and, in this instance, I did not need to suffer. I realized in that moment that I would not be miserable if I simply accepted the situation and the people around me exactly as they are. I could not speak up because of my vow but I could choose to meditate elsewhere rather than spend time in the room, which was causing my greatest frustration. There are ways to make things better, to greatly decrease our suffering, even in difficult circumstances through acceptance and heartfelt compassion.

I am grateful to my roommates for pushing me to this epiphany. I experienced a “breakdown to breakthrough" and learned some things that I will be able to apply in daily life, but it was not easy. I came to a new and better understanding but that afternoon I thought to myself in a very non-Buddha-like way, “If I had a bottle of tequila, I’d be doing shots right now."

More soon.