Recently, I had the honor of participating in a Tai Chi performance at the Washington National Cathedral's event "Seeing Deeper" with my teacher, Master Nick Gracenin, and other masters across the east coast. The event was created to offer learning opportunities to the public designed to enhance one's awareness of the body, mind, and spirit. The magnificent space of the cathedral was cleared entirely of chairs and benches in order to mimic the vastness of medieval cathedrals, served traditionally as places of gathering and community. The "Seeing Deeper" event also served as just this, a place of gathering, with nearly 100 people performing together the relaxing arts of Tai Chi and Qigong for nearly two hours.
During our practice, my teacher inserted elements of these art forms that trace back thousands of years into their philosophy which was used as the foundation of the healing arts of China, including Acupuncture and Chinese Medicine. These elements included the essence of not only health practices and Tai Chi application but also important methods used to enhance one's quality of life.
Traditionally and modernly, we know these elements as Yin and Yang as well as the Five Elements. Unfortunately though, many sources of traditional teachings were lost during the Cultural Revolution that took place in China during the 20th century. Although some of this was safeguarded, many people to this day are constantly excavating and learning through self practice the true essence and meaning of the Yin and Yang, the Five Elements, and simply how to live a life of peacefulness and understanding.
The combination of the five human senses is the foundation of love.
So, what does it mean to be "Seeing Deeper" anyway?
Does the act of "seeing" in fact require the use of the human eye? And does "deeper" refer to the space or ground beneath us?
The human body is known to have (at least) five senses: sight, hearing, smell, taste, and touch. When you remove one of these senses, e.g. close your eyes, does it make it easier or more challenging to "see"? The question is only relative to the situation in which you are attempting to "see". If you were walking ten miles across an unknown landscape, this would make the task challenging and perhaps more dangerous, but not entirely impossible. If you were simply trying to experience the texture of a piece of fruit, removing your ability to see might in fact make it easier.
At the same time, would your other four senses be reduced or heightened? If your mind is no longer focusing on the use of your eyes, then your intention required would be sent directly to the senses you are still capable of utilizing allowing for them to be heightened. In the example of the piece of fruit, your sense of smell would be heightened as you would know exactly what piece of fruit it would be without even touching it, you could tap it to determine its density, you could examine its texture by touching it, and lastly, you could experience its deliciousness with your sense of taste.
The art of seeing deeper requires not the skillful ability that is developed over time, but rather the innate ability that reveals itself after years of shedding away the layers of human suffering.
So again, does the act of "seeing" truly require the use of the human eye? It depends on the context in which you are applying the act of "seeing". On a deeper level, when we wish to see within ourselves to understand our purpose as well as the meaning of life, we must first make a connection with our surroundings, both material and immaterial. Then we must use equally and non-judgmentally our five senses in order to experience what life has to offer. The combination of the five human senses is, in fact, the foundation of love.
The art of seeing deeper requires not the skillful ability that is developed over time, but rather the innate ability that reveals itself after years of shedding away the layers of human suffering. This said, we can only discover what is within ourselves by relating it to what is without ourselves (the outside world). Looking within is only possible by looking without.
In the year 2015, practice enhancing your ability to "see deeper" by using your senses in these ways:
Truly experience the textures of the food you eat.
Envelop yourself in the smells of a gorgeous flower garden.
Naturally move your body with the sounds (of music) that surround you.
Take in visually the artistic palette of colors the world has to offer.
Sensually feel the skin of the person you love and adore the most.
The past is a seed that is planted in the present and grows into the future.
Yesterday, I met a group of friends, who also happen to be acupuncturists, over a delicious meal and good conversation. After not meeting with them for four months, I was reminded of the importance of having my own community of friends; to share our life stories, the current day-to-day happenings, and our visions of the world transforming into the ultimate living environment.
As I filled my mouth with extraordinary flavors of a savory Chinese beef dish, I held my cup of hot tea and listened to the friendly and inspiring conversation. My friend Brooks began to describe a moment from a course he teaches about the roots of the medicine our small group sitting at the table practices and shares in common. A student in his course, a native from China, began to declare at one point that his ability to speak English was "not very good". Brooks, drawing on some wisdom from his days in the same program, invited the student to change his declaration to one with more possibility: "My English is better than it was yesterday." This tiny shift in words has the potential to create a huge shift in the person speaking them. This sharing from my friend Brooks reminded me of the reason I recently shared something about my late grandmother (shared below).
When we live with the constant mindset of "I need to improve myself.", "My skills aren't quite where they need to be.", or "I'll NEVER be THAT good!", we bring ourselves to a screeching halt on the road of life's potential. If these kinds of phrases are running through your head or coming from your mouth, you have then exercised your ultimate ability to withhold yourself from experiencing your full potential. In essence, you've tightly tied a tourniquet around the moment in your life that comes just before the moments of tomorrow.
In moments of what we consider failure or areas of our lives where believe we are lacking in something, we must acknowledge all we have done up to that point. We should instead take a moment to reflect on what we've accomplished. It is important to understand that all of our actions we've taken were opportunities to learn from (just like the quote from Thomas Edison above). Repeating an action, like speaking English, gives us a chance to improve upon it each day.
We should be thankful for this seed, plant it with care, nurture it, and watch it grow into something magnificent. Every moment in our lives is important, valuable, and not to be considered wasted. I will leave you with the words I recently shared about a person who had great impact on who I am today; my grandmother.
I have one question for you.
What would your life be like without any stress? Can you even imagine it? Would you know how to live without it? Would you eventually want it back?
Now, I'm not pretending that I know what "stress" is for you. In fact, I don't believe the word "stress" is an accurate description of what anyone claims it to actually be. In my experience, we simply use this word as a label, like we do with many others, because we are unable to describe what it is we are actually experiencing when the things we call "stressors" appear in our lives.
Sure, you cannot control certain situations, such as when someone comes to your desk asking for your assistance with a task when you're already buried in work. What you CAN do is manage the situation by observing your response. Observe what happens in you physically:
Does your breathing increase in frequency?
Does your heart start to pump faster?
Do you hold your tongue and prevent yourself from saying what you REALLY want to say?
Isn't it interesting how our decisions and our reactions/responses change our bodies' physiology in an instant? Also, did you know that the chemical response of generating an emotion lasts approximately for 90 seconds only? Interesting, considering the stories that go on in our heads easily continue for MUCH LONGER than 90 seconds. (Perhaps we should all call ourselves great storytellers like Bill Cosby.) But seriously though, after 90 seconds of listening to your co-worker ask for your assistance and you then responding to his or her request, do you often find yourself hung up on the situation repeating it in your head, or making stories up about this person never doing any work and always passing it off onto others? If so, you're digging your own grave at a very rapid and emotionally-charged pace. By learning to manage your reactions/responses in simple situations such as these, it is quite possible that you may never even reach the 90 second point.
Awareness of your emotions is the key to the door for managing stress.
Observe what happens inside of you during similar situations. Do the same things always appear? Does your breathing always rise up into your chest and occur more frequently? Do you clench your jaw automatically? Does your face always blush? If you picked apart each physiological response that happened in these situations and pondered about them, I'm certain you could come up with a way to limit the length of its presence in the moment, and perhaps for good.
Understanding what happens inside of your body and how it manifests on the outside will determine your ability to live with or without "stress". So, the next time you encounter what you consider to be a "stressful" situation, keep your senses open. After the situation passes, reflect upon what just happened and understand why your body did what it did. Do this and the relationship you have with your body will strengthen, and who knows, maybe even your relationship with others will as well.
As we approach the end of August, it is almost time to say our goodbyes to the summer season and open our welcoming arms to the breathtaking landscape of Autumn. You may notice as you walk outdoors that it seems the leaves on the trees are nearing the end of their time as their color shifts to a dark shade of green and they hang heavily from their branches towards the ground. Or you may notice in your garden a plethora of full-hearty produce begging for you to pluck it from its exhausted branches and vines.
This is the wonder of the harvest season. The season of abundance, of nourishment, of being nurtured, and of gratitude. This is a time in nature where we honor the richness of life and say thanks to all that has been offered in support of our growth and experience of life.
In your day to day life, how many times do you actually say THANK YOU to others and to yourself? When someone holds the door for you, do you say THANK YOU? How about when the metro brings you safely to your destination? Do you say, out loud or silently, THANK YOU?
How about the other way around? When was the last time YOU held the door for someone? When was the last time you randomly did something for someone else because you were feeling "in the mood"? Coming back to Mother Nature and the change of the seasons, we must remember that Mother Nature does not take a moment to think before she provides what is necessary for us and the rest of the world to survive, let alone thrive. She just does...and so should we.
What if Random Acts of Kindness were no longer Random? What if we considered them to simply be Natural Acts of Kindness? Moments of unconditional love and nurturing from ourselves to others; a moment of spoken or unspoken gratitude to another for simply being present in our life at this particular point in time, and above all, without judgment. Just as nature provides for us during this time, we should make the decision to act the same by sharing kindness to ourselves and others. No strings attached.
We should willingly bear fruit for the plucking and satisfaction of others.
When others can reap what you sow, you nurture another human and change them in ways you can't possibly imagine.
One final thought I leave you with is an opportunity. One that may change a person's life forever. The opportunity (or challenge, if you choose to view it as such) is to show at least one Natural Act of Kindness towards someone you don't know. But don't stop there. Notice how you feel afterwards, and notice how the other person responds. Cultivate this feeling in yourself and continue to spread it and plant it in other. Because, just as this season provides a harvest for us now, it also holds deep within itself the seeds for the next year's crop. You hold this same power, the "seeds" of kindness to be planted in the next generation.
Yours in peace,
As I am making my way home on the sometimes dreaded and unpredictable metro bus last week, the idea for this blog came into my mind. Before I go any further though, let's trace back 45 minutes prior to getting off the bus...
I am standing at Farragut West station waiting anxiously for the next metro train that will carry my tired and aching body deep underground at 60 mph towards my stop 7 stations away. Finally, the train arrives. It is packed full of passengers eagerly searching for a seat or the prime standing location where they can lean against a pole or a wall. All of them look just as tired as I do.
Thoughts begin to race through my mind leading me to question my reason for riding on this very train, in this moment of time, and what my purpose is and if I will ever achieve it. Am I happy in this moment? My answer depends on what I relate the question to. I would say though in relation to the situation in this moment where I stand on a sardine-packed train with hundreds of other people, I would not describe this as a moment of extreme joy or bliss of any kind. My thoughts begin to race faster as I stare around the train at the other passengers. Not one person is smiling...except for the guy two seats away watching something on YouTube it seems. (How does he get a signal and not me?!) I come back to my question of purpose and importance again. Am I really living the life I was truly gifted with, or for? And, am I able to inject my own passion into it without hesitation?
Then I had a moment of realization. Even if I am NOT living the life I believe I was meant to live, there is always tomorrow! This realization immediately reminded me of my martial arts competition days when we would train the entire summer covered in our own (and our classmates') blood, sweat, and tears preparing for the US National Competition. The final days before the training, particularly the last day, we didn't train nearly as hard. Why? We needed to save our energy, calm our minds, and relax our bodies to allow our confidence to soar and our camaraderie to intensify so strongly that we would resemble (and almost feel like) a clan of warriors more so than a team of competitors. The most important day for us was tomorrow; the beginning of the US National Competition. The day our team of "warriors" had prepared for all year, and perhaps some had even lived for.
Take this for example. I'm sure at some point in your life, you have studied for a test, correct? Did you ever try to cram for a test the night before, even if you felt prepared? How much actually sank in? Did it make you feel more confident or more anxious on the day of the test? What would have happened if you reviewed only the material you felt was most important and left the rest of the day to relax and honor yourself for the time and effort you put into studying for this test? After all, TOMORROW is the most important day! The day of the test!
So, what is the message I am passing along in both of these examples, you might ask?
Tomorrow is the most important day of your life!
Everything you have done today, everything you are doing right now, and everything you will do during the rest of this day before you wake up tomorrow morning is all for the sake of tomorrow. We never know what experiences we will have, what moments will change our life, or what acquaintances will become (or begone) in the day to come. What we DO know is that tomorrow is waiting for us and is depending on us. The night of sleep you are about to embark on before you awake tomorrow morning is your reset button. From the moment your eyes close, your body, your mind, and your spirit recharge until soft beams of light slowly grab hold of your eyelids and gently help them open reminding you that tomorrow has arrived; the day you have lived all of yesterday for (and everyday prior).
Tomorrow has become today. The spotlight is on YOU and your performance of today determines the applause you will receive from life. And here's a little secret...life is ALWAYS cheering for you! So remember, tomorrow is and will always be the most important day of your life. It does not mean that today is less important. What is does mean is that tomorrow gives you a reason to live for...again and again and again.
There is only one today, but there are endless tomorrows.
Remember this phrase and erase every regret you have from today because tomorrow...you get another chance.
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inspirational ideas on healthy living through eastern medicine, optimism, and possibility through empowerment.