KEEPING IN TOUCH
originally published in issue 238 http://www.positivehealth.com/article/chinese-oriental-medicine/keeping-in-touch
Touch comes before sight, before speech. It is the first language and the last, and it always tells the truth.
The Pleasure of a Cuddle
Now that I am a grandmother I have the opportunity to cuddle one or other of my grandchildren on an almost daily basis and as I embrace their warm little bodies I feel a sense of deep pleasure –almost bliss. It feels as if the kinks in my nervous system are being ironed out. Neurologist Shekar Raman, MD, based in Richmond, Virginia explains; ”A hug, pat on the back, and even a friendly handshake are processed by the reward centre in the central nervous system, which is why they can have a powerful impact on the human psyche, making us feel happiness and joy…. And it doesn't matter if you're the toucher or touchee. The more you connect with others—on even the smallest physical level—the happier you'll be." 1.
There is a plethora of research exploring the healing benefits of touch. Ann Biglow, a professor and researcher of developmental psychology at St. Francis Xavier University in Antigonish, Nova Scotia conducted research into parent behaviour and infant development and explains how skin-to-skin contact with babies is important for their development. It seems that the healing power of touch is so vital for human development that babies not touched regularly do not develop normally, and children who are not lovingly touched enough are more likely to be violent as adults. In an interview in the Scientific American Biglow says;“Particularly in the newborn period, it helps calm babies: they cry less and it helps them sleep better. There are some studies that show their brain development is facilitated—probably because they are calmer and sleep better.”2.
Touching as self massage is also very therapeutic. "People often don't realize how easy it is to give themselves a massage," says psychologist Tiffany Field, PhD, director of the University of Miami Touch Research Institute and a longtime researcher on the benefits of massage. "Anything that provides pressure can work." Field suggests keeping a tennis ball in your office, placing it against your shoulder blades and doing deep knee bends against the wall to give yourself a back rub. The benefits of massage come from stimulating pressure receptors in the brain, says Field. "Most people don't know that. They might do light stroking, but that doesn't help and really is aversive to most people. These receptors are long and well-insulated nerve fibers--much more insulated than pain receptors, she adds. "Say, for example, you hit your funny bone and you rub it. The pain message is transmitted more slowly than the pressure message, so it gets turned off and you stop experiencing pain." 3.
As an acupuncturist I have many times heard a patient tell me that she immediately feels calmer, more relaxed lying on the couch having her hand held whilst I take her pulses -- and that is before any needles are inserted! I have not induced that feeling –it’s a natural high that comes from experiencing simple physical contact.
In Daoist Five Element theory the sense of touch can be associated with the Element of Fire. The nature of Fire is expansion and warmth, its season is Summer --a time for socialising and forming relationships. Fire is governed by the Heart and its associated emotion when its energy is in balance is joy. Touch is thus a way in which we manifest our Fire Element –a hug is a Heartfelt, joyful thing to do and contributes to socialising and sustaining relationships. Even just the friendly gesture of a pat on the arm can warm someone in body, mind and spirit. And the Fire Element can clearly be seen in the sensual Daoist massage technique sometimes known as sexual energy massage—a form of massage developed over centuries and taught originally to the concubines of ancient Chinese nobility.
Sexual energy massage is not simply an erotic form of massage but works because both partners are building sexual energy to encourage and balance the flow of Chi. This form of massage aims to stimulate nerve receptors in the reproductive organs, enhance blood circulation and increase the production of sexual hormones. For men the kidneys, testes, penis, perineum and scrotal sac can be massaged whilst for women there are techniques for massaging the breasts, kidneys, ovaries and uterus. The idea is to restore the flow of energy in the body by a soothing touch rather than by pressing and kneading of the muscles. And by keeping in touch in this way couples can experience joyful transformational states which will re energise them in body, mind and spirit.
But Daoism is also about cultivating and sustaining energy through utilising the sense of touch in a solitary way through self massage techniques such as Chi Nei Tsang. This is a form of Daoist abdominal massage that works directly on the digestive system, helping to rid the body of blockage and toxins and release stagnant energy and emotions. The heart of this internal organ massage is the navel --a powerful energy centre. Try this --massage your abdomen gently making a circular motion towards the centre of the navel. Massage within an inch and a half around the navel and eventually massage right into the centre of the navel. Spend perhaps ten to twenty minutes on this massage. Be gentle and be confident --you cannot hurt yourself massaging your navel. I was taught this technique by JR Worsley at his Leamington College of 5 Element Acupuncture –he called it the Centre Pulse technique and taught that it helps relax the body and opens it up from the centre outwards. When we use self massage in this way we are bringing our awareness back down into the body so that repressed, undigested energies move out and we can feel centred again.
Massaging your partner to create joyful and transformational states or practising solitary self massage and acupressure –all of these ways literally involve keeping in touch with your physical body. Stay connected with yourself and with others through touch to enhance your Fire element and bring happiness and healing into your life.
A Healthy Dose Of Compassion
originally published in issue 234 POSITIVE HEALTH MAGAZINE - November 2016
As I write this article the world has recently witnessed terrorist atrocities in France and in Germany along with horrendous bombing of Syria and most of us will have reacted to the reports of those dead and injured with a pang of vulnerability - a fear at the fragility of existence. We are here for such a short time – emerging from the Void and seemingly we can be catapulted back into it without warning. But whilst we may naturally respond to such traumatic events with feelings of fear, anxiety and even anger, most of us will also find awakened within ourselves a wave of tenderness - an upsurge of compassion towards all those who lives were taken and all who are suffering still. And for good emotional health we need to be able to connect with and cultivate that upsurge of compassion – for the sake of others and starting with ourselves.
The emotion associated with the Earth Element, in Daoist Five Element theory, is referred to as “sympathy” by which is meant the nurturing, empathic compassion that a mother feels for her child. In Five Element theory someone who cannot give or receive nurturing compassion, or one who craves it constantly for themselves and is overly compassionate without clear boundaries towards others, is said to have an imbalance in their Earth Element. When we display a healthy nurturing compassion towards ourselves and others, then we are seen to have a stable, well balanced Earth Element.
Compassion is not always easy to access. When we hear of yet another terrorist incident or yet another country pouring out refugees we might close our eyes and our hearts to suffering perhaps experiencing what has been called ‘compassion fatigue’. But this process of denial, shutting down, will ultimately only serve to separate and harden us on one level and do nothing to prevent us from feeling fragile and scared on a deeper level. Instead when we witness, open to and accept suffering we allow that wave of nurturing tenderness to emerge and from that healing follows. But this process of yielding to pain and suffering must start with ourselves first - we first of all need to open ourselves to our own suffering - connect with our own feelings of unworthiness, anxiety, insecurity. It is only when we begin to heal the Earth Element within ourselves that we may feel genuine compassion for others.
A patient of mine, a man who had been brought up in a children’s home, found himself to be very tough on his own children. If his kids, whom he loved deeply, experienced any challenges he would tell them to “get on with it”, if they were hurting physically or emotionally he would berate them - “don’t be such a baby”. His own childhood had been lacking in nurturance and so he was incapable of responding with a nurturing compassion to his own family. Furthermore whenever I sympathized with him for his tough upbringing he pushed my sympathy away wrongly interpreting it as pity - a sort of superior concern without true empathy. His Earth Element had become badly damaged and needed help. Then there was another patient who constantly fretted and worried about her health - she felt as if no one understood her particular problems. Not only did she constantly crave nurturing for herself she felt overwhelmed by everyone’s suffering, giving out sympathy to all and sundry - often very inappropriately and without boundaries. She was in an abusive relationship and instead of leaving she put her own needs last and stayed in that relationship as she feared that her partner would be lost without her. The truly compassionate thing in that situation would have been for her to let go of her fear and walk out. By walking out she would have shown compassion towards herself and also towards her partner as it might have forced him to wake up to himself…. perhaps even seek help.
To cultivate compassion we have to develop and encourage healthy Earth within. This means establishing a firm centred foundation within ourselves through practices that root and still us. In this way we develop the balance and centeredness that characterizes the Earth Element. And by nourishing and caring for ourselves we come to feel confident, secure and stable - all the qualities of a healthy Earth Element. It is only from that foundation that compassion for all life can blossom and grow.
Here are some suggestions to help cultivate a healthy dose of compassion;
Look after your own
needs, set firm boundaries and do something nurturing for yourself every day;
Ask for help when you need it - reach out and connect - family and friends will be there for you but first we need to ask;
Encourage a strong connection with the Earth’s energies to strengthen your Earth Element and thus nurture yourself. For example become more aware of the contact between your feet and the Earth. As Thich Nhat Han says;” Walk as if you are kissing the Earth with your feet”. Try fifteen minutes walking meditation daily. Walk at a relaxed but slow pace. Focus on the sensations in your body as you walk. When your mind wanders bring your attention back to awareness of walking. Feel your foot move as the heel is placed on the ground and then it rolls forward to the ball of the foot and toes. Notice how it feels as the foot lifts and moves forward. Be aware of your arms and hips swinging, your body moving slowly and feeling relaxed;
Sitting meditation - start by simply opening to your own suffering - your own feelings of unworthiness anxiety, insecurity. Often we resist our emotional pain - we stiffen and turn away. This will only create more pain and suffering. Instead we need to start where we are by acknowledging our own feelings of distress, of low self-esteem, of an under nourished Earth Element; in yielding to these feelings we soften and feel a sense of tender compassion arising. This is not about sitting around feeling sorry for one’s self or hanging onto negative feelings. It is simply an acknowledgement of where you are at so that you may now start to let go of these negative feelings and heal yourself of your pain. Simply observe the feelings, witness them and sense where they are being held in your body - often around the solar plexus. Let go of clinging to these feelings to focus instead on a deep rooted feeling of tender nurturance and compassion. This is your connection with your Earth Element within. Feel safe and relaxed and secure knowing that these feelings of compassion are radiating within you and outwards to all beings.
Nutrition the Daoist Way
published in POSITIVE HEALTH issue 230
We are constantly bombarded with dietary advice including a vast array of often ‘faddy’ diets that guarantee weight loss, good health, an increase in energy and everlasting happiness. There is nothing ‘faddy’ though, about nutrition the Daoist way; it is an approach to health built on solid, down to earth, common sense principles. Daoism explains that Chi comes to us in large part through the food we eat. In order to build our energy and help it to flourish, we need to ensure that we consume foods that are in harmony with the Five Seasons and with the very fabric of our being - the Five Elements.
One warm summer, I heard someone extolling the benefits of raw food only to hear this same person in the depth of winter complain how tired and cold he felt. It was clear to me that in the summer his body had appreciated his raw food diet, but in the depths of the cold dark Yin of the winter he needed Yang energy through eating hot cooked food. Daoism teaches that when we eat in harmony with the seasons we balance and build Chi.
Reproduced from Aromatherapy, Massage and Chinese Medicine by Joanne Baker
Furthermore Daoism suggests that we eat according to our inner nature - we eat to balance the Five Elements that we are composed of - Wood, Fire, Earth, Metal, Water. Let us look at some of the ways in which we can eat according to the seasons and according to our Elements.
Eating in Harmony with the Seasons
Spring is the time of growth and expansion - a time to purify, detox and give the system a spring clean. This is the time when the energy of the Wood Element rises after the torpor of the winter – a great time to clear out and start afresh! The organs associated with Wood are the Liver and Gall Bladder; this is a perfect time to help these organs continue their work of eliminating wastes from the body and purifying the blood by taking a liver flush drink. Drink it first thing in the morning for a ten day cycle. Mix citrus juices together to make one cup of liquid. Add two cloves of fresh chopped garlic plus a small amount of grated ginger. Mix in one tablespoon of cold pressed olive oil. Blend and drink. Follow the flush with two cups of cleansing herb tea such as fennel or peppermint. Wait an hour before eating.
Summer is the time of Yang, Fire Element energies when everything heats up, ripens and comes to fruition – it is, therefore, a time to enjoy eating cool, calming Yin foods, such as tomato, apple, barley, bean curd, mushrooms, cucumber, lettuce, mango, mung beans, pear, spinach and strawberry. A classic cool meal would comprise crab meat - good to combat heat rashes - served with broad beans tossed in butter with a little mint. Duck is also considered a calming food - serve with cucumber to feel really chilled out! Pork with bean curd tonifies the blood, clears heat and is an excellent Yin dish. Colder foods are bamboo shoot, banana, watercress, watermelon. A hot sunny day is the time to indulge in a cooling banana split with fruit sorbet, knowing you are doing your best to calm down all that fiery Yang! Generally lamb and chicken are avoided in the summer as they are considered warming foods, whilst more fish and vegetables are included in the daily diet. Oily fatty foods are also avoided, as is alcohol which is also considered heating.
At the time of late Summer, the time of the Earth Element, start to leave aside the salads and raw foods of summer and begin to eat more lightly cooked food such as stir fries. Traditionally, foods associated with Earth are millet, apricots and beef. But be reminded, according to Chinese Medicine, the Earth Element is strengthened not simply by the type of foods eaten, but by the way we eat - regular meals eaten in a calm and unhurried manner are just as important as what we eat.
As the weather becomes cooler and more Yin with the arrival of Autumn so we need to start eating hot food again. Now is the time to cut out the Yin fruits - melons, grapefruits and oranges, and introduce more seasonal fruits such as apples and pears. As this is the season of the Metal Element build the Lung energy by eating cooked food and including lots of onions and garlic. Exclude dairy foods - milk and cheese are possible irritants to the lungs as they produce large amounts of mucus. Use this time of year to build the immune system up in preparation for the winter months ahead.
When Winter is here and the deep cold Yin of the Water Element arrives we can maintain warmth by ensuring that we eat only hot, cooked foods. Include soups and stews made with root vegetables and hot meats such as lamb, fish and chicken. Chicken is a warm Yang food which can be stir-fried with onions and a pinch of cayenne at this cold time of year.
Eating in Harmony with the Five Elements
As well as eating foods that harmonize with the seasons it is important to use food to correct any disharmony in the cycle of the elements within. If you know which element within you, out of Wood, Fire, Earth, Metal or Water is particularly out of balance - in excess or deficient of Chi, this will help you to decide which foods might be best to restore balance and health. Each element has a corresponding flavour - Wood is Sour, Fire is Bitter, Earth is Sweet, Metal is Pungent and Water is Salty. Use the flavours in a way that will build or calm the element out of balance within you. So for example if your Wood Element is in excess and you need to purify your Liver and Gall Bladder then eat sour foods such as citrus fruits - especially lemons, oranges, grapefruit, vinegar, yogurt, pickles of all kinds, sauerkraut. If you need to calm your Fire Element and reduce heat in your Heart remember the foods of the Summer - cool, calming Yin foods, such as tomato, apple, barley, bean curd, mushrooms, cucumber, lettuce, mango, mung beans, pear, spinach and strawberry. For those who have Earth Element weakness and perhaps have digestive problems then strengthen the Stomach with the sweet favours of millet, apricots or beef as mentioned earlier and include plenty of root vegetables. Metal Element problems might give rise to a sluggish Colon or Lung related issues and so can benefit from pungent foods such onions and garlic, horseradish, mustard, basil, and nutmeg -these are all considered Metal foods. And if your Water Element is struggling and you feel perhaps fearful and exhausted with low Kidney energy then eat warming, cooked foods - fish soups and chicken stews and possibly include more salty flavours such as seaweed and sea vegetables, tamari, miso.
Balance your energy by combining two dietary practices. Firstly eat in harmony with the seasons and secondly eat foods that will heal the element most out of balance within you. For example if its summer and you know that your Wood Element is out of balance - your Liver is sluggish - then raw foods are best. But when winter comes, even though your Liver might be sluggish you would be best to forego salads and, in keeping with the season eat warmer food such as lightly cooked stir fries. In this example you have recognized your Liver’s need for raw food in the summer but have also understood that winter requires you to eat warmer food - in this case light stir fries that will not overburden your sluggish Liver. And in another example -- if you are elderly with circulatory issues you might be best to eat hot cooked foods all year round and forget salads in the summer. Daoist diet is all about using these ancient principles along with your intuition and common sense to keep your Chi strong and positively healthy!
First published in POSITIVE HEALTH MAGAZINE issue 226 - November 2015
The Dao is like a well,
Used but never used up.
It is like the Eternal Void filled with infinite possibilities
It is hidden, but always present
I don’t know who gave birth to it.
It is older than God.
We live in times of austerity with job losses, short term contracts, government cuts to welfare benefits and many of us wonder how we can keep our heads above water and continue to pay the bills. And the stress experienced as people struggle to get by impacts on their health and wellbeing - “Austerity cuts are having a “profoundly disturbing” impact on people’s psychological wellbeing and the emotional state of the nation, hundreds of counsellors, psychotherapists and mental health experts have said in a letter to the Guardian”(The Guardian April 17th 2015).
So how can we attain prosperity and abundance in these lean, penny pinching times? Daoist philosophy sees hard times as an opportunity to align with and draw on the Dao - that “well…of infinite possibilities“ bringing us greater wellbeing, abundance and prosperity. There are three crucial ways to help us come into this alignment and prosper: firstly we must simplify our lives to make room for this “well of infinite possibilities”; secondly we need to cultivate the flow of our Chi so that as it becomes more abundant it attracts this infinite abundance to it and thirdly we must learn to use the power of Intention so that we can manifest this well of wealth and opportunity. In these ways we will access the abundance and prosperity that is there for us all.
It is important to recognize that Daoists are not focused on wealth in the material sense -abundance and prosperity are not seen as the accumulation of money and material goods. True abundance and prosperity comes with feeling content with and appreciating our lot - however modest that may be. Having good health with enough food and shelter to meet our basic needs is wealth indeed. If you have a complicated life with much material stuff to care for and much juggling of time and effort involved in looking after it then this will block access to the well of infinite possibilities and the feelings of pressure and stress will ultimately affect your health and wellbeing. And if you constantly think of what is lacking in your life - anxiously focusing on your debts for example, you will feel very poverty stricken indeed. By keeping life as simple and as uncomplicated as possible and by truly appreciating what you already have so you make room for the well of infinite abundance thus drawing prosperity to you.
Streamline your life, let go of desiring a larger house, the latest model of car, more clothes and instead simply appreciate whatever you already have. Let go of things you no longer use or need - take those clothes that you never wear and those books gathering dust to a car boot sale or charity shop and make room for the abundant well of the Dao. Make room in your larder -instead of shopping impulsively and accumulating lots of ‘bargains’ that then go to waste, make a list of exactly what groceries you need and stick to it! Always keep in mind that you are not shopping this way because you are struggling to get by - instead you are now making space to keep things clear and simple in your cupboards and in your life. Simplify and appreciate your life and you will feel more harmonious, in balance, happier. In this way you will begin to have a very present sense of abundance and prosperity and that will attract more of that into your life.
By enhancing our Chi - the life force that sustains the web of the cosmos - it becomes more abundant and thus it attracts abundance to it. We can build Chi or release blocks in stagnating Chi by using esoteric Daoist internal alchemy exercises, but simple Chi Gung exercises or the use of acupuncture can also help the Chi to flourish bringing us into alignment with this well of infinite possibilities. Most important of all is the need to cultivate an open, yielding attitude - this attitude is a central Daoist principle for enhancing Chi. Like a reed in the wind, if we yield and bend to life’s stresses we can survive and prosper. But if we stay stiff and upright we will snap - and if we are extremely rigid it might only take the slightest breeze or stress to cause that break.
Once you accept and yield to whatever is happening in your life the Chi will flow more freely and abundantly. In this way like then attracts like - abundance will flow towards you from the cosmos. As you release any frustrations or anxieties that you are experiencing and cultivate an attitude of acceptance, so you will then align with a deep sense of release, Chi flows and you will draw abundance and prosperity to you. Here is an exercise to help you open to whatever is going on in your life - do this daily and you will find your Chi flowing, your energy and happiness increasing and thus you will have a very present sense of abundance and prosperity and so invite more of that into your life.
Sit comfortably and tune into your body. Feel where there is strain or tightness. Yield towards your tension, accept your discomfort and watch it melt away. If you feel anxious, sad or frustrated, just let the feelings arise and depart. Do not judge or analyze, do not wish things to be different than they are - simply accept your body and mind. Be aware of the sounds and smells of the world around you, but do not cling to anything coming through the senses. Become aware of the inflow and outflow of air through your nose. Continue observing your breath - breathe in and out and just allow yourself to be here now in this present moment. Give yourself 10 or fifteen minutes of this meditation every day and you will be aligning yourself with the well of infinite possibilities.
The third aspect of drawing abundance and prosperity to us involves Intention. Quantum mechanics already understands that observation affects subatomic particles - if you think they should act or behave in a certain way, they will. If someone else thinks these particles should behave in a different way, they will. In other words it seems that the observer’s attitude, her intention, can affect the physical universe. As described earlier if you constantly think of what is lacking in your life, even though intending to have more, you will feel poverty stricken. If on the other hand you fully and confidently focus on appreciating all that you already have whilst welcoming growth and change, you will be intending to affect your environment positively and will thus attract abundance and prosperity into your life. Intention is helped by using focused affirmations such as; “I appreciate all I have and welcome this cycle of change to allow fresh energy, abundance and prosperity into my life”.
With repeated use of this affirmation opportunities will present themselves to create an even more prosperous life.
I am not suggesting that if we simplify our lives, cultivate an accepting yielding attitude and use daily intending affirmations, poverty will be magically eradicated but Daoism is a very practical and down to earth philosophy that gives us effortless tools for handling life. As we live simpler more uncluttered lives, focus on cultivating the flow of Chi and use the power of Intention we are then drawing on the well of infinite possibilities. Thus we will feel more empowered, better able to handle the challenging times we live in, more appreciative of all we already have and with this enhanced sense of wellbeing we will find ourselves ready to welcome even more abundance and prosperity into our lives.
TRUST YOUR DISEASE
If you have a major illness, use it for enlightenment. Ekhart Tolle.
Illness as Sin
Recently I came across a well known “new age” author explaining why she thinks she got cancer –according to her it was due to fear.
She described how she was afraid of everything, including failing, being disliked, letting people down, and not being good enough. In her book she suggests she had “chosen” the disease through cultivating negative mind sets. I felt deeply sad when I read this and thought of all the people I know facing the challenges of cancer or other illnesses who might read this author and conclude that they have brought their illnesses on themselves through cultivating negative states of mind. This way of thinking, to my mind, is the 21st century version of that ancient idea that illness is the result of wrong doing, of sinfulness.
For thousands of years religions have promoted the idea that we “reap what we sow” -- via karma or divine retribution we will be punished for our sins and one way in which the gods can show their displeasure is by causing illness. A couple of hundred years ago we in the western world saw the development of allopathic medicine and the idea that illness is not a result of sin but rather is a result of the body's systems breaking down -- the ailing patient is seen as a broken machine needing to be fixed. In the nineteenth century came the birth of psychiatric medicine and with it the suggestion that the symptoms of many physical illnesses have their conception in the mind.
Daoists also understand about the mind body connection but their holistic view differs radically from many of the mind body views promoted by therapists today. Many of these modern views seem to promote the idea that we are fully responsible for our bodily illnesses and that we can eradicate them through a change in mental attitude from negative to positive. This sounds very much like another take on the old belief that disease is a result of sinning—we are to blame for our illnesses and create them by cultivating negative (sinful) mind sets. This is a harsh burden to bear if you are experiencing illness.
Illness as Opportunity
To the Daoist way of thinking illness is not the fault or the choice of the person who is ill. Neither does Daoism hold the mechanistic view that compares sickness with broken machinery. Instead Daoists see disease as an opportunity and as an essential part of self development . The canon of Acupuncture, the second part of the Huang Ti Nei Ching Su Wen (The Yellow Emperor's Classic of Internal Medicine) is a text dating back to the 5th Century BC and here we find a passage that sets us straight on the Daoist view of illness. This passage, "All Diseases are rooted in the Spirit" expresses the view that the Shen (Spirit) residing in the Heart contains our Destiny (Ming) -- the lessons our Soul needs to experience. Illness is thus seen as a valuable part of this destiny. In the Daoist view diseases are to be trusted as sources of guidance –opportunities to help us in our development.
In common with the “new age” view Daoism proposes that body and mind are connected but instead of seeing illness as a negative process chosen by the sufferer, Daoists suggest that illness is pre destined, outwith our control and that it is an ideal opportunity for growth.
If you are unwell it is not going to help if you are told that you have created this experience because you have chosen to hold onto a negative emotional state. This is a perfectionist view that implies that it is expected of you to be constantly fit, well and in control of both your conscious and your unconscious emotional states at all times. Neither is the western medical model helpful when it encourages us to suppress symptoms through for example drug therapy rather than trying to understand what these symptoms are trying to tell us. It is far more helpful to trust that our illness is an opportunity for growth and this quote from Zen teacher Shunryu Suzuki, founder of San Francisco Zen Center leads us to conclude this :
“The problems you are now experiencing…”
“…will go away,” everyone expected him to say.
“…will continue for the rest of your life,”
Illness will come to us all on and off in our lives and it is not a result of any wrong doing or faulty thinking. Whilst we cannot magic it to go away we can use it and relate to it as an opportunity for growth. In the Daoist view the challenge of illness brings with it an opportunity to enter into our Shen – the mind residing in the Heart. Entry here will give us the true peace and serenity to cope with all life's vicissitudes.
If you are unwell, neither berate yourself thinking you have created this experience nor see illness as a nuisance to be swiftly eradicated. Instead see that your disease indicates that there is deep work to be done. When you are faced with illness you can choose the Daoist approach –yield towards this experience, accept and trust it, say yes to it as an opportunity given to you so that you may deepen in your ability to understand yourself, to realise what helps you in your life and what does not. What is most helpful about illness is that it gives us the opportunity to align with that healing centre –the stillness deep in the Heart. In this way although we do not have control over all that life brings we do have a choice as to how we handle our experiences. In this way we grow in compassion towards ourselves and others and find peace within –the sign of true healing regardless of whatever state of ease or disease our body may be experiencing.
This article first appeared in Positive Health Magazine. See http://www.positivehealth.com
GIVE UP HOPING FOR A BRIGHTER FUTURE (Or How I Learned To Stop Worrying and Go with the Flow)
Hope is as hollow as fear. Dao de Ching
2012 might be remembered as the year of the damp squib “Mayan Apocalypse” --the end times that never happened. This ancient calendar seemed to predict the End of the World and spawned a huge amount of fear and turmoil amongst the worriers of the world. We live in confusing times-- collapsing regimes, violence on our streets, economic instability and extreme climate change to name but a few of the horrors that surround us and it certainly seems as if the four horseman are on the brink, any minute of ushering in a new era. But there we still were on Christmas day (thankfully I had decided to buy in the pressies, nut roast and all trimmings regardless of the doom mongers), no apocalypse unleashed –panic over. And to be honest I experienced a frisson of disappointment as the date of the End of the World came and went--a part of me had hoped that the world wide chaos we currently witness might be the birth pangs of a new dawn –an Age of Aquarius ushering in a brighter future for mankind. And so the penny dropped -- hope and fear seem to be linked. It was then that I recalled the words of the Dao de Ching --”hope is as hollow as fear”. There I was hoping for a new era of peace for all mankind but all this hoping was actually encouraging fear and taking me off my Centre.
Many of us yearn for things to change, we hope for a brighter future when we find ourselves struggling with our daily commute to work, or experiencing hardship through unemployment and debts. For many of us it is hope that keeps us going –we long to win the lottery –to find some dramatic way to transform our unsatisfactory world. Daoism sees all this yearning as a waste of energy and suggests we give up wishing and hoping as it takes us off Centre to a hollow place of fear. So for example when I hope that I will win the lottery I accentuate a fear of lack of money and when I hope that a new era might dawn of peace for all mankind I accentuate a fear of present times. Through relying on hope I move away from my Centre –the place I can trust to handle and find solutions to these challenges. The Centre is the space of creativity –the place where we know, intuitively, how to respond to all our challenges large and small. When I am centred I don't need to hope for the lottery win or for world peace –instead I can align with my Centre and from there follow the way of what Daoists call Wu Wei –a completely natural, uncontrived and effortless way. This does not preclude doing the lottery (you never know!) or being inspired by the thought of a peaceful world –it just means that by aligning with my Centre I will know what response is best needed in any circumstance .
Instead of wasting energy in futile pursuit of hope (that only feeds our fear)as a first step to centring ourselves we need to accept the situation we find ourselves in. By yielding to our current circumstances we quieten the mind and calm its anxiety . In so doing we are thus trusting to our Centre and giving ourselves the opportunity to allow an intuitive response –a natural response to arise to the needs of the situation we are currently challenged by. In this way we are then aligned with our innate power, our inner strength and so can create that brighter future, handling whatever challenges arise.
So how can we let go of hoping and instead accept our reality and the way we feel about our reality, learn to quieten the mind and trust to our Centre to follow the way of Wu Wei and find our way forward? The first step is to become aware of our inner talk—the noisy chatterbox mind that spends so much time wishing and hoping. Mostly we are quite unaware of the power and intensity of this voice so here is an exercise to aid awareness of the chatterbox within. Follow the steps and move from identifying with the chatterbox mind to identifying instead with your true Self –the Centre of your being.
Sit quietly and make a written list of everything you wish and hope for. Once written and without thinking, pondering or concentrating on the list simply and gently sense how the things you hope for on that list make you feel. Tune into the emotions that arise and rather than block or resist them allow yourself to feel the feelings –joy, fear, sadness, anger --yield to all of these. As you tune in, witnessing, allowing and yielding to these feelings acknowledge that this tuning in is taking place from your Centre –you are witnessing these hopes, fears and feelings from the place of inner strength and power, the place from which you can handle whatever comes up in your life. Traditionally this Centre is about three finger widths below and two finger widths behind the navel (Xia Dantian) but for some of us it might be on the chest area (Zhong Dantian). Wherever you feel this space to be simply connect with it and feel the security and stability therein. Breathe into that space and out from it and, whilst now feeling free of the compulsion to hope, visualise those hopes and fears and all the mix of feelings evaporating away. You are now aligned with the only true reality –your strong and whole Centre and it is from this place of trust that you can now follow the way of Wu Wei –that natural and effortless path of liberation. No need to hope for a better future –its happening right here, right now.
This article first appeared in Positive Health Magazine. See http://www.positivehealth.com
When Late Summer, season of the Earth element, arrives we are presented with a major shift and transformation in seasonal energy moving from the yang nature of summer towards the yin of winter. Consequently, we are presented with an opportunity to cultivate the Earth qualities of stability and centredness within ourselves so that we may accept and flow, not only with this somewhat challenging time of change, but, indeed, with all the changes we face throughout our lives.
Traditionally the Earth element corresponds to the late stage of all the seasons – "Its influence manifests for eighteen days at the end of each of the four seasons" (Zhang Jie Bing). This end phase is one of great change and transformation – the moment when energies flow from one season and element to the next. In a way, the Earth element is thus the mother that gives birth to all the changing cycles of the seasons. As there is a greater energetic shift at Late Summer – when the flow is towards winter – than at any other time of year, so this time of year has come to be defined as a fifth season particularly associated with the Earth element – source of all changes.
Late Summer is a time to draw on and harvest the nourishing wisdom of the Dao as we face the move towards winter which, like all change, may provoke our inner uncertainties, throwing us into some confusion. By adjusting our diets, practising Chi Gung exercises, and by learning to massage certain acupuncture points, we can cultivate a sense of feeling grounded and stable in body, mind and spirit, and so encourage the attitude of calm acceptance so necessary to handle the change of season more effectively. Thus, we will find ourselves better prepared for the great energetic shift from summer towards the contraction of winter. Furthermore, we will be better prepared psychologically to handle the underlying uncertainty and vulnerability that is often a fundamental reaction to all the changes we face throughout our lives.
Calm, Regular Mealtimes
In Daoist thinking, the Earth element is seen as the centre of the body and is associated with the absorption and distribution of nutrients via the organs of the Stomach and Spleen. We need to respect this hub of activity by ensuring that we do not eat on the run or skip meals. At late summer, start to cultivate the habit of regular and routine mealtimes – eating irregularly upsets the balance of the Earth element. Digestion works best when we take in nourishment at very regular intervals throughout the day. Furthermore, to do otherwise can cause disruptions in blood sugar levels leading to symptoms of hypoglycaemia – shakiness, anxiety and fatigue.
Simple carbohydrates, particularly white sugar and white flour in cakes, sweets, pasta, bread and potatoes, can also cause disruptions in blood sugar levels and further disturb the balance of the Earth element. It is certainly a good idea to take the opportunity at this time of year to understand the body mind connection between the consumption of these foods and feeling off-centre and out of balance. When we eat simple carbohydrates, there is a release of sugar fairly rapidly into the bloodstream and this means that blood sugar levels may plummet later on giving rise to the hypoglycaemic symptoms mentioned above.
To stabilize blood sugar levels make sure you eat foods that give a slow and steady release of sugar into the bloodstream. Slow releasing carbohydrates, such as grains and pulses and fruit and vegetables, give your body energy that is sustainable. Protein-rich foods are excellent for maintaining blood sugar levels and for strengthening the Spleen. 'Go to work on an egg' is a good idea – eating protein at breakfast helps avoid these blood sugar swings. Try chicken stir fry at lunch and save your carbohydrates for your evening meal when you know you need to feel sleepy. In these ways we can strengthen the Earth element and feel more energized, stable and calm throughout the day.
At this time of late summer, start to leave aside the salads and raw foods of summer and begin to eat warm food – eating cooked food in soups and stir fries means the body will be able to absorb the energy from the food more easily. Traditionally, foods associated with Earth are millet, apricots and beef. But be reminded, according to Chinese Medicine, the Earth element is strengthened not simply by the type of foods eaten, but by the way we eat – regular meals eaten in a calm and unhurried manner are just as important as what we eat. In these ways, we cultivate the centredness that is so necessary to accept and flow with the change of season.
Balancing the Centre
At this time of seasonal change, take the opportunity to do the following Chi Gung exercise daily. Practising these movements regularly will help us to be more fully present, grounded and connected to handle this transition of Late Summer and all life's changes more easily.
• Stand in the basic Chi Gung position – feet parallel and shoulder width apart, knees slightly bent, the lower back straight and the tail bone tucked in.
• Place your hands on the lower abdomen, breathe deeply and evenly, feeling the breath penetrating into the lower abdomen.
• Lift the forearms and allow the hands to form a circle – fingertips facing each other and palms facing towards the abdomen. Breathe naturally and, with eyes closed, hold the position for a few minutes.
• Now you are ready to harmonize and balance the energy of the Earth element by doing the following exercise.
Raising the Hands
• Stand again in the basic Chi Gung position.
• Raise your left hand above your head, rotating the arm so that the palm faces upwards, fingers pointing inwards. At the same time, lower your right hand with the palm facing downwards and the fingers pointing inwards. Inhale as you push up with your left hand and down with your right.
• Exhale as you return to the starting position.
• Do the same movement on the other side pushing upwards with your right hand and downwards with your left hand.
• Repeat five more times.
The Chi energy of the Earth element has two major pathways which correspond to the Stomach and the Spleen. The acupressure points on these pathways – Stomach 36 and Spleen 6 – can be massaged daily to strengthen and stimulate the Earth element and the energy of its associated organs.
• To find Spleen 6 'Three Yin Crossing': This point is found by measuring three acupuncture inches (one inch is equal to the width across the joint of the thumb) above the inner ankle bone and press into the back edge of the inner leg bone. Press in firmly and rotate clockwise 10 times on each leg.
• To find Stomach 36 'Leg Three Miles': At the top of and on the outer edge of the shin bone under the knee. Press in firmly and rotate clockwise 10 times on each leg.
• Acupressure these points daily, preferably between 7 and 11am when the Earth energies are at their peak.
Working with Uncertainty
At this time of Late Summer, we may be reminded of our basic insecurity as we journey on the spinning Earth through, not only this change of season, but all the changes of our lives. We can never control all the outcomes of our efforts, never make our time here into a safe little womb. However, the one thing we do have control over is our attitude towards our feelings of insecurity.
We do not know how things will turn out, but through the Dao we can cultivate ways to work positively with our anxious feelings. Daoist practices such as eating regularly and calmly, practising Chi Gung exercises and massaging acupressure points, will help us to ground, centre and stabilize our Earth energy so that we are more able to respond with a positive acceptance to whatever life presents us. Thus, we find the inner strength to work with and handle all our uncertainties, and find peace of mind – not only at this time of Late Summer but throughout the journey of our lives.
This article first appeared in Positive Health Magazine 2015. See www.positivehealth.com
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I AM EVERYONE (or how to live together peacefully)
When people see some things as beautiful,
Other things become ugly.
When people see some things as good,..
Other things become bad.
(Dao De Jing, Chapter 2)
At the time of writing the world has just witnessed the awful massacre of the editorial staff at the Charlie Hebdo magazine. News of the murders was greeted with shock and fear but hard on the heels of those emotions camea spontaneous uprush of grief, anger and solidarity as people gathered in central Paris to proclaim “Je Suis Charlie”. This was an understandably emotional reaction to an attack on the values of liberty and freedom of speech –values held in high esteem in the west. By saying “I am Charlie” people were supporting not only the murdered staff of the magazine but also the right to free speech. The response in Paris was peaceful and measured but none the less this was not the Daoist Way.
For most of us, once we take sides and attach ourselves to one cause or thing we are automatically taking a position that opposes another cause or thing. As in the quote above if you see some things as beautiful then other things will appear ugly. In this way you become prejudiced and this will affect your flow of Chi and therefore how you respond to any given situation. To hold the view, as many who gathered in Paris did, to the terrible massacre at the Charlie Hebdo office, that all liberal thinking is entirely right entails believing that all extremists are totally wrong. Discriminating in this way, adhering firmly to one side, creates an “us and them”. This dualistic way of thinking means we are more likely to prejudge “them” as being evil villains. Being prejudiced in this way we feel angry and fearful and theseemotions will block the flow of our vital Chi energy, distorting our perception and making us unable to resolve challenging situations peacefully. Daoism understands this process and teaches us instead to perceive situations through a lens that is non prejudicial, clear and sensitive so that we may find creative and peaceful ways to live with one another.
Of course we must condemn the violent murders of the Charlie Hebdo staff –no doubt about it but we need to take a non- prejudicial, clear and sensitive position towards challenging situations rather than finding ourselves caught up in an emotional whirlwind. As we cultivate non-discrimination, letting go of anger and fear, we are more likely to reach an outcome that is harmonious and healing. In order to do this we need to be sensitive and clear in ourselves and part of this involves examining and owning our own dark side. We need to be aware of our own personal submerged feelings and prejudices and also the collective feelings and prejudices in our society. There are many covert forms of extremism within our own western society –for example in the way we pollute our planet with digital technology or GM crops or in the way we push images of thin people as being role models for young women –the examples are numerous! And it is also extremist to lack sensitivity for someone’s religious viewpoint!
Living in Harmony
Daoism suggests that to collectively heal and live together in harmony we need to consciously cultivate non prejudicial, clear and sensitive qualities in ourselves –qualities in short supply in the extremist cartoons of Charlie Hebdo. The Daoist does not participate in a culture of separation and prejudice –creating barriers between people is seen as a way of blocking and wasting energy -- precious Chi must never be blocked or wasted! So rather than being extremist and taking sides, feeding anger and fear, Daoists cultivate non - discrimination and dispassion so that they may encourage a free flow of Chi and so create harmony and healing within. Furthermore as Daoists seek harmony in this way for themselves they are aware that, as part of the whole, they affect the entire web of life. So by not taking sides, instead of saying "I am Charlie" Daoists might say "I am Everyone" and by practising non-discriminate thinking, peaceful solutions to challenging situations are more easily attained.
Here is an exercise to encourage non discriminate thinking, openness and thus free flow of Chi.
Decide to consciously spend one day per week fully listening when conversing. Rather than formulating opinions stay fully open and hear the other person. Rather than judging and evaluating a conversation allow yourself to stay in touch with how you feel during your conversations that day.
Use the following techniques
1. In conversation stay open, do not interrupt but instead listen fully.
2. Observe how you listen –are you absorbing what is actually being said or imposing what you would like to hear? Are you thinking ahead to your reply rather than staying present with what is being said? Are you judging the person you are conversing with?
3. Observe how you feel during conversations. Are you feeling happy, angry, sad? Be aware where you are holding emotions in your body –is your chest tight, shoulders stooped? Are you clenching your hands, breathing from your upper chest? As you tune in allow yourself to let go and release tension, breathe gently from your belly.
4. After interacting with someone reflect on how you feel and if you can, send that person the light of loving peacefulness from your heart.
These techniques will become habitual if practised enough and in this way we encourage non discriminate thinking, openness and free flow of Chi bringing peaceful, harmonious resolutions to challenging situations.
This article first appeared in Positive Health Magazine 2015. See www.positivehealth.com
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THE DAO AND I…..
I trained at The College of Traditional Chinese Acupuncture in Leamington Spa with Professor Worsley from 1981 gaining my Lic Ac. in 1984. The philosophy behind the healing art of acupuncture is Daoism which means The Way. Through studying Daoist principles I learnt that in order to fully comprehend the Dao I needed to let go of trying to study it! –instead I needed to relax, be myself, connect with my energy, go out into nature whenever possible, and simply enjoy feeling fully alive.
In the words of the great Daoist sage, Lao Tsu: ‘That which can be named is not the true Dao’ --the Dao is not something to put into words. But if we try to describe it we might say that the Dao teaches wu-wei, the way of no-action and this basically means to live in a simple, uncontrived and modest way –in harmony with nature.
“Daoists view the universe as the same as, or inseparable from, themselves so that Lao-tzu could say, “Without leaving my house, I know the whole universe.” This implies that the art of life is more like navigation than warfare, for what is important is to understand the winds, the tides, the currents, the seasons, and the principles of growth and decay, so that one’s actions may use them and not fight them.” ~Alan Watts
The classic text, the Dao-De Jing, says;
‘The Dao gives birth to the One.
The One gives birth to the Two.
The Two gives birth to the Three.
The Three give birth to the Ten Thousand.’
These words describe how the Dao, the essence of all, gives birth to the universe (the One) which in turn gives birth to Yin and Yang (the Two). Yin and Yang are opposites and need to be in balance: Yin is female, dark, wet, cold, the moon, autumn and winter. Yang is male, light, dry, hot, the sun, spring and summer. We can balance yin and yang through the food we eat, our living conditions and through exercise forms such as Chi Gung and also through acupuncture and herbal medicine.
The purpose of this web site is simply to promote the Daoist Way –these articles are hopefully helpful to everyone and there is a section especially aimed at those whose Way has involved disability –particularly polio –something I experienced from an early age.
Many of the articles appearing here have first appeared in my column “A Balanced Way of Living. Daoist tips for the 21st century” in Positive Health magazine –see www.positivehealth.com If you would like to be on my mailing list please feel free to contact me at email@example.com and I will notify you whenever a new article appears.