Am just back from China, where I was enrolled in a two-week course in classical Chinese Medicine and the cultivation of health. We studied very intensively every day, with the weekends off to practice, sight see, and rest.
The focus of the afternoon classes was acupuncture- various protocols and diagnostic principles, herbal medicine, moxabustion practices, diet, and even a little bit of Chinese astrology. We had a wonderful section on scalp acupuncture, which is so effective for neurological issues including pain, mobility, anxiety, depression, learning, autism, stroke recovery, and many more. We practiced on each other and used ourselves as case studies to enhance our understanding of diagnosis and treatment. How wonderful to think of lifting a weight from people’s lives by helping them activate their inner resources to heal.
The morning sessions were held outdoors in the park. We learned and practiced a form of bagua, as well as several different meditation practices- Buddhist and Taoist, all with the purpose of cultivation of health, strength, and capacity.
I am very excited to integrate my new learning into my practice. What has been most impactful has been realizing how essential it is to focus on health cultivation. As a culture, we don’t prioritize this, China was a better example.
I loved to see people out in the parks practicing martial arts. People would domoxa treatments, even in public, as it is well known that the application of moxa is restorative. The pharmacy had an extensive raw herb apothecary. Everywhere there were inexpensive spas where you could get massage, foot massage, and moxa treatments. The food was slow cooked and healthful, for the most part. The culture seemed to support people taking care of themselves, more than in our culture, which is so focused on productivity.
Taking care of ourselves, or health cultivation requires an active commitment. And it’s not just about the perfect workout or the newest and best supplement or dietary regime. We have to uncover those areas where we tend to go out of balance and commit to cultivating qualities that can bring us back to harmony.
The Buddhists have a concept and symbol of the phurpa or dagger, which is about the clarity to break through confusion and obstructions. The chant om benza satto hum gives us the ability to dissolve spiritual impurities and eliminate obstacles along the path to enlightenment that come from our past negative actions. Part of the Buddhist tradition is about acceptance and equanimity, but there is also an element of fierceness, that we benefit from if we can compassionately apply it to ourselves, where we absolutely don’t tolerate self harm and actions, thoughts, and attitudes which don’t serve our good.
We all have long standing patterns that stand in the way of our own self-care. One is the tendency to give too much and not take in enough. We can worry about others, which is draining for us. This is apropos of the season, as we are still in the time of the Earth element with the emotion of sympathy. What do we do about this? How do we have better boundaries? How do we really nurture self while fulfilling our responsibilities to others? Usually it is about subtle shifts in awareness. Review what is working and not working- where do you feel drained, where are you energized? Can you let go of things which are draining or do them differently? If you continue to do things that aren’t healthy- ask yourself why? What are you getting out of it? What do you need? How could you meet those needs in healthier ways? Can you be there for yourself first, and still be there for others?
One teacher taught me about filling up my heart and connecting to others by overflowing to them- finding my own endless source and helping to connect others to their own source through my overflowing heart.
As a health care provider, giving too much has been an issue for me. I would feel drained and compensate by consuming. I had to realize how important my health was, how much I wanted to live, and to recognize a kind of urgent situation where I have to set good limits on what I can give. I have to make sure my life is full of replenishments, and I have to avoid negative thinking- in myself and others- like the very plague that it is. I have to be fierce when my old attitudes about self indulgence show up and I have to tell myself to grow up, buck up, and do what will get me the results I want, not what I feel like in the moment (one more piece of chocolate or extra glass of wine). I have to replenish in healthy ways and only give to the extent that I can without exhausting my inner resources. I have to stay tuned in to my capacities and examine my motivation for giving. If I give from an overflowing heart, it often renews me, it is only when it is out of a sense of “should” that I feel exhausted.
We have to have a fierce love for ourselves, we have to think long term and big picture and overcome our less helpful tendencies, even when they are about doing good for others. Taking care of ourselves by using a good “no” is actually the best thing we can do for others. Om Benza Satto Hum
It is important to cultivate a sense of deep caring. This is not something that we should take for granted. We need to care deeply about quality, and not settle. We should care about our homes, and not allow clutter; care about our work, and not overextend; care about what we consume, and have it be the finest ingredients we can afford. Deeply caring is how we express our love. It is sometimes easier to not care so much or to care about the wrong things- how things look, the short term pleasure, the convenience- but caring deeply can create a framework for our lives which can bring meaning and reward and is a basis for the cultivation of well being.
Various specific practices can fill our wells, so that we have more to give. Diet and exercise are, of course crucial, but also time in nature, creative expression, meditative calming activities, and meditation itself. It is so important to give ourselves a break from our demanding thoughts and to just be. I really enjoyed the specific meditative practices I recently learned, as I could feel the qi building within, and actually see it moving between my hands. It was so nice to concentrate on something like that, and on breathing into the kidneys, and holding the hands over the dantien to bring up the Qi. There is always more to learn about self care, what is important is to recognize how essential good self care is, and to persist in practicing ways that work for you.
One idea that works for me is to have an adventure planned that I can look forward to. Beijing was awesome and I love learning while traveling. The chance to experience how others live and to take in the richness and variety of exotic cultures and different environments is so stimulating. It is very healing and helpful, as well as fun!
If you enjoy unusual adventures, consider joining me on the fabulous upcoming trip– Oaxaca, the Magic and the Medicine, Jan 19-30. I can’t speak highly enough about this journey. It is a chance to really shift to a deep sense of gratitude, blessed by so many things at once- the exploration of a beautiful land, the enjoyment of wonderful food, lovely places, and interesting stories, the safety of an intimate group, the laughter and fun of shared joy, lots of learning and new experiences, and the prayers and intentions of the healers we work with along the way. Check it out