Greetings Dear Readers,
What really blows my mind about Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) is its’ rootedness in ancient scriptures (dating back between 2000-5000 years ago). What’s even more fascinating (almost to the point of obsession for TCM geeks like me) is the way ancient medical texts such as the Nei Jing (Yellow Emporer’s Classic) and various Taoist and Buddhist texts describe masters and sages with states of health that far surpass what we ourselves experience even at the best of times. In the 16 years since I first discovered TCM, I have been fixated on this one question: What were these ancient people doing back then that made them so unbelievably healthy and why do us modern people, with all our technology and material advancement, not have access to those states?
Following a Chinese Philosophy course this last month, I have distilled a bit of information about what makes this possible. Basically, TCM holds the bar much higher as far as one’s physical and mental health are concerned. Many detailed instructions are given on eating, sleeping, breathing, exercising, even and especially, new ways of thinking. That’s really what it’s about for Westerners discovering ancient teachings from the orient, nothing less than a paradigm shift, a complete shift in our cultural ways of thinking. TCM looks at symptoms that to us as Westerners seem like no big deal and explains them as imbalances that can be corrected, setting us on a journey to health that’s better than what we thought possible. A bit overwhelming at first, but taken from another perspective, the healing tools are often quite simple. The trick is building these new tools into your daily life. The magic number is 21. Do something for 21 days it becomes habit. Once they become habit, you’re on auto-pilot and barely need to think about it anymore. Then after a few months, it’s surprise, better health.
These last 2 years I’ve been incorporating more and more Qi Gong into my life. Admittedly, I can be a bit lazy but what keeps me going is that I keep experiencing the benefits from increased attention span to a less need for sleep to an increase in strength and energy. And overall I haven’t pushed myself very hard to do this. A bit of discipline, yes, straining, no. Some people want to go to Qi Gong classes every week but for me I haven’t always had time for that. And thankfully, what I’ve learned is that Qi Gong is not only physical exercises but also mental attention and intention: where you put your mind, and this is something I can practice anywhere, almost anytime. Because probably like a lot of you, I’m living the busy modern life and squeezing things in where I can. It’s looked more like just taking 5 or 10 minutes here and there in my day while I’m making tea or have a break at work or school. It’s really been a matter of making the decision to do it, the intention. Then when those little windows of time open up, I act on it.
In all these ancient teachings in TCM, Buddhism and Daoism, the same mantra pops up again and again: in order to heal the body we must heal the mind. TCM and Daoism speak about cultivating virtues which bring strength and health to our organ systems: Joy benefits the Heart, Empathy benefits the Spleen, Courage and Integrity benefit the Lungs, Fearlessness benefits the Kidneys and Kindness benefits the Liver. Buddhism speaks a lot to the need to purify one’s mind. There is a space, a big beautiful amazing space underneath all the dramas and stresses and worries that circle around our minds many times a day. We can clear up the negative thoughts and get to the beautiful space, the pure nature of our root mind through purification.
How do we purify our minds? Having just come back from a Buddhist retreat in New York state last week, we received teachings on four nifty little practices that Buddha called “The Four Opponent Powers”. Basically, when we goof up in life, (which, let’s face it, happens daily), there are easy ways to clean up the karma. Fantastic. The Four Opponent Powers are: The Power of Regret, The Power of Reliance, The Power of the Opponent Force and The Power of Promise. Here’s the translation: so I said something dumb to someone yesterday and it hurt their feelings, so Regret means I generate a feeling of wishing I hadn’t hurt someone with my words. It’s NOT guilt, just “oops, that was a mistake”. Like if we accidentally ingested poison we don’t sit around moping about it, we just get ourself to the hospital quick. Reliance means we have faith in holy beings for guidance, protection and blessings. Opponent Force means doing virtuous actions such as apologizing or being more kind and helpful to people to counter our mistake and finally, Promise means we set a period of time such as a day, a week, a month where we promise to avoid some form of negativity. This may sound like something you heard when you were in kindergarden but if you think about it deeply, you’ll realize how relevant these teachings are to our world today and even if we all applied just a bit of this to our lives, what a difference it would make.
What do you think about healing the mind with these ancient teachings? Love to hear your comments and questions.