Exploring Wisdom: Self-Care as a Healer
In this series, regular Art of Living Retreat Center presenters Wah! and Dr. James Leary answer your questions about life, love, and spirituality.
“What can a healer do to take care of their energy, and not exhaust themselves when taking care of others?”
James: That’s a good one. I hear it all the time, from teachers and healers of a huge variety of modalities. The most common advice I hear in regards to this question is to remain grounded. As a healer, it’s easy to take other people’s energy and feel it as we work with it. You can allow your intuition to take over and to give you guidance as you work with what you know and what you feel.
So grounding is great until you get tired, until you take on something that you can’t handle in the moment. Rooting is much more effective.
If you look at trees, plants, everything that grows in nature, it all has a root system. If we root, energy can continuously move through us and return to the earth. When you’re feeling other people’s energies, it’s good to just visualize. Be like a tree or a plant and just allow these energies to constantly root through you. You could be 56 floors up in a skyscraper and still feel that you’re rooted to the earth. It’s so tangible.
Wah!: When you’re working with other people, affirm the whole time that they are capable of healing themselves. Often after sessions, someone will say “Oh, thank you so much, you fixed me.” and James will say, “No, I didn’t. We worked together and you did it yourself.”
True healing is something that the person who is ailing does for him or herself. And so, in your work as a healer, always have the feeling that it’s a perfect world. The people who are coming to you are not broken. They’re just working through a certain issue. They’re learning something, and so the work you do with them or for them is something that you’re doing in order to brighten your own countenance.
You don’t feel drained, because what you’re doing is increasing your light, increasing your heart energy by doing this service and by helping someone who already has the ability within themselves to do their own healing. You know for sure that they will work through his issue in a way that is correct for them.
If you take on and try to do the work of another person or try to push their timing, that’s not your work to do. It’s their work to do. They do it in their own time, so this feeling of buoyancycx5 and joy is increased in your system as you work with them, because you’ve increased your own light and have affirmed that the person you’re working on is perfect. They’re going to get all of the blessings and information and guidance they need.
Wah! Wah! blends a seductive, Eastern-tinged spiritual sound with a unique mix of pop, world music, ambient electronica, hip hop, and reggae. She teaches women’s leadership trainings, sound healing workshops, yoga teacher trainings, and performs healing concerts in planetariums and theaters throughout the United States.
Dr. James Leary, DOM, DMQ, PhD, has been treating people successfully for 30 years. His Life Qi Renewal is a protocol for life activation which draws from many teachers and healing methods. Dr. Leary’s expertise has been utilized by healing therapists, professional athletes, and corporate executives all over the world.
Samadhi and the Nature of Enlightenment
There are many different types of Samadhi. “Dhi” means intellect, or consciousness, and “sama” means equanimous, so Samadhi means an equanimous intellect.
When Samadhi becomes so stable that you don’t need to do anything, you don’t even need to meditate, then that state is called enlightenment. Until then, the practice of Samadhi is essential.
Samadhi is as though you are not there: see, whenever you get very deep rest and a sense of total peace within yourself, know that you have experienced a little bit of Samadhi. Unless you touch that area deep inside, you don’t get that freshness and deep rest and essence of joy or contentment. We sit for a little while, and then afterwards, as usual, things will move — but with practice, then it comes to a stage where Samadhi doesn’t leave you, you don’t need to hold onto it, and that stage doesn’t leave you at all.
Sri Sri Ravi Shankar is a humanitarian and spiritual leader, an ambassador of peace and human values. Through his life and work, Sri Sri has inspired millions around the world with a vision of a stress-free, violence-free world. He has founded courses that provide techniques and tools to live a deeper, more joyous life and he has established nonprofit organizations that recognize a common human identity above the boundaries of race, nationality, and religion.
Men’s Spirituality & Power Animals
Men can’t help but be spiritual. The fact of being alive is a spiritual experience, yet many have lost their conscious awareness of this fundamental truth. Gradually over the past several centuries, the rational, logical mind has usurped the creative wisdom of Spirit and the deeper awareness of the interconnectivity of all life. Civilization has further eroded men’s intimate association with the natural world, and instead, earth and all its non-human inhabitants– plant, animal and mineral– have been viewed solely as resources for the sustenance of more and more human beings. The prevailing belief has been that the planet is to be dominated and subdued rather than viewed as a beautiful, giving, abundant Mother Earth with whom we can have a mutually beneficial and cooperative relationship.
Men’s spirituality, internal rhythms, and instinctual selves
What happens for most of us men raised with this as the norm is that we become removed not only from the more natural rhythms and seasons of the earth, but dissociated from our own internal rhythms and instinctual selves. Many never hear– or else ignore– the call of Spirit that beckons us to follow our soul’s destiny. Instead, we chase materiality to the exclusion of the deeper currents of life. Although this path may yield great riches– or at least a comfortable existence– the cost to our bodies and our souls is great.
One of my favorite poems by Rainier Maria Rilke (translation by Robert Bly,) speaks to this:
Sometimes a man stands up during supper
and walks outdoors, and keeps on walking,
because of a church that stands somewhere in the East.
And his children say blessings on him
as if he were dead.
And another man, who remains inside his own house,
dies there, inside the dishes and in the glasses,
so that his children have to go far out
into the world
toward that same church, which he forgot.
One of the men’s groups I have participated in would read this as part of the opening ceremony each meeting. It speaks to the spiritual adventurer that lies inside every man. Typically, unless he is raised in a way that supports this kind of exploration, his soul’s urgings to seek out the bigger truths of the earth and the cosmos remain dormant until such time as they are awakened– if they ever are.
The two by four approach
Over the many years of working with men, I’ve found that this awakening can sometimes come as a result of the “two by four” approach. This happens when a man is going along, thinking everything’s okay with his work and his relationship, (even though there’s this nagging voice inside saying otherwise,) and God hits him with a metaphorical two by four. His wife divorces him, he gets laid off from his job or his addictions catch up to him– some momentous disruption of his life takes place. He can ignore this or take it as a signal to change, but by the time he’s in his late 30’s or 40’s, it becomes more difficult to deny it.
When lack clarifies
I was in serious straits following my divorce from the mother of my two daughters. I felt alone, confused and unclear about what direction my life was taking. I loved my girls, but didn’t feel competent as their father. I was burdened with guilt from divorcing their mother while they were still young. I knew I had to change my life, but wasn’t sure where to go. The seeds of my spiritual awakening had actually begun during my marriage, following a dramatic realization that I felt unlovable as well as unworthy of being loved. It took the separation to underscore a heartfelt need for a deeper and more profound love– a kind of love that I later realized to be the love that all spiritual masters spoke of.
During the years that followed, I found solace in a sequence of spiritually focused organizations. My involvement in each typically lasted about three to four years, at which point I would move on and explore another “church that stands somewhere in the East.” About fifteen years ago, my seeking brought me to shamanism. From my first initiation, I knew it was the path I’d follow for the rest of my life. I also realized that each step I’d taken had been necessary to move to the next one.
Animal spirit guides
I’m not suggesting that every man needs to follow a shamanic path. However, there are important aspects of shamanic practices that I’ve found to be particularly attractive to a lot of men.
One of these shamanic technologies is forming a relationship with an animal spirit guide, or power animal. Power animals touch something deep and ancient inside a man, a yearning for a more intimate and heartfelt relationship with the natural world. That relationship has often been forgotten in the haste, competitiveness and isolation from nature that are so endemic to the modern world and modern man. Power animals help a man remember at a profound level his ancient and interrelated connection to Mother Earth. Working with power animals and animal spirit guides is a spiritually practical way to work with the various energies of the earth.
The whole notion of power animals has its roots in some of the earliest spiritual practices of humans cross-culturally. It continues in indigenous peoples today. It’s particularly fitting for today, when many men are awakening to the wisdom of our long-ago ancestors and realizing that so-called “primitive” people have much to teach us.
Part of the pack
Our ancestors also knew another secret: we need one another. Sometimes our lives depended on our connection to each other, and in combat situations this is still true. These days, getting together with other men generally happens in order to work together, play a sport or go to the pub and have a few– all perfectly legitimate ways for men to hang out together. Yet at some point in a man’s life, it’s important to expand on these characteristic ways of being together, to break the sense of isolation that many men experience– to be supported by other men in our mission and purpose on this earth. This is as spiritual as a man can get.
In all indigenous cultures, men would spend a good deal of their time together, whether hunting or preparing and enacting rituals to honor the sacredness of life. In Australian aboriginal cultures, men’s sacred ceremonies were exclusive of females, and vice-versa.
I’m a strong advocate of us gathering in groups on a regular basis to share our triumphs and concerns, and to give and receive support with one another. I’ve been involved in men’s groups for the majority of my adult life, and I can say unequivocally that this has made me a better man. I’ve developed close relationships with a few men who are spiritual brothers, ones I can call on in a time of need. And by need, I don’t mean only when I’m broken and bleeding, but milder needs as well.
Yes, there are blocks for most of us to overcome– the main one being to trust other men enough to be vulnerable. We’ve all been hurt in some way by other men, starting with father, and betrayals by other men stay with us for a long time. We may even have been teased for being too sensitive. In addition, when men get together, the specter of homophobia can appear, inhibiting us from revealing our inner feelings and thoughts. It takes a different sort of courage to confront these blocks and overcome them, to test the waters of trusting other men, to discern who can be trusted– and who can’t.
If you think of yourself as a spiritual seeker, then I strongly encourage you to look into the idea of a men’s group. You can put it together yourself with a couple of mates that you’re close to, taking a leadership role. Again, it requires courage to take this kind of risk, but the worst that can happen isn’t all that bad, and the rewards will become self-evident by your taking such a bold step.
Whether you’re new to shamanism, already have some training, or curious as to how you can integrate these principles into your daily life and/or an alternative healing practice, deepen your experience and understanding of shamanic realities. Dr. Steven Farmer hosts Integrating Shamanism Into Your Life and Work at the Art of Living Retreat Center from November 16-18, 2018.
Dr. Steven Farmer is a psychotherapist, shamanic healer, and the author of several best-selling books and oracle cards. In addition to workshops on Animal Spirit Guides, Integrative Breathwork, Healing Ancestral Karma, and shamanism, Dr. Farmer offers Integrative Healing sessions in person or remotely by phone, Zoom, or Skype, as well as an individualized Spiritual Mentorship program. He is on the board of the Society of Shamanic Practice and also offers a certification program, the Earth Magic® Practitioner training.
This article first appeared in Creations Magazine, and is reposted with permission from the author.
Life is a Journey
The path of life doesn’t always take us where we want to go. Sometimes, circumstances force us to deal with things we don’t want to have to deal with. Other times, where life takes us is so much better than our grandest dreams.
Life is a journey.
I was reminded of this the other day, when I was taking a walk. It was just a normal walk, but it was a good lesson to me, and maybe to you, to keep moving forward. Whatever season of life you’re in. Whatever you’re facing. Whatever is going on in your life.
I walked down the path. I’d been on this path, many times, and love it there. Walking in the woods is one of my favorite things to do, and I walk the same path many times each week. Sometimes, with a friend, other times, alone.
Life is a journey.
A new path, a new discovery
As I began to turn, taking my normal route, something caused me to pause. I’m not sure what it was, but instead of turning the way I usually go, I stopped. I hesitated. I wondered, “What would happen if I went another way?”
I found myself thinking, “What’s down there?”
I’d never asked this question before. Never thought to even wonder what was down the other path. But, in that moment, for some reason, I wanted to know. I wanted to discover what was there.
Instead of turning the way I’ve always gone, I turned the other way. I went down the opposite path. I took a chance.
I walked for a little while, taking in all my surroundings, admiring the beautiful woods. There were new things to see, to discover, and I was glad I had ventured down this different path.
It was a good lesson for me.
I’ve been struggling with several things in my life, and wasn’t sure which way I wanted to go. I’ve been consumed with thinking about which decision would be “best,” not even considering taking a different approach. Going down a different path.
Don’t be afraid to walk down another path. To take a risk. To go where you haven’t been before. Sure, there’s a risk when we walk into the unknown. We don’t know what we’ll find. We don’t know what we’ll see. We don’t know how it will turn out.
But, that’s OK.
Sometimes, we need to push ourselves down a new path. Don’t ignore the feeling in your heart that tells you you’re ready for something new. Maybe it’s a new hobby. Maybe it’s a new job. Maybe it’s something you haven’t even thought about yet.
It’s easy to get stuck in a rut. It’s easy to get used to walking down the same path, day after day. It’s easy to accept “this is the way it is.” However, don’t forget, each day, you have a choice.
A new day ahead of you, on life’s journey.
To explore the world.
To notice all the amazing things life has to offer.
To challenge yourself to walk down a new path.
That doesn’t mean you aren’t happy with what you have or don’t appreciate the blessings in your life. It just means, for whatever reason, you want more. Maybe a new challenge. Maybe a new friend. Maybe just the excitement something new can bring.
Focus your attention
Listen to your heart. Listen to that pull you might feel inside yourself, and be willing to go down a new path. You never know what you’ll discover or find. That’s the wonderful thing about life, there’s always something new to learn, something new to experience, something new to discover.
Savor all your experiences. Take it all in.
Sure, sometimes the journey of life takes a turn we don’t want to be on.
When that happens, push through it. Soldier on. Lean on your friends and family and find the inner strength you possess to get passed it. You will.
On the same walk, several days later, I paused at the spot where I had taken the new turn. I hesitated again, trying to decide which way to go. I smiled at myself, as I turned down my “normal” route.
It’s always nice to come back to what’s familiar, especially after trying something new. The good news, most of the time it’s still there. This time, as I walked the usual path, I saw it with a renewed sense of appreciation.
Find meaning each day.
Do you want more from life? Do you feel a lack of fun, joy, passion or success? Whether you’ve been through a tough time, or are dusting yourself off after a percieved failure, or whether you’ve simply fallen into a rut which you’re struggling to get out of–this is the transformative pick-me-up for you. Dara Kurtz and Garth Callaghan host You Deserve to Thrive at the Art of Living Retreat Center from November 2-4, 2018.
Dara Kurtz is a cancer survivor, inspirational author, and speaker who shares her life-changing work with people all over the world through workshops, media, and as a coach. She has learned first-hand how to get through difficult times and create the life she truly desires.
This article first appeared on Crazy Perfect Life, and is reposted with permission from the author.
Keep the Drama on the Page
Drama belongs on the page. We have a mythology which tells us writers’ lives are dramatic, but this mythology does not serve us. Writers’ lives are best non-dramatic. It serves us to keep drama at bay.
Writing when you just don’t feel like it
Today I woke up tired and crabby. I didn’t fall asleep until 2:30 AM, and this morning I was filled with anxiety— and might I add, drama. Fatigue clouded my thoughts and the day looked bleak ahead of me. I tried to sleep again, but was unsuccessful, and eventually I got up and filled myself with coffee. Still, I was “tired and wired”— anxious and fatigued. I didn’t want to write. I wasn’t “in the mood.” And yet, I knew the act of writing would bring me cheer.
I set my pen to the page. I had learned from long years of practice that writing always cheered me. I wrote about the clouded-obscured mountain out the window. The weather matched my dour mood. The day was grey and chill. I complained on the page. Nothing suited me. But what was this? My rancor was yielding to a stronger, better mood.
Moving to optimism
“I don’t want to write,” I wrote, “I’m full of drama and pessimism today.” And yet, in writing, I found myself gently moved to optimism. My mood lightened perceptibly. I found myself ready to write further. It was as if by putting my dour sentiments on the page I underwent an exorcism. The demon despair was vanquished. I found myself open-hearted. My sour mood transformed slowly into something more like hope. I wrote, “It is a grey day, but the clouds are thinning. A hint of blue sky looms overhead. And what’s this? Now we have a glint of sun. The day promises to become bright. My mood follows suit.” I have been writing for half an hour, not very long, but long enough. My mood could now be described as “cheery.” Writing has rescued the day from the dramatic doldrums I woke up in.
Join Julia at the Art of Living Retreat Center from November 9th-11th, 2018 for her retreat, The Artist’s Way: Blasting Through Blocks.
Julia Cameron has been an active artist for over four decades. She is the author of more than forty books, including such bestselling works on the creative process as The Artist’s Way, Walking in This World and Finding Water. Also a novelist, playwright, songwriter and poet, she has multiple credits in theater, film and television. 2017 marked the 25th anniversary of The Artist’s Way, with over five million copies sold.
This post first appeared on juliacameronlive.com, and is reposted with permission from the author.
Four Key Lessons along the Journey to Work-Life Integration
An eternal student, I have intense curiosity about this life, about my purpose, about what I find to be truly meaningful. 10 years ago, after the birth of my 3rd child, I began a journey of deep inquiry about work life balance and discovered the empowering gift of integration. Integration brings with it the idea of inherent wholeness, a sense of deep interconnectedness, and both the art and science of living well in relationship with self and others.
Here are 4 lessons that I continue to practice. From this place, I am tapping into the wisdom of living an integrated life.
1 – Open Heart/Mind to Learning
I often carry around a rainbow-colored backpack that my daughter gave me as a reminder of my commitment to ongoing learning. From the place of student, I open my heart and mind to new teachers, to new methodologies, to new training, and to the works of the many souls who have passionately committed themselves to going deeper and discovering what is unknown to them. I delight in the questions, in the discovery, in the Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind of it all. And from that place, I feel a sense of wholeness and interconnectedness to myself and those around me. The spirit of this led me to yoga teacher training, to Birkman Method certification, to coaching certification with Newfield Network and Tiara International. I delight in sharing, with others and my clients, the jewels I’ve learned along the way to see what resonates with them.
2 – Elicit the Support of Mentors and Loved Ones
I learned, sometimes through failure and disappointment, that I do not need to go through this journey alone. At times when I fell down or lost hope, what was instrumental in lifting me out of the fog of uncertainty was the compassion, love and wisdom of my support network and my mentors along the way. What I discovered is that it is not a one-sided conversation but a mutual sharing of love and understanding that is exchanged when I spend time with them and reveal my vulnerable heart. This interconnected web of people in my life helps me feel deeply loved and connected to something much larger than myself.
3 – Shift from Limiting to an Empowering Mindset
I experienced a huge breakthrough in working with a coach on a limiting mindset of “this is too hard.” From our discussion, I was able to shift the observer within myself to create a new, empowering mindset on completing a project with ease and wonder. When I tap into the place within myself of ease and wonder, life flows without the obstruction of my limiting beliefs. My empowering mindset helped me find new language and create the mantras: I am trusting. I am at ease. I am in the flow. That feeling of flow is a perfect way to describe living an integrated life – no matter what comes my way.
4 – Commit to Ongoing Self-Care
For me, I have found the nourishing qualities of self-care to be essential to living in the flow state of integration. Through trial and error, I have found that a weekly mix of the following shapes my self-care regimen.
- Stillness, meditation, mindful breathing, forest bathing, going on a retreat
- Laughter, silliness, playfulness, lightheartedness, singing and chanting
- Creative expression in journaling, painting, vision boarding, coloring and dancing
- Yoga and Pilates practice with a community of fellow students
- Time spent being truly present to my loved ones and with a grateful heart
How is work life integration unfolding in your life? What are the lessons you’ve learned along the way?
Life a more fulfilling life. Understand your unique qualities as a leader, as a communicator, and as a woman. Jennifer H.G. Connelly hosts the Work-Life Integration Retreat at the Art of Living Retreat Center from November 2-4.
Jennifer H.G. Connelly
Possessing a unique blend of corporate, public affairs and nonprofit management experience, Jennifer serves as Principal of her own consultancy and CEO of Triple W Forum. As a leadership coach, yoga and mindfulness teacher, and Birkman Method consultant, she leads retreats, workshops, and provides team and one-to-one leadership development coaching both in the US and internationally.
This article is reposed with permission from the author.
Definitions and Causes of Stress: Relief Results from Understanding
There’s a beautiful human being inside everyone. What makes one different is the stress that covers the beauty. When the stress is gone, we become our original selves. In this article, Gurudev Sri Sri Ravi Shankar speaks on the 5 things we need to know about stress.
5 things we need to know about stress
The Definition of Stress
Too much to do, too little time, and no energy – that’s what the definition of stress is. When you want to do too much and you have neither energy nor time, you get stressed.
Challenges and Confidence
Secondly, remember you have faced many challenges in the past and you have overcome them all. So, have this confidence that you can handle this challenge as well.
The Importance of Life Itself
Then you must also know that there’s nothing more important in life than life itself. If you are alive, then everything else is. If you are alive, then there is business. If you are alive, so are your relationships. If you are alive, then there is fame or whatever you wish for. Don’t put life at risk to get these other things. You must give more importance to life itself.
Why do you do anything that you do? It’s because you want to be happy. And if you achieve something at the cost of happiness, it’s worth nothing at all. You achieved what you wanted but lost happiness, so that achievement is null and void. So you must keep this in mind.
Karma is Real
Things happen through a different law in the universe. You might have noticed that you are very good to people and still there are people who suddenly become your enemies. Your friends become your enemies. And the opposite happens–someone for whom you have not done any big favor helps you when you really need it. So friendship or animosity happens through some special law of the universe, and it’s called karma.
When your times are good, your worst enemy behaves as a friend; when your times are bad, then your best friend behaves like an enemy. So, understand things from a bigger dimension.
This post first appeared on artofliving.org.
In House: Nature, Dance, and Meditation
In my life, I’ve done some very long expeditions into the wilderness, some lasting several months. What I’ve learned is that when you spend time in silence, in vulnerability, and in connection with nature, what happens is that these useless thoughts that you have are just thrown out. You’re left with a cleaner mind.
I want everyone to experience that peace of mind, so for a long time, I’d been trying to find a way to help others reach that state. But you can’t compress a three-month experience into three hour class. You can certainly help somebody with the techniques of meditation, but you can’t “teach” someone to meditate in a weekend. It doesn’t work that way. It takes commitment and dedication. No matter what I did, I couldn’t design a methodology that had that kind of impact.
Then, something amazing happened to me. I was presented with an opportunity to become a storyteller with a modern dance company headed by Jody Weber.
Dance and ecstasy
We spent a couple of years performing one of my stories, The Raven’s Gift. It energized our audiences in an incredible way. I realized that this was because we’d compressed around five years of exploring Siberia into one very ecstatic movement. Dance reaches a form of ecstasy that speech just doesn’t.
It was a wow moment. Instead of taking people into the wilderness and trying to compress this experience, we could create ecstasy in storytelling through dance. Dance could be the meditation.
Many, many animals dance. If you’ve ever seen a polar bear sliding down an ice or snow field and just having a bang of a good time, that bear is actually dancing. Dance is so much deeper than speech. It’s a medium that journeys your brain into ecstasy.
Healing through dance
Everybody gets broken in life. You break your bones. You break your spirit. People break. It’s inevitable. So we have to learn how to heal, and one of the ways we can do this is through dance.
Jody and I visited a youth detention facility to teach. It’s beautiful spring day and we’re in this gray building with bars in the window. People are walking around with guns, and the warden says to us, “You have one hour to give these child criminals a bit of hope.” We hadn’t practiced anything in preparation for this, but we begin anyway.
The dancers we’d brought with us get up and say, “Okay, we’re going to dance the dance of flowing water. Water flows. You can’t stop water. It doesn’t get interrupted, so we’re going to be the way.” The dancers started dancing, and I’m thinking “Oh boy, these kids are not gonna buy this.” Well, let me tell you. By the end of the hour, we had every single one of those hardened, sometimes violent, child criminals up and dancing. At the end of the hour, tears were just streaming from my eyes. We were dancing our ways not necessarily out of physical prisons, but personal ones, and that was very powerful for everyone involved.
Forgetting our mythologies
People are the only animals that think about things that don’t exist, so we make up stories. These stories take up a lot of brainpower. Nature takes those extraneous thoughts and just sucks them out like a sponge. That’s why we experience such peace in nature. That’s why we connect with cats and dogs–they talk to us, but in that deeper language. This is what music is. Dance, animals, a snowstorm, a sunny day in the desert–all take these mythologies that we build out of us and turn us back into something more peaceful. And that’s something incredibly powerful.
Jon Turk earned a Ph.D. in organic chemistry in 1971 and was nominated by National Geographic as one of the Top Ten Adventurers of the Year in 2012. Between these bookends, Jon wrote the first environmental science textbook in North America, while simultaneously pursuing extreme adventure: he has kayaked around Cape Horn and across the North Pacific, circumnavigated Ellesmere Island, and made first climbing ascents and ski descents on remote mountains all over the world. Between 1999 and 2005, Jon learned Koryak wisdom from Moolynaut, one of the last of the old time Siberian shamans. Jon has written four popular books on his adventures and the Conscious Revolution that will carry humanity into the 21st century with hope, sustainability, and compassion.
Join Jon Turk and Jody Weber at the Art of Living Retreat Center from October 5th to 7th, 2018, for their retreat, Techniques of Joyful Meditation.
In House: David-Dorian Ross on the Wisdom of Tai Chi
This past May, the Art of Living Retreat Center hosted David-Dorian Ross for Power, Freedom, and Flow, a weekend of connection and transformation through the practices of Tai Chi, yoga, guided mediation, and QiGong. Here, he shares his journey with Tai Chi, and how this gentle, holistic practice can change your life too.
Tai Chi is a teacher
I’ve been teaching Tai Chi for about 40 years, and I continue to benefit from it every day–not just what it teaches me about health and longevity, but what it teaches me about about daily life too; about relating to other people, dealing with problems, and most of all, about my relationship with myself.
What is Taijifit?
Taijifit is how I give back. I started Taijifit as a part of an ongoing exploration of different methods to share Tai Chi with a wider audience.
One of the things that really amazed me was the sharp decline of Tai Chi practitioners after a short period of time. A lot of people are interested in it, but very few stick with it. A lot of teachers tell me how they’ll start with 25 people in their class, and it dwindles over time to two or three. But rather than thinking there was something wrong with the students or teachers, I began to look at the methodology used to teach Tai Chi. How do we keep people engaged long enough for them to really taste the magic of this wonderful practice?
Taijifit is a format that meets people where they are. We use beautiful, contemporary music, and focus on learning long, complex routines of movements. In fact, we could do a hundred days of Tai Chi and never use the same routine twice. Every session is different and special, and yet still focused on the central characteristic of Tai Chi — something we call “flow”– which is the connecting energy that binds the body, mind, and spirit together.
Tapping into our authentic nature
One of the things that we all want to find is a way to tap into our authentic nature. Our own original, innocent, pure spirit. In our philosophy, we believe that you’re born with this and that it’s inherent within you, but that as we age and become adults, sometimes we stray away from this flow.
We have lifestyles that perpetuate separation from our flow. When you wake up in the morning, you’re close to your authentic self, but then you brush your teeth, take your shower, and get dressed, and then all of a sudden you’re in work mode, and you’ve got to put on a different face. After work, you go to the gym and put on a different face there, and then you go home and you have a different face there, too. We even have different costumes and speech patterns within the confines of different social environments. This interruption is the opposite of flow.
Learning to reintegrate flow
Just like a stream that hits a dam, your energy, your spirit, and your authentic personhood stops at these different junctions. But what if that wasn’t true? What if you could feel comfortable and unselfconscious while being exactly the same person who got out of bed in the morning? The same person at church, at the bowling alley, at the dinner table? That’s true authenticity. That’s tapping into your true nature.
So how do you do that? Well, the first thing to learn to recognize is when you’re interrupting that flow of life. This interruption happens so fast and is so habitual that we don’t recognize when we’re in it. That’s what Tai Chi teaches us. Tai Chi makes this concept physical and observable, so that you can tell when your flow is interrupted. You can sense, feel, and measure the stopping and starting of flow.
Tai Chi is an active meditation. The way that we think most often is that we judge, and assess, and analyze constantly. It’s a process that keeps us from being in the moment. Movement, on the other hand, happens in the now and brings you to the now.
Tai Chi and aging
Tai Chi is great for the aging process and for helping people retain flexibility in motion. Aging is just a description of the process of what happens when our bodies don’t regenerate. When our bodies fail to keep up with the ravages of the environment, most prominently gravity, which is working on us all the time. It’s just natural to our existence on this planet.
One of the reasons why the body sometimes fails to keep up with those environmental problems is that it’s out of balance. A body that is in harmony, that is balanced and in equilibrium, has the best chance of using its inherent nature to heal itself. The body that is out of balance, on the other hand, is less able to keep up with environmental ravages.
When we’re observing the aging process, what we’re really observing is a body-out-of-balance who’s struggling to keep up with the inevitable. What Tai Chi does is train you–it continuously brings you back into a balanced and harmonious state. The postures are based upon the physics of equilibrium so that even the martial aspect, the fighting aspect of Tai Chi, is about finding harmony.
A practice of love
The thing is, Tai Chi has the reputation of being boring. People are afraid they don’t have the balance, that they’re going to fall or look silly or feel self-conscious. But with Taijifit, we inject a little fun back into it. We create a community in which we work very hard. We create all kinds of conversations and events and environments in which we know that there will be no judgement. In which we know that there’s only love.
A philosophy and physical practice together
Tai Chi literally changed my life. I’ve got terrible genes in my family–emphysema, COPD, cancer, heart disease–and I’m so obnoxiously healthy it’s not even funny. Of course, I’m not immune to social pressures and the gravity of the world’s current situation, but Tai Chi is my guiding path, a philosophy and physical practice blended together. My work is my spiritual practice. There is nothing higher for me than getting up and doing it every morning. That is my prayer. That is my meditation.
Grandmaster David-Dorian Ross has introduced more students to Tai Chi than any other teacher in America. Master Ross has written, produced and starred in more than 150 educational dvds and television programs. He is the founder and CEO of TaijiFit, the creator of the TaijiFit mind-body exercise program, and is the director of the first online Tai Chi academy. Trained in China by championship martial arts coaches, Master Ross has had an illustrious career in competitive Tai Chi, winning eight U.S. gold medals, a world silver medal and two world bronze medals —the highest awards ever given to an American for international Tai Chi performance.
Supposed To: My Day of Suffering
“We suffer because we are projecting the myth of permanence upon a situation that is actually conditioned, selfless, and constantly changing. Everything is interrelated and interdependent. There is nothing substantial and separate that we can lean upon. Samsara, ‘the cycle of suffering,’ is a direct result of our desire for permanence.”
From “The Myth of Permanence” by Sakyong Mipham
How you create suffering
I don’t know about you but when I read philosophy I can have a hard time grasping the concepts in a meaningful, how does this apply to day to day life, kind of way. In other words, I’m always curious about how I can LIVE an idea not just think it. For instance, take the topic of suffering. Sure, in my head, I’ve been bouncing around the idea for a while now… we can’t control the world around us yet most humans try… this habit creates suffering. When we walk around with a lot of expectations about how the present moment and its inhabitants should be, we are contributing to our pain rather than easing it. Today my understanding of how I create my own suffering hit home in a new way. I create suffering… I do that every day, for many minutes of the day.
The lie of “supposed to”
For this New England girl, it all starts with the phrase “supposed to.” As in today I was supposed to get a lot of work done on my computer; as in my internet was supposed to be working properly. As in I was supposed to be done by my afternoon full of clients so tonight I could rest with my family. See, none of the things on my list are guaranteed to work, and yet it didn’t stop my mind from grasping at the thought that everything should go according to my plan. The truth is that nothing is fixed and yet every day I rely on things to go MY WAY and when they don’t I repeat the refrain SUPPOSED TO and then I suffer.
A concept comes to life
As you read above I had a big list of things I wanted to accomplish today…when the writing was on the wall that my internet was too slow for some tasks due to the weather, I decided to go to the drugstore across the street for some new earbuds while a file was uploading to my computer.
I approached the crosswalk at a dangerous intersection and heard my internal grumbling “I hate these people… they are driving too fast… this is a crazy intersection… what are they thinking? They are supposed to drive carefully through here… they are supposed to stop for pedestrians….” I stopped my thinking and reviewed that phrase supposed to. As I finished my walk to the drugstore I realized that I had been torturing myself all day with that phrase. Suddenly I could connect personally to the Buddhist concept of suffering. I had my real-life scenario of how I was reacting to the day as an example of the concept.
Desire is suffering
As I watched my mind grasping at how today should be to fit my rigid view of reality, I recognized that I was contributing to my own frustration and experience of having a crappy day. You you can’t totally stop pain. It’s impossible. Pain is part of life and being human. I couldn’t stop the ice from falling from the sky, but I could stop lamenting spring. I could make a choice to re-route my course of action rather than bang my head against the wall. I made my predicament worse by refusing to accept life as is. My desire for a different reality was making me feel terrible! So how to live it differently?
Acceptance is the key
I can’t make my internet work. I can’t stop the rain. I can’t force my computer to move faster. What I can do is let myself see what’s happening and respond to it with flexibility rather than with an iron grasp on having my way. I lost an hour of work today because I kept waiting for the internet to speed up. Rather than accept the one bar of cell service my phone was showing me I kept waiting for it to get better. This is what contributed to my frustration. Had I really taken in what I was seeing, I could have taken my walk to the drugstore sooner, maybe even scrapped the project completely for today. When I finally accepted what was happening and shifted to a new plan I felt better!
Freedom from suffering
And that’s how I wrote this blog rather than doing the 10 other things I had on my Monday to-do list. I accepted my fate and recognized that this story might be a way for others to consider how they contribute to their own suffering… and could help us all take a step into shifting away from trying to control things and into meeting the day, each other, and ourselves as is.
Blessings to you on your journey towards freedom from suffering!
Heather Bilotta is a passionate believer in the healing power of self-expression and the importance of connection to community. Her Shake Your Soul®, Kripalu YogaDance, Kripalu R&R classes, one-one SomaSoul® and Divine Sleep Yoga Nidra® healing sessions are infused with heart and creativity and are an opportunity to bring light and acceptance to your whole, unfiltered self. She truly provides a supportive no-judgment zone. Heather teaches at Kripalu Center for Yoga & Health, Cranwell Golf Resort, and beyond. She is continuing her studies in Body-Centered, Subtle Energy Healing in the Professional Training Program at Hartford Family Institute.
Join Heather at the Art of Living Retreat Center from September 28th to 30th, 2018, for Move. Feel. Heal., a SomaSoul® Somatic Therapy retreat to help you unwind, slow down, and soothe your nervous system.
This article first appeared on heatherbe.com.