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Archive for August, 2007

dcp_1354.jpgI studied the Chinese health and martial arts with Bruce Kumar Frantzis for just over ten years. Mostly I concentrated on the fascinating art of Baguazhang (eight trigram palm), but in addition studied Taijiquan, (tai chi), Xingyiquan (form and intention boxing), and Daoist meditation.

Bruce was apprenticed to a reclusive master in Beijing, Liu Hongjieh. Liu was said to be a sage of the Daoist Water School. Bruce contrasted the Water School with the Fire School saying that the Fire School is all about catharsis and burning through any blockages in your body/mind. In contrast the Water Method allows you to gently dissolve any sort of blockage, like ice to water and water to gas.

In my experience, even the so-called Fire Methods contain an element of the dissolving process. Controversial author Mantak Chia, head of the Healing Dao organization, has a practice called the “Inner Smile.” This practice is nowhere as detailed as the dissolving process in the Water Method, but it does offer you a quick and easy introduction to relaxation. It’s very easy to do and can be done anywhere you find the time.

When you first start this practice it’s best to find a quiet place, later you can do it anywhere. To start you simply smile. Become aware of the energy that smiling creates. Feel and enjoy that energy and allow it to hover in front of you. You can use any sort of visualization you like: an image of your loved one, a peaceful location such as the beach or a sunset, or a verdant forest. Or you can simply FEEL the energy of the smile itself.

Allow the muscles of your face to relax as you draw this pleasant smiling energy between your eyebrows. Bring this energy down the front of your body, cooling the heart and lungs. Often people who are angry get a hot constricted feeling in these organs. Let your heart soften and open to all your possibilities. Feel your lungs softening and getting spongy.

Smile down into your liver, under your ribs on the right side of your body. In Chinese medical theory the liver is the source of anger and its affiliate, sorrow. Feel your liver softening and filling with a deep purple color.

Then bring your smiling energy to the spleen which is approximately in the same place as your liver, but on the left side. Let your spleen release any toxins and bring a gentle relaxation to it.

From the liver, bring a warming smile into your kidneys, beneath the bottom of your ribs in your back. The kidneys hold the energy of water and if cooled too much can harden like ice. In fact you can bring the cooling energy of the kidneys to the heart and the warming energy of the heart to your kidneys in a flowing cycle.

Now bring all the smiling energy down through your body and out through the bottom of your feet.

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The True Self

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As I mentioned in my previous post in this series, there seems to be two consciousnesses in our mind: the one that performs our everyday activities (working, loving, worrying, seeking, striving, etc) and the one that observes these actions. The observer is our true self or higher self. The one taking action is our conditioned self. What are the differences between the two? The true self is who we were before we came into the world. It is the pre-conditioned self, empty and open. Then we learn how to survive in the world. We learn that when we have wants and needs, we must take some action to get a response. We learn that when we cry our parents respond to us. How many of us are still using this action in some form 20-30 years later?

So, in order to survive in the world we develop a way of being, a personality. You develop a blueprint of how to be in the world. But this is conditioning, whether it is self designed or simply in reaction to our surroundings.

  • Your personality is based on your previous conditioning.
  • Your personality is based on the presumptions of a child
  • You develop your conditioning from your parents, friends, television, everything around you.
  • None of this conditioning is the real you. It’s just a recording of all the crap you learned and continue to reply unconsciously in your background.

But you are not the recording. You’re not the programming. You are not your conditioned mind. It is apart of you but not the real you. You are what holds your mind. You have to learn how to separate yourself from your conditioning. Then you have the choice whether or not to to keep non-supportive thoughts.

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Lisa read my article “How To Survive Cancer” and asked how did I know I had cancer. This is a very strange story because like most people I didn’t know that I had cancer. It started when I was studying Tai Chi in Boston. I started to develop lower back pain which I just attributed to my training. My teacher’s brother was an accomplished acupuncturist so I went to him to rid me of my symptoms. After a couple of months, the pain remained and I developed a small lump in my armpit. I didn’t give it much thought though and went to a chiropractor for the pain. In the first few weeks she treated me my skin developed a sort of parchment-like quality. It was very dry and brittle, something that I had never heard of before. It was pretty scary as I recall. Then, for some reason, she discovered the lump.

 

She actually said to me, “You have this lump, it’s probably Hodgkin’s Disease (remember it ended up being non-Hodgkin’s disease…how she even got that close in her diagnosis is amazing!)” “Holy S**t”, is what I think I said, “You’re talking about cancer!” Needless to say it completely freaked me out! She told me I should see a doctor and I did, straight away.

 

Because I was previously so healthy and was a meditater, I went inside my body and started doing an inventory. In my mind’s eye I could see these floating black spots, kind of like the Space Invaders video game (weird, I know, but it’s true). I was convinced that I had cancer. I went to the first doctor and he figured it was Epstein-Barr disease, or Mononucleosis, or cat scratch fever. I told him I thought it was cancer but he was skeptical. I had several tests which were inconclusive. I then went to a second doctor to little avail. Then I developed a second swollen lymph node in my neck. It was like I had the mumps on one side but it mysteriously subsided. Apparently this was very atypical (of course, it was ME!)

 

The next bit is a little hazy because I went into day surgery to: get an abdominal lymph node biopsied and/or an inguinal hernia fixed. I know there was talk of the hernia but I don’t really remember much about it. At any rate they biposied the node and found no cancer…BUT…several days later my groin swelled up to the size of a grapefruit. Well, I knew this could not possibly be right so I went to the emergency room of Brigham and Woman’s hospital (I was living in Boston at the time) and showed them. They exhibited the appropriate alarm (I think they said “Holy S**t!) and admitted me instantly. I had another biopsy, this time of the original armpit node and they found diffuse large T-cell non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma.

 

So, dear readers and especially Lisa, that’s how I knew I had cancer. Like I mentioned, I had eight months of intensive chemotherapy and survived (I figure that much is obvious). It wasn’t fun, it wasn’t pretty. But there are no guarantees in life, you pays your money and you takes your choices. It’s not what happens to you that affects you, it’s how you process it. I can’t pretend I came through it all rosy, it sucked. Am I a better person for it? I don’t claim to know. I would have preferred for it not to happen but it did. But I am hugely glad to be alive and to be able to share my small story with you. I want to thank you all immensely for reading this. I am happy to answer any of your questions. I don’t think about my cancer much but, believe it or not, I’m glad you gave me this opportunity to remember it.

 

P.S. I went to a shrink a couple of times when I was depressed. At the second session he paused and said to me, “You know you probably don’t really need me. Of course you’re depressed. You have cancer and your wife left you. You seem pretty normal otherwise. You’ll get through fine. It’ll just take awhile.”

 

He was right.

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In September of 1988 I was diagnosed with Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. I was 31 years old and previous to this, immortal. Perhaps I was mistaken on the last part. Two months later on New Years Eve my ex-wife left me taking our two year old daughter. In March of 1989 I finished eight months of very intense chemotherapy. The depression started long before that.

 

As of this writing I’m still alive so I guess the chemo worked. It worked at clearing the cancer in my body but it did nothing to soothe the cancer that was festering in my emotions. As hard as it was having cancer, the pain of losing my young family was devastating. How we got to that point is unimportant, both to the point of this article and to the decades that have past. I’ve long since forgiven my ex-wife for her actions and myself for whatever I may have done to lead her to them. I have a terrific relationship with my daughter (she’s 20) and my present wife of 13 years.

 

But my survival is proof to anyone who thinks things are hopeless. It’s funny, I had people ask me-“How did go through with all that, how did you survive?” My answer was always- “Because I’m not too fond of the alternative” Truly, I went to chemo when I had to, cried, drank too much, finally went to work, met new friends and lovers (even with a “chemo-cut”), and eventually found life again. There was no magic bullet and no short cut. It hurt sometimes, a lot. And it taught me valuable lessons. It hardened me and softened me as well. I still don’t know the meaning of life. I still sometimes act as if I’ll live forever- and this from someone who smelled death’s putrid breath! Even being in that situation I still find pain, sorrow, joy, excitement, and happiness. We cannot know the number of our days nor how we might spend them. The only thing you can control is how you process what happens to you. If someone dies and no one calls you, that death has no affect on you. That loved one died and you don’t care…and how could you? So it’s not the action, it’s the reaction that affects you. Subjective Reality? I don’t know. But I do know it’s true.

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Be-Do-Have

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One of my favorite personal development books is Wayne Dyer’s “You’ll See It When You Believe It.” I know Dr. Dyer is not the originator of most of his ideas, it’s why I don’t mind re-hashing them here. I’ve heard it said that Hemingway is quoted,”Amateurs borrow, Artists steal.” So I am jacking all my favorite “guru’s” material wholesale. But it’ll be filtered through the Buddy Show.

Have-Do-Be

Back to Dr Dyer (and I’ve heard T. Harv Ecker use these examples as well). When we are wanting something, whether it is material gain, better relationships, spiritual understanding, etc, most of us operate under the concept of Have, Be, Do. This is most people’s life experience. They think,”When I have this, I’ll do that, and then I’ll be this.” Once I finally get that lover, I’ll be fulfilled, and then I’ll be a happier person. Once I finally make $40,000 a month as an internet marketer, then I won’t have money worries, then I will be fulfilled. You follow the pattern, I’m sure. And we all tend to think like this. So we’re looking for the final outcome but are stopped from getting it because we can’t get through the first two steps. And notice that the final outcome almost always similar. We want fulfillment, we want happiness. Of course then we need to drill down and figure out just what those things mean to us.

Be-Do-Have

This is Dyer’s idea of “You See It When You Believe It.” This is where we say to ourselves, “I need to be, to develop myself into the type of person who will do whatever it takes to have what I want. And please don’t limit this to material things. Let’s say you want to move to a cave in the Himalayas and be a monk. You have to put yourself into that mindset. I mean the idea of traveling to India or Nepal and living in an isolated place with few creature comforts…takes a strong person. That’s not giving up on life, it’s embracing it to the fullest!

Having comes after doing, right? So how can it be that we normally put having at the beginning? If we have to have something before we can be and do, then we are setting ourselves up to fail. So, why don’t we do the things that are required for our success? Because of fear. Sometimes we’re just afraid of “what if…” What if I suck? What I fail? Or worse (and this is a big one for me) what if I win? “What if” is a dead end game. What if cows fly? See how ridiculous that is? Why do we invest fear in something that does not exist? Why is it that we can take two people with exactly the same resources and one of them “thrives while the other just stives or dies”, to quote Harv Ecker.

It is my inner world that creates my outer world

A well used phrase to be sure. But it’s true, you can’t find inner peqce outside yourself. Again to quote Harv Ecker (and he got it from someone else, no doubt)- You can’t enjoy the fruits of your life without paying greater attention to the roots of your life.

When you come upon some struggle in your endeavors what happens in your mind? What kind of internal chatter starts up? How often is this chatter negative and non-supportive to getting the job done? Who is this non-supportive chattering person? If it’s you (and it is) who is the one taking issue and asking about it? Well, that’s you too. So are there two yous?

 

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With tension and inappropriate stress being accused of shortening people’s lives and compromising their lifestyles, it’s easy to see how the relaxation principle is good for health as well. When the body is relaxed it can start to loosen its muscles and connective tissue achieving a buoyant springiness that feels natural and comfortable.

 

As the body relaxes it aligns itself with the downward force of gravity. Clearly it is easier to practice this total unity of body and mind while still rather than performing complicated movements. The practice relaxing and aligning with gravity while remaining upright is called in Chinese, zhan zhuang, or standing like a post. For our purpose we will just call it standing practice

Standing Practice

 

As I mentioned, one of the most fundamental practices in the internal martial arts of China is standing practice. While simple in appearance this exercise can actually be quite demanding. Its purpose is to find a relaxed and balanced standing posture. In this posture we will progressively and systematically release the unnecessary tension in the body. Years of conditioned living we have acquired many bad habits and have lost some of the mind/body unity and suppleness of our childhood. In addition standing practice is a kind of meditation that brings a wholeness of being. It develops a perception and clarity that is at once dynamic and calm.

As the soft tissue releases its tension it sinks to its natural position in the body. All sense of “holding ones self up” that wastes energy and reduces mechanical efficiency can be done away with.

 

 

 

Begin with the feet parallel, about hip-to-shoulder distance apart. Stand comfortably with the arms hanging at your sides, palms facing back. Allow the knees to bend slightly with the knees pointing in the same direction as the toes. The hips and waist should remain level with no tilt to either side. The gentle upward stretch of the body will elongate the muscles stomach but otherwise they should be completely relaxed. Allow the body weight to fall into middle and arches of the feet. Breathe naturally at first, breathing deeply, inhaling and exhaling through the nostrils. As you start to relax you can rock slightly front to back to find where the center of your foot is. Then come to a stable posture and as you continue to relax allow your breathing to become longer and softer.

In that our intention is to gently stretch the body in relaxation we don’t want the body to simply go slack as we release tension. The position of the head is the key to alignment of the whole body. We want to stretch the body gently from one end to the other To stretch there need to be a pulling from both ends. Gravity will take care of the body releasing downward so you will gently allow the head to lift upward off the top of the spine. Be careful to keep the chin down so that the neck does not bend backward.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Abdominal Breathing

 

As you become more relaxed you can allow the belly to expand slightly when you inhale and release on the exhale. Eventually you will be able to feel the front, back, and sides of the lower torso. This method starts you to be able to use your intention to control the body.

 

 

Start at the top of the head, and working your way down the body, as if your body is filled with a slowly draining liquid, feeling for any signs of tension, contraction, pain, a feeling of being locked-up, stuck up, held up, or just plain not right. As you encounter these feelings allow them to release. One method some use is feeling that these sensations are blockages that you can dissolve, like ice turning to water, and water turning to gas. The important thing is that you actually feel this happen inside your body rather than simply visualize it in your mind. Whatever the method, you want to experience of feeling inside of the body.

Just as a caveat, we tend to hold emotional trauma in our body so be aware that sometimes these issues can recur in practice. I have had experiences when teaching this type of material where some people will feel old injuries flare up and some emotional event come back to haunt them. Sometimes this made them feel bad or even weep. This is not uncommon and should not be cause for alarm.

My experience is if you use this method of systematic relaxation and breathing, it can bring a profound feeling of relaxed focus. We use the mind to progressively relax. The tendency is for the mind to jump from thought to thought like a drunken monkey. This way we give it something to do. If you find your self thinking these thoughts just calmly go back to the method.

 

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What is it about us? We don’t always live our lives the way we want to. We do what we do because, in general, we don’t know any other way to do it. We want to be living our lives with a purpose, calm and at peace with the world. The problem is sometimes we don’t quite know what the rules are. Here’s one for you: “The way we do anything is the way we do everything.” You’ve probably heard that one before, I’m certainly no great innovator. But it’s true for me. If I am not totally in the present I have a habit of running these scripts in my mind…shoulda done this, coulda done that, you know the drill. If I was the scholar warrior, the spiritual warrior that I intend to be, only now would matter. It’s important that we live right here now- in the present. The past is gone and there’s nothing to be gained by second guessing what has already happened. The future has yet to be…and is mostly unknown…so apart from proper planning is pointless to nervously anticipate. We want (and I would say need) to develop the type of character we can love and respect. As the saying goes: you can’t give what you ain’t got. When you live a true and authentic life you project a positive energy that can’t help but effect others. When you live an authentic life you allow people to trust you, to be able to…learn from you, gain from you…buy from you… if you are in a commercial endevour. Have you ever met someone and the moment you met them, for some reason you took an instant dislike to? Or perhaps the opposite- someone who you just knew was o.k. by you? The very energy of their presence lets you know that you are going to be great friends.

Living an authentic life means being able to do the things that complete you. It’s like I heard Wayne Dyer once say, “Don’t die with your music still in you.” Don’t live an unfullfilled life. Don’t live an inauthentic life. The true source of happiness and any success is where?

In all of us.

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