Lessons learned from a Taoist Taoshi, Buddhist Lama and a Dongba Shaman

After meeting the buddhist lama

As you may or may not know, I have been lucky enough to spend my summer studying Traditional Chinese Medicine and Community Health in Southern China. I have learned countless lessons about medicine, health care, longevity and mental health as well as more practical things such as how to eat soup with chopsticks. This post will merely skim the surface of what I have learned so far in china but I hope that it will make you think about health and life a little bit differently.

We traveled west to the border between Tibet and China and got to speak with many spiritual, holistic health masters along the way including a Taoist Taoshi, Buddhist Lama and a Dongba Shaman. Here is what I learned..

The Taoist Taoshi – Taoism is a philosophy and a religion that is said to be the foundation of Chinese culture. Most importantly Taoists practice unity of man with nature, the theory of yin-yang and the idea that we are all small parts of the great whole. Taoists believe that humans are just like all of the other plants and animals; they do not have superiority and there is no hierarchy. Taoshi’s are Taoist men, similar to Buddhist monks, which have dedicated their life to practicing Taoism.
The Taoshi we met was 70 years old and still in great health. He lived in a temple, practiced taiji daily, ate food that he grew himself and played the wood flute. He started our lesson by playing the wood flute in order to awaken qi (life force) within each of us. He then proceeded to explain fundamental rules that he lives by to have a happy and fulfilled life:
– Thinking to hard is far more detrimental than not thinking at all. Westerners try too hard to be healthy which disrupts the balance.
– Eat simple, in-season, consistent food that your body craves.
– “Leave enough space for your mind so you always have space to improve yourself”
– You can be part of the circle of life and observe the flow but do not try to change it.
– “Feel don’t think, taste don’t measure”

The Taoist Taoshi practicing taiji.

The Taoist Taoshi practicing taiji.

What I took away from this was the idea that you cannot use logic to achieve internal peace or enlightenment. Dwelling on something or thinking too hard about being perfect will only be detrimental in the long run. The Taoshi said he eats whatever is put in front of him or whatever vegetables are ripe that day – he doesn’t worry about the nutritional value as this will actually harm his health more than eating poor quality food. He also mentioned that in Taoism meditation is not a sitting practice. He does mediation all day long when doing simple tasks. I really like this idea, as I have never been a fan of sitting still in a cross-legged position! I want to incorporate meditative chores into my daily routine. He also only eats two big meals a day – I don’t think this will be a habit I try to adopt!

The Buddhist Lama – We were lucky enough to meet with a Tibetan Buddhist Lama, a Lama is a monk that is a spiritual leader that has achieved the highest level of enlightenment. His smile was intriguing. He giggled a lot as he readjusted his robe and gave off the delighted energy of a young child. He had some important wisdom to share…
– The physical body is not our real body, it is a man-made illusion. The physical body doesn’t stay with us when we die; therefore it is only a temporary state and should not receive such high importance.
– Abandon the illusion of external happiness. Ask what you can give, not what you can receive. True happiness can only come from within.
– The root of true happiness is finding sympathy for your enemies and sharing compassion with all living things.
– Before you can be a good doctor and heal others you have to find your own internal medicine.
– Compassion is a choice, not an action.
– We asked the lama if he could change one thing about the world what would it be. He said, “I would change myself” because that is the only thing we have the power to change. If we all work on developing our own internal happiness the world will be a better place.

The Lama reading from ancient scrolls.

The Lama reading from ancient scrolls.

I couldn’t stop smiling throughout this conversation. I felt like the lama was really speaking to my soul and allowing me to find a path to my own internal medicine. At first when he said that the only way to achieve true happiness is through compassion to others I thought that this was somewhat false because I know that some activities such as eating a piece of chocolate cake make me really happy. But he explained that these external things that you think are making you happy are not sustainable. If I ate chocolate cake every meal of the day, within a week the happiness would fade. The only sustainable form of happiness is found in compassion to others. We also asked how we should become more selfless and compassionate. He replied by saying that compassion is a choice, not an action. This means that we cant set out to “do something compassionate today” because this is not sustainable. Instead we must make every choice we are faced with through out the day in the name of compassion. What is the next most compassionate choice you can make today?

The Dongba Shamen – Dongba is a 3000-year-old religion and culture of the Naxi minority group in the foothills of the Himalayas. In the Dongba religion nature and man are considered to be half brothers, meaning that the traditions are strongly connected to the earth. It is an Animist religion meaning that all things including plants and inanimate objects have spirits. It is believed that any of these spirits can cause illness when there is an imbalance. Diagnosis of disease is based on fortune telling – an art practiced by the Shamen. We were lucky enough to meet a blind Shamen who told us predictions about our future using the Chinese zodiac, shells, stones and chanting. Although I am still skeptical about this practice it was very interesting to be in the presence of the Shamen and I left feeling very open minded. A few things I took away from the experience were…
– “Must believe; must learn science”. He explained that both spiritual practice and science have a place in healing.
– Humans are not the only things that need medication – herbs should be given to animals, plants and spirits as well.
– All things cannot be explained – just because an idea such as animism seems so far fetched to me I am not in the position to judge or disprove it.

The Dongba Shamen.

The Dongba Shamen.

When I asked the Shamen about my future he told me that I needed a strong mentor in my life to help me achieve what I hope to. He mentioned that it should be a spiritual mentor or someone in my career path that can help guide me. He also said I would be an anxious person until I turn 40, and then I will have a huge turning point. I am choosing to ignore this part because I do not believe our future is already decided. I am committed to managing my anxiety and do not feel that I will have to wait until I am 40 in order to have a break through. I guess we will have to wait and see on this one!

Overall, meeting these three incredible men was an inspiring experience. It left me with so many things to think about! I am starting to see that my spiritual values are very in lined with Daoism and Buddhism, which is very exciting. I can’t wait to explore these religions further. What are your thoughts on spirituality? Do you agree with the things these spiritual leaders said? How do you incorporate spirituality into your life? Let me know! Id love to talk about it ☺

Until next time,


Eating Vegan in Central America

Vegan Breakfast in Nicaragua - beans, corn tortillas, watermelon and avocado

I am sitting in the Chiang Mai International airport waiting to board my plane to Kunming China to start my study abroad! My stomach began growling so I searched the airport for a cheap vegan snack. I bought some dried mango and seaweed crackers and began to think about the question I am often asked “How do you eat vegan whilst traveling?”. So I thought that I would reflect on my time in Nicaragua, and provide you guys a helpful resource for eating vegan in Central America!

I have found that eating vegan can be difficult at times whilst traveling, but the hardest part it seems is actually at the airport! As most airport food is pre packaged I have struggled to find fresh salads or sandwiches that do not contain meat or cheese. Because of this I try to bring my own food to the airport, and I always bring A LOT because traveling makes me super hungry.

My flight to Nicaragua was in the morning so I made banana apple overnight oats the night before to eat on the plane. They were soaked in almond milk with chia seeds and coconut and made a delicious breakfast waiting at the gate. I also packed two peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, fruit, pretzels and carrot sticks for the day of travel. I was also able to find a great fresh fruit smoothie at the Houston Airport.

Upon arrival in Nicaragua I realized that the food was very simple and had little amounts of spice or flavor. Because the country is relatively poor, meat is also a delicacy and luckily is not served with every dish. Restaurant employees did not seem to understand the term vegetarian so instead I said “sin carne, sin leche, sin huevos por favor”. I also had a guide that was very helpful in making sure my dishes were all vegan. Throughout my time I learned a lot of common dishes that are traditional and vegan that I will share with you!

Unique foods and flavors in Nicaragua

Plantains – taste like a cross between traditional bananas and potato. They are a great carbohydrate source and actually contain more fiber and potassium than traditional bananas. They are usually eaten steamed (looks like a cooked banana) or twice fried (looks like a smashed yellow potato fritter). Twice fried dipped in hot sauce is my favorite!

Taro – is a root vegetable that is white/purple in color and tastes a like an over cooked potato to me. We ate a lot of boiled potato, which was great because it was very high in carbohydrates and low in fat. They can taste a little bland so I liked mixing them with beans and hot sauce.

Chayote – is a watery vegetable that tastes a lot like a zucchini or summer squash. It is the most commonly grown vegetable in Nicaragua as it is native to the area and can thrive without a lot of water. It is the main vegetable in the diet of many poorer people living in rural villages. We often had it cooked in a tomato broth or steamed with other vegetables.

Breakfast: Fresh fruit, rice, beans, baked/fried/steamed plantains, corn tortillas, avocado, corn flakes and soya milk.

Vegan Breakfast in Nicaragua - streamed plantain, peanutbutter, beans and pineapple

Vegan Breakfast in Nicaragua – streamed plantain, peanutbutter, beans and pineapple

Lunch: Rice, beans, plantains, taro, potato, sweet potato, salads, cooked chayote, carrots beets etc, fruit, fruit juice, peanuts and french fries.

Nicaraguan Vegan Lunchbox - Rice, root vegetable mash with tomatoes and salad

Nicaraguan Vegan Lunchbox – Rice, root vegetable mash with tomatoes and salad

Dinner: Rice, beans, plantains, eggplant ratatouille, lentils or chickpeas cooked in a tomato sauce, twice fried plantains and salad.

Vegan Dinner in Nicaragua - Rice, eggplant and lentil tomato stew and salad

Vegan Dinner in Nicaragua – Rice, eggplant and lentil tomato stew and salad

Snacks: Taro/plantain/banana/potato/vegetable chips (non-queso flavored), fruit, “tea” cookies, oreos, wafer cookies, dark chocolate, peanut butter and lots of interesting fruits.

Orange flavored tea cookies that just happened to be vegan!

Orange flavored tea cookies that just happened to be vegan!

Natural spicy yuca chips

Natural spicy yuca chips

Crazy cashew fruit - sweet and juicy

Crazy cashew fruit – sweet and juicy

Overall, it was very doable and being vegan did not hold me back at all! The food in Nicaragua was simple but delicious and I appreciated the fact that they didn’t use excessive amounts of oil in their cooking. I enjoyed talking to people about being plant based as it came up a lot as eating in big groups is a large part of traveling. If any of you have any questions about veganism or traveling please reach out!