Tag Archive: personal

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, Robin

May’s intention: “Be Open” during my upcoming travels

This May I decided to set an intention for myself: to “Be Open”. It seems rather fitting, as this month is the beginning of my summer travels, taking me to many places around the globe. I have just finished my final college exams of my Junior year and can now officially call myself a Senior in college! To start off the summer, my boyfriend Jackson and I went to Shoshoni Yoga retreat, which was a lovely way to relax and unwind. Immediately following this I boarded the airplane to San Francisco to attend Crystal’s, my second cousin one-removed, beautiful wedding. One day later, here I am heading to Nicaragua on a 10 day public health brigade with fellow CU Boulder college students. In Nicaragua we will be involved in building sanitation units and water supply systems to service extremely rural villages. Upon my arrival back to Colorado I will spend 4 days packing up my room before I head to Asia for 10 weeks. I will spend 2 weeks in Thailand, hiking around Chiang Mai and exploring with Jackson and his brother. I then fly to Kunming, China and spend 6 weeks taking classes in community health and traditional Chinese medicine! After this I have three more weeks in Asia, I am not yet sure where I will travel, but would love any suggestions! WOW, all that traveling was a big mouthful, and kind of intimidating to be honest.
Adventuring at Shoshoni Yoga Retreat

Adventuring at Shoshoni Yoga Retreat

One of the things that scares me most about traveling for three months is the lack of control around my daily schedule. I am definitely a creature of habit; I like being on a set routine, in control of my daily activities and patterns. It has become increasingly evident to me that it is close to impossible to keep to a set schedule while traveling, especially when you are in large groups of people, changing time zones and trying to find your way around unfamiliar cities. Because of this, my intention to “Be Open” is very fitting for this month, and probably for the whole summer. By “Be Open” I mean many things. I mean be open to new experiences - say yes to things I would usually avoid because you never know until you try. I mean be open to other people’s ideas and suggestions - I don’t always have to be involved in choosing the restaurant or planning the day’s activities. I mean be open to new forms of exercise -I want to let go of my rigorous running and cycling schedule and realize that waking up at 6am to run on the hotel treadmill is not the reason I have come to Thailand. I mean be open to trying new foods and not eating on a planned schedule as I usually find myself doing at home. I mean be open to CHANGING and GROWING.
I was challenged to change and grow through meditation at Shoshoni

I was challenged to change and grow through meditation at Shoshoni

I often find that the root of my worries around keeping a tight schedule is that I am afraid that if I do not stick to it, bad change will occur. For example I worry that if I say yes to a spontaneous concert or late night extravaganza, I will either suddenly turn into an alcoholic because I am having an unplanned beer, or that I will be so hung over in the morning and forget to call my mother, becoming a horrible daughter. I worry that if I skip my morning run and instead go walking around the city all day, that I will all of a sudden realize that I never want to run again and all of my hard work to get the fitness I have today will be wasted as I become a life-long couch potato. I extrapolate single decisions and turn them into huge permanent changes. I am not quite sure why my brain does this, because I realize rationally that skipping one run or having a beer will not permanently change anything about who I am. I think that it is the perfectionist/anxious/eating disorder/control-freak voice in my head that wants me to stay on track and never sway from the plan. Now that I have noticed this about myself I have decided to fight it. I don’t want to be the girl who is afraid of change. Because not all changes are bad! I’m so concerned with maintaining things like my intelligence, weight and fitness level that I forget to actually appreciate these things in the moment! So my intention for while I am traveling is to be open to new things and not resist change. Change can be beneficial and I know that it will help me grow as a person in many ways!   Specific goals to help me towards my “Be Open” intention. 1 – Try to pay less attention to the time: I am going to wake up naturally without an alarm (unless I need to catch a flight obviously). This way I will let my body get the rest it needs every night without forcing an early morning work out. Traveling takes up a lot of energy and I think I can often underestimate the toll it puts on my body. I am going to try to listen to my body’s hunger cues, rather than my watch to tell me when to eat. This is going to be especially important when I change time zones, as my whole system will be out-of-whack for a few days. My body is much smarter than my mind about meal times and will let me know what it needs; I just need to be open to listening to these cues. 2 – Say yes: Every time I feel myself wanting to say “no” to an invitation that isn’t in my plan for the day, I am going to think seriously about why I am saying no. If I am saying no because my plan would need to be rearranged, not because the idea doesn’t sound fun, I am going to try to say yes and figure out how to fit everything in later on. I don’t want to miss out on anything, just because it wasn’t in my frame of mind for the day! 3 – Do something everyday that scares me: I know its cliché, but I think this is a great way to have new experiences and put myself out of my comfort zone. As the old saying goes, change only happens outside of your comfort zone. I am going to strive to do one of these things everyday, and in order to keep myself accountable, I am going to write down what my scary thing was everyday and with you all at the end!
Doing something out of my comfort zone - Ridding on dirt roads

Doing something out of my comfort zone - Ridding on dirt roads

Anxiety Series Part One: Getting off the Drugs

Getting off antidepressants and learning to manage anxiety on my own:  A little over three months ago, after being fed up with numerous side effects and realizing that I wanted to see what my natural state of mind was, I decided to stop taking SSRI’s. SSRI’s are pharmaceutical drugs, prescribed to alleviate depression and anxiety by blocking receptors in your brain that usually absorb serotonin. This leaves serotonin, otherwise known as the happiness chemical, floating around in your brain, hopefully resulting in a more pleasant, less anxious day-to-day life experience. By no means am I against SSRI’s or antidepressants. I believe that there are many situations in which people can benefit from these drugs, and that overall they have definitely aided in my recovery. But, I do believe there is a time where your metal health is stable enough that reliance on a drug that alters your reality may not be necessary. After 4 years of being on SSRI’s I believed that I had reached this point and wanted to challenge myself to see if I could manage my mental state in other ways. I began talking to my physiatrist and we made a plan to reduce my dose slowly and taper off my SSRI. First of all, I am extremely thankful that I went through this process under the supervision of a trained professional and do not believe I would have had such a successful experience if I had tried on my own or had stopped taking pills cold “tofurkey”. That being said, it was a difficult process and I am still coming out the other side. I hope my story will help any of you going through similar processes. I find it helpful to remember that things often get a little worse or harder before they get better.   Weeks 1 – 4 At this stage I reduced from 100mg – 12.5mg dropping the dose each week. I really didn’t notice any big changes in my mood or outlook on life. I didn’t feel more anxious, stressed or sad and my night sweats stopped! This was a huge bonus for me as night sweats due to SSRI’s had prevented me from having a good night sleep for the past 4 years. I also found that I could feel my emotions more. On numerous occasions that month I laughed so hard I cried, which was something that hadn’t happened in a while.
Getting the giggles with my best friend after recently stopping SSRI's

Getting the giggles with my best friend after recently stopping SSRI's

Weeks 4-6 These were the first two weeks I was off SSRI’s all together. The drugs were probably still in my system at a low dose but definitely much lower than before. I was fine for the most part during this time. A little sad for no reason, and restless, but overall content and proud that I was officially off medication. I practiced taking it easy on myself over these weeks and trying to see the bigger picture rather than dwelling on the feelings of sadness. It helped to remind myself that everyone feels sad sometimes.   Weeks 6 – 10 This is when it hit me. The feelings of anxiety crept up and engulfed me in a huge way. I would lie awake at night with constant random words and picture running through my head. Nothing made sense. I was foggy in school and felt like I was watching myself live my life rather than living it. This feeling of dissociating really scared me as I felt like I had no control over my mind and body. I had feelings of wanting to rip off my skin, as I felt so uncomfortable in my own body. I had forgotten how bad my anxiety was, as the SSRI’s really had been masking it all these years. I called my mom in tears on numerous occasions due to the fear of having a panic attack or the realization that maybe I want ready for this and that maybe I still needed the SSRI’s to keep my brain stable. I then had a very motivating talk with my therapist who explained what I was experiencing to me in the best way. She said that the SSRI’s I had been taking were equivalent to meditating for 3 hours a day for my anxiety levels and that I couldn’t possibly take away this drug and not replace it with another form of treatment. This shocked me as I had assumed that I would be able to stop the medication and move on with my life free from anxiety. But through this conversation I realized that this is going to be something I will have to deal with my whole life and that I just need to find different ways to manage my anxiety now that I do not have the help of the drugs.
Finding new ways to manage my anxiety while hiking in New Zealand

Finding new ways to manage my anxiety while hiking in New Zealand

Weeks 10 and onward After week 10 I had developed numerous ways to cope with my anxiety while being a busy junior in college, balancing school, work, friends, family and other hobbies. I have developed numerous strategies (stay tuned for the next post- in which I will share my favorites!) to help maintain calm and manage my daily stress. I have not had a serious incidence of anxiety since week 10 and am able to assess my levels throughout the day in order to adjust my schedule and minimize my anxiety. I honestly never thought I would get to this point, during weeks 7 and 8 I was even considering getting back on the medication and putting this whole thing into the too-hard box. But now, looking back on it, I am glad that I pushed through. I think I was ready to see what my mind was like without being altered and I was in such a good place in my recovery that I could finally use all of the tools I have learned to actually manage my anxiety on my own. Being off SSRI’s is empowering as I now feel like I am in control and capable of anything.   A Challenge for you this week We all have some coping strategies that we know in our hearts are not the best thing for us. For example drinking at night in order to relax after a hard day, or working out obsessively to reduce stress. This is also how I view the SSRI medication I was on. I challenge you this week to try a new, more authentic, coping strategy instead of relying on a quick fix that is habitual to you. Instead of using a beer to relax, try reading a book or going for an after dinner walk. The options are endless and I know you will feel better in the long run. Have an amazing week!! Robin