• To keep the body in good health is a duty, otherwise we shall not be able to keep our mind strong and clear.

    - Buddha
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Prisoner of Zen

The above title explains my reluctance to promote my first book Growing Through Concrete on The Zen Healer blog. I didn’t want to contradict the Buddhist no-soul perspective even though my healing work has focused on ways to listen to your soul and keep it intact while facing health crises. Recently a colleague sent this email:

Hi Cara Michelle,

I heard this recently and it made me think of you:

Another time Mitsu told Shunryu that she was having trouble understanding Kishizawa’s lectures and asked if he could tell her in a few words what Buddhism was all about.

“Mmmmm,” he murmured breathing out slowly. “Accept what is as it is and help it to be its best.”

Your perspective on “soul” may not be very zen, but when it come to helping what is be its best you’re TOTALLY zen.

🙂

I realized that he is right and I’m very proud to share my revelations on the Soul with you. I hope you’ll click here to check out the webpage for my book Growing Through Concrete.

Warmest Blessings, Cara Michelle

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Ki? Qi? Prana? Subtle Life Energy?

“Begin when the spirit moves you.”

I use the above words in class when instructing students to begin their practice sessions. In other words, “wait for the energy to move you, wait to be animated, wait to be inspired.” At the start of a healing session, take a moment to ensure that you’re calmly grounded in body and mind before gently contacting the client’s mind and body. Essentially, you’re waiting to feel the spirit moving through you.

It has only recently been realized that when indigenous people speak of spirit in their healing traditions, their definition of the word spirit is the same as our scientific explanation for energy.

Perhaps when a Druid Priest, Shaman or Medicine Man prayed to or called forth the spirit in an old oak tree this was not an appeal to a ghost living in the woods but reverence from an heart-felt understanding of scientific principles explaining how much energy, or how much spirit, it takes to become a 250 year-old oak tree. The indigenous healer actively acknowledges the deliberate transformation from tiny acorn to mighty tree and allows this wisdom to move through him, to inspire him, to animate his being. In my healing practice and in the classroom, I use the word spirit synonymously with the following terms: energy, Ki, Qi, Prana, Mana, life force, subtle energy, vital energy, ethereal body and universal energy. Spirit is energy; spirit is everywhere and in everything.

The word that you’re most comfortable using depends on your cultural background and on whom you are talking with. I prefer spirit because it expresses an experiential quality about energy that is difficult to put into words; elusive yet graspable and it shouldn’t be neglected when expressing one’s physical experience of the human spirit.

An example is when we talk about a person’s fighting spirit, or stamina of spirit. Here, the word spirit conveys the feeling-tone by giving the person’s energy an outwardly emotional experience. To me, when one uses only the word energy it lacks the subjective expression and subsequent transformation of character that is essential in mind-body-spirit healing.

To further clarify, here is my operational definition of spirit used for the purposes of Spiritual Healing or Soul Healing:

The Universe’s energy is Spirit, capable of infinite expansion and contraction. It is a real force that can be intuitively perceived and mentally directed. The best way to strengthen one’s Spirit is to understand and practice the unification of mind and body.

According to William Reed, author of Ki A Practical Guide for Westerners, “A Japanese dictionary defines Ki as mind, spirit, or heart. It lists hundreds of expressions, which use the word Ki; most of them ordinary ways of talking about human moods, attitudes, or character. It is sometimes given a more philosophical meaning. In the martial arts and Chinese Medicine, the word Ki refers to a subtle form of vital energy. Ki is the life force; a source of internal strength.”

I find it interesting that after looking up the word spirit in an online English dictionary it was defined in pretty much the same way as Ki was in the Japanese dictionary. Definitions include subtle forms of vital energy, divine energies, moods, attitudes, and character:

spir·it -noun

  1. the vital principle in humans, animating the body or mediating between body and soul.
  2. conscious, incorporeal being, as opposed to matter: the world of spirit.
  3. a supernatural, incorporeal being especially one inhabiting a place, object., or having a particular character
  4. an attitude or principle that inspires, animates, or pervades thought, feeling, or action: the spirit of reform.
  5. the soul or heart as the seat of feelings or sentiments, or as promoting to action: a man of broken spirit.
  6. spirits, feelings or mood with regard to exaltation or depression: low spirits; good spirits.
  7. excellent disposition or attitude in terms of vigor, courage, firmness of intent, etc.; mettle: That’s the spirit!
  8. temper or disposition: meek in spirit.
  9. The Spirit, God.

Chinese Medicine is an example of a traditional yet highly scientific understanding of energy. The ancient Chinese described a life force circulating in the body that protected, nourished, and animated all life. This is the foundation of Chinese Medical Theory: universal, life force energy, Qi, in its various stages of vibration and manifestation. It’s important to mention that their concept was universal and widely accepted. The ancient Greeks called it pneuma; Indians from the far east, prana; Paracelsus called it quintessence; the founder of homeopathy called it vital force; and my favorite is Mr. Mesmer’s magnetism.

All of these concepts are referring to the energy that is found in the tiniest particles that create and form everything in the Universe. This is actually the same as the concept that is accepted in quantum physics: the entire Universe is comprised of the same energy in varying stages. If you accept that the word spirit can be used interchangeably with the word energy, in the same way as pneuma and magnetism, then spirit is no longer only the mysterious, such as angels and aura, divine beings and holy light, even human consciousness expressed as attitudes, but also the observable, such as earth, rock, metal and this includes you. You are spirit.

Everything that exists is spirit continually transforming itself into and being expressed by varying forms. If you consider the process of life, beginning with conception, then birth, growth and finally death you can see that there are many stages of form, or physical expression of your spirit. Spirit is manifesting as the underlying change in all processes in the Universe.

All phenomena are interdependent through Spirit.

Spirit is “the One” from the opening line in Lau Tzu’s Tao Te Ching:

The Tao begets the One,

the One begets the Two,

the Two begets the Three,

the Three beget the Ten thousand things,

All things are backed by the shade,

faced by the light

and harmonized by the immaterial breath.

“One Gave Birth to Two”

I believe that Chinese Medicine is based on man’s reverence for spirit in all things. Why else conceptualize and then express yin and yang as harmonized by the immaterial breath? The philosophy of two, always separate, yet connected includes the Universe. Well, what if we divided the Universe into yin and yang? Our temporal world of matter (planets, trees, mountains, streams) is the yang Universe, while the spiritual world full of unseen phenomena (particles and waves) is the yin Universe. Physical life and spiritual life are united. This balance is described in not only Lao Tzu’s Tao Teh Ching: ‘the One begets the Two, the Two begets the Three’ but also in quantum physics.

In Soul or Spiritual Healing it is important to understand that even though everything can be divided into yin and yang all things are seen as their mutual source (One) and then subsequent transformations. Essentially, all things are witnessed as one source of the Spirit that creates into differing appearances.

Perhaps you’re wondering what is the point in my preference for the word spirit over the word energy when speaking of the vital principle of healing? One simple point: the strength and courage to heal and renew oneself is spirit; so, why not choose to be mighty like the oak tree?

Healing Lies In Relationship

Ease Pain With That Which Holds The Universe Together

Healing relies on a true synergism of physical, psychological and spiritual harmony within the individual. And this synergism, or lack thereof, comes from relationship.

But within our relationship to what? or to whom?

As I write this I wonder how many of us share a complete understanding of the meaning of the word relationship?

Jiddhu Krishnamurti says, “the meaning of the word (relationship) is to be related, actually to be related, to be in contact, to have empathy, sympathy, a sensitivity that understands each other completely, not partially.”

Krishnamurti’s simple explanation strongly emphasizes relating, contacting, understanding each other completely. In essence he describes sympathy and intimacy with one another. He describes communion, does he not? Communion means to have an intimate communication, a sharing of emotions.

In an older post titled Eros Heals, I wrote on an element of healing that is often overlooked: It is to approach an individual with eros for the landscape of their pain. According to Thomas Moore, “This is not eros as sex but eros in its true origin, which is relatedness.”

Prior to the Greek use of the word, eros referred to the coherence that holds the entire Universe together. I can’t give an in-depth explanation on the coherence, or fabric, that holds the entire Universe together; it’s beyond my basic scope. I can conceptualize, however, from a Naturalistic perspective that that which holds the Universe together is participating in its continuation.

For the Greeks, eros was much more than cosmic glue as it inspired a highly spiritual form of Love that united our bodies with our souls. Yes, the Greeks were wonderfully amorous with their intimations on the merging of body and soul. Their description reveals our purity and offers a complete understanding of the responsibility we have for every action on our planet.

Approach Your Client or Patient With Eros

Real Love, as eros is experiencing our oneness in the expression of our mutual origin. Approaching your client or patient with eros, with oneness in expression, is altruistic and highly intimate, it yields a complete understanding that relates to the individual’s pain. In mind-body-spirit healing this unravels the deeper wound of our shared separation.

Healing is primal: It is vital to address psychophysically and neurochemically the mechanism of distress but this is a part of a larger process: If the primal is not acknowledged then this approach risks becoming mere escape from pain, thus strengthening the pain by habitualizing the escape. For many, escape becomes ritualized within routine creating a desperate loop inviting a new pain within a new illness.

Spirit completes the process: Not what a reductionist may think of as neurospiritual, but purity in spirit because it is subjective: It is to help someone accept and honor their pain and fears as a wounded part that needs to bond intimately, to belong, to share, and to receive that which holds the Universe together.

The principle element: Vulnerability: Healers must learn to express the consistency of eros for one another effortlessly. One does not intellectualize nor even need to differentiate Love from fleeting emotions. However, one does guide the individual in sharing the truth of their pain. You’ll recall that the word communion means to have an intimate communication, a sharing of emotions.

This open sharing may or may not be expressed through spoken words. Words represent our beliefs but mean little if they do not carry our truth. My favorite Martha Graham quote is, “The body says what words cannot.” Herein, sharing through tears, gestures, tension, a sigh, cries, an embrace and trembling communicates the truth of the individual’s pain. However, the sharing that I refer to is even subtler, elusive to the senses and is intuited through our attunement to the other person; a true navel-to-navel connection.

I can only describe the experience of my shared calling to be in service: To hold the emotional sensitivities of the individual’s pain within eros’ more coherent emotional expression, fueling the person’s reverence for their whole body, their wounded parts; allowing the unraveling to begin…

So in seeking healing, look within relationship. In relationship, relating comes from our oneness. In our oneness, Love comes into being. And within Love, one’s suffering is eased by that which holds the Universe together. Thus complete healing lies within relationship.

They do not love that do not show their love. -William Shakespeare

Finding Inner Assurance

Confidence and the lack thereof is a hot topic in my classroom. Some have it. Many are working on it.

ascetic_person-3in

But everyone agrees that confidence is an essential ingredient for their continued success. Luckily, for those who find it elusive, there are countless ways to cultivate belief in your abilities but only one true way to ensure inner assurance. Needless to say, meditation is the way.

Why meditation? Ours is a culture that thrives on how-to’s.  We’ve been taught to rely on proven methods to solve our unique issues. And many feel that meditation requires a process that needs to be verbalized as steps in order to cultivate their own inner certainty.

Do you see the irony in responding to meditation by needing assurance that you are doing it correctly? I’ve become accustomed to a few silent stares when I instruct my students to meditate. Though mute, some stares are hungry and restless for direction.

The classic challenge for the seeking mind is that it always gets in its own way. Thus, traditions and protocols are born, lessons are handed down and ‘ways’ are set in stone. Follow the leader, Simon Says, Read this How-To so that You Can Do… this is classic foundational learning. The problem for me is that then one’s boldness resides outside instead of within. There is a big difference between confidently following someone’s cues and resolutely following your inner voice. The goal is to fully apply yourself to the former process and then learn to let go. The latter requires what is referred to in Zen as the beginner’s mind. This is a mindset that loves to express, to experience and to play instead of a mind conditioned for the next perfect performance. Allow your courage to come from within.

The author of the renowned classic Autobiography of a Yogi, Paramahansa Yogananda taught that “he whose breath, life, and feeling are calm, he can have faith born of intuition; it cannot be possessed by persons who are emotionally restless.” The point is to develop an all-encompassing inner life that will keep you calm and will bring immediate comprehension of truth and your own unique steps in life. Anyone can have this remarkable realization and meditation is the way.

Meditation Does More Than Cultivate Inner Assurance.

I believe that meditation is the passageway that links what mystics call the “Great below,” the unconscious to the “Great above,” the conscious.

A discipline, an art, a child’s calling for solace… slowing down, becoming still, sitting in silence with a quiet mind mirrors the transmutation of life energy in Nature’s sacred season of the Great below; the season of water’s wisdom, winter.

All energy needs to be conserved for unseen processes to take root, to gestate, to be dreamed for the manifestation of our ideas. It’s important to understand that finding emotional peace in the state of no mind is not a sacred pardon from the cycles of pain and pleasure; it is the direct conduit to your wholeness and brings insight in the midst of pain and pleasure. It brings assurance that all experiences are valuable.

Meditation brings insight and meaning to our transformational stages and we can gradually come to terms with any anguish that we suffer. Pain that is understood from the honesty of your soul, sensitizes and opens us to a deeper communion within and to the world, making us ever more receptive to the unconsciousness in our lives.

A life without meditation is a life lived as a puppet to the dramas of your mind allowing uncertainty to reign. 

Teachers of religion and spirituality often are guides for advanced meditative practices. Observing the movement from season to season confirms that meditation is an essential process for Nature’s renewal. I believe that in our modern times, meditation is the appropriate time to experience the ‘ascetic detachment’ we read about in spiritual literature. Being naked, stripped of your achievements in the sanctity of your meditation brings forth renewal.

You must develop and maintain your own meditative practice if you’re not already a student of meditation as guidance because it is Nature’s corridor to finding your inner assurance. At any time you may purposefully tap into your unconscious to ask for guidance; answers come to those with an open heart.

One of the hardest things in life is having words in your heart that you can’t utter.

James Earl Jones

Zen and The Way of The Motorcycle

Life’s Turning Points Require the Balance of Yin and Yang. That is the Balance of Heart and Head.

Imagine yourself on a motorcycle racing at the breakneck speed of 200 mph and out of nowhere an abrupt left turn appears on the racetrack called LIFE.

Adrenaline is coursing throughout your body; your attention, reflexes and instincts are functioning at optimum performance levels. The task requires a Zen mind: stay in the moment, navigate the turn to avoid losing balance thus avoiding injury, failure and death.

Physiologically this is often how the crucial turning points feel in our hurried and hectic lives. In the world of motorcycling, maintaining momentum along your path at the accelerated speed, just as in our modern lives, requires a skillful adjustment– the balance of two complementary forces to avoid falling over. In Nature this is known as the balance of Yin and Yang.

As the moto-racer you carefully adjust your weight to one side leaning away from inertia’s pull while counter steering the handles to create stability. My partner once explained this counter-instinctive phenomena; he is a skilled motorcyclist and while taking a sharp left turn at a high speed he will lean his body to the left but turns the handles toward the right to maintain stability.

A snapshot of any racer going around a sharp curve at that speed appears unstable when extracted from basic quantities like speed, distance and weight. If the racer puts all his energy and focus into leaning into the turn and ignores the importance of steering away to maintain equilibrium then he would loose control and end up being thrown off course. To lessen injury the racer must let go of the bike, relax into inertia and pray that there are no trees or large rocks in the way. By then it is all in the hands of destiny.

You may want to consider modeling a moto-racer’s precision when navigating a turning point or major decision in your business affairs or personal life. Before reacting learn to embrace any obstacle or major decision with your heart, but to avoid being thrown off course, or worse, being harmed, be sure to steer with your intellect.

The word embrace actually means to press to the bosom; to hug. On the racetrack the rider must lean into the abrupt turn practically hugging the asphalt. And in life when you genuinely accept what has been thrown your way you can choose to embrace it, to press it into your chest, and hold it with the arms of compassion.

When you embrace an obstacle or an uncomfortable moment in your life then you are accepting your present circumstance. This is different than concluding, “this shouldn’t be happening to me,” “they are out to get me” or defensively blaming the situation on someone else’s lack of competence. Those statements and attitudes deny the truth that you find yourself in.

Don’t misunderstand me. Yes, you’re expressing the emotions that you are feeling in that moment, however your emotions are in denial because you’re caught up in feeling that it is not fair or you are blaming yourself or others.

By embracing the circumstance then you allow different emotions to surface that will need to be expressed. Sure, it will still feel like you’re walking across a tightrope without a net or speeding out of control but your new attitude about the situation will help you skillfully navigate to the other side while tapping into the best parts of your intellect. The secret here is in your attitude.

This Wouldn’t Have Happened If So-And-So Did Her Job Right…

If you’re not leaning into the circumstance with an open heart and embracing all the parts then you’re caught up in the past or future. Perhaps you’re thinking that this wouldn’t have happened if so-and-so did her job better or if you went to such-and-such school… These feelings create specific attitudes and those attitudes will dictate how you view the situation and the choices that you make.

It takes courage to accept the present moment. It takes a strong heart to embrace the circumstance with compassion and accept that it is supposed to be there otherwise it wouldn’t have been on your racetrack.

Embrace It All, Now You’re Ready To Be Steered To Action!

Western society has advanced by marrying the thinking mind with action; therefore reward is bestowed on those who can analyze a situation and swiftly make impersonal judgment. The problem is that most make personal judgments that lead only to personal gain without considering the harm that this may cause others.

Incredible progress has come from this, but in light of the financial catastrophe of the last two years and many other similar offenses, so has greed and corruption and with that there is no Heart.

Balance your Head with your Heart and vice versa. This is what it means to be born of this planet. Even if you’re speeding toward your destiny at 200 mph you can skillfully create a world in which you do little harm to those around you and to the ground you walk upon. You can create wealth and cultivate personal peace.

How to Develop Power and Focus in Your Hara

Cultivating Energy in the Hara

Shiatsu and Reiki healers use this meditation technique. I first learned it while on retreat at the Dai Bosatsu Zen Monastery. 

 

Sitting Posture: Legs Crossed in the Half-Lotus Position

Sitting Posture: Legs Crossed in the Half-Lotus Position

There are two basic sitting postures for harnessing powerful energy through your vital center. The two sitting postures are either performed crossed leg on the floor or sitting on the edge of a low stool or chair with your feet planted on the ground. 

Sitting in the crossed leg position is known as the ‘Lotus Posture’ and you can sit in either of two variations—half lotus or full lotus. In the sitting posture you will want to place a small cushion or folded towel under your bottom to lift your pelvis. This will slightly tuck the pelvis forward and prevent any strain in your lower back.

Once in the crossed leg position bring your attention to your head, neck and shoulders. Imaging a taut string attached to the center of the top of your head. Lengthen upward as if a puppeteer is pulling on the string. Neck straight, chin drawn slightly down and inward.  Relax your shoulders while inhaling deeply into your hara filling your entire body with fresh, revitalizing Ki.

Your shoulders should remain relaxed. Gently close your eyes halfway and gaze downward about ten feet in front of you. Take a moment to re-check the alignment of your spine. Is your nose aligned with your navel? Are your ears aligned over your shoulders?

 

The hands are particularly sensitive to Ki. How they are held during any practice has an influence on how Ki moves in, out and through the human system.

The hands are particularly sensitive to Ki. How they are held during any practice has an influence on how Ki moves in, out and through the human system.

Next follow this instruction from Shunryu Suzuki, in his classic Zen Mind, Beginner Mind“If you put your left hand on top of your right, middle joints of your middle fingers together, and touch your thumbs lightly together (as if you held a piece of paper between them), your hands will make a beautiful oval (photo above). You should keep this universal mudra with great care, as if you were holding something very precious in your hand. Your hands should be held against your body, with your thumbs at about the height of your navel. Hold your arms freely and easily, and slightly away from your body, as if you held an egg under each arm without breaking it.”

The hands are particularly sensitive to Ki. Hand positions, known asmudra in Sanskrit, are regarded as very important aspects of meditation practice. The position of the hands has an influence on the movement of the Ki energy.

Remain relaxed and release any muscle tension. Breathe naturally. Your breath will find its own pace and you may notice that it naturally slows and deepens. Inhale and exhale through your nose and allow the in-breath to sink deep into your abdomen.  Visualize your breath falling into a point just below your navel. This point is the tanden (or dantian in Chinese).

For thousands of years people in the East have developed methods to gather energy from the tanden, this is the source of primal wisdom and vital energy that resides within each of us.

Where Your Mind Goes Your Energy Follows

Allow your mind to settle on the rhythm of your breathing. Bring your attention fully to your hara. Each inhalation renews this source of energy while each exhalation draws from it. After ten minutes you may bring all of your attention to focus on the tanden. It may be helpful to imagine a point of gold light in the dark of your abdomen.

If your thoughts drift gently direct them back to the rhythm of your breath and onto the golden light at your center. Own that part of your body.

Allow the energy of the hara to move up your spine and throughout your body. This energized feeling is peace from being in balance.

It is while cultivating energy from the hara that the emptiness of non-doing brings you peace and brings you back to your source to your true nature.

Cultivating energy from this center point requires consistent practice. Stay humble and move through every moment of each day through your hara.

In the words of scholar, Christopher Markert, “When you engage the energy of your Dan-Tien (tanden), your daily tasks become artful activities in which you joyfully engage yourself.”

Being focused in your vital center is bliss, while any suffering is simply a communication from your Body and your Mind that you have lost touch with your true nature. In fact, one could even say that you are out of touch with Nature in general and the cosmic life force.