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Author: sprath

What do 3 Main World Religions say about Consciousness (in 82 seconds)?

I am writing this article as a quick thought, as an epiphany that dawned on me as I worked to unravel this “consciousness” thing.  I realized that my religious exposure (Christian) did not give me any space to accept that I could evolve into something greater or experience something greater.  That was the stuff of God, not lowly me.  So, part of my not waking up to my potential was not understanding that it was possible.

Know that the way western religion is structured and the way we celebrate extreme cases of success have influenced what we see as possible for ourselves.  Since religion or eastern traditions are how most of conceptualize this powerful mental serenity called “consciousness,”  let’s take a quick look at 3 main world traditions that truly believe that a calm, controlled, “awareness” or “consciousness” is available to all of us.

Buddhism

world religions consciousnessBuddhism is a tradition that was imported to China from India in the first centuries A.D.  Indian Buddhism and Chinese Buddhism teach practitioners how to free themselves from suffering by practicing meditation, understanding philosophy, and using devotional practices.  According to Buddhism, all people are capable of becoming like the Buddha.  Fully awake, aware, and enlightened.

 

world religions consciousnessTaoism

Taoism is the most ancient of the three schools of Chinese spirituality (Buddhism, Confucianism, and Taoism).  Taoism means “the study of the Way.”  This concept is difficult to completely define because this Way refers to a “reality that is beyond words and concepts.”  You make progress in life through introspection and observation, not through following a dogma or church.   It has its roots in ancient healing arts where solutions were pursued through observation of the environment and intuition, not through books or the use of the intellect.

Hinduism

Our understanding of Hinduism is shaped by Western notions of religion as it was originally documented during colonialism.  It is actually too broad to be categorized as one system of spirituality or one tradition.  Hinduism has no unquestionable religious authority or governing body.  It has no prophet nor any singular holy book.  Instead several revered Hindu texts cover how to transcend what we face here on earth through good conduct, purification, pilgrimage, self-inquiry, meditation, discipline, and surrender.

 

Notice that ALL of these traditions see that the power to improve our mental state and thereby improve our lives is available to all of us.  They are not debating whether you can or can’t. The only difference is the degree to which you have transformed yourself, based on where your currently are on your own path.

 

What Being Aware or Conscious Really Is

There is a lot of confusion about what it truly means to be conscious, aware, or present as well as confusion as to whether this is even obtainable by the average person.  Images of spiritual leaders sitting cross-legged for hours have pervaded our culture.

When we think about obtaining a calm, focused, even powerful thought process it is often seen as something that is outside of us, something that is greater than us, or something we are not worthy of.   Also, this is often not thought of as obtainable without taking religion into consideration.

What Being Aware is

This gets a bit deep for a minute.  Hang with me because I will end with some concrete examples to bring the point home and help us understand why this is so important.

Awareness is re-introducing ourselves to a wide mental space that surrounds our thinking.  For most of us, thinking is this space.  Being aware is waking up to the fact that there is a huge vastness where our thinking happens, that is separate from our thoughts.  This space, this awareness, feels like who we truly think we are.  When we connect with it, we are happy.  If we can stay with it for even a tiny amount of time, it hits us that our thoughts are something else – not – us.

An overriding quality is that it is a completely natural experience.  It feels like the true you and it feels right when you are able to turn your thoughts off and hangout in it for a while.  It is always there and always unchanging.

Being aware is a process of doing less not more

This is hard to believe: that you can do less and have greater results.  It is easier to fill your time or energy with more activities/plans/organization apps/healthy foods, rather than doing less.  The forward step is very familiar to us.  Seeking, striving, changing. Always looking for peace, happiness, or love.

Taking control of your mind is actually a process of taking a step backward, not achieving or striving.  Just sit for a second and contemplate whether or not what you want isn’t already there.

“I want a million bucks!” you say.  And that definitely is not here.  But why do you want a million bucks? Security?  Happiness?  Is that feeling here? Will a million bucks really give you that?  Maybe.  Contemplation while you are “aware” has a different quality to it than just regular thinking.  Contemplation during awareness either gives you answers or action steps to get what you are after.

being awareBeing Aware is not inaction

So…, you just sit there right?  One of the greatest myths about mindfulness or conscious thought is that it leads to passivity or inaction.  Most people pass through a period of doing less or doing nothing.  But it is typically due to the waking up to how insane we have been acting.  Seeing how packed our schedule is with stuff we hate, stuff we have busied ourselves with to avoid the difficult but impactful tasks, and stuff that is not aligned with who we are.  This “stuff” stops when seen in the light of insanity. So in effect, mindfulness causes in-action.  But, only temporarily to clear the schedule to be able to pursue what really matters.  What happens in this big scary empty space?  Creativity, epiphany, and deep thinking.

The goal of awareness is not to forget everything

We want free and clear thought but we don’t actually want an empty brain.  We need all sorts of practical knowledge to go about our day.  Practical knowing is not the problem and not the thing we need to get rid of.   It is what is arising around or behind this practical knowledge that is useful to us.  Yes, you need to do things like book tickets for next week’s trip.  But do you need to fret about it for the next 7 days?  Do you need to get mad because you couldn’t apply your points to the flight?

being awareBeing Aware (to me) means…

Seeing everything the other way around.  Maintaining the practical knowing to do everything in our day that needs to be done, while becoming familiar with this quiet space that surrounds our thoughts.  Because in this space lies the bandwidth to enjoy deep thinking, creativity, and deep meaning.

 

New content on consciousness and “waking up!”

Hi TCB community!
A quick note on the posts that are going to be coming out over then next several months. We launched this survey “Deepen Your Tai Chi Practice” and had a really great response from many of you in the community. In putting together what people are struggling with and what people want to improve, we saw some significant trends.

People shared that they want greater connection, both physically to chi and to life itself.

People wanted more knowledge on being present, being conscious, or increasing their awareness.

People overwhelmingly wanted information on how to quiet/calm the mind.

So for the next several months I will write on these topics. I have compiled a lot of research in this area and will use these posts for synthesizing it and bringing it together.

Please continue to comment and post so that I can refine the content and keep moving in the right direction.

The first essay will be published in two days!

Yours in health.

Scott

Are you New to Meditation?  

Whether you are experienced or new to meditation, let’s talk about meditation in a new light.  It has long held a reputation in the west that makes it seem mystical, difficult, culturally different, and not something people routinely add to their day.

If you were to interview 1000 of the ultra-successful people you would find that the vast majority have a practice based on meditation.  They will refer to it in different ways.  Usually it will be described in a way that is comfortable for their culture, experience or belief system.  They may call it mindfulness, meditation, or even prayer.

“When you know what THE one thing is that makes all things happen, you protect it at all costs.”

Here are some benefits in you are new to meditation

What they share is the collective belief that time is needed to rest, rejuvenate, and empower the one thing that makes everything else possible.  “Presence of Mind” let’s us clearly see what is important and be open to what is possible.

  • Reducing stress
  • Increasing focus
  • Increasing self-awareness, happiness, peace, and joy
  • Improving healthy living
  • It has a significant impact in your life

Types of Meditation

Comparing meditation to sports is a great way to understand it.  There are many different types of meditation and each is undertaken for different reasons.  Just like sports has soccer or swimming, or boxing, meditation has its own categories.

They can be grouped by:

  • Mantra-based: repetition of a word or phrase over and over again
  • Observational: sitting in a calm state and watching the thoughts that come up
  • Concentrative: focus on the breath, a gong, or a sound
  • Aspirational: cultivate a quality

“Meditation can reintroduce you to the part that has been missing.”

Russell Simmons

Meditation tips

  • “Meditation:  Because some questions cannot be answered by Google.”There are no rules: Don’t get caught up in the way it’s done. You don’t need to buy anything special.
  • Start small: Choose just a few minutes.
  • No expectations: Don’t expect to have good or great meditations. Have sessions that you don’t feel anything. It is about the process and the eventual momentum.
  • Make a commitment: The benefits can be seen after a series of small changes.  Meditate for short periods for 30 days.
  • Choose the path that feels right to you. There are many types and heritages of meditation. Choose whatever you connect with and seems doable to you.

“Meditation:  Because some questions cannot be answered by Google.”

Unknown

new to meditationBasic Steps

  1. Find a quiet place to sit: If you are new to meditation, don’t agonize over your posture.  You want an erect spine but choose a chair or cushions that are comfortable to you.
  2. Set your intention: Just think about the type of meditation and set your intention about what you would like to accomplish.
  3. Set a time if you are beginning: The whole idea of meditation can be daunting.  Set and timer so that your mind is willing to work on focusing because it knows there is an end near.
  4. Focus on your intention: Think about your intention and when your mind interrupts you, just gently return to your intention.
  5. Focus with the Dot Method: Use the Dot Method described in the Advanced Methods section to accurately focus your mind for a short period of time.  It is incredible useful for minds that are difficult to focus and quiet down (e.g. all of ours!).
  6. Bring your mediation to a close. 5-10 minutes/day is great for beginners.  Consistency trumps perfection.

Once you get the hang of meditation, you can dive deeper around a specific thought, incorporate imagination, and even express some gratitude during your session.  Structure is not necessary for every day.

What is Meditation and Why Should I Meditate?

Mediation is a process of awakening.  Awakening to what?  To the truth, to your thoughts, to the great aspects of your life. To whatever you want to accomplish.  It is designed to give us a greater awareness of something important to us.  It has been practiced throughout history and is enjoying a resurgence in popularity in the west.

That sounds esoteric doesn’t it?  Hang with me for a second.   We all have a sense of who we are and what it feels like to be happy.  When we are unhappy with the current situation or ourselves, we feel a suffering because of the perceived distance between what we are experiencing and where we want to be in life.  If we are in pain, we don’t want pain.  If we are angry because of someone’s actions, we want this corrected to get back to not-angry or something better.  Agreed?  At least accept for a second that you may not want to be where you are which results in your personal brand of discomfort.[hr]

What is MeditationSecondly, we cannot accomplish what we want in a bad state.  Creative thinking can’t come from a space of overthinking.  Great health cannot come from a depressed state.  Confidence cannot radiate out of anxiety.  So, point two is that this separation, this distance, is limiting our capacity, or in simple terms, is contributing to our unhappiness.[hr]

Lastly, we typically focus on external changes to improve our situation.  This often takes a lot of energy and sends us overboard in the wrong direction.  We want to lose weight so we start a restrictive diet and a 5-day-a-week workout plan which cannot be sustained.  Yes, we need to take action, but the first step is to STOP doing what you are doing.  This is where meditation comes in.[hr]

What is MeditationThink of our actions as if they were balls on a pendulum.  It requires a lot of energy to pull away from the center in order to create the force necessary to move back to the center.  This results in an equivalent reaction on the other end that comes crashing back.  This is the ill-conceived diet that makes you ravenous for the food you need less of. This is the superman workout routine that results in injury.  Are you exhausted?  Are you ready to stop feeling punished just because you want change for the better?

What is meditation truly?

Accept that every action you are conceiving of to help your situation has to pass through this neutral centrality.  Just go their first.  This is meditation.  The quality of actions that come out of this central place of thinking is powerfully accurate.  What is meditation? This is mediation.

Good Reading:

Jon Kabat-Zinn: How to Make Your Morning Routine into a Meditation

Breathing Meditation with Thich Nhat Hanh

 

 

The benefits of meditation: 5 Reasons to seriously consider beginning today

Meditation sounds really good for us and who wouldn’t want to emulate the peaceful people we always see in pictures of meditation.  Unfortunately, meditation is not like a crossfit workout where the results of your efforts are painfully evident the next day and visible over time.

The benefits of meditation are reaped after a period of consistent practice.   With pursuits like this, it is hard to begin and sometimes hard to stick with it.  In this essay, let’s provide some of the needed BUY-IN to begin meditation, become more consistent, or remind us why we take the time to meditate.

1.Your health depends on it

Many major afflictions can be directly linked to your thinking.  Heart attacks, back pain, headaches, and gut issues can be stress-induced.  Weight gain and dietary struggles can result from using favorite foods to improve your mood. Weight retention, memory loss, attention abilities, and a lack of clear thinking can be caused by disrupted or reduced sleep.  We would not go so far as to say that major illness can be cured by the benefits of meditation. However, changes in your thinking can positively impact your recovery, the duration, and your experience with pain, illness, and suffering.

2. There is now a short learning curve

Major religions and eastern traditions used to be the sole provider of methods for enhancing and clearing the mind.  These teachings were passed down orally and often involved extensive learning and complex sequences of movements.  Thanks to the rapidly shrinking and connected world, we all have access to resources and teachers from every continent.  Practitioners are translating bodies of work at an incredible pace and progress is now scientifically verifiable.

3. There is little or no cost to do so

Are you sitting down?  Good.  That is about all you need to be able to experience the benefits of meditation.  We just need to assess our current situation: how happy/calm/energized/motivated we are.  Then we meditate and re-examine our life.  The benefits of meditation can largely be felt in what is NO LONGER present. Meditation can show us how our current habits may be contributing to our current state and give us indicators on how to change. There are additional books, courses, and suggested materials to help each of us depending on our current situation.  But the overhead on this adventure is minimal at best.

4. You will experience true autonomy

A chattering, pessimistic, unfocused mind has undiscussed negative consequences.  When we are overridden by our thoughts, we often act (or don’t) out of fear.  We envision all the bad things that can happen and feel trapped.  We react to problems instead of responding to opportunities.  The difference being that we don’t think clearly, create mistakes, and often cause more work for ourselves.  Additionally, we can be the victim of other people’s verbal abuse or work-environment negativity.

Conversely, control over your thoughts offers a chance for real autonomy.  Imagine not living out of fear and being present-to but not affected-by negative people and events around you.  Negative people in your environment now cause a feeling of sympathy to well up, not pessimism.  We all know that when customers and friends contact us with their problems, they are telling us how to help them.  We just need to be in the right mental place to be aware of it and to think through a solution.

5. You can get what you want out of life

What are we truly saying when we want the benefits of meditation?  When we want focus?  When we don’t want to be plagued by anxiety and want to sleep at night? We are saying that we want free space to think about things that make us happy, to plan, to be mentally present during important milestones and events.

We want our mind to stop the nonsense so we can be creative and contribute to something of value.  Whether it is at work, with our family, or in our community.  We are not being the best version of ourselves in any circumstance if we are not actually mentally present or are dragging baggage into unrelated conversations.

What we think we want is no-thinking, an end to ceaseless negative banter.  But what we really want is the power to choose what we think about, and use our powerful brain to create situations that give our lives meaning.

 

And here is Homer if you need motivation:  Homer Meditates

Energy Centers in the Body : Culture and History Overlap

Several eastern systems of religion and thought describe energy centers in the body that determine our health and can be accessed and supported with activities to improve our physical and mental state.  If this sounds like complete hogwash to you, rest assure that western culture, medicine, and modern takes on our religions do not support it either.  At best, they entertain the possibility of its existence but are on standby until some “proof” is offered.[hr]

Here is why their position is valid.  These energy systems cannot be cut into, dissected, seen under magnification, or captured as a specimen.  Going further, it is experiential – meaning that you need direct experience to feel it and then have to try to explain your experience through language alone, not data.  True scientific discovery is validated by large scale studies and the ability to replicate results.   So western medicine and beliefs are not wrong.  They are just limited by how they define proof.

Know that professionally I am a researcher and I spend most of my day living in this very concrete world.  For every 10 theories I work on, 9 go on to the trash heap or are shelved because I cannot replicate my results.  I owe it to my community to not release results until I have undertaken “the burden of proof.”

energy centers in the bodyTechnological advancements such as the fMRI are now enabling these energy fields to be seen and even captured as adepts manipulate, move, and enhance their energy fields.  I am excited by this, but am not going to lie to you and suggest that we are even remotely close to accepting these findings within our culture.  What I will share is that these systems have been studied, advanced, and improved for many years (thousands).  There is vastness in the diversity of cultures (pretty much every culture) that had some sense of these energy systems and transmitted the ideas through writings or folklore.  Let’s take a look at a few and then deep dive into a few that are pertinent to your progress in mastering your mind.

Science, History, and Folklore about the Energy Centers in the Body

energy centers in the bodyWestern scientific inquiry trying to define the powers of the brain span scientific text, mythology, and folklore.  Here are just a few expanding across all of written human history:

  • Galen (ca. 130-ca. 210 CE), a Greek medical doctor first describes the pineal gland in his 8th anatomical book: On the usefulness of the parts of the body.
  • Posidonius of Byzantium (4th century CE): imagination arises in the front of the brain and memory to the hind part.
  • Nemesius of Emesa (ca. 400 CE):  anterior ventricle is the organ of imagination, the middle ventricle the organ of reason, and the posterior ventricle the organ of memory.
  • Qusta ibn Luqa (864–923): On the difference between spirit and soul– the brain controls the flow of animal spirit between the middle and posterior ventricles.
  • Descartes (1596–1650): Fascinated with the pineal gland, Descartes wrote two books desribing it as the “principal seat of the soul, and the place in which all our thoughts are formed.”
  • Magendie (1828): the central brain is “a valve designed to open and close the cerebral aqueduct.”
  • Today: A few endangered species (tuartara lizard) and fossils from ancient creatures feature a sockets in their skull.  Because of the pineal gland’s direct connection to light and sleep, several independent studies hypothesize that the pineal gland served primitive versions of us as a dorsal third eye. (Zrenner 1985).

energy centers in the body

Spiritual Connection to Energy Centers in the Body

Here is where West and East divide.   This “Third Eye” has long been seen as a link between the spiritual and physical worlds.  Western cultures thought about it.  Eastern cultures thought about it, and actually did something with it.  Within their spiritual traditions we find tactical steps to access the healing power of the limbic system and leave the negative chatter behind.

The Chakra System

energy centers in the bodyIn Hinduism, Jainism and Buddhism, there are 7 centers of energy called Chakras that run from the base of the spine to the top of the head.  Each energy center in the body is believed to create health and energy when open and create unhealthy mental and physical states when closed.

The 6th Chakra is located in the brain at point between the eye brows. It is known as Ajna, or the third-eye chakra and is credited with giving us clear thought, and allowing us to “see” life from the view of an observer.  This is to say, removed from our emotion and thinking.

The 7th Chakra, the thousand-petaled lotus, is located on the top of the head.  Meditation and concentration on this point enables us to raise our energy level to a heavenly state.  To experience Nirvana.

energy centers in the bodyThe Three Dantians

Chinese martial arts and spiritual systems such as Taoism divide the energy system of the body into 3 Dantians.  These “elixir fields” are focal points during moving and sitting meditation to clean, engage, and improve the energy in the body.

The Upper Dantian is located at the forehead between the eyebrows or third eye and is related to our spirit and/or consciousness.  This area is considered a cauldron where spirit (thought) is refined into Wu Wei or emptiness.  Sounds nice doesn’t it?  Similar to the Chakra system, you cultivate thought and then transmute it through the upper point in the head, the Ba Hui.

Bai Hui

energy centers in the bodyBai Hui roughly translates to “hundred convergences” referring to the gathering point on top of the head where energy channels in the body meet. The use of “hundred” in Chinese is the equivalent to saying “many” and this point is also used in acupuncture for treating the “hundred diseases,” by clearing the senses and calming the spirit.

The Bai Hui corresponds to a physical place on the skill.  The small, circular, soft spot on top of  the head of a newborn is called a fontanel and fuses as a baby grows.

Sensing and feeling within the brain

Whether you accept the spiritual or historical arguments or not, there is a huge world tradition dedicated to studying and accessing the energy systems of our body to improve our mental, physical, and emotional state.

Why should you learn about this and why have so many people gone through all the trouble?  Because the reported benefits include bliss, intuition, concentration, clarity, and decisiveness.

Again, western science cannot categorically prove what is written here.  But history and tradition have provided us with tactical steps for you to experience this “blissful emptiness” with relative ease.

Taoism on how to Improve Sleep

Do you have trouble sleeping?  When did it begin?  The exact answer isn’t important.  What is important is that you remember a time when your sleep was at best, heavenly or at least, not an issue.

Most people hearken back to their childhood when sleep was powerful and rejuvenative.  Or their early 20s when sleep could be turned on whenever you were not having fun.  Out at the club until 4?  Just sleep until noon.  Need to study?  Pull an all-nighter.

 

“I wish my mind would shut off so I could sleep.”

The Relaxation Progression

From Taoism we benefit greatly from their strict studying of how to effectively use different portions of the day optimally to accomplish mental, physical, and intellectual goals.  For Taoists, different parts of the day provide us with different amounts of energy to carry out different types of tasks.  Each day is broken into 2-hour segments and associated with an animal and element.  Each 2-hour segment is further broken into 6 20-minute “Ho.”

improve sleepAs an example, 5-7 am, rabbit, is an extremely sacred segment of time because it is the transition from the Delta brainwaves of deep sleep back to full consciousness.  It is the best time to fully leverage our concentration, originality, and creative thought and is reserved for deep thinking and meditation.

So if certain time periods are advantageous for certain activities, it would be beneficial to enter that time period quickly in an optimal state of mind right?  This is where the Relaxation Progression or “Sleeping Yoga” comes in to play because the Taoists studied how to fall asleep in order to create highly restful and restorative sleep and have more meaningful dreams.

“I wish my mind would just skip the late-night thought session and just go to bed already!”

Start with the feet.  Relax tension from both feet and move up to the calves.  Take your time.  Each body part should take 5 seconds or more and you don’t move on until it feels heavy.  Let each of these body parts relax and release heavily down into the bed:Here is how it works.  Get into bed and lay on your back with your palms face down right below your belly button.  Your right palm is against the body and the left palm is on the back of the right hand.  Some people find it extremely comfortable to put a thinner pillow below the knees.  You are going to bring you attention to every body part starting with your toes and ending with your head.

improve sleepFeet – calves- knees – upper legs – hips – lower back – entire spine – abdomen – chest and ribs – upper back – neck – face – head.  Then scan the entire body.

Here is the trick:  You are not just thinking about your body part.  You imagine that you are releasing tension from each body part and feel it heavily sink into the bed and ultimately into the ground.

Next, come to your breath.

Try breathing so deeply and so softly that you wouldn’t disturb a cobweb floating in front of you.

Your mind will race or wander.  That is kind of the whole point.  When you bring attention to something it can get worse.  You are in working to slow these Beta brainwaves which indicate that we are thinking, down to the slower Alpha, Theta and hopefully Delta brainwaves where we are sleeping so well we can enter into dreaming.  Good luck if you actually make it to your head!  I can’t tell you how many times I was working up through my body sections and didn’t make it past the hips before it was lights out!

Two Bonus Suggestions:

improve sleepPut a bowl of water at head-level near your bed

The dense, calming presence of water matches the clear density of slumber that we are after.  Truthfully, “sleep yoga” requires this step but I have found the Relaxation Progression to be really powerful without it and an extra step just complicates things for some of us if we are already lying down.

 

Give gratitude for the rest you received

This last part of the Taoist’s sleeping suggestion occurs upon waking up.  We voice gratitude for the rest we got.  Even if it is not that great!  Here’s why:  The brain does not deal well with contradictions.  If you state that you are rested, the mind will look for all sorts of indications as to why this is true.  Conversely, if you announce at work that you “are a zombie” because you slept poorly (you think), the mind will also work to prove this true.[hr]

improve sleepIf you want to learn more about Taoism, check out this great audio book by Ken Cohen.

Taoism:  Essential Teachings on the Way and its Power

Standing Meditation: A Case Study

Each year in our tai chi community we have been undertaking a 21 Day Standing Meditation Challenge to bring in the new year and to help introduce standing meditation and reap the benefits.  The benefits of Standing Meditation are often difficult to explain because of their subtlety.  A student responded with his experience so I thought it only appropriate to share.

My Experience with Standing Meditation

This time last year, I found myself in very tumultuous times personally. I had hit a depressive state that I had not experienced since my mother passed away over 20 years ago. I was very unfocused, in a very dark place, and constantly had suicidal thoughts. Fortunately, during that time in my youth I was surrounded by amazing friends and remarkable professors, one of whom integrated some Tai Chi, Chi Gong, and Yoga into our daily warm-ups in class. His class was one of the most transformative classes I have ever experienced in my life. What I learned in his class laid the foundation for how I take care of myself today mentally, physically, and spiritually.

Week 1

When I heard about the standing meditation challenge last January, I felt like I was needing something like this since I found myself struggling with depression again. I liked how they spent some significant time during that first class in January to explain what was behind the meditation (ncluding these two articles: Benefits of Standing, What is pole standing?). They told a story about how Master Chen Qing Zhou would not tell them the secret to improving one’s Tai Chi, because they would not believe it.  Ultimately he shared that standing daily would improve their Tai Chi. One of the sound bites that stayed with me throughout the time that I did the standing meditation and even today is that it only takes 5 minutes of your day.

The True Commitment

I did the math: There are 1,440 minutes in a day. This meditation would only take .3% of my day. That’s less than one percent of my time during my daily routine. I was also looking forward to doing the challenge with my fellow Tai Chi peers. Basically, every week we would report about our progress and talk about the challenge in class, and it was inspiring to see so many fellow peers committed to doing it every day.

Trouble with Weight, Sleep and Health

During the month of December I had lost 5 pounds due to a loss of appetite. I was really struggling with depression that came about due to some personal challenges that I was facing. I was at 200 pounds when we started the standing meditation challenge at the beginning of January. I was also struggling with insomnia, so sometimes I would wake up in the middle of the night, and toss and turn for 1 to 2 hours before being able to go back to sleep. I would try to force myself back to sleep because I knew that in the morning I would feel very tired going to work. I was a high school teacher at that time. In addition, I had been cautioned frequently by my physician that I needed to take care of myself, since I have a family history of heart disease, diabetes, and cancer. Both of my parents died of cancer, and I have witnessed many of my relatives fight a losing battle with these illnesses. This provides a lot of motivation for me to be proactive about my health.

Week 2

Despite all this motivation my greatest challenge in doing the standing meditation was finding those 5 minutes in my very busy schedule to do it. So my attitude became that I would make sure to do it everyday no matter what. And one of the drastic measures that I took was that I quit watching television completely. I started dedicating those 2 hours a day to playing music, and doing my standing meditation. There were several days where I did the standing  meditation in the morning before I took a shower to go to work. Some days I would do it after coming home from work when I felt really exhausted and stressed out.

The standing meditation would reenergize me on those days, and I would be more productive the rest of the day. And some days I would do the meditation before doing my routine to go to bed. I would be really tired, and not really feel like doing it, but I would push myself.

Even during the 21 day challenge I continued to struggle with insomnia. It would not be until much later in the year that I figured out that the stress level at work was really affecting my sleep. The stress of being a teacher is not the students. The stress comes from the toxic attitudes of colleagues and administrators, the pressures of high stakes testing, and politics in education. These problems kept me up more times than not in the middle of the night. There were times when I would just get out of bed and do the standing meditation as well as a few other Chi Gong exercises that I had previously learned that helped with settling your core so it would lead to better sleep. I had also discovered that the nights I got the best uninterrupted sleep was on Tuesday nights after Tai Chi class.

There was another discovery I made about the standing meditation: The more I did it, the more difficult it got because I would need to sink deeper into my stance to experience the sensations you experience when you are doing it right. However, I kept going knowing that my Tai Chi peers were doing the same. After about 2 weeks, I started to experience several positive effects. One of them was the reenergizing effect the meditation had on my mental state as well as my physical state. I was able to easily deflect the negativity I was experiencing from some of my colleagues and administrators at the high school, even if figuratively speaking they threw daggers, knives and spears at me.

During those first 2 weeks of the standing mediation, I started getting my appetite back, but I was also eating a lot healthier. I was staying gluten-free, cutting down on the carbs, eating more protein like fish and chicken, and making sure that I ate more veggies and fruits. I stayed away from wheat, dairy and sugar. And I drank lots of water along with my daily dose of green tea.

Week 3

During the third week of the challenge I had sustained a minor injury that landed me in a medical clinic. It was there that I got on the scale that I was so surprised. The scale read 190 pounds. I didn’t have time to really take it in because they hurried me over to one of their examination rooms, but I even told myself, “that scale must be off or broken. It can’t be.” When I returned to Tai Chi class the following week I weighed myself on the scale right outside the
weight room, and it was true. I was down to 190 pounds. I was blown away because I hadn’t been anywhere near that weight since college. More than anything I liked the way I was feeling physically. I had more energy during the day. And I started to notice that I was sinking deeper into my stances as I was practicing Tai Chi in class.

 

Month 2

However, life kept coming at me in so many ways that even after the 21 day challenge was over I continued to do the standing meditation. The meditation would bring me back to center when I felt my life was spinning out of control. I was also still battling my depressive states at times. My work environment was not improving, and I was still facing personal challenges that created emotional instability.

I continued doing the standing meditation all through the month of February without missing a day. I continued to observe small improvements in my Tai Chi form. I remember in late February several aha moments where I was either doing one of the exercises with the bowling ball or doing the form and feeling like “Wow, this is how this is supposed to feel!”

Month 3

I continued doing the standing meditation in March. The second week in March I attended theSXSW Edu conference, and I continued to do the standing meditation daily. The following week was Spring Break, and I attended the SXSW Interactive, Film & Music Festival. I wanted to keep the streak alive, and I succeeded for one day of the festival. Then on March 12th I came home extremely tired and worn out from being at the festival for over 14 hours that I just went to sleep. I had gone 67 straight days doing the standing meditation.

The Rest of the Year

Even though my streak stopped, I still continued to make the standing meditation a part of my daily routine after Spring Break. I haven’t had a streak like that since then, but I will have streaks where I still do the standing mediation for like ten days straight. I also bought a bowling ball so that I could do the strengthening exercises that we do in Tai Chi class at home at least two times a week. I continue to see positive results in my Tai Chi form, and in my overall health.

I am looking forward to another 21 day challenge with all my peers at the Chen Tai Chi Association of Austin. I decided to share this story because I know how tough it is to overcome procrastination, challenges that life presents us, and depression. I hope that this personal story that I am sharing with you will inspire you to commit to something that enhances your well being. You deserve it.

 

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