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A Skillful Reflection on Lightning

Although substantiated by a logical scientific process, there’s something inexplicable few can deny about the effects of lightning. In fact, many cultures have viewed it in conjunction with a deity, including the Greek god Zeus, the Mayas’ God K, and Norse mythology’s beloved and fabled Thor. Verses in the holy books of Judaism and Islam credit lightning with a mysterious and commanding “supernatural importance,” and in the traditional religion of the African Bantu tribes, lightning is a sign of the fury of the gods, representing a time of rage and indignation.

But in the midst of the fear and mystery around this natural phenomenon, perhaps the most can be learned from the French and Italian’s expression for “Love at first sight,” which is Coup de foudre and Colpo di fulmine, respectively, which literally translated means “lightning strike.”

This parallel is a telling one, depicting the positive aspects that can be taken away from something so potentially frightening and ferocious. Allow yourself to envision the first time that primitive cultures saw fire. Without the conventional wisdom to explain it, it was magic, worthy of the respect and humility of an outright miracle. Conversely, lightning was like fire shooting from the sky; a divine force that brought its spectators as much excitement as concern. And although they couldn’t quite explain what was causing it, they knew it was helping to shape the landscape of the earth they were so attached to. They developed a profound appreciation for the process, and their own theories on what was triggering it. Perhaps some sort of divine being needed appeasement; perhaps it sought to regenerate the forests to keep them healthy; perhaps something was in dire need of being restored…regardless, they were able to parlay any fear in their minds into recognition in their hearts, welcoming the inevitable shift and its sacred messenger.

This time of year, when lightening is most visible, think of it not as a warning, but as a reminder of how yielding to the vigor and unpredictability of one of nature’s strongest forces can set possibilities ablaze.

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Skillful Split Second

Life has a way of throwing  us curve balls, but the more skillful we are, the more adept we become at handling them.  A baseball player up at bat can make a split second decision that can direct that curve ball to where it needs to be.

It’s no different for someone who lives skillfully.  Do you?

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Take a Skillful Split Second to visit me on twitter at @SkillfulDoctor and share the Skillful Way you handled something at a moment’s notice using the hashtag #SkillfulSplitSecond.

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A Skillful Reflection on Transition

From the Taoist viewpoint, the polar opposites of light and dark, giving and taking, night and day, man and women, and yin and yang are not seen as separate or in conflict, but as interdependent and complementary. In fact, one creates the other. “Is there a difference between yes and no,” asked Lao Tzu, Taoism’s first sage. “Is there a difference between good and evil?” He replied, “Under heaven all can see beauty only because there is ugliness. All can know good as good only because there is evil.” What are we to make of this polarity then? How do we deal with the tug of war between these seeming opposites? Indeed, the answer lies in the understanding that they are interdependent, two sides of the same coin.

It has been said that in the 2 weeks preceding a significant event – even an inherently positive one – we experience the greatest turmoil. During this time, the energy from up ahead blows down on us like the wind before a storm. At this time, we have a tendency to jump ahead into the throws of the transition. As a result, we are at greatest risk for becoming imbalanced, even sick.. While all our lives we are taught to equate moving forward with positivity, we often forget that this movement is far bigger than we are; and rather than acting on our impulses, we would be best served delaying our own action while observing the initial stages and changes that are beginning to amass in front of us.

Right at this moment, these changes are happening…and just like you would in advance of a storm, it is advisable to stay grounded. From the unearthed worm, emerging intently from the dirt that protected him all winter to faithfully attract the robins, to the subtle change in our daily pace from one season to the next, it is critical at this juncture to be aware of what is occurring around us. At this pivotal time and setting, it is best to operate at a high level of discretion and discernment, and exercise the necessary judgment to remain grounded throughout the transition. Indeed, the changes that we first associate with spring; the worms, the robins, the snow drops and crocuses all happen on the ground, well before the trees bloom or the skies clear.

Nature is a curious thing, in that it is indifferent to the processes it sustains. The great wall of water that refills a river after the long dry season also floods crops, drowns unsuspecting animals, and destroys nearly everything in its path. Nature’s moral relativism can be hard for us to comprehend. Since so many of the processes that sustain life also take it away, it is impossible to determine whether something is good or bad. Many of us do not do well with this level of ambiguity at first, but life’s opposites are merely expressions of a deeper underlying unity; a cycle that connects and defines life in all its forms and processes. Instead of choosing sides, we should see how opposites merge into one another. Suspending our judgment is one way of doing this. No matter how eager we are for the future, change does not all happen at once, and sometimes the bigger picture or a meditative retrospective is the missing link between haste and triumph.
The ground is also a place where we can get our footing when tempted to lurch forward. On this day of the seasonal cycle, there is something very comforting about finding the utmost stability in the very place where the most movement is occurring. As porous pieces of land give way, flowers break through and chutes of grass begin to sprout again, and with it our impulses. But, don’t put your jacket away just yet. Evade the hustle by moving forward steadily, leaving winter behind for sure, but not so fast…never forgetting to observe the beauty of each step of the process – both sides of the coin.

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Advice from the Skillful Doctor

Question: My partner asked me to move in with him a few months ago. I happily obliged and all is going well. I am serious about spending the rest of my life with him, and he has told me on many occasions that I am the woman he sees himself being with forever, but any time I want to talk about taking the next step and securing our future as husband and wife, he tells me he thinks the conversation is premature. If we’ve already discussed an eternal partnership, I am not sure what he is waiting for. How can I get him to solidify his commitment?

Answer: First off, allow me to commend you for your admirable ability to commit to such a change. Co-habiting with a partner requires a laundry list of hefty compromise—perhaps even more than marriage does—and your devotion to upholding this commitment is commendable. Clearly, you are confident that the benefits of sharing your living quarters with someone you care about so deeply leads to benefits that far outweigh that compromise.

That being said, I am wondering why you are rushing to secure your next milestone, when you should still be reaping the benefits of your most recent one. You seem to love and trust your partner, and yet there is something not quite within your grasp that you are focusing on which is preventing you from enjoying the way things are now.

Do you have a favorite movie? If so, I would imagine you’d be satisfied with the way it ends. However, when you watch it, do you skip ahead to the final scene, or do you get as much enjoyment out of the story that unfolds as you arrive there than the ending itself?

I want you to try to treat your relationship this way as well. It seems as though marriage is where you and your partner are eventually headed, so why do you feel the need to skip ahead? While decisiveness is a sound trait, transition is not designed to be rushed. Even when things are moving, there is still a pace and rhythm that must be respected in order for your transition to occur skillfully. Forward is a wonderful place to go, but moving too fast or doing so recklessly will sabotage the enjoyment of where you are now. Instead of trying to evade your current set of boundaries, value them, and view them as a protective layer against letting the beauty of your current moment pass you by.

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The New Moon in January

Looking at the cultural names for the new moon in January, it is hard not to notice a common theme of dormancy or stillness in terms such as “Cold Moon,” “Quiet Moon” and “Winter Moon.”  In adherence with the neo pagan tradition that refers to the new moon in January as “Ice Moon,” it is interesting to think about this feeling of inactivity or suspension as it relates to the properties of water when it becomes ice.  In essence, when water freezes to its solid state, it takes on a different form and function.  Its molecules slow down as a result of the loss of heat-energy.  In this state, one of the most striking features we associate with water, its ability to flow, is limited.  Indeed, water, when it becomes ice, looks, feels and functions entirely different than it does in its pre-frozen condition. But, to the point, it is still water; once the weather warms again, it will return to its liquid, flowing state.

For good reasons, human beings can only tolerate so much of the cold. Of course, we need to stay warm to survive. However, most people I know complain bitterly about it. Still, I think we  can learn a lot from our observation of water and more graciously accept how the cold affects our flow without resisting so much. Again, I think this reflects a general tendency to seek the light and resist the dark; despite the fact that both are required in equal measure for our survival.   Perhaps there is wisdom in honoring the season by slowing down, moving less and conserving energy?

Interestingly, just as there was a lunar eclipse on last month’s full moon, on this new moon day a solar eclipse is expected to occur.  As we think about the qualities of ice, this cosmic event brings the fire element into our minds as well.  While people often try to view life through a black-or-white lens- we are either hot or cold, healthy or sick, happy or sad – this juxtaposition of such seemingly opposite elements as fire and ice reminds us that this either-or mentality does not fit with the laws of nature. Understanding and accepting this balance is essential to Skillful Living. And just like water when it becomes ice, humans don’t become less human when they respond to nature’s forces and slow down at times. Quite the opposite–when we follow this rhythm, we actually put ourselves in the best position to experience the full spectrum of life. Indeed, our health, i.e. our “wholeness,” is dependent on it.

So, as the New Year begins, let me toast to your health,

Michael

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The Wisdom of Ice

During this season, when it is very cold outside, nature gives us the opportunity to allow aspects of ourselves to become inert.  In certain ways, it is useful to let our flow become suspended like that of the frozen stream.  By modeling the behavior of water that has turned into solid, still ice, we too can slow down, and in so doing, conserve our energy.

As humans, we strive against this seasonal conservation of energy.  We use outside energy sources such as lighting and heat that give us the ability to stay at a high activity level year-round.  Even during the shortened winter days, we are able to continue working late into the night because of the electricity that lights our offices and homes.  As the temperatures outside drop, we’re still able to travel and stay active because of cars, planes and other technologies.  These modern conveniences improve our lives in many ways, but in a sense, they are not natural and help us to fall increasingly out of touch with nature’s rhythms.

While I’m not suggesting that anyone do away with modern technology and shelter in the middle of winter, we should let ourselves accept and be affected by the cold in other ways.  This is the time to stay inside where it’s warm, suspend activity and conserve our energy.  It is not practical or healthy to become completely dormant, but how can we bring a sense of hibernation into the winter months?  Doing so is not only restorative, it’s an appropriate way to connect with the rhythms of nature.  Think ahead to how active nature becomes in the spring and how much energy we will need during those months.  By doing less now and not expending energy unnecessarily, we are able to conserve our energy for the next season when we will really need it.

Indeed, think about the global consequences if more of us followed this rhythm: by staying inside, going to bed earlier, using our cars less and “plugging into” technology for fewer hours out of the day during the winter months, not only would we conserve our own energy, we would contribute significantly to the conservation of the similarly limited energy resources of our planet!

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Winter Advice from the Skillful Doctor

Question: Winter is a tough time for me. It seems like whenever anyone around me is sick, I get it. What can I do?

 

Answer: Obviously there are some common practical medical recommendations to follow, such as washing your hands and avoiding those who are sick if you can. However, I would offer another thought that might be especially important to you and partially explain why you are particularly susceptible. It starts with a question:  How are you spending your energy during this season? In other words, do you have enough left for your immune system?

 

When you’re exposed to colds and flus, your immune system requires a certain amount of energy to fight off the illness.  If you don’t let yourself slow down and properly rest during these winter months, you could be depleting your necessary reserve of that energy and therefore weakening your resistance to illness.  The fact is, that there is less energy to go around during the colder winter months and some people hover closer to their threshold than others. Thus, it might be necessary for you to consider how you spend your energy and conserve more of it, in addition to following the other practical measures you know about.

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