Posts tagged Skillful Living

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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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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The Long Night Moon

In Neo Pagan tradition, the new moon in December is the “Long Night Moon,” an appropriate name as the days get shorter and it becomes darker earlier in the afternoon.  It also signals the time to consider the value of darkness and its place in nature. Though many of us complain about the shorter days upon us, the onset of winter offers us an opportunity to rest, something we must do if we are to be as healthy as we want.

It makes sense that at this time of year, we take time to settle in for the night, enjoying the peace and quiet, seeking stillness amidst the chaos around us. Clearly, with so few hours of daylight, it doesn’t make sense to plan outdoor activities and start new projects.  Therefore, it is wisest and  completely natural to “come inside” and focus on resting.

 

Despite the fact that we live in a culture where we have to be constantly producing and moving forward or else people call us lazy, we must pay attention to this season and what it requires  During this “long night,” we should try to let go of the misconception that resting is a waste of time.  Rather, we should come inside, settle in and be still, understanding and having the faith that our growth requires it.

Mitakuye oyasin,

Michael

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The November Moon

In Dakota Sioux tradition, the new moon in November is named “The Moon When Horns Fall Off.”  While this phrase may seem strange to our culture at first glance, it makes some very interesting points about nature’s cycles and this time of the year.

One of the most regal images in the animal kingdom is that of a deer adorned proudly with the powerful branches of antlers crowning his head.  However, nature has cycles and even the majesty of the buck with his beautiful antlers falls under its reign. This time of year, after the fighting for mates has finished, deer’s antlers fall off.  A buck grows the big, strong antlers to fight with other bucks for the right to reproduce, but once that season has passed, the antlers drop and all the buck retreats from the battle and blends back in with the herd.

This de-crowning is not a death or an illness, it is a part of nature’s cycle that is just as important and powerful as any other.  Indeed, it is a rebirth of sorts; before the deer can grow new horns, he must lose the old ones.

This process reminds us that everything has its own time.  Often we see something as ending when it’s actually a beginning. Many people see winter as a time of darkness and death-like dormancy.  However, winter can be viewed as the season of early rebirth.  And some people may see a buck losing his antlers as a surrender of sorts, when it’s truly an act of transcendence.

Mitakuye oyasin,

Michael

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Skillful Surrender

With the aggression of election week wrapping up and the holiday season just beginning, you might do well to reflect for a moment on the battles you have been fighting. Much like the bucks dropping their antlers, this is a good time to put down your own weapons.

When you are caught up in an argument, you can either put tons of energy into battling it out, or you can transcend it by simply letting it drop.  Taking the latter course is not giving in, it’s about letting go. Habitually, we protect our fragile egos by pointing a finger at others. Instead, we should look at ourselves when we have a challenging relationship. Why does it take so little to push our buttons? As we search for the answer to this question, we will discover additional opportunities for maturation and growth.

 

deerAfter all, our relationships, like all of our life experiences, reflect our inner world. Most importantly, our outlook and interpretation of the actions of others depends on our relationship with our self. It is not unreasonable to say that enjoying a full meaningful relationship with another being hinges on our ability to come to terms with the relationship we are having with ourselves. It follows that you cannot have sound, healthy relationships if you are not in good shape.

This is the time when the bucks stop fighting over does and the herd reunites as a unified tribe; all of the deer are one family again.  As the holidays approach, what plans will you make to unite in peace with your family, friends and community?

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