Though I didn’t take many courses on Buddhism during my time at Harvard, we can count on Buddhists to teach us about attachments and illusion. We find ourselves attached to many things in this 3 dimensional world, but all of them are illusion. A sobering fact, but there is a workaround.
The practice of gratitude has proven more effective at treating depression than pharmaceuticals.
Do you strive for “grace under pressure”? A gratitude practice will deliver the goods.
Crystals and precious metals are pure or almost pure elements. Diamonds are made from Carbon. Gold symbolizes Metal in the TCM paradigm. Precious, shiny, beauty and as close to perfection as we can get. And perfection is the illusionary trap of attachment. I know because I am a perfectionist.
Perfectionism, and the inevitable grief associated with pursuing the unattainable, most often affects: breathing and our lungs; elimination of toxins and immunity associated with the colon; and the protective features of our skin. In TCM any problems associated with these organs and tissues reflect our issues with Grief.
At this time, we need to protect our bodies by paying attention to Grief’s role in that, as well as lovingly caring for the body itself. Breathing exercises for our lungs, opening up our chests by raising our arms overhead, standing straight, getting good food (fiber!), and moisturizing our skin, all help keep our Metal energies in balance.
Coming to terms with our needs for perfection plays a big part of our mental self-care. The pursuit of perfection leads us down a path of black and white thinking – ask my wife who has to put up with that from me all too often. Life is mostly infinite shades of gray. The purity of an infant or child’s innocence diminishes with every loss – whether a toy or betrayal. Losses carry different weights and as long as we hold on to them, they become a burden that literally stoops our shoulders.
Gratitude, like every skill we learn from playing music to speaking a language, requires practice. We have to get the feel of it. We have to recognize its scent. Our sense of smell resonates with Metal energy. It enters the part of our brain that coordinates memories, immunity, and emotions with a single nerve. Direct to the “guts”. Taking grief in, recognizing it, feeling it, and letting it go comes with practice, practice, practice. This makes Buddhist monks seem so serene. Letting go of attachments, processing grief, is the goal of most spiritual disciplines and practices, because all of us need to do it. Most of us don’t have all day for meditation and prayer. We have work and our families. So, when we get a minute we need to make the most of it.
It’s difficult to release grief. We are taught not to cry. To save for a rainy day. We become hoarders of regrets and useless items that clutter our souls as well as drawers, closets, garages, and every level surface we can find. Many of us have spent the quarantine cleaning out some of these very spaces. In Sustainable Health I offer a daily practice of de-cluttering. One I struggle to maintain. Even though I don’t always practice it, I do know it clears the space around me – for better breathing – body, mind, and spirit.
Anger, Fear and Anxiety all involve the guts – the messy side of digestion. Grief (through the colon) distills these emotions sending pure joy to fill our hearts, nutrients to our bodies, and everything else out the back door. We let go of Anger, Fear, and Anxiety by shouting, moaning (complaining), and singing. We let go of Grief with tears. Our ability to let go of Grief and the illusion of perfection directly relates to our ability to cry. It’s worth practicing – even if we don’t plan a career in acting.
Composing a daily gratitude list is an easy spiritual practice. I recommend doing it before getting out of bed in the morning. TCM recognizes that the times of the day resonate with elemental energies. Metal energies take their watch between the hours of 3 and 7 AM. Even if we find ourselves sleeping a bit later during quarantine, our Metal energies are most receptive when we first awaken. So take a few minutes before going on about the day. What makes us feel grateful?
I use my hand and count off five things before getting out of bed. I start with gratitude for the air I can breathe (it’s better now with fewer planes and cars). I’m grateful for the water that comes out of the tap – hot or cold, and ready to drink. I’m grateful to know that I have a refrigerator full of food. I’m grateful for my health (breathing in and out). I’m grateful for my wife (most days), my dogs, my friends, and my family. That’s the five elements right there – Wood, Water, Earth, Metal, & Fire (we’ll cover relationships next week). I first learned this practice from Louise Hay’s book, You Can Heal Your Life. She always started with gratitude for her comfortable bed. Once you get started making a gratitude list, it picks up momentum. Go with it. You’ll breathe easier.