Our lives are a gift, a gift from the heavens, a gift from the earth, a gift from the universe. Do not expect, demand or think that you are owed a life or anything in it. We have done nothing to cause life to happen. It is a gift from the universe, we did not create life, we did not create earth and we did not create the heavens. So we must regard life as precious and most of all, treat it as a gift. When we treat life as a gift,we know our place in the universe. Then we will appreciate and we will take care of our life, the life of other humans, animals, plants and the earth and sky of which we are subject to and reliant on. Knowing our place, we can then do what we need to do and we will be in harmony within ourselves and with our surroundings.
In these days, since the outbreak of the pandemic of the coronavirus SARS-CoV-2, many people around the world have become depressed mentally or anxious emotionally, or very unsatisfied and “tired of the whole thing.” It has been reported that many people have stopped exercising and are gaining body weight as well. Working, or not, at home, people are snacking more and trying to relieve their own inner uneasiness with food. It was reported on the NPR radio news that the diet of the American people has actually gotten worse since the pandemic. This is strange. One would think that people have now more time than before and would concentrate on healthy foods, cooking and exercising more at home, because they do have more time.
If we have been truly living before the pandemic, we would not be in a worse state than prior to it. If this is the case, that people are in a worse mental state or getting fatter, it means that people have been too busy doing “things” and “having fun” so much that they had not been truly living. Enlightenment! If we are unstable and unhappy now and thought we were not before, then we know we always were unhappy. We were not living in the present then. We had forgotten our gift, the gift of life. We were in a fantasy of superficial entertainment, superficial words and superficial thinking. That previous fantasy being held on to every day makes some people believe that the current coronavirus pandemic is a made-up fantasy. It is because they want to hang on to fantasies. Realizing there is a world-wide pandemic does not mean that is negative thinking. It is neither negative nor positive in thinking. It just is. The same as the earth just is, the seasons and weather just are. Winter is not a negative or positive phenomena, it just is. That is the way of nature. Since history has been recorded, it seems that pandemics are not uncommon and can occur around every 100 years. That is not that long of a time period between. Maybe if our individual life spans were more like 300-500 years, then we would be more used to it. But we don’t have that long of a life span, so we need to be used to it now. We need to live in the present.
So, yes, even COVID-19 is a gift. Challenges are a gift. Without them we become spoiled, stagnant, superficial and egotistic. Sometimes we need special challenges to wake us up and put us in our place. Now is the chance to learn how to be in the present, to learn to live with nature, to bow to nature and to understand our place in nature. It is a trite saying, but yes, we can be part of the problem and make things worse or we can be a problem solver and make things better, for ourselves and for others. There are definitely many people who are the problem solvers and those that are tremendously persevering and making life better for others. So let us be one of those.
Life should not be some kind of excitement, but should be one of living each moment, concentrating on the daily routine of living. Life should be one of ease. This does not mean to be lazy; quite the opposite. Those that live in the moment are ambitious and highly motivated. They have the ability, through their own training and thought, working on themselves, to be able to concentrate on what they are doing. Concentration. It appears many people have lost this trait. Minds are constantly wandering, looking here and there, very nervous, as if the evil will come from the north, or the south, or the east, or the west, from above, or from below. Always on guard, always worried what will happen next. Forget next. Be now.
So, think about how to survive now. This moment, today, go about each task whole-heartedly, totally immerse yourself in what you are doing. Yesterday is history and only to be used to learn from and take joy in good memories.
Here’s some advice from Zen Master Shunryu Suzuki, “Zen is not some kind of excitement, but concentration on our usual everyday routine.” I’m going to paraphrase something Master Suzuki says, but instead of where he uses the word “Zen,” I’m going to use the word “life.” It is necessary for us to keep the constant way. Life is not some kind of excitement, but concentration on our usual, everyday routine. If you become too busy, too excited, your mind becomes rough and ragged. Try to be calm and joyful and keep yourself from excitement. Usually we become busier and busier, day by day, year by year, especially in our modern world. If we become interested in some excitement or in our own change, we will become completely involved in our busy life, and we will be lost. But if your mind is calm and constant, you can keep yourself away from the noisy world even though you are in the midst of it. In the midst of noise and change, your mind will be quiet and stable.”
So how can you start being in the moment? The first requirement is to be mindful of your posture. Your feet should be shoulder width apart, so that the outside edge of your feet match the outside edge of your shoulders in width. This is the proper stance for you. In this standing position, the most important thing is to keep your spine straight. Your ears and your shoulders should be in one line. Relax your shoulders and push up towards the ceiling or sky, with the back of your head. There is an acupoint on the very top of your head call “hyakue” in Japanese. It means, literally translated, one hundred meeting point. It is located on the very top center of your head within a line directly above the tip of your ears. Pull your chin in. When your chin is tilted up, you have no strength in your posture, you can’t possibly concentrate or be present with chin up, you are dreaming , not stable in that position. Keep your shoulders down and press your diaphragm towards your lower abdomen. This helps you maintain your physical balance and thus your mental balance. It will keep you grounded. This posture will not help you achieve the right state of mind; when you have the right posture, you do have the right state of mind.
Concentrate on this posture in every day life, constantly; while walking and sitting. As Suzuki Roshi says, “The most important thing is to own your own physical body. If you slump, you will lose your self. Your mind will be wandering about somewhere else; you will not be in your own body. We must exist right here, right now! You must have your own body and your own mind.” Always keep the right posture, as described above, in all your activities; driving the car, reading, working, whether at the computer or outside in the ditches, when cooking…..always.
The good posture will keep us in the right frame of mind. Often, without being aware of it, we try to change something or someone other than ourselves, we try to order things outside us. But it is impossible to organize anything outside of you if you yourself are not in order. When you do things in the right way, at the right time, everything else will be organized. It will be taken care of.
The next most important thing is to practice proper breathing. What, you know how to breathe? Likely not. You have been too busy. To develop good everyday breathing, one must practice it and concentrate, at first. Start with five minutes daily. Take the posture as explained above. Now, think you are breathing with your abdomen, not your lungs. Of course, it is your lungs that do the air exchange, but don’t think about your lungs. Forget about them. Inhale through your nose, mouth closed, by filling up your abdomen with air. Fill it all the way up. You will feel and look like fat Buddha. Good. Exhale slowly through your mouth by contracting your abdomen slowly so that eventually it feels like your abdomen is pressing on your back; oh, yeh, you will look skinny! The exhale time should be at least ten times longer than your inhale time. At the end of the exhale, hold your breath for five seconds and then start again the process with the inhalation and exhalation. Spend these five minutes every day and then gradually start incorporating it into your other activities. By the way, you will need to do this alone with nobody else around. Your own room works, outside, etc. Now, when you need to wear a mask such as we must do now days, remember to inhale and exhale through your nose. You will get a dry mouth if you do mouth breathing.
Also, here is a tip to help you breathe easier when mask-wearing: smile! A big wide smile. Those facial muscles used in smiling will spread your nostrils further apart so you are utilizing the full scope of air available to you. That smile will help you breathe, it will also keep you in a better state of mind and it also shows in your eyes. It will be good for those around you! They will see your smile in your eyes!
Good posture and good breathing is the basis of creating a sound mind because the mind can not be without the body. Straight body, straight mind. Slouching body, slouching mind. Slouching means unstable. This is the start of being, and realizing that life is a gift. Suzuki Roshi also says, “ When you do something, you should burn yourself completely, like a good bonfire, leaving no trace of yourself.”
Practice the simple, live the simple; calm, quiet, go about your work. Forget yourself, forget the ego. Remember life is a gift and we must cherish and take joy in each moment. If we forget ourselves, then we can begin to live and will do what we need to do. Winter or summer, pandemic or not, we are always the same and we don’t get too excited with joy or too upset with grief. We just live and do what we have to do to exist. That is every day happiness. Enjoy the now.
Yours in health and budou,
Dr. (Shihan) Mary Bolz
Master of Science Oriental Medicine
Doctor of Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine
6th Degree Black Belt Okinawan Karate & Kobudou