By Shihan Mary Bolz
Master of Science Oriental Medicine
Doctoral Fellow, FBU
Master Martial Arts Instructor
Every year comes around and you make some New Year Resolutions which you probably forget about after a few days or few weeks. Just forget about making New Year resolutions in the first place and decide to truly live. Live each day to the fullest. Does that mean going about life frantically and getting stressed out from things that really matter very little in the scheme of things in this life? Do take some time for self reflection over these holidays. If you are like most people, you do want health, happiness and prosperity. Think about what each of these things means to you. Is it working and scurrying around more so you can collect more material things, a bigger better house, a bigger better car, a bigger better yard, a bigger better boat, a yacht, a vacation home, a larger television, the latest iPod, another outfit, another splurge in a restaurant? Did you stress out about getting all those valuable Christmas presents this year and to get a large meal so you could impress the family or neighbors? Did it bring you happiness? Are you wishing for better health? Do you just wish you didn’t have pain, or could eat without suffering stomach aches, or didn’t have to worry about having that heart attack? When all is said and done, the material luxuries do not mean that much if you are just longing for good health.
If you are enjoying good health now, do you appreciate it and are you taking care of it? Or are you abusing it, taking it for granted? We can take some lessons from a Japanese scholar of the 17th century,
Mr. Ekken Kaibara (1630-1714), who was a great scholar of the early Edo period in Kyushu, Japan. He was a scholar who studied Confucianism, writing many books on science. He was quite influential on the Japanese society in his time. His contemporaries in the West included Cromwell (1599-1658), Milton (1608-1674), Moliere (1622-1673), Pascal (1623-1662) and Newton (1643-1727). Ekken was sickly in his youth and it is said because of that he studied Chinese philosophy and Oriental medicine and also worked hard to heal himself.
Ekken Kaibaraʼs philosophy is in harmony with any religion of the world. It has nothing to do with religion, but everything to do with living in harmony with nature on this earth. Some of his health preservation commandments include the following:
1. One’s body: One’s body comes from one’s parents, began with providence, was born and raised with their blessing, and as such does not belong to oneself alone. It is a gift from heaven and earth. Therefore one should be prudent and not abuse it so it lasts the full span of years with which it is heavenly endowed.
2. If one perseveres at anything, one will eventually get results.
3. The art of health preservation first of all involves keeping away from things harmful to one’s body, i.e. the inner desires. The inner desires include food and drink, sexual indulgence, sleep, endless talk and the seven emotions: joy, anger, worry, pensiveness, sadness, fear, and surprise –and the outer evils–the four atmospheric aspects: wind, cold, heat, and dampness. Damage to physical vitality can be avoided.
4. Suppression of the inner desires: The most basic thing in the art of health preservation is determination not to yield to the inner desires.
5. One’s life is in one’s own hands: This comes from the Chinese philosopher, Lao-tsu who said, One’s life is in one’s own hands, not in heaven.
6. The art of health preservation begins with mental placidity. Keep one’s mind calm and one’s spirit unruffled, suppress anger and desire, keep worry and pensiveness at a minimum, and guard against mental anguish and spiritual wear and tear.
7. All evil begins with giving in to one’s desires as one pleases.
8. One must guard against the outer evils of wind, cold, heat, and dampness.
9. One should exercise a little each day and not sit for a long time in a comfortable position. One without fail should take a walk after eating a meal.
10. Life starts at fifty years of age. The human body is meant to last a hundred years. Advanced age is 100 years, medium age is eighty years, and lower age is sixty years. Until a person gets to be fifty years old, his blood and vital spirit are not yet stable, and his wisdom has not yet developed. He knows little of the past or the present and is not yet accustomed to social change.
Ekken Kaibara said the most basic thing in the art of health preservation is preservation of one’s vitality, of which there are two ways. The first is to get rid of things that are harmful to one’s vitality, and the second is to nurture one’s vitality.
Let’s take a moment to think about some of the things harmful to one’s vitality; the seven emotions. In Traditional Oriental Medicine, too much joy damages the heart, too much anger damages the liver, worry and pensiveness damages the spleen, sadness damages the lungs, and fear and surprise damage the kidneys. It is said that there is nothing to fear but fear itself. This is very true.
One of the greatest stumbling blocks for people in healing themselves and starting on the road to health is fear. People are afraid to hear that they are not healthy, that they may become sick and when they are diagnosed with a disease and/or are miserable with poor health, they are afraid. Afraid to die or afraid to live. Even more importantly they are afraid because they do not know or believe that their life is in their own hands. This fear stops them from reflecting on how they caused their own illness and thus stops them from learning the path to correct it.
First of all, a person must realize and truly know that nature is very, very powerful. Live with it, you are healthy. Live against nature, and you are sick. It is that simple. To overcome fear, you must be willing to get rid of the negative thoughts in your mind, you must be willing to reflect and look within. You must be willing to make the changes in your life that nature is demanding of you. Cooperate and live with nature, and you will survive naturally with it. Go against nature, and you will not thrive.
A person’s life is in their own hands and it is up to each individual to take that responsibility. Not only for their own sake, but like Ekken Kaibara said, it is their duty. Their life is a gift from heaven and from their parents. Both expect them to take care of their body to have a long, healthy life and be productive and useful in society. People are spoiled. They want to eat and drink according to whatever is available commercially. They do not research what is good food, what nature meant them to eat and drink. They leave their lives in the hands of the large corporations who are marketing tons of products that are being passed off as food. That which comes in a box is not food as nature intended. That which is processed too much is not what nature intended.
With all the acts of nature that we have experienced this past year with hurricanes, tsunami and earthquakes, one would think we would start understanding that we cannot control nature nor fight it, but that we were made to cooperate with it. After all, we are nature also. That means we should cooperate together and not be so selfish to think we can control the natural laws. Like all laws, with must follow them, and that includes nature’s laws.
Cooperating with nature will help us to live a calm and peaceful life. This year, how about working on fear? Don’t be afraid to study, research, and work on changing your ways to become a healthier person. Don’t be afraid to get well. Don’t be afraid to stay well. Start now. Give up that which is harmful to your mind and body that includes fear and the excesses of the seven emotions, as well as materialistic and superficial thought. Learn to regard others first and ourselves last.
People who are intent on preserving or gaining their health, must have in their heart a master of their actions. Without such a master, actions are rash and we end up doing as we please and making all sorts of mistakes. Anything that makes a person feel good only temporarily is bound to become a curse later, according to Kaibara. Eating and drinking what one likes to one’s heart’s content will end in illness without a doubt. That means discipline.
Getting rid of fear by having a great faith in nature’s power and practicing restraint and discipline are required for good health. In the martial arts, the samurai’s commandments are: No fear, no doubt, no hesitation, and no surprise. You have no fear if you understand the way of nature. You will have no doubt that your action is correct when you understand it and follow it. Do not hesitate to act. Now is the time. The past is gone, the future does not exist. Act now. You will never have a surprise (surprise in the sense of a fearful happening) if you follow a disciplined life and accept that which cannot be changed, but change that which you can. You cannot change the rest of the world, but you can change yourself. You will not have a surprise if you follow nature’s way and practice health preservation. You will not get sick. You will not be surprised by certain happenings in life because you understand the way life works. You are ready for whatever comes.
These commandments were the way of the ancient samurai, the way of the warrior. These commandments are not out of date and can be applied to any aspect of today’s life. Make this year, not next year, the year of no fear, no doubt, no hesitation, no surprise. Have a blessed New Year.