The Seven Gifts of the Nervous System
By Dr. Jeff Rockwell
Massage therapy seems to be the thing right now. Up from 10% in 2004, massage therapists now see 20% of the American population. Clients appreciate the time therapists spend with them and the caring attention to detail they receive in each session.
Massage therapy is also a holistic thing, for the very same reason that it is THE thing: it targets the nervous system which, of course, controls and regulates all of our physiology, and helps us to heal ourselves. Whether we are performing a deep tissue or neuromuscular session, shiatsu or myofascial therapy, we touch skin, and skin is the “outer covering” of the nervous system. During embryological development, we grew from three distinct stem cell layers: endoderm, which became our organs; mesoderm, which formed our muscles, tendons, bones, and ligaments; and ectoderm, which turned into our skin and nervous system. That intimate relationship is maintained throughout our lives: touch the skin, touch the brain.
In order to help others better appreciate their innate healing genius, I have defined “seven gifts of the nervous system.” I believe that anyone can apply these principles to their existing style of practice and reap rewards.
These “gifts” are:
1) Physiological function
3) Emotional literacy
Bear in mind that the nervous system is the first to develop in the embryo and rapidly develops to adulthood. Given the right stimulus, or the right touch, the nervous system can continue to develop and improve. If all seven of these gifts are acknowledged and engaged, wellness and human and social potential become unlimited.
The brain and nervous system are essential to all vital functions in the body, unconsciously and automatically coordinating diverse functions such as breathing, digestion, heart-rate, immunity and so much more. To ensure optimal function, we can begin to take better care of our nervous system by receiving regular massage therapy. Nothing “touches” us as deeply as…well, touch itself.
Given no interference from stress, poor diet, or trauma, the nervous system makes it possible for us to “dance with” a fast-paced society. It helps us to bounce back from setbacks and, given proper care (i.e. read: massage therapy), to actually turn our stress into fuel for attaining our goals.
Emotions are “Energy in Motion.” They are feelings and sensations that move through our nervous systems. They are the key to the actions that we take, or don’t take, in life. As hinted at in the first sentence, emotions involve—require, in fact—motion to properly feel and act upon. We respond to stress through versions of fleeing, fighting, or freezing. The brain is hard-wired to first respond through a freezing response that we carry around as our posture. When our posture has us “frozen in time,” we are often unable to feel our emotions accurately and run the risk of leaping into (or avoiding) action that later causes regret.
Picking up from where we just left off, when we look at someone’s posture or body language, we are looking at a “snapshot” of their nervous system, of who and what, in fact, we think we are. As we connect with undiscovered (or forgotten) aspects of our humanity, our posture changes. So do our lives.
The age we live in has earned many nicknames. It’s been referred to as The Consumer Age, The Information Age and The Digital Age, among others. Philosopher Richard Kearney has another take on it that to me seems not just descriptive, but actually diagnostic. He refers to our modern era as The Age of Excarnation. Literally, the “out of body” age. The phrase perfectly captures the unexamined normal in which our culture conducts its affairs: 24/7/365, we predominantly live in a mode of being in which we are out of touch with our bodies; as a result, the world exists for us more often as an idea than as a felt reality. We are preoccupied elsewhere. We are not awe, but distracted. Massage therapy and movement not only help get us back in touch with our bodies, but with the world as well.
Cutting-edge research in epigenetics shows that how we perceive ourselves, our lives—even the world, plays a large role in determining our expression of health. Once believed to be at the effect of our genetic blueprint, science now tells us that our health is the genetic expression of our lifestyle choices, starting with our perceptions. Massage helps us to see the best in life, because it relaxes the part of the brain that is stressed out and wanting to fight, flee from, or freeze because of a perceived threat to our well-being.
Massage therapy is “consciousness medicine.” We are sentient beings, even when we don’t act like it. Through the function of our nervous system we experience our life. Increasing awareness through therapeutic touch, consciousness expands, as does our ability to engage the world with embodied clarity and compassion.
Touch is the original medicine. It helped humans evolve to where we are today. Yes, the world has serious problems. Serious. Problems. But imagine how different this world would be if every world leader received a massage each day? If every person received healing touch once a week? Call me a blind optimist, but this is doable. We just need a lot of hands on deck, no pun intended, and a willingness to serve. As Gandhi said, “May your hands be a sign of reverence and gratitude to the human condition.”
September 22, 2014 2 Comments
By: Dr. Jeff Rockwell
Next month, NHI’s very own Jim O’Hara and Cynthia Ribiero will be presenting at the American Massage Therapy Association annual convention in Denver. Both Cynthia and Jim are “rock stars” in the field of massage therapy. Cynthia is a recent president of the AMTA and the developer of NHI’s Advanced Neuromuscular Therapy program. Jim not only has been at the forefront of developing educational programs for the profession for the past twenty years, but his book In The Land Of Shiva: A Memoir was recently released to rave reviews.
NHI is home to many of the best teachers in the field of massage therapy—by design. One of the most gratifying aspects of being part of this community is observing the number of students who go on to become leaders in their communities and in the profession. And two of the most prominent “leaders creating leaders” are Jim and Cynthia.
For this blog, Jim O’Hara was interviewed. I’m sure you’ll find his comments enlightening!
Jeff Rockwell: Jim, you and Cynthia Ribeiro are giving a (sold-out) workshop at the National AMTA convention this September on “Instructional Design” for massage teachers.
What’s the backstory on this? Why is this topic so crucial and so in-demand?
Jim O’Hara: Teachers the world over really want to do a good job in the classroom, but are not always given the tools they need. It’s unfortunate that in some massage schools, the eager teacher is simply handed a text book and told to teach from it.
While some publishers now offer lesson plans for teachers using their books, seldom do those lesson plans exactly fit the needs of the particular school. Teachers are left wondering how to take a lengthy chapter and put the material into 4-hour classes.
JR: So, why is NHI leading this training?
JOH: At NHI, we have a long, successful history of designing classes. Part of the reason is that we have been in business for 30+ years, and have had to create effective classes long before the relatively recent explosion of textbooks geared to massage schools! It may surprise you, but many schools do not have a full-time Curriculum Coordinator, nor a full-time Teacher Trainer on their staff as NHI does, and has had for many years. Put simply, I believe we really do know what we are doing in the area of curriculum and training.
JR: Why you and Cynthia?
JOH: My 20+ years at NHI both as instructor and the former Curriculum Coordinator are the background I bring to this, as well as my own graduate studies in education. Cynthia had run her own 1000-hour school for 20 years previous to coming to NHI, and has long taken a leadership role in the AMTA, so she knows well the needs of massage schools in the country. Also, both Cynthia and myself recently spent over 2 years on a nationally-selected panel of experts who created a blueprint for what the core pieces of massage education are.
JR: Can you give us some key ideas from the workshop you are presenting at the Denver convention?
JOH: Two of the most important concepts in designing a class are these: Scaffolding and Anchoring. “Scaffolding” means to structure each piece of information or skill-training in “bite-sized” pieces that build on each other.
A simple example of this would be how we teach our Swedish sequence. One Swedish massage class is just practice on learning moves like effleurage. The next class applies those strokes to the back. The following class reviews the back, and applies the strokes to the legs, and so on until we have a “full body” Swedish massage! This is clear scaffolding, and is obvious for learning a sequence. Perhaps not so clear is the importance of scaffolding to learn physiology, or business practices, or customer service.
JR: Tell us about “anchoring.”
JOH: “Anchoring” is making sure there is an activity that solidifies the concept or skill in our minds and/or bodies. For example, the instructor may explain the characteristics that differentiate between muscle Origins and Insertions. An anchoring activity could be to have students partner up and explain these distinctions to the other person – perhaps multiple times if that’s what it takes Jeff. Again, the instructor might talk about the importance of “weight transfer” for proper body mechanics, demonstrate it, and then have everyone stand and do it even though they are not actually doing massage at the moment.
JR: Aren’t these concepts pretty basic? Don’t all teachers automatically do them?
JOH: The “anchoring” activity is often forgotten, or left until the end of the class, because the teachers feel they must “cover” so much material. The most powerful anchoring activities, interactive exercises, are short, and done “in the moment.”
I like to think that NHI instructors do see these concepts as basic, because they are so often already built into our lesson plans and are part of our teaching culture. Come to the convention!
Thank you Jim!
Look for our next interview with Cynthia Ribiero. And remember: Be. Here. Wow!
August 29, 2014 1 Comment
By Dr. Jeff Rockwell
Last week I saw one of greatest films of my life. You may have already read or heard about this movie, how it was filmed over twelve years, how you can see the characters age during this time. But have you heard about the magic it exudes?
Boyhood is another masterwork from Richard Linklater who has already gifted us with his Before Trilogy (Before Sunrise, Before Sunset, Before Midnight) about the complications, joys, and perils of intimate relationships in our times. His new, nearly three-hour film probes the childhood of an East Texas boy from elementary school through his arrival at college. Boyhood is an invitation to lighten up, notice the world around you, and master the art of improvisation. Welcome to a new world of possibilities and a portal into the magic inherent in life.
Seven-year-old Mason (Ellar Coltrane) lives in East Texas with his single mother Olivia (Patricia Arquette) and older sister Samantha (Linklater’s daughter Lorelei), who outshines him in every way with her high grades, verbal dexterity, and energetic spirit. Mason hangs out with his buddies spraying graffiti on walls, collecting arrow heads, and such. Olivia has taken stock of her life and found it lacking. She decides to move the family to Houston where she can enroll in college while her mother takes care of the kids.
Mason’s teacher is upset with his behavior and bad habits at school. The boy is a daydreamer who spends a lot of time looking out the window. In addition, he does odd things like try to sharpen rocks in the pencil sharpener. Mason seems destined to live a life outside the prescribed standards of school and culture. Even at six, he is a “thinker,” marching tentatively to the beat of his own drum.
Mason Sr. (Ethan Hawke), his father, has returned from a trip to Alaska where he did a variety of odd jobs. He’s a laid-back man who is fun to be with. He regales his son and daughter with stories and has gifts for them. They go bowling and then pig out on junk food. Both kids are glad when he says he’ll be sticking around and they will see more of him. They’d like their parents to get back together again, but they know in their hearts that they won’t.
Bullied at his new school, Mason finds solace in video games, but also is attracted to animals, his collections, and elves. He shocks his father one day by asking, “There’s no such thing as real magic in the world, right?” His dad struggles to respond to the question and finally says that in the real world there are not things like elves. Mason, who has experienced plenty of magic in the natural world, wrestles with this answer. We sense that something precious is lost when magic and the more-than-human world that spiritually sensitive people honor is not acknowledged.
While attending college, Olivia meets and marries a professor who has two children of his own. Mason and Samantha get along with their new brother and sister but are deeply shaken when their stepfather turns out to be a raging alcoholic with a violent streak. Watching him explode at dinner, we are reminded that many children, like these four, have to come up with ways of winging it in the face of abuse and violence in their own homes.
In contrast to the professor and the Iraq War veteran Olivia marries next, Mason Sr. turns out to be a lovable companion, taking his children to purchase Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince and treating them to an Astros baseball game. Over the years, he shares folk songs he’s written and on Mason’s fifteenth birthday gives him a mixtape of tracks from the Beatles’ solo albums. This playfulness cements a bond between father and son that is a boon to this adolescent as he begins to blossom into his own person.
The art of creating a life is a path and not a system, one we all hope to be successful at. But the world is filled with responsible people who label those who walk this path as “slackers” and “losers” who lack discipline and perseverance.
Mason picks up an interest in photography and stands out from others in terms of his talent. A teacher compliments him on his photographs but criticizes him for not working hard enough: “It’s hard to make art.” This is the same message Mason has gotten his entire life. Even the manager at the restaurant where he buses tables joins the chorus of those who are disappointed with what they see as his “easy come, easy go” attitude.
By the time Mason comes of age, however, he is ready to fall in love with a beautiful young woman, to handle a break-up, to try and console the emptiness his mother feels thinking about her empty nest, and to savor a moment with a girl he goes hiking with on his first day at college. When Mason asks his father how to deal with all the mysteries and all the challenges of life, he’s told, “We’re all just winging it.” Mason, however, has discovered this path on his own and is now ready to let it take him where he is meant to go. He has become a jazz musician of life, a stellar improviser, and a whole-hearted, heart-felt young man.
Boyhood is one of the Best Films of the last 10 years. I cannot imagine it not winning the Oscar this year. Filmed in sequence across 12 years with the same actors, it is a creative drama that captures and conveys the everyday lives of children as they grow, change, and struggle with events they cannot foresee or control. Best of all, Boyhood is one of the most memorable films ever made about the art of improvisation and spontaneity as a path of wisdom, creativity, and personal transformation.
Watch the trailer here! https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Y0oX0xiwOv8
August 11, 2014 No Comments
Step 10 of 10: Embracing Tiger
By: Dr. Jeff Rockwell
Many people are afraid of change. I know I often am. Instead of feeling and naming the emotion of fear, I merge it with the state called worry or anxiety and—wham!—I’m off to the races, going in the wrong direction. Instead of going from head to heart, I run in the opposite direction. It’s no fun, and not a bit productive.
We all have our own examples of how fear can seem such a huge, impenetrable barrier. Fear: some would rather bury it, walk around it, build bridges over it, cover it with medication or a substance, stay busy to not feel it; anything rather than name it, or even embrace it.
Al Huang is a Chinese philosopher, dancer, and Tai Chi master of great note. He is also a friend of National Holistic Institute College of Massage Therapy, having gifted the college with our famous “Whoosh!” ritual. He is also the author of the 1973 classic “Embrace Tiger, Return To Mountain.”
“Embracing Tiger” is another core belief and ritual that we live at NHI. We create space safe enough to embrace what scares us, to be supported in the process, over and over again, until a skill or attitude is mastered—until the “mountain” is reached.
Today I’m going to ask you to be open to the idea of embracing one of your fears. Not to let it go wasted in a maelstrom of anxiety or worry, but to consciously—even gratefully—embrace it. First, we need a safe space. At any NHI campus, safe space is a given. A deliberate, mindfully created given. When we embrace a fear (i.e., of public speaking, of apologizing to someone or speaking up for our self, of touching or being touched), we strip it of some of its power. We become intimate with it, learning to relate to it, rather than run from it. Be gentle and patient with your self: this is a process, not a singular event. You are learning to dissolve it, bit by tiny bit, until one day what previously seemed an impossible obstacle becomes an ally. In its place is the change that you have been longing for.
“Living a balanced life” has become a popular self-help mantra. Thinking that I could somehow control life (or people, places, and things), I nurtured a completely unrealistic vision for my life. I should be able to live in balance, or homeostasis, at all times. I began to imagine that I could walk a tightrope that never swayed, fly through life without ever encountering turbulence.
But reality—that great guru– taught me otherwise. Life is homeodynamic, bumpy and often uncomfortable. I didn’t accept that truth gracefully, but kicking and screaming. I got really good at kicking and screaming until I pushed loved ones away and met reality with a deafening thud. I am still recovering, and I am grateful for the thud.
So far, I have survived. Today, my balance is wobbly and unpredictable. I’m learning to embrace tiger and on especially good days even search it out.
Every time I feel my life sway from balance into chaos, I remember that it is an opportunity to learn; even if I learn nothing more than that I can endure and return to “mountain.”
Every time I feel overwhelmed by what my day has presented to me, I remind myself to have faith in the path that I am on. There is an intelligence to each of our paths or destinies, I have discovered, and I appreciate the strength that I have gained from falling down and getting back up, even when I do it in full view of people I know and love.
Every time I start listening to the voice that tells me I can’t do something, I focus my attention on all of the voices that lift me up and tell me I can. I choose to let the “community of mentors” called NHI and others support me, knowing that we all grow in the process.
Sometimes the best way to regain our balance isn’t by standing still, but moving forward into the arms of the tiger, discovering that the tiger was really a great big heart awaiting our presence all along.
August 1, 2014 1 Comment
Step 9/10: EVERYBODY HAS A STORY
By: Dr. Jeff Rockwell
“The body is sacred.”
Let’s try a little experiment. I was tempted to call it a “thought experiment,” except I want to focus on something deeper than thought: namely, the often-unexplored world of our bodies’ stories.
Read the quote by Walt Whitman again. Let it land in your body. Where do you feel it? What does it feel like; truth or fiction?
While it is true that everybody has a story, so does every body. Whether you feel your body to be sacred or not has a lot to do with the stories you’ve told yourself over the years. “I am sacred. I am scared. I am whole. I am a victim. I am perfect as I am (and I could use a little improvement). I am too fat/thin/young/old.”
Over time, what we tell ourselves, in addition to what has happened to us, becomes the “issues in the tissues” that massage therapy works so well to help resolve.
A recent article in the Atlantic explores a study as to where people “feel” emotions. Interestingly, almost always there was a strong correlation between an emotion and a location within the body.
Years ago, I heard a little formula for healing: “Attention plus Intention Equals Healing.” Of course, the attention and the intention meant loving attention and intention. Most of us have received very mixed attention and intention around our bodies. We all have been saturated with societal, religious and family expectations, abuse and disregard for the sacredness of our bodies. Thus, removing interferences to loving our bodies is the antidote.
What you say to your body and how you say it through your words, self-talk, actions and behaviors can be a source of nourishment that results in more wholeness. In my opinion, more wholeness equals more love which, in turn, equals more aliveness. The changes in this direction that massage therapy can facilitate are described in numerous studies by the University of Miami’s Touch Research Institute (for more information, go to https://www6.miami.edu/touch-research).
We were all brought up in one relational field or another. Our particular family system is one of those fields, as is the media and the culture we live in. Often—sadly—these relational fields are toxic, contaminated by fear, neglect, or abuse. When a new client comes for their first massage, it may very well be their first experience of a completely safe and non-toxic field. Their physiology shifts from “fight or flight” to “heal and feel.” They come to court relaxation in their life and to trust the wisdom of their cells. The issues in the tissues become less of a threat. Tension becomes gradually replaced by bodily joy; granted, this experience is not an all-at-once” event, but a process.
Below are questions to consider. Which ones resonate with you? As you consider each question, focus on where in your body you experience a physical reaction or emotion:
1. Do you sometimes wonder why you cannot find true meaning or a place for yourself in this world? What is your body telling you? What part of your body responds to the question? How?
2. Are you easily depressed or agitated by specific people, events, memories or comments? Where and what is your body experiencing as you ask yourself this question?
3. Do your neck and shoulders ache all the time? Are those muscles responding to this question? How? Do you tend to put things in your life on the “back burner?” Do you realize that your body is that back burner?
4. Do you have severe back problems or the everyday “ordinary” headache? What or who are you thinking of when this pain occurs? What is going on in your life? Do you know that the leading causes of low back pain include job dissatisfaction, financial stress, and relationship troubles?
5. Are you worried about why you can never seem to lose weight? What is your body telling you? What part of your body responds to the question? How?
6. How does your body respond when you pay your bills? Where and what is your body experiencing as you ask yourself this question? What might be your body be trying to say to you?
7. Do you feel safe in your world and within yourself? This is a very important question. Many of us don’t realize that we live fear-based lives in which we are afraid to express ourselves.
Deepak Chopra has written, “Now we know that the mind and the body are like parallel universes. Anything that happens in the mental universe must leave tracks in the physical one.”
The accumulation of negative emotional energy is often referred to as emotional baggage, a contraction of muscles and the life force that becomes our body language and posture. This holding onto unresolved or repressed emotions such as anger, resentment, unresolved grief, feelings of not being good enough, guilt, and shame can cause pain. Persistent pain is the brain’s way of getting out attention. It is an invitation to change. When we allow the safe and healthy release of these emotions, the energy that was trapped there also releases and we feel more vibrant and alive. It’s been said that “emotion is energy in motion.” To restore healthy balance we need to be able to process those emotions. We need to move, and otherwise nurture, our bodies.
There are many useful strategies for liberating and learning from our “body stories.” Some people may benefit from somatic (or body-centered) psychology. Running, hiking and, even, walking can be very helpful. But the place to start, in this writer’s mind, is with a wellness lifestyle that includes regular and consistent massage therapy. While our biography often influences our biology, receiving (and giving) massage can turn our life story into one we can really love!
Want to begin taking care of yourself and your story? Book a massage at any of our campuses! Visit here!
July 15, 2014 No Comments
Part 3: The Final Installment
By Dr. Jeff Rockwell
Recently, I taught a workshop on the “wellness revolution,” and discussed ways we can make room for new vistas in holistic well-being to emerge in our lives. I mentioned two axioms, or self-evident truths: that we are self-healing and self-regulating; and that the brain makes this possible. It stands to reason, then, that if we interfere with the brain and the rest of our nervous system, we interfere with our ability to heal, regulate and transform ourselves and our lives. Another way of saying this is that “as goes the brain, so goes our health.” In that spirit, I described nine ways we can make a good brain great; increase our longevity, creativity and mental flexibility; and boost our overall health. Want to know what they are? This way, please
7. Vitamin B12
Lack of Vitamin B12 has been called the “canary in the coalmine” for your future brain health, and recent research has bolstered the importance of this vitamin in keeping your mind sharp as you age. According to the latest research, people with high levels of markers for vitamin B12 deficiency were more likely to score lower on cognitive tests, as well as have a smaller total brain volume, which suggests a lack of the vitamin may contribute to brain shrinkage.Mental fogginess and problems with memory are two of the top warning signs that you have vitamin B12 deficiency, and this is indicative of its importance for your brain health. In addition, a Finnish study found that people who consume foods rich in B12 may reduce their risk of Alzheimer’s in their later years. Research also shows that supplementing with B vitamins, including B12, helps to slow brain atrophy in elderly people with mild cognitive impairment (brain atrophy is a well-established characteristic of Alzheimer’s disease).
Vitamin B12 deficiency is widespread and many have trouble absorbing this nutrient properly from food sources. Blood tests for vitamin B12 are not always a reliable indicator of B12 status, so watching for symptoms of deficiency and increasing your dietary and supplemental intake is a practical alternative to blood testing.
B12 is available in its natural form only in animal food sources. These include seafood, beef, chicken, pork, milk, and eggs. If you don’t consume enough of these animal products (and I don’t recommend consuming seafood unless you know it is from a pure water source) to get an adequate supply of B12, or if your body’s ability to absorb the vitamin from food is compromised, vitamin B12 supplementation is completely non-toxic and inexpensive, especially when compared to the cost of laboratory testing. I recommend an under-the-tongue fine mist spray, as this technology helps you absorb the vitamin into the fine capillaries under your tongue.
8. Listen to Music
It’s long been theorized that listening to music may boost your brainpower. You’ve probably heard of this with the “Mozart Effect,” which suggests listening to classical music can make you smarter. Indeed, research has shown that listening to music while exercising boosted cognitive levels and verbal fluency skills in people diagnosed with coronary artery disease (coronary artery disease has been linked to a decline in cognitive abilities). In this study, signs of improvement in the verbal fluency areas more than doubled after listening to music compared to that of the non-music session. Listening to music has also been associated with enhanced cognitive functioning and improved mental focus among healthy adults, so take advantage of this simple pleasure whenever you can.
9. Challenge Your Mind
One of the simplest methods to boost your brain function is to keep on learning. The size and structure of neurons and the connections between them actually change as you learn. This can take on many forms above and beyond book learning to include activities like traveling, learning to play a musical instrument or speak a foreign language, or participating in social and community activities.
Another important method? Brain aerobics. As with learning, challenging your brain with mind-training exercises can keep your brain fit as you age. This can be something as simple as thinking of famous people whose first names begin with the letter A, doing crossword puzzles or playing board games that get you thinking. Research has even shown that surfing the Web activates regions in your brain related to decision-making and complex reasoning. So, unlike passively watching TV, using the Internet is an engaging task that may actually help to improve your brainpower.
July 3, 2014 No Comments
Part 2: How to Optimize your Gut Flora
By: Dr. Jeff Rockwell
Recently, I taught a workshop on the “wellness revolution,” and discussed ways we can make room for new vistas in holistic well-being to emerge in our lives. I mentioned two axioms, or self-evident truths: that we are self-healing and self-regulating; and that the brain makes this possible. It stands to reason, then, that if we interfere with the brain and the rest of our nervous system, we interfere with our ability to heal, regulate and transform ourselves and our lives. Another way of saying this is that “as goes the brain, so goes our health.” In that spirit, I described nine ways we can make a good brain great; increase our longevity, creativity and mental flexibility; and boost our overall health. A simple three part series will cover these nine life-style changing practices. Want to know what they are? This way, please.
4. Coconut Oil
One of the primary fuels your brain needs is glucose, which is converted into energy. Your brain actually manufactures its own insulin to convert glucose in your bloodstream into the food it needs to survive.
If your brain’s production of insulin decreases, your brain literally begins to starve, as it’s deprived of the glucose-converted energy it needs to function normally. This is what happens to Alzheimer’s patients — portions of their brain start to atrophy, or starve, leading to impaired functioning and eventual loss of memory, speech, movement and personality.
In effect, your brain can begin to atrophy from starvation if it becomes insulin resistant and loses its ability to convert glucose into energy. This commonly happens with diets high in refined sugar and processed foods. Fortunately, your brain is able to run on more than one type of energy supply, and this is where coconut oil enters the picture.
There’s another substance that can feed your brain and prevent brain atrophy. It may even restore and renew neuron and nerve function in your brain after damage has set in. This substance is called ketoacid or ketones. Ketones are what your body produce when it converts fat (as opposed to glucose) into energy, and a primary source of ketone bodies are the medium chain triglycerides (MCT) found in coconut oil. Coconut oil contains about 66 percent MCTs. Therapeutic levels of MCTs have been studied at 20 grams per day. According to research by Dr. Mary Newport, just over two tablespoons of coconut oil (about 35 ml or 7 level teaspoons) would supply you with the equivalent of 20 grams of MCT, which is indicated as either a preventative measure against degenerative neurological diseases, or as a treatment for an already established case.
Everyone tolerates coconut oil differently, so you may have to start slowly and build up to these therapeutic levels. My recommendation is to start with one teaspoon, taken with food in the mornings. Gradually add more coconut oil every few days until you are able to tolerate four tablespoons. Coconut oil is best taken with food, to avoid upsetting your stomach. Fuel your brain while you fuel your stomach!
5. Vitamin D
The National Institutes of Mental Health recently concluded that it is vital that a mother get enough vitamin D while pregnant in order for the baby’s brain to develop properly. The child must also get enough vitamin D after birth for “normal” brain functioning. In older adults, too, research has shown that low vitamin D levels are associated with poorer brain function, and increasing levels may help keep older adults mentally fit.
Appropriate sun exposure would take care of these issues, as the sun is irreplaceable when it comes to the body’s ability to produce adequate amounts of vitamin D. Appropriate sun exposure is all it takes to keep your levels where they need to be for healthy brain function. If this is not an option, a safe tanning bed is the next best alternative, followed by a vitamin D3 supplement. It’s important to realize that there’s no magic dosage when it comes to vitamin D. What’s important is your serum level, so you need to get your vitamin D levels tested to make sure you’re staying within optimal and therapeutic ranges.
6. Optimize Your Gut Flora
Your gut is your “second brain,” and your gut bacteria transmits information to your brain via the vagus nerve, the tenth cranial nerve that runs from your brain stem into your enteric nervous system (the nervous system of your gastrointestinal tract). There is a close connection between abnormal gut flora and abnormal brain development, and just as you have neurons in your brain, you also have neurons in your gut.
Quite simply, your gut health can impact your brain function, psyche, and behavior, as they are interconnected and interdependent in a number of different ways.
Your gut bacteria are an active and integrated part of your body, and as such are heavily dependent on your diet and are vulnerable to your lifestyle. If you consume a lot of processed foods and sweetened drinks, for instance, your gut bacteria are likely going to be severely compromised because processed foods in general will destroy healthy microflora and sugars of all kind feed bad bacteria and yeast. Limiting sugar and processed foods, while eating traditionally fermented foods (rich in naturally occurring good bacteria), taking a probiotic supplement and breastfeeding your baby are among the best ways to optimize gut flora and subsequently support brain health.
What do B-12 and Music have in common? Find out next week in the conclusion to this three part series!
June 26, 2014 2 Comments
NHI Sacramento transforms into an Art Gallery…
By: Lucas Nevarez
On June 10th 2014, the National Holistic Institute College of Massage Therapy Sacramento campus was transformed into an impressive display of art and culture, in other words: an Art Gallery. The invitation read: “Healing Hands make art too” and it was an amazing display at that. The art pieces were contributed by NHI students, alumni and staff (a full list of contributing artists is at the end of this post).
Students combined with friends and family of NHI Sacramento came together to view our talented therapists’ bodies of work. This was Sacramento’s first ever cultural gathering, and it was a hit! Dozens of people joined us to appreciate the ability and creativity of our NHI community.
The types of Art work (over 35 pieces in total) contributed by these artists were varied and diverse which included:
- Oil Paintings
- Sketches (penciled and charcoal)
This is a short list; just to name a few types of original, imaginative bodies of work. By many measures this show was a success.
Inspiration for this event began when two members of group 70 Mari Down and Jennifer Ware wanted to share their creativity with their classmates. The work was so well done, we felt more people should see. “We should do an art show” was the passing comment, which sounded like a good idea, then became reality.
It seemed like a daunting task at first, the make over of our campus to display all these creative projects. The community came together and staged an exhibit worthy of professional Art Galleries. It was an experience I will always remember.
It’s a shame we cannot do a road show.
June 23, 2014 No Comments
Part 1: Exercise, yes. Sleep, yes. Omega-3? Yes!
By: Dr. Jeff Rockwell
Recently, I taught a workshop on the “wellness revolution,” and discussed ways we can make room for new vistas in holistic well-being to emerge in our lives. I mentioned two axioms, or self-evident truths: that we are self-healing and self-regulating; and that the brain makes this possible. It stands to reason, then, that if we interfere with the brain and the rest of our nervous system, we interfere with our ability to heal, regulate and transform ourselves and our lives. Another way of saying this is that “as goes the brain, so goes our health.” In that spirit, I described nine ways we can make a good brain great; increase our longevity, creativity and mental flexibility; and boost our overall health. A simple three part series will cover these nine life-style changing practices. Want to know what they are? This way, please.
Exercise encourages the brain to work at optimum capacity by causing nerve cells to multiply, strengthening their interconnections and protecting them from damage. During exercise, nerve cells release proteins known as neurotrophic factors. One in particular, called brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), triggers numerous other chemicals that promote neural health, and directly benefits cognitive functions, including learning. Further, exercise provides protective effects to one’s brain through: the production of nerve-protecting compounds; Greater blood flow to your brain; improved development and survival of neurons, and decreased risk of cardiovascular diseases such as stroke.
A recent study in Tel Aviv, Israel demonstrated that exercising while paying attention to one’s physical sensations, slowing down the movements, and reducing one’s effort, was responsible for creating 1.8 million new neuronal PER SECOND! Consider the possibilities for improved physical and mental well-being.
2. Animal-Based Omega-3 Fats
Docosahexaenoic acid, or DHA, an omega-3 fat, is an essential structural component of both your brain and retina. Approximately 60 percent of your brain is composed of fats—25 percent of which is DHA. DHA is also an essential structural ingredient of breast milk, which is believed to be a major reason why breastfed babies consistently score higher on IQ tests than formula-fed babies.
Omega-3 fats such as DHA are considered essential because your body cannot produce them, and must get it from your daily diet.
DHA is found in high levels in your neurons — the cells of your central nervous system, where it provides structural support. When your omega-3 intake is inadequate, your nerve cells become stiff and more prone to inflammation as the missing omega-3 fats are substituted with cholesterol and omega-6 instead. Once your nerve cells become rigid and inflamed, proper neurotransmission from cell to cell and within cells become compromised.
The influence of omega-3 fat on physical and mental health has been the subject of intense research over the last four decades, and there’s compelling evidence that animal-based omega-3 fats can help reduce the symptoms of a variety of psychiatric illnesses and degenerative brain disorders. For example, low DHA levels have been linked to memory loss and Alzheimer’s disease.
Even more exciting is research showing that degenerative conditions can not only be prevented but also potentially reversed. For example, in one study, 485 elderly volunteers suffering from memory deficits saw significant improvement after taking 900 mg of DHA per day for 24 weeks, compared with controls.
Another study found significant improvement in verbal fluency scores after taking 800 mg of DHA per day for four months compared with placebo.
Interestingly, research suggests that the unsaturated fatty acid composition of normal brain tissue is age-specific, which could imply that the older you get, the greater your need for animal-based omega-3 fat to prevent mental decline and brain degeneration.
To compensate for our inherently low omega-3 diet, a high quality animal-based omega-3 supplement is something that I recommend for virtually everyone. I prefer krill oil compared to all other animal-based omega-3′s, because while the metabolic effects of krill oil and fish oil are “essentially similar,” krill oil is absorbed up to 10-15 times as well as fish oil, due to its molecular composition, and is less prone to oxidation (rancidity) because it is naturally complexed with the potent fat-soluble antioxidant astaxanthin.
Sleep is not only essential for regenerating your physical body, but it is imperative for reaching new mental insights and being able to see new creative solutions to old problems. Sleep removes the blinders and helps “reset” your brain to look at problems from a different perspective, which is crucial to creativity.
Research from Harvard indicates that people are 33 percent more likely to infer connections among distantly related ideas after sleep. They become much more likely to become “big picture” thinkers. On the other hand, a single night of sleeping only four to six hours can impact your ability to think clearly the next day.
The process of growth, known as neuroplasticity, is believed to underlie the brain’s capacity to control behavior, including learning and memory. Plasticity occurs when neurons are stimulated by events, or information, from the environment. However, sleep and sleep loss modify the expression of several genes that may be important for synaptic plasticity. Furthermore, certain forms of long-term potentiation, a neural process associated with the laying down of learning and memory, can be elicited in sleep, suggesting synaptic connections are strengthened while you slumber.
Tune in next week for our second part to increasing your better health! We will learn how Coconut Oil & Vitamin D increase brain function and also what “Gut Flora” is and how it helps your nervous system!
June 10, 2014 1 Comment
By Dr. Jeff Rockwell
Think of one thing you want to improve in your life. Think of one emotion you want to feel more of. Think of one part of your soul you would like to express more of. Think of one goal or yearning you have. Now, what would it be like to spend 10 minutes per day on that? I love neuroscience, but if I don’t study at least 10 minutes per day, it means nothing. A lot of us who read this blog have the gift of getting massaged regularly. If you do that, you can take your care to a whole new level by doing Feldenkrais or Somatics 10 minutes per day. You can take your life to a whole new level by practicing a skill or working towards a soulful goal for 10 minutes per day. Starting a business? Spend 10 minutes per day meeting one new person or setting a marketing plan for the next year. Working out? Spend 10 minutes practicing some brand new skill or exercise, every day.
We all want to live “in our flow” but for most it never happens because we are waiting for tomorrow. We are waiting to feel like we are enough. We are waiting to get it perfect. Here is a piece of vulnerable self-disclosure: I AM SCARED ON A REGULAR BASIS. I just know beyond all doubt that the God within is way bigger than my fear and if I just put one foot in front of the other, map in hand, mentors walking beside me, Heart wide open, I’ll get where I need to go. It is that deep process that changes us so utterly at our core. You want more self-love? More self-acceptance? Stop thinking about yourself so much and find new ways to be of service to others. Practice! 10 minutes per day is a game changer. We know scientifically that consistency over time is way more important that intensity. Practicing 10 minutes per day is so much more powerful than one practice session per month of one hour. This applies to anything and everything in our life. Cheers!
Try out this 10 minute meditation!
Comment below and tell us what you love and
plan on spending 10 minutes a day on.
May 14, 2014 No Comments
By Dr. Jeff Rockwell
The eighth core belief of the National Holistic Institute a College of Massage Therapy is creativity and consistency. Faced with complex, open-ended, ever-changing challenges, organizations realize that constant, ongoing innovation (kaizen) is critical to stay ahead of the competition. The same should apply to an individual life, even if—especially if– one does not view life as a competition. In order to grow and actualize one’s potential, consistent creativity is a must.
This is why we need to be on the lookout for new ideas that can drive creativity, and it’s why the ability to think differently, generate new ideas, and spark innovation within a team becomes an important skill. You need to work actively on building and cultivating this skill, and it can be done—especially as a team.
Often, though, we make the mistake of assuming that good ideas “just happen.” Or worse still, we get caught in the mind trap that creativity is a special aptitude; some people have it, others don’t. We are either born with it or we are not. Then there is the time-worn self-defeating belief: “I am not smart enough to be creative.” These assumptions are rarely true. Everyone can come up with fresh, even radically new, ideas. We just need to learn to open our minds and think differently. We also need to think differently about thinking.
A word of caution – while techniques and books of techniques for creative thinking exist (and are extremely effective), they will only succeed if they are backed by knowledge of the area we’re working on. This means that if we are not prepared with adequate information about a particular challenge or opportunity, we are unlikely to come up with a great idea even by using the techniques applied by Leonardo da Vinci, Albert Einstein, or Steve Jobs. What is your driving passion? Learn as much as you can about it. Then get freaky with your thinking.
All of us tend to get stuck in certain thinking patterns. Breaking these thought patterns can help you get your mind unstuck and generate new ideas. There are numerous techniques you can use to break established thought patterns, and books abound at your local bookstore or the internet on this subject.
Personally, I prefer stories to techniques and am a firm believer that greatness can’t always be taught, but it can be caught. So let me introduce you to three “mentors” of mine, people who lived their lives in unconventional ways that placed them in the center of a rich and somewhat wild sea of creativity. Have you ever heard the tale of the sage who was instructing a student about the nature of transformation? When you arrive at the ocean, do not bring a thimble but, instead, bring a 50-gallon tank. Think big. Think bigger than that. Escape the box that most of your thinking occurs in as if you were fleeing from a burning house. Once outside of the box, blow it up in your mind and then start thinking. If you were Albert Einstein for one day what would you think?
Creativity is one of the most spiritual—and transformational—activities a human being can engage in. Thus, in that spirit, read on.
To unleash your creative intelligence, start thinking like Leonardo Da Vinci. Try emulating some of the things he did to be more creative. Da Vinci had specific techniques that he used to stimulate his intelligence and creative thinking. For example, he was ambidextrous and could write and paint with both hands at the same time. Pretty cool, right? Try stimulating your mind by writing with your non-dominant hand for ten minutes a day. Then take another sheet of paper and brainstorm about what you are currently passionate about.
The primary thing to remember regarding Da Vinci was his observation and belief that “everything connects”. He coined that phrase; not Abe Lincoln, Ben Franklin, or that prolific writer, Anonymous. This was his core belief, around which his mental universe revolved. Making connections between disparate things is one of the most productive creative thinking skills, so strongly consider making it a practice to think of ways that different things relate to each other, and how different things could be combined to make something completely different, novel, and needed by millions of people.
Leonardo Da Vinci was fascinated with all branches of learning and, in his time, there wasn’t the same push to specialize. He didn’t differentiate so much between subjects because he believed that they were all inter-related. He was a generalist, and proud of it.He discovered that the learning and discoveries made in one area affect our understanding and knowledge of another subject of study. This is the central idea of becoming a Renaissance man or woman. True creative intelligence will come with the development of all your intelligences: physical, emotional, mental, social, financial and spiritual.
Another of Da Vinci’s more famous techniques for inducing creative reverie was his practice of looking for recognizable patterns or images in the smoke and ashes in his fireplace. You may remember Jodie Foster’s character in the film, Little Man Tate, practicing this technique with her genius prodigy son, as they spent hours gazing at shadows on their ceiling. You can do the same thing with clouds, patterned wallpapers, bark on trees etc. Just stare at the clouds and see what pictures you can see in them — faces, landscapes, animals and so on. Ask a question of them, and see what answers “appear.”
Leonardo da Vinci used notebooks to record his ideas, thoughts and observations. Journaling is now recognized as a tremendous creative stimulant. It seems that by recording our prime thoughts and observations we affirm to our mind that they are valuable to us. It frees our mind to expand on ideas, because the origins and subsequent steps of thought are written down and objectified.
We all know that Da Vinci was an amazing artist. He used his ability to draw as a thinking aid, doing little cartoons in his notebooks that illustrated something he was observing, or were the beginnings of an idea for a design or invention that he had. It’s easy to learn to draw sufficiently well that you can use it to assist your creative thinking. I recommend Betty Edwards ‘ book, Drawing on the Right Side of Your Brain.
Leonardo Da Vinci was a scientist, engineer, artist, instrument inventor, anatomist, philosopher, and musical composer. He was highly popular as a story teller, joke teller, riddler, and was famous for excelling at whatever he applied himself to. He was also said to be immensely strong and physically fit. During one period of his life, he devoted an entire year each to heightening his five senses, perfecting his sense of hearing (through listening to and playing music), taste (by becoming a sommelier and gourmet chef), smell (becoming a perfumer in the process), sight (through observation of the natural world, and by painting), and touch (by training his body and becoming an Olympic caliber athlete before the advent of the modern-day Olympics). He found that by developing all of his multiple intelligences he gradually became a fully rounded individual capable of fulfilling his creative potential. He died used up and happy.
Albert Einstein’s creative thinking epitomizes most people’s idea of what a genius “looks like.” So it probably won’t surprise you to learn that Einstein had specific creative thinking behaviors that you can emulate to attain creative breakthroughs in any field of endeavor. The primary creative mindset of Einstein was that of possibility thinking. Basically, this meant giving himself permission to think extraordinary and fantastic things. He was well-known as quite the (well-educated) daydreamer. Many of his flashes of creative insight came while he was walking around his neighborhood or taking a shower. I suggest that you set aside time to deliberately pursue the creative breakthrough. You can call it your “Einstein time.”
Make the choice to budget your time to allow for regular “thinking” work. How much time you devote to this will depend on your own particular situation, needs and commitment. There are certain fields of inquiry that will demand more of your time and focus to reach the breakthroughs that are “waiting” in that field. Albert Einstein’s thinking on the subject of Quantum Physics obviously demanded more of his thinking time than someone who wants to think up a really creative idea for a birthday surprise. Get started by determining to set aside at least twenty minutes a day to concentrated possibility thinking and contemplation in the areas of your particular interests.
Einstein also was comfortable with dealing with seeming paradoxes and ambiguity. He was a devout practitioner in uniting what, to many, seemed like polar opposites: spirituality and science. Not a religious man in the traditional sense, he once said, “There are two ways to live. One is as if nothing is a miracle. The other is as if everything is a miracle. Personally, I choose the latter.” He entered the realm of the miraculous on a daily basis, the creative field in which everything is possible.
Buckminster Fuller and creative thinking go hand in hand. This creative powerhouse, referred to as the “Leonardo Da Vinci of the 20th Century,” is revered as a genius by those who knew him or his work. His extraordinary creativity drove him to become a philosopher, thinker, visionary, inventor, architect, engineer, mathematician, poet, cosmologist, and more. And the amazing thing is that all this creativity was spurred on by one life-focusing thought, a thought that will unleash a creative genius in YOU if you choose to adopt it. The thought? I’ll get to that in a moment.
It’s true that Buckminster Fuller had a flair for designing and making things, even as a child. As he grew up, he also demonstrated a flair for being a non-conformist — getting expelled twice from Harvard! He married young, served in the Navy during World War 1, and then went into business with his father-in-law — a business that ultimately failed. At age 32, Fuller found himself bankrupt, jobless and raising a young family in poor housing. When his beloved daughter, Alexandra, died of pneumonia, Fuller was inconsolable with guilt and shame. He blamed himself for her death and spiraled down into an alcohol-fuelled depression that took him to the brink of suicide. But just as he was about to end his life, Fuller heard an inner voice say, “Stop! Your life does not belong to you, but to the Universe, in service.” These words literally saved his life and launched him on the path that would make him world famous for his creative thinking.
In his depressed mindset, Buckminster Fuller—or “Bucky,” which he came to be affectionately known as, had been thinking about everything that was wrong with the world and his life. In the days after he heard that voice of inner guidance, he embarked, in his words, on “an experiment, to find what a single individual can contribute to changing the world and benefiting all humanity.”
Fuller’s experiment lasted over fifty years. Along the way, he had another realization and said in a lecture, “Something hit me very hard once, thinking about what one little man could do. Think of the Queen Mary—the whole ship goes by and then comes the rudder. And then there’s a tiny thing on the edge of the rudder called a trim-tab. It’s a miniature rudder. Just moving that little trim-tab builds a low pressure that pulls the rudder around. It takes almost no effort at all. So I say that the little individual can be a trim-tab. Society thinks it’s going right by you, that it’s left you altogether, when the fact is you can just put your foot out like that and the whole big ship of state is going to go. So I said to my friends and students, ‘Call me Trimtab.’”
One of Bucky’s most innovative concepts was of the earth as a spaceship. This implied the idea of all people of all races being together on one finite vehicle. He invented the Dymaxion Map which showed how all the countries of the world are closely linked. All this pointed at our need to work together as a human team; that our long-term and best future would only come as a result of consistent and creative co-operation in meeting the challenges that face each and every one of us. Our future on “Spaceship Earth” will be determined, he felt, by our ability to figure out the “operating manual” and maintain the health and efficiency of the planet. Fuller knew and accepted that most people would see this kind of thinking as pie-in-the-sky idealism. His motto though was “dare to be naive.” To be creative you have to be a little foolish. The inner editor wants you to be “realistic.” It spits out the old refrains: it’s not done like that; it’ll never work; that’s just not practical. But as a creative thinker, you cannot afford to let that voice squelch your creativity.
Yes, the world we live in faces many challenges: environmental, social, economical, political. These problems can seem so huge and insurmountable that we often give up before we even try to tackle them. But the mind is designed to meet creative challenges. That is its nature. The way to unleash its creative power is through responsibility, choice, and commitment. When you choose that it’s up to you, that you are going to do it, then your mind gets into gear and starts working at a deeper level. In each of us there is a core desire to be of use. We all want to help make the world a better place. We all want to make a significant contribution. We all want to demonstrate to ourselves (and others) that our lives have meaning, that we are all important. And so, your enormous personal creative power can be unleashed by Buckminster Fuller’s thought: What can I do? How can I help? How can I make this world a better place? How can I help humanity have a better life and a better future? Dare to be naive. Dare to dream wild and lofty dreams. Dare to be creative for the benefit of all beings. Dare to take on the world’s challenges and, as an experiment, discover what a single individual can contribute to changing the world for the better.
May 8, 2014 No Comments
By Dr. Jeff Rockwell
At NHI, we are all about having work you love. Having work you love is a great big portal into having a life you love. Living a life you love is about passion. What is passion? This word currently has a poor time in our culture. We are a culture that often squelches passion and we are a culture that has created a cult of mediocrity from very early on in life. In so many ways, we are encouraged to stay in the bell curve and to dial down that ecstatic urgency to create, love, step up, and step out. I know of no greater elixir for the heart than passion. “In the ruin of heartbreak,” speaks Rumi, “there arises a passion that can raise the dead.” I love that line. Passion, to me, is that felt sense of aliveness, of purpose, of fire, and of excitement to live, act, and love for something much bigger than “me”. It is the felt sense of being pushed along a path by something Vast, Huge, and Kind. It is the energy that rises up in me every time I think of the mass suffering in this world that can, and does, get better when individuals wake up and start living like they mean it. Passion is the rocket fuel of the Heart that transcends logic and that is the source of all true creativity. Passion begs us to question our rules and the rules laid down by teachers, preachers, doctors, and politicians. It implores us to give up our stories that hold us back and trust that living flame within. Passion was the fuel source of the illumined mystics, the great writers, the luminous musicians, and the courageous agents of social change. Passion is not a mental event.
To really live and serve Passion’s great call, we’ll have to muster up the courage and be ready to leave behind the dead weight of a life of compromises. Passion will not let you live small. Your life may be entirely ordinary, and yet it can be so illuminated with passion that even your silence makes the birds dance.
We live in a larger field of relationships, of “relatings.” Relationships – all of them – thrive on positive interactions of kindness, play, authenticity, vulnerability, laughter, and a deep fondness for excellence. In the hum-drum drone of day-to-day existence, so many people get away from the juice that lies in fostering positive interactions with those we love. Gay Hendricks states that simply to have an “OK relationship” you need five positive interactions for every negative one. An awesome relationship – whether with your life partner or with your best friend – requires a relationship heavily weighted to the positive. Paradoxically, however, real honesty and vulnerability will open the door to authentic positivity. It’s easy to gloss over incongruencies and just “be nice”. That is not what I am describing. I am talking about a potent force of energy we call positive love that arises again and again and again and becomes medicine for our personal and collective brokenness. I see this every day around me at NHI. We focus on our strengths and build from there. We tell the truth with compassion. We don’t settle for. Instead, we rise into a place where only love, respect, courage, accountability, and kindness exist. We sizzle.
Keep score. Yes – I really said that. Keep score. Note the ratio and shoot for 10-1. Then, 20-1. And when that ratio gets low, don’t freak out. Look deeply. Speak deeply. Courageously take responsibility and forgive deeply. And then step up. Meet your life with your life. Begin and end your day with acts of positive kindness. Text them. Email them. Use whatever means you can. Water the soil of your relationships with unconventional and uncalled-for kindness and positivity. Especially when you don’t want to. Especially when it wasn’t “your fault.”
Finally, love yourself. Big time. The Buddha said that no one is more deserving of your kindness than you are. Take care of yourself: mind, body and Spirit. Self-care is not selfish; rather, it’s a supreme act of love. When I am connected, whole, and in my zone of passionate living, I am so much more available to the world. I also enjoy the ride a lot more, and that fuels me to give more, and then the world keeps giving back to me in this play of flowing and energetic giving and receiving. Life becomes so much more than just a survival match.
Get massaged. Regularly. Make it a foundational part of your wellness lifestyle. Do yoga or Tai Chi or Somatics. Get an extra hour of sleep. Drink raw juice. Go on a retreat. Ask for help from a therapist or coach when you need help. This amazing game of life was meant to be played together, and, believe or not, there are folks on this path who have been where you have been and have a roadmap to a much cooler place. Spend time around people that energize you, inspire you, and push you just a tad past your comfort zone (thank you Julie Porter; thank you Brigitte Essl). Talk to God (whatever you call God). When you are up against a wall and don’t feel like you can go any further, please–let yourself cry. Don’t make your busyness an excuse. There is nothing so barren as a busy life, said Socrates.
At NHI San Jose, we are in the process of saying goodbye to one of the most passionate human beings I have ever met: Darlene Campo.
During the four years I have worked with her, I (and I am sure I am not alone here) have received spot-on and compassionate mentoring, always exactly what I needed to hear, always in a manner which allowed the words to sink in. Any computer or academic question I ever had, was promptly answered by Darlene as she would often drop what she was doing to be of unselfish assistance. I have witnessed her vulnerability, her supreme organizational skills, and appreciated her enthusiasm in learning new massage modalities, along with learning to exquisitely speak Italian (the language of passion).
Darlene knows how to turn a weekend off from work into an art-filled, artful holiday. She is generous with her helpfulness and her enthusiasm. She is a humble and empowered worker among workers, a devoted daughter and a lifelong learner. She is trustworthy, reliable, brilliant (yes, she glows), deeply spiritual and deeply humorous. She is an adventurer of the heart and mind. She is my friend. She is NHI’s friend. And now she is embarking, as of May 3rd, on a new journey as Associate Dean at WesternTechnicalCollege in LaCrosse, Wisconsin. As the saying goes, “Our loss, their gain.”
Darlene is a light-spreader. Now she is preparing to spread her light further and deeper into the world. Passionately. Come May, I’m uncertain how to live my life, doing everything the same, only this time without my friend.
Let us know what you are passionate about and ways you enhance your passion for life!
May 1, 2014 No Comments
By Dr. Jeff Rockwell
I have officially crossed a line in my life. I won’t do anything that is not congruent with my soul. Will you join me?
I will walk the path of authenticity, and I will dare greatly. In that spirit, I have zero problems sharing that it scares the crap out of me to write this. In one very real sense, living a whole-hearted life is terrifying. Let’s get real: there a lot of internal and external forces pushing back on us. Take a look at the greatest leaders in our history and you’ll see that a good number of them were ridiculed or worse. The status quo is bent on suppressing authenticity, as are many parts of our own conditioning. It’s heart-wrenchingly weird to step out and tell your truth. I will do it, though – and I will fail. I’ll step up again, fail, step up again, fail, step up again and again and again. Why? Because I know in my bones that the compelling stories of our lives—my life, the dreams of our hearts, our wounds and our victories, are not there by mistake. They are the poetry of God. By telling my truth, I liberate myself from the hold of the primitive “fear brain.” I start to disentangle myself from the cultural dictate to be someone other than who I am.
I may feel scared but I will act from love. In fact, the more I do this I realize I have no choice. Why? Because I am love. So are you. To act contrary to this is a flu-virus to the soul. Any dream– any calling that arises within us, comes straight from Source. We may feel it in our gut or in our bones or in our heart. The Heart—let’s give it the respect it deserves and capitalize it– is our instant connection to Source. We are hard-wired to cooperate, to live and create and work and play in peace. That’s what Source wants. But it needs a body to dance its call into the world. It needs hands to offer a hug, a high five, a healing hour of massage. It needs me. It needs you. And our freedom lies in being with the truth of who we are. We are Love. If I want to live a whole-hearted life, I have to be whole – and that means embracing all of my life, not just the happy, shiny stuff. What glitters is the heart and soul. Everything else will pass away.
My bondage lies in the myriad of ways I hide out, play small, and put on a nice veneer. When I get really honest and clear and vulnerable I can see, without flinching, that there are a whole lot of forces in myself, in our media, in our pop-culture, in our families, that want us to keep from breaking free and being radically real and honest, to keep us from knowing and owning our magnificent broken beauty. We live in a culture where we can keep posting on Facebook, for example, only what we want others to see. Social media is fabulous and we can all use it to share who we really are and to share what we are most passionate about (me: a world that works for everyone). But do not let it become a substitute for realness, authenticity, depth, and the real creativity that comes from whole-hearted, face-to-face living.
None of this means that you need to drop a hand grenade into your life. The greatest change starts right where we are-– in our work, in our families, in our bodies. Courageously, lovingly, gracefully (and, sometimes, clumsily and tentatively), we begin, one step at a time, to live our authentic life. As Mary Oliver said in her great poem The Journey, “One day you finally knew what you had to do, and began/ though the voices around you kept shouting their bad advice/but you didn’t stop/little by little, as you left their voices behind, the stars began to burn through sheets of clouds/ and there was a new voice which you slowly recognized as your own/ that kept you company as you strode deeper and deeper into the world/ determined to do the only thing you could do/determined to save the only life you could save.”
Here are nine suggestions to help you on your precious journey:
1) Find community that supports this and supports you. It is really challenging to do this alone.
2) Find and spend time with leaders who bring their authenticity into the world and, by doing so, change lives. They are out there. Listen to your heart and you’ll recognize who honors your soul’s code and who doesn’t.
3) The greatest way to transform your life is to transform what interferes with you sharing your light with the world. This is NOT a mental process. It’s a whole body process. As the saying goes, “The issues are in the tissues.” Massage therapy is one way that can assist this process.
4) Remember to breath. As one of my teachers says, “More breath, more God.”
5) Three books that are rocking my world right now are “Daring Greatly” by Brene Brown, “Heed Your Call,” by David Howitt, and “Red, Hot and Holy” by Sera Beak. Read and watch things that stir and nourish your soul.
6) Sometimes, in addition to working with the body, we need to talk to a person who really “gets” it—and who gets us—to further assist our healing and unfoldment. I personally have three mentors with whom I regularly meet and check-in. Why three, and not just one? I’m slow.
7) Eat well. Drink water. Move. Get good rest. Meditate/pray. Care for your nervous system. Don’t over-stimulate it with sugar, caffeine and TV (and other screens), but nurture it with healing touch. As we wake up, we must train our minds to tell the truth about us: we are amazing beyond our wildest dreams. This last one is non-negotiable.
8) As counter-intuitive as this may seem (or contrary to the spirit of this blog), your life is not about you. Not really. Neither is it about me. And it never will be. This thought keeps us right- sized, connected to one another, and an open portal to Grace.
9) Keep a sense of humor. Don’t be serious; be sincere.
April 21, 2014 4 Comments
Step 7/10: SUSTAINABILITY THROUGH KAIZEN
By Dr. Jeff Rockwell
Anybody can succeed, at least once in a while. But consistent and lasting success in life comes only from a commitment to daily improvement; by being open to and not frightened away, by change; by striving to become a little bit wiser each day. Success means many things to different people but I propose that it is the constant increase in the quality of every aspect of our life – our health, our wealth, our knowledge, and our relationships— including one’s relationship with one ’s self. I am not talking about huge improvements. What I am talking about are very small incremental daily improvements that add up to a Big Life Worth Loving (BLWL).
How do we get ourselves to consistently act in a way that causes us to increase the quality of our life and our enjoyment of it? It is by committing to the philosophy of Kaizen.
But what on earth is Kaizen? Kaizen is a Japanese term that literally stands for “Constant and Never-ending Improvement.” The term, made popular by the Toyota Company during the days of its breakthrough into the American auto market, loosely translates to “change for the better” and is a slow-and-steady method of encouraging success in workplaces. In those who follow Kaizen, people at all levels of an organization—from the cleaning crew to the company president—use key fundamentals to make productive changes, improve attitudes and increase overall achievement. But the principles behind this practice can also be applied to our everyday life—our interactions with those around us, the attainment of personal goals and our quest to find balance and contentment in daily life. “This technique helps the brain learn habits through small, daily steps we take to improve our health, our relationships and our work efforts,” writes business author Robert Maurer, Ph.D. The way our life gets better is not by occasionally jumping into it with wild enthusiasm. The quality of our life gets better by making a habit of consistently and consciously improving in each and every area of our lives—every day (or very close to it). That is, admittedly, a tall order but really takes not much more effort than “living-by-default” and allowing a miserable life to happen to us. In the words of the late motivational author, Zig Ziglar, “Inch by inch, anything’s a cinch. Mile by mile, everything’s a trial.” Committing to these tiny improvements which, while they may seem like nothing in the moment, will build upon each other until, one day, we discover we are “playing life” at a whole different level of embodiment and expression.
Kaizen implies living by habit. In truth, we all do this all the time, but to what kind of habits are we loyal? Successful people develop the habit of doing the things unsuccessful people don’t like to do. That is a fairly simple, yet profound, formula for success. Who likes to get up an hour earlier to exercise, review goals, meditate or make breakfast for their partners? Not too many people, to be exact. But successful people make small things like these a habit, ones that create energy, enthusiasm, and positive momentum.
Nothing in life feels as fulfilling and juicy as knowing we are living life by our own code of excellence, or sharing the gifts and talents that lie within us. We feel frustrated when we don’t feel we are growing or fulfilling our potential, and this growth comes from the accumulation of many, seemingly insignificant, successful days.
Most people don’t succeed in achieving their goals because they don’t believe they can achieve them. If you set very high standards and set equally large goals, your brain may rebel since it feels pressured by the possibility of failure. The power of Kaizen, however, is that it is believable.
Here are three questions that we can ask ourselves at the end of each day. These questions help us to stay on purpose and true to our commitment to Kaizen. They are:
1. What did I learn today?
2. How has today added to the quality of my life?
3. What am I grateful for this evening?
The overriding principle of kaizen is that it is daily, continuous, steady, and it takes a long-term view. Kaizen also requires a commitment and a strong willingness to change. As Lao Tzu said, “Each journey begins with a single step.” Or as I like to put it, KMFA! Keep moving forward always!Published: October 16, 2013
There is an old saying that goes “Once you think you have arrived, you have already started your descent.” One must never think they “have arrived.” This is a paradox: In one sense, we have–spiritually speaking– always arrived, in that we “are where we are,” and there is great contentment to be found in accepting that. As the Buddha said to his students when asked the secret of happiness, “Happy having, happy not having.” But there is another way of looking at this. In the West we say “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” The spirit of kaizen, on the other hand, suggests that there is always something to learn and ways to improve, and that it is also better to prevent problems than to fix them. Thus, no matter how good things may seem now, there is always room for improvement, and looking to improve every day is what the spirit of personal kaizen is all about. It’s not about how far you have come or how far you have yet to go, it is only about this moment and being open to seeing the possibilities and lessons around you.
The seventh core belief of National Holistic Institute is “Sustainability Through Kaizen. Sustainability is a close cousin to success, especially when applied to the success or health of our beloved planet. April 22nd is Earth Day, a perfect time to take personal inventory of our relationship (and our community’s) to the planet. Thoreau wrote, “What is the use of a fine house if you haven’t got a tolerable planet to put it on?” This wasn’t—and isn’t—a rhetorical question. What is the point of a successful life if we do not have a tolerable planet on which to live? Any answer we can think of seems too challenging. Remember, however, we are not alone. While there is no single solution to our ecological problems, there are 7 billion solutions. Each of us has been given a piece of this sacred planet to save. And how should we go about accomplishing such a mighty task? One step at a time, every day, in the spirit of Kaizen.
Visit - http://www.earthday.org/ and find out how you can volunteer in your area!
April 11, 2014 No Comments
Getting Down With Truth
By Jeff Rockwell
“Motivation is simple. You eliminate those who are not motivated.” – Lou Holtz
I have come to observe an important distinction within the ranks of massage therapists which is really a microcosm of what I see in the world at large. It is a global mindset issue in individuals that creates the lens through which they see the world and drives their actions and behaviors and consequently, will dictate how the world sees them. It culminates into one’s success, or lack thereof.
What I am talking about here is the mentality of entitlement versus the mentality of motivation. Both are very strong forces that lead to very different destinations. One destination is a good place, the other? Not so much. The good news is that mindsets are NOT inborn. They can be consciously chosen and then ‘habitualized’ through consistent practice.
To become a massage therapist, you spend quite a lot of time in school and invest a substantial amount of money in your education. Too often, after this investment of time and money, one is tempted to get a core sense of, “I’ve arrived!” The corollary mindset to this is one of entitlement. “I put in my time. I spent my money. I deserve my reward.” Oh, what a rude awakening the MT of that orientation is in for. The only thing your massage therapy education entitles you to is the opportunity to go out there and build a career by adding value to the lives of others.
Motivation, not entitlement, is the key driver to launch, build and sustain a long term successful career. And as the above quote from Lou Holtz says in essence, those who are not motivated get eliminated! So, here’s my question for you – do you have habits and systems built into your daily routines that create motivation? Or do you sit back and gripe about a world or a profession that didn’t give you the career and results you feel you are entitled to?
Motivation means you are willing to work hard. You are willing to risk. You are willing to delay gratification today for a better future tomorrow. You are willing to learn. You are committed to growing. You see an urgent problem and you want to be the solution. You have an important purpose… Entitlement means the exact opposite of all these.
Ask yourself the question right now, and be 100% honest with yourself. In your current mindset and circumstance, is your default headspace ‘motivation’ or is it ‘entitlement’? The good news is, if it’s the wrong one, you can consciously change it now to the ‘right one’ and take action to keep it there. Lastly, I will say that the main tools I use to stay motivated – and it does require tools and the discipline to use them – consists of 3 things:
1. Consistent morning rituals to get my headspace right, starting with getting a good night’s rest and awakening to twenty minutes of meditation, visualization of goals being achieved, and repeating—with emotion—important and personally relevant affirmations.
2. A comprehensive success library of books, audios, and videos that keep me growing, learning, and motivated. This is my main secret weapon for motivation and I will have turned my car into a learning center, as I utilize my two hours of commute time to listen to some of the brightest minds in wellness care and neuroscience.
3. Being in a weekly accountability group with other like-minded people who share my values. I have been doing this for the past four years and it changed my life.
Are you motivated yet??? Let’s go change the world, two hands at a time!
April 7, 2014 1 Comment
Step 6/10: NHI Believes: Step Six to Having a Life You Love
Teamwork Making the Dream Work
By Dr. Jeff Rockwell
I love to study and observe successful people. Success is a loaded concept, commonly trivialized to how much money a person makes. The more one earns, the more of a “winner” they become. Truly successful people, indeed, experience living from an overflow of abundance: a wealth of love, relationships, community involvement, well-being and—often—money. But some very important people in history did not have a lot of money. Take Jesus and the Buddha as two examples. And some people are so poor, that all they have is money.
Another category in which successful people are wildly rich is motivation. If you’re a motivated person, it’s easy to put your personal goals ahead of those of the people around you. It’s natural and not necessarily a bad thing; however, it is crucial to learn to be a team player.
Acting as a part of a team builds character, teaches empathy, and ultimately assists you in achieving your personal goals. Here’s why:
1) Yes, you can run a small business pretty independently, but if you ever plan on being employed or running a business that employs others, you’ll have to learn how to work with other people. The most impressive feats are accomplished by groups of people, not individuals.
2) If you’re part of a team, you have to prove your merit not only to yourself, but also to everyone you’re working with. When something is expected of you, there are no excuses. You either succeed or you fail. Successful people, in fact, do both– and on a regular basis. If you do fail, however, it’s much harder to rationalize your actions to a team you let down than it is to yourself. Even if your team understands, it’s difficult to swallow the realization that you let down more than just yourself. Because of this, you learn how to deal with responsibility. Successful people are accountable, to themselves and to others. They take responsibility and do not make excuses. Thus, they remain on the cutting-edge of personal growth, contributing to something larger than themselves, and an ongoing expansion of life-force and joy.
3) Successful people are leaders. Some lead in obvious, out-loud ways, while others do so quietly, playing meaningfully supportive roles. Effective leaders do not act solely as individuals. The purpose of a leader is to work with people to find solutions that work best collectively. Leaders bring people together. The best leaders don’t act with a sense of superiority; they act with a sense of empathy and a desire to serve others. And guess what? The world is starving for authentic, heartfelt leadership, now more than ever (consider the opportunities!).
4) If you’re on a team, your personal commitment to excellence helps make you a team player. This is because most people are at least a little bit competitive, whether they admit it or not. When you do well, you set a standard that others will want to meet. By pushing yourself, you help push the people on your team. Of course, this works both ways. When you see someone you’re working with do something better than you, more often than not, you’ll push yourself to meet that standard.
5) Successful people WANT to be team players. They recognize that participating in a healthy community may very well be the highest expression of health and well-being.
I am a big sports fan. I’m also a lover of film, literature, self-improvement, art and nature. But few things get my heart going like an excellent game of Bay Area baseball (go Giants AND A’s!). Sadly, if you watch most professional athletes compete these days, one thing you won’t learn alot about is class or character. Too many of our so-called role models don’t seem to care about anything except themselves. To them, the “team” is nowhere near as important as the “me.” “What’s in it for me?” “I want more playing time. I should be starting instead of them!” “My average”, “My stats”, “My salary”, and so on. With such “me-attitudes” it would be easy for aspiring young athletes to miss the boat and never learn how important “team” really is to success in sports (and in life). Of course, there are still team players out there who truly understand that being a real winner is not about “me”, it’s about “we!” They are as rare, however, as World Series titles for the Chicago Cubs.
I recently read an interview with Phil Jackson, one of the winningest (and coolest) coaches in the history of professional basketball. He commented on what he wanted his recruiters to look for when they searched for new talent. Far too many athletes, he said, mistakenly believe that what a coach primarily wants in his/her players are talented individuals that will help that coach win. This is only true with the newer, less experienced coaches. When you ask the coaches who have been around for a while what they look for in an athlete, they won’t just talk about superior skills, unbelievable talent, strength or speed. What they are ultimately more interested in is the athlete’s attitude and “coach-ability!”
The most successful coaches today want athletes who are coach-able. That is, athletes who listen, who are open to new things, who take constructive criticism, who respect the coach and their teammates, athletes who are always looking for ways to improve, who are “team players” and who choose to deal with their conflicts and problems constructively. It’s very interesting that Michael Jordan never won an NBA Championship until Jackson convinced him that he had to involve his teammates more and that he simply couldn’t do it by himself. When Jordan bought into Jackson’s program the Bulls took off and a powerful dynasty was born.
Any sports lover has seen too many incredibly talented teams get beaten by lesser skilled opponents because the athletes on the more powerful team didn’t get along. They didn’t play as a team. They played as a group of individuals competing against themselves for playing time, the coach’s attention and the limelight. The weaker team? Well, they supported each other and worked together. Why is teamwork so important? Very simply: because the whole is always greater than the sum of its parts. Because, as John Maxwell titled his best-seller, “Teamwork Makes the Dream Work.” Because “Together Everyone Achieves More.”
So how coach-able are you? What kind of a team player are you? Are you a team builder or team buster? Do you bring your teammates up or drag them down? Let’s find out! How many of these “team-busting” behaviors do you recognize as your own?
Talking behind others’ backs
Blaming others – Refusing to accept responsibility
Having a negative attitude
Bad mouthing fellow workers, or team mates, the coach (or boss), or the team (or company)
“I’m the greatest and you’re not” attitude
Not communicating directly/openly
Giving it only half your best effort
How many of the following “team-building” attitudes do you possess?
Dealing with conflicts directly, openly, and compassionately
Demonstrating respect for colleagues
Being encouraging to team mates when they are struggling
Having a positive attitude
Being a good listener
Having an open, “coach-able” mind
Understanding that everyone on the team is important for success
Not allowing team-busting behaviors to occur
Taking responsibility for your actions
Trying as hard as you can on a daily basis
Please understand that you can’t turn team-busting behaviors around until you can label them clearly. That’s why you have a coach or a mentor or a manager. Don’t freak out if you find that you sometimes get into these destructive behaviors. Just make an honest effort to stop them. Take some responsibility today, right now, to begin to develop a more coachable attitude. At National Holistic Institute a College of Massage Therapy, we are a self-described community of leaders, of role-models, of mentors. We are a team.
At Team NHI we place great value on the power of stories. Many classes begin with stories that set the tone for what is to be learned that day. In keeping with that spirit, I’d like to close this blog with one of my favorite tales:
An 80 year-old man is on his death-bed. He has lived a long and satisfying life. He has accomplished great things. He has amassed great wealth. However, he has struggled with one major frustration and, in his mind, one significant failure. For his entire life his nine sons and daughters have never gotten along. They have bitterly fought amongst themselves, shared petty jealousies and held grudges. Many have not spoken to one another in years. This has caused the old man great pain and suffering. So he called his eldest son to his bedside and instructed him as follows. “I am dying, my son, and have little time left. There is, however one thing that I wish you to do for me. Contact all your brothers and sisters and have them gather in my bedroom next Tuesday. I wish to say goodbye to everyone together; and one more thing, my son. Be sure that each of your brothers and sisters brings a stick four feet long and one half-inch in circumference.” The eldest son was puzzled by this strange request and thought, sadly, that his father had already lost his mind. Nevertheless, being the dutiful son that he was, he contacted all his siblings and gave them his father’s instructions. On Tuesday they all gathered by their dying father’s bed awkwardly holding their sticks. The tension in the air was quite palpable given the hostility that existed between the brothers and sisters. The old man asked the eldest for his stick. In the silence of the room, he wrapped his bony hands around the stick and began to bend it. His hands shook as he applied more and more pressure to the wood until there was a resounding snap in the room as the stick broke. He then instructed the eldest to gather up all the remaining sticks and bring them to him. When he had all nine sticks in his hands he slowly bound them together with a leather strip. When he had finished he asked his strongest son who worked in a rock quarry to please take the bundle of sticks in his hands and attempt to break them. This very muscular son wrapped his massive hands around the nine sticks and began to apply pressure. Soon the bundle began to bend ever so slightly. The man’s muscles began to bulge as he continued to apply pressure. However, as hard as he bent, the sticks would not move beyond their initial bend. His face began to turn red and the veins in his neck bulged, but the sticks would not budge. Minutes later, and sweating profusely, the strong man gave up exhausted. Everyone had watched this demonstration in silence. The old man faced his children and said, “I have a parting message for you and hopefully a life lesson. All my life you have been fighting amongst yourselves. You have not supported each other and have not acted as a family. When you do that understand that you stand alone. You are weak and anyone can break you, even someone as frail as myself. However, when you stick together, when you support each other not even the strongest can break you.”
Until next time, may you live in gratitude and cooperation with one another.
Read more about the great teamwork leaders here:
John Maxwell – “17 Indisputable Laws of Teamwork”
Phil Jackson – “Sacred Hoops: Spiritual Lessons of a Hardwood Warrior”
April 1, 2014 No Comments
Step 5/10: PROVIDING SAFE SPACE
By Dr. Jeff Rockwell
The fifth core belief of Team NHI is “providing safe space.” The ability to create a safe space may well be one of the most vital skills needed to create an ongoing successful relationship of any kind. Being a college of massage therapy, National Holistic Institute is impeccable about creating safe space for its students and employees; space in which students may “sink in” to the process of learning the language of touch, and space in which staff can model what it looks like “having work you love.” What I find most compelling about this core belief is that life is comprised of relating and of relationships, all of which may more easily flourish in a trustworthy and compassionate environment.
Providing safe space: As I write this I find myself carefully considering how best to entice the reader into a willingness to develop this skill as a significant priority in one’s life.
The first thing to be really clear about regarding this is: If you do not intentionally create a safe space you will not have one, regardless of whether we are talking about therapist-client interactions, a working relationship, or a marriage.
What, exactly, is a safe space?
At the risk of sounding flippant or silly, I want to emphasize that A SAFE SPACE IS A SPACE IN WHICH PEOPLE FEEL SAFE.
People do not feel threatened. They do not feel judged. They do feel cared for, loved and appreciated. They do feel they are being heard and understood what they express themselves. They do feel that we are sincerely attempting to understand what is “true” or “truth” for them, rather than suggesting their perspective is wrong or that ours’ is somehow better or senior to theirs.
If you are creating a safe space for yourself, all of these things are as equally true. You do not threaten yourself. You do not judge yourself or put yourself down. You do care for and love yourself, you listen to and attempt to understand your “body intelligence,” and you have respect for your truth. You remain open—wide open—to growth and new possibilities, but your emotional center of gravity is grounded in a deep appreciation for the sacred process that you always and already are.
We can judge a person against any existing moral, ethical, or religious code or standard. It then becomes easy to not see or hear that person. Their essence becomes invisible to us because judgment creates separation. Judging someone against any standard separates us from the person or group we are judging. It reduces our empathy and, thus, our love.
This is not to say that we should not discern or establish and adhere to our own guiding values. The author and philosopher Ayn Rand warned about “sanctioning incompetency,” referring to our society—harshly, perhaps—as “drowning in a sea of mediocrity.” But the spiritual truth remains: separation is what happens when we judge. Separation-consciousness is the opposite of love, and love is what makes the world go ‘round (or makes it, at the least, a lot more enjoyable).
At NHI, we strive to make our students feel safe to explore, experiment, and grow. As teachers, we want our students to have the best possible experience in the classroom. Providing that means finding a balance between challenging them and keeping them safe.
We try to set the right mood in the room from the very beginning. We “ground in,” enjoy some quiet, meditative time or a fun, physical activity. Once the mood in the room has been established, the most important issue is physical and emotional safety. As a teacher, it’s our job to watch out for “danger signs in the “learning dojo.” I greet each student by name and listen for the tone of their response. It’s one way I can scan the “community” for weak (i.e. in need of deeper understanding or a word of comfort) links. During bodywork sessions, I observe how both the giver and the receiver are breathing. How we breathe is how we do everything else. If the breath looks or sounds strained or fatigued, I help the student find their way back to gentle belly-breathing. The breath is often the guide; the whole bodywork session is, in a very real sense, an hour-long breathing exercise. Once the breath “feels” right, I check my students’ feet and move upward, looking for any alignment “danger” signs. I go to the students who need the most help and practice with them for a moment to show them what I’m asking. The feet, knees, and hips are most important, and aligning them is the first step; when you adjust them, the optimal working posture comes naturally into bloom.
I also encourage my students to develop their own intuition. They need to listen to their inner teacher and take personal responsibility for their own safety. If something feels wrong, it is wrong. It is always safe to say so.
When my students don’t seem to be responding to my instructions, I always try to remember that most of them are really doing the best they can. Maybe they aren’t in the perfect state of mind, or they are trying in relation to what others can do. I ask them not to compare themselves to other people, but simply to find their edge with enthusiasm, relaxation, and a lack of force. This way they can visit their edge without jumping over it—as teachers, it’s our job to help them peek but not jump.
On the other hand, if most of the class seems to be not getting it, I recognize that I need to change my approach as a teacher.
Creating and maintaining space entails recognizing that such a space is something dynamic, in motion, often changing. It involves dealing with students at different levels of ability. I invite my students to see their work as a form of prayer and a form of dance—a celebration of all they’ve been handed, a reminder of the blessings they’ve received. I remind them to take “safe space” with them wherever they go and to view their practice not as something to fear, but as a chance to blossom or open up, an opportunity to give others the gift of whole-hearted acceptance, as well as the gifts of healing touch..
At the end of class, I ask them to pause for a moment of reflection. In that moment, they can thank themselves for being in class and honor someone in their lives who is suffering physically or emotionally. As they “whoosh” for the final time, they can send some love and support to that person, helping them to understand the inner or spiritual aspects of being a massage therapist. It’s a safe way to help them stretch their conception of massage as simply a physical experience.
It’s a gift to be a teacher—we’re in the heart of the service industry. When we forget that, we’ve lost perspective. We’re there to serve our students by providing valuable information and creating a safe environment for them to use that information to expand their horizons and grow as “bodymindspirit” beings.
Finally, it helps me to remember that students are dealing with deep stuff: their fears and internal demons. We really have no idea what their personal issues are. It’s also a gift to be human, a gift that is not, as they say, for sissies. As teachers, we must simply be prepared to breathe, support them, and keep their spirits lifted so they can vanquish the demons and embrace both their “tigers” and highest selves. As above, so below. As with students, so with all beings. Let’s cherish each other as we are able, and help create a world that is safe for everyone!
Tune in next week for our next installment: “Teamwork Making the Dream Work”
March 28, 2014 No Comments
Step 4/10: Telling the Truth with Compassion
By Jeff Rockwell
Jim O’Hara has been a major part of the heart and soul of the National Holistic Institute a College of Massage Therapy for many years. A massage therapist for nearly 30 years, Jim carries the title of “Curriculum and Training Specialist” at NHI. But with a Masters degree in education from Stanford, a master’s grasp of Eastern healing arts, along with years of tending to the spiritual needs of people in India and Nepal, Mr. O’Hara, I suspect, is actually a Buddha in disguise.
The fourth core belief of NHI and the subject of this week’s blog is “telling the truth with compassion,” a maxim that is framed and displayed in every NHI campus. The author of these inspiring words? Jim O’Hara, of course.
Let’s dig into the wisdom of this saying, breaking it down into its component parts: Tell the truth. With Compassion.
First of all, what do we mean by “truth”? There are a lot of “facts” we take for granted that just aren’t true. This includes many things we believe about ourselves. For centuries, everyone “knew” that the sun and planets revolved around the Earth. Up until the late 19th century, epidemic illnesses such as cholera and the plague were “known” to be caused by a poisonous mist filled with particles from rotting debris. Until the early 20th century, the most common procedure performed by surgeons was bloodletting, because we “knew” that draining blood rid the body of the bad humors responsible for poor health.
Today, of course, we don’t make such silly assumptions. Or do we?
Ever hear that cracking your knuckles will give you arthritis? As a chiropractor, this particularly amuses me: You will not get arthritis from cracking your knuckles. There is actually no evidence of such an association and, in studies performed, there was no change in occurrence of arthritis between “habitual knuckle crackers” and “non crackers.” In fact, in some studies, it was shown that “knuckle crackers” experienced a lesser occurrence of arthritis.
Or how about this: Cholesterol in eggs is bad for one’s heart. Not true. The perceived association between dietary cholesterol and risk for coronary heart disease stems from dietary recommendations proposed in the 1960s that had little scientific evidence, other than the known association between saturated fat and cholesterol and animal studies where cholesterol was fed in amounts far exceeding normal intakes. Since then, study after study has found that dietary cholesterol (the cholesterol found in food) does not negatively raise your body’s cholesterol. It is the consumption of saturated fat that is the demon here. So eat eggs, not steak.
Some things that we incorrectly believe to be true are fairly trivial. Others are not. For example, consider this, that humans utilize only 10 per cent of their brain.
Admittedly, the human brain is beyond complex. Along with performing millions of mundane acts, it composes concertos, issues manifestos and comes up with elegant solutions to equations. It’s the wellspring of all human feelings, behaviors, and experiences as well as the repository of memory and self-awareness. So it’s no surprise that the brain remains a mystery unto itself.
Adding to that mystery is the contention that humans only employ 10 percent of their brain. If only “regular folk” could tap that other 90 percent, they too could become savants who remember pi to the twenty-thousandth decimal place or perhaps even have telekinetic powers.
Though an interesting, albeit very limiting, idea, the “10 percent myth” is so wrong it is almost laughable, says neurologist Barry Gordon at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine in Baltimore. Although there’s no definitive culprit to pin the blame on for starting this legend, the notion has been linked to the American psychologist and author William James, who argued in The Energies of Men that “we are making use of only a small part of our possible mental and physical resources.”
The myth’s durability, Gordon says, stems from people’s conceptions about their own brains: they see their own shortcomings as evidence of the existence of untapped gray matter. This is a false assumption. What is correct, however, is that at certain moments in anyone’s life, such as when we are simply at rest and thinking, we may be using only 10 percent of our brains. “It turns out, though, that we use virtually every part of our brain and that most of the brain is active almost all the time,” Gordon adds. Let’s put it this way: the brain represents three percent of the body’s weight and uses 20 percent of the body’s energy.
“Evidence would show over a day you use 100 percent of the brain,” says John Henley, a neurologist at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn. Even in sleep, areas such as the frontal cortex, which controls things like higher level thinking and self-awareness, or the somatosensory areas, which help people sense their surroundings, are active, Henley explains.
Another mystery hidden within our skulls is that of all the brain’s cells, only 10 percent are neurons; the other 90 percent are glial cells, which encapsulate and support neurons, but whose function still remains largely unknown. Ultimately, it’s not that we use 10 percent of our brains; merely that we only understand about 10 percent of how the brain functions.
Among the most insidious and pernicious non-truths we dabble in are some of the things we tell ourselves about ourselves. Researchers estimate that we think approximately 50,000 thoughts a day, with 80-90 per cent of them being negative messages about ourselves and others.
The Buddha taught that our true nature is compassion, and when this true nature is realized, the offspring of compassion emerge: loving-kindness, empathetic joy, and equanimity.
Who are you? Tell me the truth. Never mind all your fears and insecurities or all the things you have or would like to have. I don’t want to know your gender, nationality, age, family situation, ethnic background, and certainly not what you do for a living. My question is this: What is your true nature? Do you know? Do you ever ask yourself? I’m not asking who you believe yourself to be, but rather what you experience in those moments when you are not caught up in your wants and fears. These are hard, yet essential, questions for those who wish to consciously experience life’s fullness. This was what Socrates was referring to when he wrote, “An unexamined life is not worth living.”
So, who are you? Really? What are the “truths” you tell yourself? Only you can answer this question, however I can tell you who and what you are not. For example:
- You are not your worst traits.
- You are not your history.
- You are not your thoughts. (By now, you have probably seen the bumper sticker that reads, “Don’t believe everything you think.”)
If you are not your thoughts, then what is your true nature, how do you find it, and how do you live so that it may flourish? These are the perennial questions for anyone who starts to develop an inner life. In Jesus’ teachings, love is at the center of all being – love that is forgiving, unconditional, and not self-serving.
The poet T. S. Eliot, a devoted Anglican Christian, said it in this manner in his Four Quartets: “Love is most nearly itself when here and now cease to matter.” What Eliot is suggesting is that the true nature of love is not based on life always going our way, but on the sheer openness of one heart to another.
Marianne Williamson described our true nature as well as anyone when she wrote, “Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, ‘Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous?’ Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It’s not just in some of us; it’s in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same.”
I desire to be compassionate. But I find myself often harboring feelings of judgment and dislike for certain people, and it is often the very people for whose experiences and pains I ought to have the most compassion. A thought that has changed the way I approach compassion was written by the late mythologist Joseph Campbell. Campbell wrote, “Compassion is that which converts disillusionment into participatory companionship.” In other words, we are meant to participate in community—to be alive and present to life– and to do so may very well entail rising above our complaints about the “cards” life has “dealt” us.
I believe that the deepest form of compassion is the willingness to share your being, the truth of your being of which Marianne Williamson wrote. I love the phrasing Campbell used. Compassion converts disillusionment into something else. In order for disillusionment to be converted, it must first exist! Campbell premises compassion on the acknowledgment that each of us will encounter negativity within ourselves towards other people. When someone fails or betrays us, when they utter an unkind word, or when they fail to meet our expectations, we experience disillusionment.
The people I have the most problems with are the ones that do not meet my expectations. When people are impolite, don’t follow certain social norms, or exhibit characteristics I dislike in myself, my mind reacts with negativity. I love that Campbell says compassion converts this negativity into “participatory companionship” because companionship is not a feeling! Companionship is the choice to participate in someone’s life despite the way you might feel.
This thought is freeing to me. It means that I don’t have to be trapped by my emotions. I can choose, despite my emotions, to participate. I can choose freely to give of my being to people who “make me” feel frustrated.
Campbell also wrote that “what evokes our love…is the imperfection of the human being.” When I practice mindful living and see my own weaknesses clearly, other people’s imperfections cease to become burdens or frustrations, but rather become my common ground with them. Love is evoked when sameness is recognized. Who am I? I am my neighbor.
In order for me to “tell the truth with compassion,” I must know what compassion is.
Compassion is a way of moving through the world with respect for all beings. It is about practicing acceptance, concern and understanding for others, with the realization that whatever we do for someone else helps us grow as spiritual beings.
So, let’s put this all together and address the core belief of “telling the truth with compassion.”
Truth expressed without compassion can easily be hurtful. Compassion expressed without honesty becomes delusional. Ultimately, to reduce suffering, truth needs to be joined with compassion when relating with ourselves as well as with others.
You likely have heard others claiming to be just ‘telling the truth,’ when in reality they are using the truth as a weapon to hurt us or someone else. Truth is important, but we need to be conscious of why and how we express something that may be hurtful to another.
On the other hand there is the phrase, “But I just didn’t want to hurt his (her) feelings,” which is often used as a reason for lying or omitting some relevant truth. We may not want to hurt someone’s feelings, but too often this is more about avoiding our own discomfort. Worse still, it often diminishes our ability to communicate with one another.
Truth and compassion are important values that at times may pull in different directions. By paying attention, and being conscious of both, we can act in ways that properly balance them for each situation that we face.
At NHI, we practice a communications model inspired by Marshall Rosenberg’s work in Nonviolent Communication (NVC).
Most of us have been educated from birth to compete, judge, demand and diagnose — to think and communicate in terms of what is “right“or “wrong“ with people.
We express our feelings in terms of what another person has “done to us.” We struggle to understand what we want or need in- the- moment and, in our best moments, how to effectively ask for what we want without using unhealthy demands, threats or coercion. Marshall Rosenberg has written, “What others do may be a stimulus of our feelings, but not the cause.”
NVC is based on rather deep and quite spiritual principles:
1. Each person is responsible for his own life. This means taking full responsibility for one’s feelings, words and actions, rather than projecting and attributing our feelings to others.
2. Do not take responsibility for the feelings of others. This is another trap that one must avoid. If someone is upset with you, or with anything, it is an attribute of that person, and it is not about you, necessarily.
3. One cannot force others to feel, think or act the way one wishes. Trying to do so, through demands, threats and punishment stops communication. Even if the attempt is successful, the results often backfire, so that the person acts from resentment, not from love and honesty.
4. Judging oneself and others often stops honest communication. Judging has a quality of finality about it. Also, judging presumes one knows everything about a person or situation, which is generally not the case. Judgment therefore is usually an enemy of communication, although the qualities of discernment and evaluation, which are different than judgment, are needed always.
5. All people are connected at the level of feelings, basic personality needs, and other levels. Staying grounded, staying in present- time, and empathizing with others brings people together and solves problems. When, however, one does not remain at these deeper levels of human connection and, instead, argues or discusses at purely intellectual or emotional levels, communication tends to fall apart.
When I first “landed” at NHI San Jose in 2010 I was impressed with all of the words of inspiration displayed on the walls of the campus. I particularly resonated with “tell the truth with compassion.” Next to quotes by Rumi, Aristotle, Gandhi, and W. Somerset Maugham, I wanted to know who this Jim O’Hara was. Intrigued to discover that he was “one of us,” I looked forward to one day making his acquaintance. What I have learned since about Jim, and what I have heard from his closest colleagues, is that he walks his talk. “He epitomizes and lives ‘truth with compassion,’ “one said. Another commented on how meeting with him always leaves her feeling that she has learned “something important,” whether about some aspect of work, or herself, or about life. As mentioned at the beginning of this blog, Mr. O’Hara has devoted decades to the hero’s journey and shares his knowledge—in the classroom, in his dreamwork consultations, astrology and Tarot readings, and in his new e-book In the Land of Shiva–with a complete lack of judgment or criticalness. As one person said, “Being in his presence makes self-development happen.” This has been my experience as well. I have often heard that greatness cannot be taught, but it can be caught. So let me give you some truth: It’s one thing reading inspiring words, and it’s an entirely different experience “reading” an inspiring person. Thanks to Jim O’Hara, I am beginning to not only know what “telling the truth with compassion” looks like, but I am becoming better acquainted with my own true nature and with the nature of compassion itself; two major ingredients of a life worth loving. Namaste, Jim.
March 18, 2014 1 Comment
…Continued from 10 Steps to Having a Life You Love.
Step 3/10: Building Confidence, Creating Opportunity
By Jeff Rockwell
I first began teaching in 1992, initially at a chiropractic college and, later, at a school for massage therapy. From my first class, I formed the habit of asking my students the following question: “What makes a great healer , well, great?” As much as I wanted the students to ponder this for their own benefit, I was hoping one of them would be able to explain this for my benefit.
Over ten years went by and I gathered many interesting and deep responses. One day, while walking along the Third Street Promenade in Santa Monica on my way to a movement therapy class, “it” (i.e. my answer) came to me. My thinking went like this: We are all born into a relational field and, for many, that field often feels unsafe, if not toxic. When a client enters our office, they become part of a new relational field, one they can feel at ease in, where their words and body are truly listened to and heard. A healer worth her salt creates for the client something sacred: a safe space. It may be the first time a client has been held, so to speak, in such a nurturing and healing container.
True healing is an alchemical process, not easily explained in words. People receive therapeutic touch and their life changes. Like any process, time is required. Time plus safe space equals a new life.
The National Holistic Institute College of Massage Therapy is dedicated to helping people have work they love. Having work we love is part of having a life we love. The next of NHI’s “core beliefs” is “building confidence, creating opportunities”.
Very few people succeed in life without a degree of confidence. Yet everyone, from young people in their first real jobs to seasoned leaders in the upper ranks of organizations, have moments — or days, months, or even years — when they are unsure of their ability to tackle challenges. This often comes with the territory of being raised in an unsafe space. Whether it be the speed and disconnectedness of our culture, or the stress of a dysfunctional family environment, confidence withers before it has a chance to blossom.
“Confidence equals security equals positive emotion equals better performance,” says Tony Schwartz, the president and CEO of The Energy Project and the author of Be Excellent at Anything: The Four Keys to Transforming the Way We Work and Live. And yet he concedes that “insecurity plagues consciously or subconsciously every human being I’ve met.” At least we are in good company, if you want to look at it that way.
How can we break free from the crowd and get into the positive cycle that Schwartz describes?
Well, first of all, your piano teacher wasn’t right. Practice doesn’t make perfect. But it does make you better. “The best way to build confidence in a given area is to invest energy in it and work hard at it,” says Schwartz. Many people give up when they think they’re not good at a particular job or task, assuming the exertion is fruitless. But Schwartz argues that deliberate practice will almost always trump natural aptitude. If you are unsure about your ability to do something — speak in front of large audience, build a practice — start by trying out the skills in a safe setting. Practice—even mental rehearsal, can be very useful.
Confident people aren’t only willing to practice, they’re also willing to acknowledge that they don’t — and can’t — know everything. “It’s better to know when you need help, than not,” says Schwartz. “A certain degree of confidence — specifically, confidence in your ability to learn — is required to be willing to admit that you need guidance or support.”
While you don’t want to completely rely on others’ opinions to boost your confidence, validation can also be very effective in building confidence. Schwartz suggests asking someone who cares about your development as well as the quality of your performance to tell you what she thinks. Be sure to pick people whose feedback will be entirely truthful; Schwartz notes that when performance appraisals are only positive, we stop trusting them. And then use any genuinely positive commentary you get as a talisman.
Also remember that some people need more support than others, so don’t be shy about asking for it. When I was a freshman in high school, I was the worst runner on my cross-country team. Any self-confidence I had disappeared. But I loved to run. Considering how shy I was at the time, I amazed myself by calling the number of a local elite marathoner and, when he answered the phone, asking him if he would be willing to train me. Even more amazing, he said yes. When I returned to school that fall, I was the best runner on the team. Four years later I competed in the Olympic Trials. All thanks to a risk taken, a lot of practice and the encouraging help of a mentor.
At NHI, we consider ourselves a community of mentors. We are a safe space where compassionate truth-telling and encouragement happen daily.
The good news is that self-confidence can be learned and built on. And, whether you’re working on your own self-confidence or building the confidence of people around you, it’s well-worth the effort.
Your level of self-confidence shows in many ways: your behavior, your body language, how you speak, what you say, and so on. I have repeatedly observed, over the years, how changing one’s posture through deep tissue massage and somatic movement therapy, changes one’s attitude and confidence.
What else can we do to improve confidence?
Well, the “bad news” is that there’s no quick fix, or five-minute solution.
Here are three steps to self-confidence, for which I’ll use the metaphor of a journey: preparing for your journey; setting out; and accelerating towards a life you love, a top-quality life journey.
Step 1: Preparing for Your Journey
The first step involves getting yourself ready for your journey to self-confidence. You need to take stock of where you are, think about where you want to go, get yourself in the right mindset for your journey, and commit yourself to starting it and staying with it. Ask for help. Place yourself in a “growth” environment, a turbo-charged safe space. Run with what you learn.
Think about your life so far, and list the ten best things you’ve achieved in an “Achievement Log.” Perhaps you did great in an important test or exam, played a key role on an important team, or did something that made a key difference in someone else’s life. Put these into a smartly formatted document, which you can look at often. And then spend a few minutes each week enjoying the success you’ve already had.
Next, think about the things that are really important to you, and what you want to achieve with your life. Setting and achieving goals is critical (as is setting and living by your values), and real self-confidence comes from this. Goal setting is the process you use to set yourself targets, and measure your successful hitting of those targets. The modern-day philosopher, Earl Nightingale said, “Success is the progressive realization of a worthy goal.” Progressive: as in steady, incremental improvement. Worthy: as in motivating and inspiring, to you and to others (but mostly to you).
The final part of preparing for the journey is to make a clear and unequivocal promise to yourself that you are absolutely committed to your journey, and that you will do all in your power to achieve it.
Step 2: Setting Out By Managing Your Mind
Start generating and flowing with that positive energy I wrote about in my previous blog, keep celebrating and enjoying every small success, and keep positive mental images active in your mind.
On the other hand, learn to handle failure. Accept that mistakes happen when you’re trying something new. In fact, if you get into the habit of treating mistakes as learning experiences, you can (almost) start to see them in a positive light.
Step 3: Accelerating Towards A Life You Love
This is the time to start stretching yourself. Make the goals a bit bigger, and the challenges a little tougher. Increase the size of your commitment. And extend the skills you’ve proven into new, but closely related arenas. Keep yourself grounded – this is where people tend to become over-confident, over-worked, and stretched too thin.
Albert Einstein was asked what the purpose of life is. He candidly responded, “I don’t know. But I can assure you that the only ones among you who will be truly happy are those who have sought and found a way to serve.” Another term for being of service is to create opportunities.
Consider this opportunity: The U.S. spends $2.7 trillion a year on health care, more than any other country by far, and yet we are not healthy. They also know that, to create a healthier nation, we must focus on more than just treating illness. We must create opportunities to pursue the healthiest lives possible, wherever we live, work, learn, and play.
At NHI, we are committed to creating a “culture of health and wellness.” Everyone probably has their own definition of a culture of health but, to me, it means a society in which each person has the opportunity to lead a healthy life, with adequate housing, educational opportunities, safety from violence, healthy food options, exercise, and of course, affordable, quality health care. Creating a culture of health means creating a relational field of health. It entails becoming a “safe space” in motion, where our thoughts, words and actions become part of the solution.
We have each been given a piece of the planet to “make safe.” Creating such a culture is revolutionary, and it starts with one person; a person whose confidence and commitment to being of service is so strong that it becomes contagious. One kind act at a time; one heartfelt “hello” at a time; one massage at a time: however you pursue this great journey it all points in the same direction—to not only a life that we love, but a world in which everyone is loved!
Find out what the next step is in Jeff’s 10 Steps to Having a Life you love ~ Subscribe here!
March 11, 2014 No Comments
…Continued from 10 Steps to Having a Life You Love!
Step 2/10: Empty Cups, Full Journeys: A Play in Three Acts
I’m seventeen years old, full of myself, and wiser than my parents. Then a miracle happens. Late one evening, I flip through the 4 television channels available at the time (NBC, ABC, CBS and PBS), and something on Channel 12 (PBS) catches my attention: a show on Zen Buddhism is being advertised and it’s coming on in 15 minutes. I watch it and am treated to interesting interviews with Alan Watts, D.T. Suzuki, Philip Kapleau, and a very young Thich Nhat Hanh. This was my first exposure to Eastern wisdom and, for a few precious moments, the beige bubble of Cold War-era New Jersey bursts. I see in colors and realize I may not know everything after all.
My favorite part of the hour-long show is a 30-second clip that is repeated numerous times throughout the show. A Zen teacher from Japan, whose name I do not catch, is asked, “Roshi, what is Zen?” His response: an outrageous burst of belly laughter. That’s it, over and over and, for years after, I wonder who that mad man was.
Ten years later, inspired by a quote from Thoreau– who equated success with the quality of one’s journey– I embarked on exactly that, a journey, hitchhiking from my parents’ home in New Jersey to Southern California. After spending several years in East Africa, England and India studying yoga and meditation, I had cobbled together enough skills to be able to land my first job as a professional body worker. Settling in the small high-desert town of LucerneValley, I worked six days a week at a dude-ranch-turned-spa, doing bodywork on wealthy clients visiting from Los Angeles. My salary: $35 a month, room and board included. The desert clobbered me with its magnificent sunrises and sunsets. Life was simple and simple was good.
I worked to cultivate a flexible mind – “beginner’s mind–” and plied my trade, while also learning how to repair a broken toilet, wrap a bandage, and make fresh tofu from scratch .
I also made a new friend, a rich dropout from the LA scene, who was a devout student of Zen Buddhism. We began sitting zazen together daily, and when he offered to pay for me to attend a seven day Zen sesshin, a silent sitting meditation retreat, I eagerly accepted.
We made the drive to MountBaldy, outside of Los Angeles, where the Zen teacher would hold his retreat in a virgin redwood forest. We were placed in a dormitory room with eight other men, given our black robes to wear beginning the following day, and drank vodka with the monks who had been living there for years with their teacher Sasaki Roshi. The retreat was to begin with a brief walking meditation at 4 AM.
The next day, which was hardly even “day,” was stupefying in its silence and pitch blackness. Fifty black-robed men and women were journeying one small, ultra-slow step at a time through the dark, when the quietude was pierced by the sound of intense laughter. This wild roar echoed off our skulls and through the invisible mountains. I had found my Zen hero from the PBS show I had watched as a high school junior!
Later that day, after 4 hours of sitting meditation and a lunch of brown rice, sea vegetables and miso soup, I had my first interview with Sasaki Roshi. Today, Roshi is 105 years old and has gained notoriety as the teacher of singer-songwriter Leonard Cohen, but on that day he appeared like a lion at the peak of its powers.
After asking me what work I did, he gave me my koan—or riddle—to solve: “How does the Buddha give massage?” I thought I was clever and performed a little dance as my answer. He threw me out. The next day, the same question. This time I began massaging the air. “Out!” Day three: I chanted “Om.” Wrong religion: “Out!”
I still don’t know how the Buddha “gives massage.” While I’m happier with my skills today, I feel, in a way, that I know less. At National Holistic Institute, A College of Massage Therapy, we call this having an “empty cup.” While my cup is not exactly empty, it has cracks in it, acquired by the process of living a full journey, and the cracks allow personal hubris and ego to seep out. In the words of Leonard Cohen, ”There is a crack in everything. That’s how the light gets in.” So, I am not complaining.
I am happiest when I let go of trying to be an expert and embrace, once again, being a beginner. If you are interested in being brand new each morning, what would your life be like? How can you empty your “cup”?
Let’s take a look at eight aspects of what is meant by “beginner’s mind” and see how they can transform our life:
1. Notice taking one step at a time. We tend to think in sequences. For example, when we go grocery shopping, our mind is on what we need to buy and where to shop. We’re likely to skip over all the little experiences on the way: locking the front door, seeing the neighbor standing at the window, rain splattering on the windscreen, the sound of traffic.
The same thing happens when we learn something new. We’re always looking towards what we’ll know or be able to do in the future, instead of focusing on the next step right now.
2. Fall down seven times, get up eight. Yesterday a client of mine brought her toddler for a craniosacral session. The little girl, Mallory, is just learning to walk. She would pull herself up, wobble along a few steps and then plop down on her bottom. She had a determined look on her face and got up again, over and over. When did we last learn something with such determination and such little obvious success?
3. Use “Don’t Know” mind. In martial arts, a “don’t know” mind is considered the wisdom of the warrior. We can easily get things wrong by prejudging a situation. When faced with a big opponent or a big challenge, we might assume that we will lose out. And when faced with an opponent who seems smaller or weaker, or a challenge that seems surmountable, we might assume that we will be on top. In both scenarios our judgment might be wrong. “Don’t know” means keeping an open mind and responding according to circumstances, not according to how we assume things will be. A “don’t know” mind leaves room for magic, and if not magic, certainly intuition.
4. Live without “should’s.” We could all write entire books about how we should be, what we should have done and what we should be doing. The world seems to be full of experts on my life who like to tell me what I should be doing. Engaging life with an “empty cup” means letting go of “should’s.” By the way, I’m not advocating living without our own moral standards. It’s just that I think most of our “should’s” reflect other peoples’ ideas about what our life should look like. Don’t “should” on yourself.
5. Be practical and make use of experience. Beginner’s mind is great, but it’s not so useful when crossing the road. You don’t want to be squashed flat by a car in the process of learning anew that you need to get out of the way! It’s always good to use both our experience and our native wisdom.
6. Let go of being an expert. We are all experts. Experts in our job, in raising children, in crossing the road, in signing our name. It’s difficult to let go of being an expert. Because it means confessing that we really know all that we think or hope we do. What we know belongs to the past, whereas we probably know very little about the next, new moment. If I let go of being an expert, I can listen to others with an open mind. Then I find that every one and every thing is my teacher.
7. Experience the moment fully. Have you ever taken a small kid to the beach for the first time? Everything is amazing for them. They stare at the people walking by. They chase each dog they see. They investigate even the cold waters of MonterreyBay with great joy and concentration. They live each moment.
Most of the time, as adults, we live in a daydream in which we dwell on the past and dream of the future. Meanwhile life runs on without us, without us being present to its gifts. We miss so much when we live in a daze. “Emptying our cup” allows us to take in the whole show. Then even the “ordinary” becomes the extraordinary.
8. Use the spirit of inquiry. Ask for guidance and relinquish preconceived ideas. There’s a Zen story about this; one that we are very fond of at NHI:
A professor once visited a Japanese master to inquire about Zen. The master served tea. When the visitor’s cup was full, the master kept pouring. Tea spilled out of the cup and over the table and onto the floor. The professor exclaimed, “Master! The cup is already full.” The master replies, “That is correct. And please return when your cup is empty.”
Our third NHI core belief, “Empty cups, full journeys,” is,
in essence, our third portal into having a life we love. How best to embark or continue on our full journey? In Thich Nhat Hanh’s words, “Walk as if you are kissing the Earth with your feet.” And how might we go about emptying our cup? As Ray Bradbury wrote, “Learning to let go should be learned before learning to get.”
I’m seventeen years old and I drop and break my tea cup on the long road from my head to my heart. Not to worry. It will rain soon and the flowers will return. If I can’t find fullness within me, where else do I expect to find it?
~Dr. Jeff Rockwell
How will you empty your cup? Comment below!
March 6, 2014 1 Comment