Taking Shelter

by Ann Zimmerman, LAc.

Over a decade ago, my husband and I moved from Portland to Talent. We were seeking more nature and a smaller community where we could enjoy a slower pace of life. Living in Talent has provided us with opportunities to be inspired by beauty and to spend less time driving; but what has truly given us the peace we were seeking has been the practice of taking shelter/refuge.

Often when a patient shares with me their feelings of being overwhelmed or burdened by stress, I often ask, “Is there a place where you go to sort yourself out?” Many times there is blank response on faces and many times there is a resounding “YES” as they remember their special refuge. For some people the idea of doing something creative while under stress feels like a burden, they prefer a TV episode, glass a wine and bag of chips. This response feels good in the moment but often leads to the same feeling after the episode is over.

Taking refuge is the practice of getting in touch with your deepest self. The practice helps you calm your mind, so that you can be present in the moment and experience the pulse of life within you and all around you. Your refuge can be a physical location-a favorite tree, meditation corner, backyard, or bathtub. Or it may be taking refuge in a another person: a lover, a mentor, or friend. Some take refuge in repetitive action such as jogging, walking, or chanting. Or it could be playing music, praying, dancing, or playing with children. Each of us needs to know how to take refuge. If you do not have the habit of regularly taking time to clear your mind then you likely will feel as if you are on a treadmill of bills and obligations.  

Dedicating 20 minutes a day seems to be the magic number for gaining the optimal benefits from your shelter time. Less than 20 minutes and you may miss the restful recharge you are looking for. Anything beyond 20 minutes is the cherry on top.

Committing to a regular practice of taking shelter and having a reliable way to unwind and drop into the moment will help you find new clarity, inspiration and stamina for life’s challenges. Regardless, of your specific way of taking shelter, the importance lies in the regularity of taking the time and the intention to remember and reconnect to your essence. Taking shelter is the practice of remembering that you are not your thoughts. It is the letting go into the grace all around you. Choosing to take time daily in refuge makes us all better people.

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Fill Your Own Cup First

by Ryder Johanson, L.Ac.

These days I’ve been seeing a lot of people suffering from burnout.  Often times they’re looking for a quick fix for their fatigue, insomnia, headaches so that they can keep on going like they used to.  But even if I can help relieve someone’s symptoms in a few acupuncture treatments, the symptoms are likely to return unless the patient commits to taking better care of themselves.  Those headaches may have only sprung up in the last couple weeks, but they’re the product of decades of burning the candle at both ends.

Looking through the lens of Chinese medicine and the Five Elements, there are a few general personality-types that tend more to burnout.  First, there are the Wood types.  They know what needs to be done and just go out and do it.  Wood types are strong, but even they can deplete their reserves.  Then there are the Fire types who revel in the enjoyment of the moment and who have a magical, infectious enthusiasm about them.  They usually have trouble slowing down and can neglect to give themselves enough downtime to recover.

Woods and Fires can really wipe themselves out, but I can work with Woods and Fires—they listen to me (usually).  It’s those Earth types that can drive me crazy. 

Earths are the quintessential caretakers and providers in our lives—they take on the role of being midwives to other people’s struggles and transitions.  The pater familias who’ll give you the shirt off his back is an Earth.  The mother who is always there to offer sympathy and a hug is an Earth.  Notable Earths include Pope Francis, Princess Diana, Disney’s Snow White, and Dolly Parton.  Golden retrievers are a very Earth-like breed of dog.  Earths are great at offering compassion and support for others—they’re drawn to those in need and having an amazing capacity for unconditional love. 

Where they struggle, however, is that they’re reluctant to receive help from others—they don’t want to be selfish or a burden to others.  But when you’re giving and giving and giving and others aren’t reciprocating, that’s a recipe for burnout symptoms like chronic fatigue, insomnia, headaches, depression, weight gain, and even autoimmune diseases.

Earths are some of the sweetest, warmest people you’ll meet, but taking care of everyone else for too long without appreciation or reciprocation can breed resentment.  Earths aren’t always aware of this resentment, but I find it’s usually there.  The core problem, however, is that giving expression to that resentment feels likes selfishness to them.

But a little selfishness is just what Earths need.  In-balance Earth types have borrowed some of the assertiveness of Wood so that they’ve learned to stand up and speak up for themselves.  And they’ve also borrowed some of Metal’s ability to set boundaries and detach themselves from unhealthy situations and codependent relationships.

 

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The Benefits of Flexibility: A Lesson from the Wood Element

by Clark Zimmerman

My daughter continues to be one of my greatest teachers. Though she can be impatient from time to time, I am amazed at her ability to be flexible with whatever life gives her in the moment. Like a young sapling, she bends with the changing winds of the moment. I recently had a chance to put some of her wisdom to good use. Last weekend I had one of those travel weekends. I went to a class in Oakland and experienced three flight delays on the way down, and three more delays on my return flight. When all was said and done I ended up spending nine hours waiting to go somewhere. In the past this would have created a lot of stress and irritation. This time was different though. Instead of reacting to a problem that I couldn’t change I decided to to remain flexible and try to relax into what the day would bring.

A healthy tree or plant must have a balanced combination of strength and flexibility. The archetypical example of healthy Wood in Taoist philosophy is bamboo: It is strong enough to build a thirty-story scaffolding, but it will bend over and touch the ground in a heavy snowfall. Taoist tradition says that when Wood embodies the right balance of strength and flexibility, it can manifest its virtue of benevolence. You can witness this virtue by watching a seed as it grows into a tree. The seed sprouts and regardless of the obstacles that it faces, it continues its relentless movement toward the light. If a sapling is bent by a falling branch of a larger tree, it will simply bend and continue its growth. Of course to do this a tree must be flexible. As a tree ages, it tends to become more rigid. It relies more on strength to resist or overcome its challenges, and less on an ability to bend. This is fine when the weight of a problem isn’t too much to bear, but the moment the load is greater than the strength of a limb…snap, the limb breaks off. We can see that no matter the insult that is suffered, a tree will always bend and seek the light. This is a example of the benevolence of the Wood element.

When I was stuck at the airport, I flashed to previous experiences of getting stranded in airports. I remembered the time I raised my voice at the ticket counter lady; I thought of several occasions of worry and anger that didn’t solve any problem, rather only made me more exhausted when I finally did arrive at my destination. So this time I thought of how my flexible 4-year-old daughter would handle the change of schedule. She wouldn’t know that it was an annoying inconvenience. She would simply do what she always does and be completely present in the moment and orient towards the light of curiosity and enjoyment . I made a conscious choice to bend with the weight of the situation and turn it into a positive, and the grandest thing happened: It actually turned into a great nine hours. I met a few wonderful people, I read half of a book that I had wanted to read for months, and I was reminded that the moment is where life is happening, whether I embrace it or not.

The ability to remain flexible remains one of the most helpful skills that one can develop. To be able to remain flexible while reaching toward the light can turn a difficult situation into a more positive experience.

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