Playing the Game

 
by Clark Zimmerman, L.Ac.

One of the first games that my daughter learned to play was Candyland.  She could sit for hours picking cards and moving around the board; she loved the colors and the pictures of sweets.  Unlike most people who play board games, she didn’t know that the object was to get to the gingerbread house and “win”.  In fact, if she were nearing the end of the rainbow path, she would start to get worried that the game would soon be over. She would get excited if she drew the Candy Cane or Gingerbread card that took her back to the beginning.  She simply loved playing the game.

    Sometime in our childhoods, most of us start to get more competitive.  Maybe it is an offshoot of evolution.  For millennia, the winner in the game of life got to survive and pass on their genes, whereas the loser would perish.  Whatever the reason, at some point we typically begin playing more to win than to enjoy the game.  While there is nothing wrong with wanting to win, a lot of times we come up on the losing side of the game.  If we happen to lose, does that take all of the fun out of the time we spent playing the game?  If so, it seems that the game would appear to be a waste of time.
 
    This makes me think of playing cards–I used to play a lot of cards.  One of my favorite games was Euchre, which is a game similar to Bridge.  In my 20s, I used to take it pretty seriously.  My friends and I would have Euchre tournaments in which the prize was bragging rights.  Some of the games got really heated.  I remember getting upset when my partner didn’t play the right strategy, or when the cards wouldn’t fall my way.  Eventually I began to see the absurdity in this approach to the game.  When I became less attached to winning a funny thing happened: instead of having the overall quality of my night depend on what the scorecards read, I began to enjoy the conversation more. I started to enjoy the company more.  I even began cheering on my opponent when he got a really good hand or made an especially good play of the cards.  My ability to have fun on Euchre nights was greatly improved.  

    This is similar to life in general.  We often think of “winning” as finishing or succeeding.  We may think that we will win once we reach retirement, or when we finally purchase that certain car.  When we orient ourselves towards such goals, we look so far ahead that we miss the moment. Though it can be helpful to have goals, we must be careful not to define happiness or success by these measurements alone.  If we forget that the present moment is all we truly have, we are constantly motivated by our clinging to the past or desire for a certain future.  This is a recipe for suffering.  Sometimes things go the way we want them to go, sometimes they do not.  It is often the case that even when we get to the goal that we have dreamed about, whether we retire or get that dream car, the “success” that we experience eventually seems hollow or less grand than we imagined it would be.  When we untether our happiness from a certain outcome we allow the fullness of life to express itself in beautifully unexpected ways.  We make it less about winning and more about enjoying the game. Then the real winner is the one who has the most fun.  The real winner is the one who fully plays the game.
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Fertile Soil and Soul

by Ann Zimmerman, L.Ac.

My parents did not garden much, but my grandpa always kept a big vegetable garden and “pet” walnut tree. Whenever I visited with him, we would tinker in his garden: weeding, transplanting, turning soil, adding compost, and my favorite–picking ripe veggies. After moving to college in Northern Florida, I started my first garden. It was perfect and it was a tiny 2 ft x 2ft square, sandwiched between a parking lot, air conditioner, and my apartment door. Now, I appreciate my youthful zest to take on any piece of earth I could find. Despite this little piece of forgotten soil being far from fertile, it did not matter to me at 18 years old. However, I intuitively knew that I would need to nurture this soil before I could expect plants to grow.   

In Chinese medicine we recognize that one’s body’s fertility, like the earth’s, depends on how their ecosystem is nourished. Commonly, the concept of fertility is limited to reproduction or a certain age-range for people, but fertility is actually the greater expression of one’s health. Fertility can include our willingness to be receptive, nourished, and grow emotionally and spiritually; it certainly does not need to be limited to the ability to conceive or limited by menopause.

My clinical practice in Talent is focused on fertility. Weekly, I collaborate with couples as they endeavor to expand their families. When we begin our work together, we always look at the body like a garden. How is the soil and how is the weather internally? Can we change the soil or climate to make conditions better for fertility? Maybe it needs more or less heat, moisture, nutrients, or maybe the soil is rocky. Often we do adjust the physical weather and fertility returns and sometimes Western medical intervention is needed.  But always we talk about how to be more fertile as a whole being, beyond making a baby. Sometimes in the journey to reproduce, couples learn that what they are seeking is not a baby, but to feel more fertile in their soul. We explore together the emotions and negative effects of stress and limiting belief systems. We redirect the body’s focus to the parts that have been starved for attention and healing. 

Spring is the season of fertility. We can feel the rising of new energy as the days grow longer and the weather warmer. The will to remove old debris and make way for our new ideas and projects is the natural rhythm of this season. The impulse to clean our surroundings is mirrored in our body’s desire for more salads and healthier foods.  As we adapt to this new season, ask yourself how you can be more fertile. What can you do to adjust your own soil to make you more receptive, nourished, and pulsing with life? What do you need to clear away or nourish to encourage new growth?

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Developing a Photographic Memory

by Clark Zimmerman, LAc.


  My grandpa was a character.  By the time I knew him he had retired from a university professorship and moved to a farm in southern Illinois.  He chain-smoked generic cigarettes and drank cheap beer in front of a small television set in his basement.  He was indeed from a different era.  He was also an exceptional card player.  I remember countless games of Gin Rummy in that smoky basement.  Even though my siblings and I were his grandkids, he never let us win.  Grandpa was nearly impossible to beat because he had a photographic memory.

Needless to say, I grew up intrigued with the idea of having a photographic memory.  I loved the idea of being able to remember everything that I read.  Fast-forward thirty years:  it seems that a different sort of “photographic memory” is becoming more common.  This sort of memory is influenced by the widespread use of digital cameras and smart phones.  Research conducted by Linda Henkel of Fairfield University has demonstrated what she refers to as “photo-taking impairment effect.”  This term describes how taking more pictures is related to a decrease in people’s ability to remember an event.  It seems that the brain doesn’t work as hard at remembering something if you can count on a picture to remind you of details.  Like our muscles, the brain benefits from being challenged with tasks.  It’s like the saying goes: “use it or lose it.”  When we rely on something to do a task for us, we risk an increased likelihood of atrophy.  It’s like if a healthy person refused to walk and chose instead to use a wheelchair to get around, it wouldn’t be too long before the person actually needed the wheelchair because their body would lose the ability to walk.  So when we use a tool to remember things, we gradually lose our ability to recall things in an optimal way.  Henkel also pointed out that when we document everything with photographs, we compromise the elastic nature of memory.  A photograph is a “snap-shot” of a specific moment in time, but the shot is fixed in that it is only one perspective.  When we look back at a photo of an event, we tend to see it through that limited, one-dimensional view.  This can compromise the wholeness of a memory, confining it to an overly streamlined view.  In addition to these things, relying on photos to remember things means that our memory of an event doesn’t have room to evolve.  We think of our memories are being fixed in stone, but research has shown that our memories of events actually change over time.  As we grow and our understanding and wisdom continue to develop, our relationship with the past changes with it.  This allows us to mine new information from our past that helps us evolve into more complete human beings.

   Of course, there are other potential issues with the overuse of digital photography.  Most of us know of the overwhelm that happens when we begin to unpack all of the photos that we have taken.  The process of sorting through and deleting photos and videos can take hours.  We can be so intimidated by the process that we avoid it altogether, until we have thousands of photos that we never look at.  Then we simply collect photos without them meaning much.  Another issue is that rather than being present in the moment, too often people experience a place through the lens of a camera.  This myopic view limits the fullness of the moment.  I recently witnessed this on a trip to the Grand Canyon:  everyone was looking at this amazing vista through a small screen.  It seemed to me to be a missed opportunity to take in the real magic of this special place.

     To be honest, I take pictures with my phone.  I’m sure that there are times that I overdo it.  As I think about maintaining balance in my life, I have been increasingly leaving the camera in my pocket, or at home.  If I do use it I am practicing taking one or two photos and realizing that this is enough.  I am more frequently focusing on being in the moment, rather than photographing the moment and trying to experience it later.  If I ever were to develop a photographic memory, I would want it to be like the one my grandfather had, not the diminished capacity that is more typical of modern times.

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