What made you believe in Traditional Chinese Medicine?

I studied and practiced Daoism seriously for several years before I started studying Buddhism seriously. I did a one-year immersive (meaning I lived at a rural community with cultivators, teachers, and students, where we practiced and studied every day) training in classical Chinese medicine, Qigong and Taiji, Internal Alchemy, and Daoist meditation practices. Although I have since studied Indian yoga and Tibetan Buddhism as well, I have maintained my Daoist training and practices for over 15 years. While there are philosophical differences between these systems, personally I find no conflict between these systems: I think of them as symbolic frameworks for living well—each framework has internal consistency, and it’s best to not try to apply one framework to analyze another—but when contemplated deeply, and practiced in one’s own experience, they all provide fruitful insights.

I don’t think of it as something to “believe in” or not—I think of it as something to experience and discover. I found the concept of qi easy to grasp: the interconnected flow that interacts with and influences everything. A principle of Daoist medicine and Internal Alchemy is that the outer world and the inner world reflect one another, so we can learn about our inner world—our body, organs, mind, etc.—by studying the outer world. Specifically, the constant process of transformation, how the elements interact and influence one another, is part of the cosmos, the ecosystem, the community, and our own inner environment. While this is obviously complex to understand, the more one contemplates it, the better one is able to live in harmony with the world. Everything we eat—both foods and herbs—influence our organs according to predictable patterns. So I “believe” in it because it is observable, testable, predictable.

Chinese medicine is an officially recognized form of general care in many states, including California. While western science and medicine do not accept the psychosomatic relationships between organs and emotions, or the flow of qi through the meridians, Chinese medicine can respond by saying “those are metaphors that guide treatment.” Simply think of “qi” as circulation, and consider that healthy organs lead to wellbeing. Western doctors can accept that acupuncture, cupping, and moxibustion improve circulation and reduce pain—and maybe that’s enough for them. Western medicine does not understand nutrition as well as Chinese medicine does. And herbs can be very powerful for promoting wellness and prevention.

Moving Towards Balance, Charting Territory

I have positioned my lifestyle to have its primary emphasis be on natural health: I eat primarily an organic whole foods diet, engage in energetic movement practices such as taiji and yoga, and maintain a daily awareness practice, all within the context of my living and working environment: a residential school of Asian medicine and bodywork. Our program emphasizes the “School of the Center”, the Sattvic path. I attempt to put these principles into practice in my daily life, with a goal of moving continually towards balance.

However, I fluctuate in my practices, at times abandoning organic foods for the immediate gratification of the service and richness of the restaurant experience, or forgoing movement practices in order to focus on employment or entertainment goals. Even now, my practices are not infallible, and I still experience extreme moods and attraction to intoxicants now and again. But more so now than ever before, I am able to witness and moderate these fluctuations, and herein lies my faith in my movement towards balance: in the past, I felt a victim to happenstance, unable to control or buffer my shifts in mood or desire. Yet with a continued commitment to a spirit-based lifestyle of service and practice, I continually feel more at home in my bodymind, able to sit in silence and meditate.

I keep my mind engaged, eager to seek out new experiences to learn from, and am not particularly plagued by foggy thinking or profound laziness. I have a fit and healthy body, though it occasionally experiences Cold and Damp and Yin Deficiency. I am able to maintain healthy relationship with others, and when I find myself being insensitive or selfish, I am usually able to take responsibility for my feelings and communicate my desire to find mutual contentment. My commitment is to a path of service based in the concept that all beings and things are interconnected, and the one true purpose is Universal harmony.

I believe that the most effective course of action for me to bring myself closer to total balance is to continue to apply the principles I already have: deepen my commitment to a diet of fresh and local organic whole foods as the foundation for a practice of mindful living, seek out teachers of medicine and the Tao who I can respect and learn from, and perpetuate relationship as a practice of service, supporting the people in my family and community.

Deconstruct Your Problems

As I look at my problems – analyze and deconstruct suffering – it is not difficult to see that comparatively speaking my problems are minimal to nonexistant. For comparison’s sake I point out that I have not and probably never will be seriously concerned with whether or not I will have enough food to eat or be protected from the elements.

Things I consider to be issues are whether or not to upgrade my handheld computer to the latest operating system and run the risk of having my old programs not work, thus having to find new programs and configure them. Or whether I’d prefer to eat at a Mexican or Thai restaurant for dinner. Or if I really don’t want to eat more sugar that I’ll have to drive to the south end of town to buy the special sugar and dairy free frozen dessert before the shop closes.

And as I meditate on this vertigo-inducing look at the relativity of “problems”, I realize that all of these examples and more are actually indicative of something that I would consider a legitimate problem for someone in my position, and really the source of my personal suffering is that gadgets and being served and eating gross desserts really only function to distract me from accomplishing anything meaningful.

I have only one problem: I don’t spend enough time developing my spiritual life. And that I’ve created a life in which making the time for my practice is rather difficult. Because I have a job (a few jobs, actually) and material ambitions. Oh, surely I can pat myself on the back for working in a yoga studio rather than a shopping mall, but how different are they, really? (Well, the answer to that one is rather complicated, and hinges on how you – and the studio’s clients – define “yoga”.) I trade time for money, and with the money I rent a house, buy costly health food, have high-speed internet, and pay off debt. Somehow, in my awkward schedule, I find it nearly impossible to carve out more that a quarter hour to practice: meditation, taiji, bodywork, martial arts.

All the things that are most important to me are the first to be sacrificed in the name of an urban lifestyle.

The Popcorn Situation

In case you didn’t already figure it out yourself, here’s the proper way to handle the popcorn situation:

I used to love to pop my corn in an electric wok cranked on high and a little bit of oil, with the lid cracked to let steam escape. But since I’ve learned about healthy oils and toxic oils and what happens to oils when they get heated and so on, I’ve developed a better system.

Firstly, get yourself an older air-popper popcorn machine. The new ones are crap. Spend two-fifty at the Reno Sparks Gospel Mission and get the grubbiest one you can find. Grubbiness indicates a long and healthy use. Pop your corn. I often use paper grocery bags folded over for popcorn; they’re mobile. Get the popped corn in the bowl or bag before adding the toppings, including and especially oil:

The best part is to use a lot of unrefined flax seed oil; it adds a delictible greasiness to the popcorn, and just so happens to be rich in essential fatty acids used by the brain.

For saltiness, my favorite is nama shoyu – raw, unpasteurized soy sauce – a nice probiotic. But for a kick I use ume plum vinegar – sweet and tart and salty, a real dynamic flavor sensation. For these two I put them in little pump spray bottles and mist the popcorn. Pretty clever, huh?

Optionally, add some nutritional yeast – or again more daring: spirulina or alfalfa powder!

Seriously, folks, you can turn popcorn into a uber-healthy superfood delivery system.