Posts Tagged ‘MD; How to Train a Wild Elephant’

Health is a state of mind as well as a state that the body and mind either has or does not have.  We often take our health for granted and do things that are detrimental to the body such as improper eating, lack of exercise, lack of mental calmness and fortitude, abuse of substances, and more.  We cannot abandon the mind/body connection in this life unless we are dead set against living.  The fact is living can be hard at times. However, I always find that much better than the alternative.

Book Cover How To Train a Wild ElephantDr. Jan Chozen Bays author of How to Train a Wild Elephant & Other Adventures in Mindfulness (2011), has a great exercise that I recommend for everyone who feels limited in health of mind, body, and/or spirit. She is a physician and Zen teacher who has written this great book filled with easy exercises to invite mindfulness, meditation, and concentration into our lives in a fun and playful way!

She calls this exercise “Loving-Kindness for the Body” below are the directions for the exercise.

The Exercise: For one week, practice loving-kindness toward the body.  Spend at least five or ten minutes a day with this practice. It could be during your meditation time. Sit down in a comfortable chair and breathe normally. On each in-breath, be aware of fresh oxygen and vital energy entering your body. On each out-breath, send this energy throughout your body along with these silent words: “May you be free from discomfort. May you be at ease. May you be healthy.”

Eventually you can simplify this process by just saying “ease” with the out-breath. Any time during the day when your attention is drawn toward your body (when you see yourself in a mirror or when you feel discomfort), send loving-kindness to the body, even if only briefly (page 211).

A healthy body, mind, and spirit makes life so much more fun!  I hope you’ll try it out and let me know how it goes!  I hope you’ll buy her book and work through all of the exercises in it. Meet your good health today! It will transform your life in many ways!  I know that from experience.

In gassho,




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Eihei Dogen wrote, “The aspiration for enlightenment arises just at the time of arising; it is not limited by conditions (page 3).”[1]  Every person born has come here in search of something.  Some begin the search early in life and others may begin only when near death.  But aspire to things and search for things we will and we do. Some will be led to religious or spiritual searches, some are led to search for information about his or her ancestry, others search for knowledge in books, still others search for loving relationships, some search for riches in money and things, but most of us search for a combination of them all in some way.

Buddhism helps with all of these searches and aspirations by providing us with some guidelines for living.  These guidelines are especially helpful in this very frantic and fast passed world in which we live.  They can help us give meaning to our lives.  Sitting and being involved in a Sangha is a simple and practical way to help us on our search.  As Dogen says many are searching for what we call enlightenment.  Many experience it (whatever it is) while sitting, however there is no special place or task or thought that can bring it.  Just be light and open for all experiences to enter your life and reject none.

It is much like the GPS you would not leave home without when going on a long trip.  Mine did not seem to want to work the other day when I was driving way down into Miami-Dade County from Palm Beach County to teach at Florida International University.  I thought I remembered how to get there but I could not remember what the exit on the turnpike was.  I kept trying and trying and nothing worked and so I finally gave up and just decided to enjoy the journey.  Then when I was about 10 miles from the school I thought let’s check it out one more time and sure enough it popped right up and showed me the exit. I was enlightened!

It is like that in life, the harder we search, the more frantic we get, and the less able we are to find our way in the dark.  We have lost the light   But once we sit, meditate, take a few deep breaths, or pray we find our peaceful center and the light appears—the answer comes.  I learned a wonderful three breath exercise from a great book by Dr. Jan Chozen Bays titled How to Train a Wild Elephant.  I share it with all of my classes and we do the exercise prior to beginning the class.  I have them begin by shaking out their hands to release the tension, they can leave their eyes open or closed, then they take three deep breaths (not so deep that it makes them cough) counting one on the in breath and two on the out breath.  It is as simple as that.

What those three simple breaths do is help clear the students’ minds, slow down their breathing and heart rate and voila their minds are open to learn and they can see the light of wisdom or knowledge! How beautiful is that!   If you begin with the simple breath exercise in the morning before you get out of bed and at night when you get back into bed you’ll be ready for your day and a good night’s sleep.  Imagine what would happen if you did it with your eyes open in the middle of a conversation with an angry customer, co-worker, relative, stranger, or boss.  You’d be able to keep your cool with ease, and your search for peace and contentment in life would be arrived at even though it may be for only a few short seconds or minutes.

Sitting (zazen) helps us with our aspirations and searches as well. You do have to set aside time for it that is true. However, the time spent is well worth it and will help you greatly with your search. Additionally, it will help you attain those things that you aspire to– some of which may be hidden deep within you and are only felt with an unexplainable longing.

Remember what Dogen said, “The aspiration for enlightenment arises just at the time of arising; it is not limited by conditions (page 3).”[2]  I may be limited by the earthly conditions, but my aspirations and enlightenment are not! So be on the lookout for them wherever you go!

Travel lightly, Shokai

Things to focus on this week:

1.  I will begin each day with sitting, meditating, or praying.  If that is not possible I will begin my day with three breaths and end my day with three breaths and use them as needed throughout the day and evening.

2.  I will keep an open mind, heart, and eye for that aspiration manifesting in my life regardless of how large or small it may be or where it is coming from.

3.  I will not be limited by my earthly conditions.

4.  Lastly, I will keep a journal of the opportunities that have been presented to me so I can keep track of my progress and my opportunities for growth.

[1] Tanahashi, K. Levitt, P. (2013) The Essential Dogen, Writings of the Great Zen Master. Shambhala: Boston, MA

[2] Ibid.

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