I hold my arms in front of me and face the back of a man from Hong Kong. He stands on a small gravel pathway that runs between German and Roman chamomile and a waking Asian peony. He bends his knees to sink down and I follow the motion. His right hip pulls back as his left palm moves forward and he turns his torso towards the east. The students on either side of me move in unison as we begin the Yang Taichi long form. We side step and a whiff of something fragrant fills the air, but I know it's too early for the osmanthus to be blooming.
As I run through the exercise with Sifu Ko, I realize that practicing almost everyday in Nepal has started to make these movements inherent in me. I no longer have to be consciously thinking through each step to move my body. It's moving as if it was made to do this. As I try to engage my conscious brain, I feel myself lose the effortless action and my movement becomes clumsy again. I've done this with the medicine too. I practiced everyday until it started to become an effortless part of me.
I realize that this morning, I was really freaking out about all of the small parts I have to put together to make life work in America. I became overwhelmed as I entered insurance data and receipts. I started to wander off on thoughts about the scarcity of resources here and how I won't be able to practice medicine how I'd like. More thoughts about how I can't spend enough time with my kids; all kinds of thoughts that get loaded into the basket of "work-life balance," whatever that is. Once these gates of fear were open, my student loans showed up too. I felt panicky as I left the house. I cried as I navigated the freeway on the way to this class.
Though I promised myself on the way home from Nepal that I wouldn't do this, I see that I already started. My mind is beginning to take over again. It wants to calculate and plan out a course of action. It sees scarcity in the world around me and as it plans, things just don't add up quite right. I feel a little bit hopeless and a little bit frustrated because my mind has just come to the conclusion that I am not being practical in anything: the way I want to practice medicine, the way I want to mother my children or even the way I want to live.
It's ironic that in rural Nepal, with no heat and no hot shower, I felt as if the world were incredibly abundant. I ate the same dal bhat for every meal, drank the same four ounce milk tea at lunch and followed the exact same schedule for six days a week. In Nepal, my heart took the lead. When that happened, there were no coincidences. Everything in my day had a special meaning; whether it was a tree growing on the path I walked home or a puppy that showed up on the porch. I did not have to make a series of new decisions everyday. I had a set routine and the only job for my mind was to follow the lead of my heart.
It's been a culture shock these last couple of days, in the land of infinite choices. In Nepal, dinner means rice and lentils with a small amount of saag greens and vegetable. These are spiced with the same masala blend every time. After a few days, my mind stopped engaging in dinner and let my heart do the work. My heart found that my gratitude for a simple meal had been lost and it helped me to settle and take my time when I approached my plate. It helped me to enjoy more of each bite of my food. And, it engaged my mind to help it determine a solution. I decided not to do any snacking outside of my meals so that I could come to the table with my full appreciation.
In America, dinner means that I can go out to a multitude of places for food that comes from all around the world. Going to the grocery store brings an overwhelming amount of choices with novels of information for me to read so that I can make an informed choice about whatever I purchase. On top of this, I can choose to purchase more expensive items that will donate to a good cause. All of this is overwhelming and lets my mind take the lead around a choice that has traditionally been a heart-centered thing: a shared meal with family or friends where we connect around our day. In leaving the store, I wonder if I made the right choice for my family? Did I pick food that everyone will eat and that all of our bodies will benefit from? Do I know how to cook this food properly? Did I accidentally buy something from a company that didn't pay the farmer a living wage?
In my medical training, I learned that each yin organ has a virtue. Compassion is the virtue of the liver, justice that of the lung, wisdom that of the kidney and trust that of the spleen. It never made a great amount of sense to me that ritual was the virtue of the heart until I had the opportunity to feel it for myself. I had to be in a situation where everything was simplified for me. In ritual and healthy routine, the mind is allowed to fall back, in service to the heart's lead. When there are very few choices, we have the freedom to follow our joy. It is the mind that constantly craves new stimulus while the heart find pleasure and meaning in experiencing the same thing, over and over, at a deeper level each time; very much like walking around a mandala. Or, like doing the same Taichi form every day.
As we conclude the form with a bent side kick, I can feel that the integrity in my lumbar spine has been lost. I push down through my feet to root my body and correct this. No matter how many times I go through this form, there are so many opportunities to learn about myself. I can do each movement again and again, until my mind is screaming out of boredom and still, I would have an ocean to learn about such a small step in the whole.
How do I simplify my life so that my heart is allowed to be more fully present and conscious with everything I do? This is the question that has opened to me this weekend and it will be hard to answer from my chest and not my head.
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