Change can be paralyzing…

I started this blog with the hope of writing two (ok, one!) entry a month during my sabbatical year. A little bit of writing and a little bit of resting seemed like a good balance. I did not want my inspirational juice to go dry or my readers to forget about me (less than one entry a month would have done that). Yet I also wanted to rest, which is what a sabbatical should be about (after all, the word implies an abstinence from work).

However, around February, my rhythm stopped. My world was a bit turned upside down by the possibility of “change,” and I went into “waiting” mode. That is why I have not been posting since. I am back now to fix that, in the midst of changing, which is happening all the time whether we want it or not.

To summarize what kept me away from my blog for around three months: I won’t bore you with details, let me just say that we considered the possibilities of new jobs and a cross-country move from north to south. Yes, the promise of sunny, warmer weather, warm fresh tortillas all year round, and close proximity to family and friends made it very tantalizing. Decisions needed to be made, and that was the hard part.

But what did I really want? Was a great opportunity knocking at my door and I was being too lazy to get up and open it? Or was the shimmering object further down the road just a mirage? I could not decide if “the grass is greener on the other side” was at the root of our temptation to pack and move, or if fear of change was the grounding reason to stay put. Of course, there were all the other more insignificant minor details of money and job security and what not. But at the root of my paralyzing indecision were not the details of the overall package, but the feeling of being out of control and making a mistake.

We all know the things we need to change to be healthier, to have a better day-to-day existence. We all could do with little changes in our lives. But why is it so hard to change our ways of being? Why do we resist it so much, even when we know the benefits it could bring?

Spring is the time of the year when everything in nature is changing. It is a time for regeneration and new beginnings. From my Qigong training I have learned that to be healthy I have to go with the flow and, most important, not go against the natural flow of what’s going on in nature. How was I to renew my spirit if I was feeling immobilized by the possibilities of change during the spring?

I think of myself as someone flexible, easy going, someone who likes to explore ideas, and who can change her mind easily if presented with good arguments. But what I think of myself, and what my nature truly is, are not necessarily in line with each other. My brother-in-law told me (well, told us: a room full of “accomplished” family members–whatever “accomplished” may mean) that we were all type A controlling freaks­: competitive, highly organized, ambitious, impatient . . . you get the idea. And maybe there is some truth to that. Being out of control, in a chaotic environment, not knowing what is going to happen next, is not something I feel comfortable with.

Life is chaotic, unpredictable, and again and again, it shows us that we are NOT in control. Control is just a myth; control is something we like to construct to ease the anxiety of not knowing. I have learned that the hard way. Yet, it is an ongoing lesson, to be learned again and again in my daily practice.

Changes are always happening, and if we go with the flow, we can experience changes as good, positive things. At least we can always, and I mean always, find a silver lining even in the hardest of situations.

While being confronted with my own energies and feelings of uncertainty I asked myself: what does it really mean to go with the flow and to be flexible like the seasonal Qi of Spring?

According to Traditional Chinese Medicine, spring is the season of the liver. Liver energy rises during the season, and if it does not flow easily, it can get stuck and create all sorts of health problems: from season allergies to menstrual issues for women, from headaches to emotional upheavals. It will also show in the digestive system, as the liver supports the stomach, but only if its energy moves smoothly.

At an emotional level, I know that I need to do something about my stress and anger in a proactive healthy way. For me, kicking and punching in my martial arts classes helps a lot–helps letting that energy move out of my body. Taking breaks from computers and electronics saves my liver energy and relieves a bunch of symptoms. Not trying to control my children (or my husband for that matter) and walking away when I need to, is another way to flow more freely. And practicing Qigong daily is a must; it is like plugging into an electrical outlet in the wall when I am running short of energy.

When I do all of that, accepting that everything is in constant flux, things become easier. And this also means that it becomes more manageable to not hold on to a preconceived idea of how things should be, how my children need to act, or even how things used to be. The Tao teaches us that there is not simply a “good way” and a “bad way,” just different ways…

Everybody needs to find what it is that gets energy flowing for them. And changing accordingly will only come easier once that energy starts flowing.

In the end, we decided to stay put in the north, not because we did not want to change, I am happy to report, but because we decided to listen to our hearts. It just came down to where we felt at home…at least for the time being.


“No pain no gain.” Is that true?

I was recently staying with some friends in a cabin east of Seattle. Beautiful place and surroundings.

During breakfast, the wise father was trying to convince the 11-year old child of going for a 1000 vertical feet hike in the breath-taking surroundings. The kid, being a kid, was not convinced this was such a good idea. She emphatically argued that the hike was painful, as she has done this particular hike before. The father, being a father, came up with all sorts of rationalizations why doing the hike was indeed good for the body and the soul. One of his persuasive arguments, or one that stuck with me, was that as he has aged he has understood how pain can also be pleasurable, that pain could also be enjoyable. Some of us at the table agreed to the necessity of learning how to balance pain and pleasure, and that in order to participate in a somehow painful activity by choice, the pleasure needs to overcome the overall pain. After all, the well-known proverb “no pain no gain” promises reward in exchange for suffering.

Now, let’s think for a minute about what “pain” really is, and how we construct the idea (and reality) of pain in our society. If you look in the dictionary, it will probably give you two interpretations: one is the common idea of the physical suffering caused by illness or injury, and the other relates to the careful effort or trouble that one person puts in attaining something (in line with the proverb).

According to Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), pain is just energy, and as energy, it has consciousness and a message. It is a message from your body. How you interpret that message is the most import part. To my surprise, when I looked up definitions of pain in our western medical tradition, it also defines it as a message: “We feel pain when a signal is sent through nerve fibers to the brain for interpretation” (

Whether it is acute pain or chronic, physical or emotional, both traditions agree on the warning aspect of pain as the body asking for some action to be taken. However, the way pain is dealt with in both frameworks is very different. Where western medicine sees differentiation, TCM looks for similarities. They way I was taught was that if you have an ear complication, you go to a otolaryngologist, for anxiety or emotional issues you go to a psychologist, maybe a psychiatrist if medication is needed, and for back problems, chiropractors are a great choice. A western doctor probably would not consider your hearing problems to be related to your lower back pain, much less to any anxiety disorder, while a traditional Chinese doctor will not only see a relation in all of these conditions, but also will ask you whether you feel supported at work or in your family environment.

Where western medicine wants to “kill” the pain literally with painkillers (therefore erasing the message), TCM encourages us to look deeper into our symptoms to get to the root cause of the discomfort with gratitude instead of fear. Where Western medicine sees illness and diseases, TCM looks for health and opportunities. And I think we could all gain from thinking more about health and opportunities and less on the negative elements of disease. Western medicine is great at putting out fires, and it is the best for emergency medicine. However, I want to focus here on prevention, on taking the necessary measures to install “fire alarms” that work so we do not set fire to the house in the first place.

A person’s understanding of pain, and its negative associations, can actually make it worse. According to TCM, fear is the emotion associated with the kidney, and when experienced for a long time on a regular basis, it can disrupt the delicate balance of the kidney’s energy function. Unfortunately, we live in a fear driven society. We live in a constant mindset of “what if…something bad happens?” We spend money and energy protecting ourselves with all sorts of insurance for the worst-case scenarios that we play in our heads again and again every day. Any bone issues, ear problems, lower back problems, and panic attacks, are all related to an imbalance of the kidney energy. But there are a lot of little simple things we could do to counteract these immediate “fight or flight” responses by just exploring other ways to interpret our own realities (and get our kidneys and other organs back into balance and health).

For the most part, we are taught in our culture to take a pill rather than take responsibility for our own bodies. We are too used to the instantaneity of our mediated world, and have forgotten how to take time to really heal and be patient (in both senses of the word).

I want to propose that, when pain arrives, we look at it as an opportunity for change, as an actual message that our body is working very well. Pain may actually be a sign that our body is taking care of us, and that we need to pay attention and be aware of the here and now of our daily lives in order to listen to what the pain is conveying. I urge you to leave behind the automatic response that we have internalized that “something is wrong with me” when pain or illness arrives, and trust that your body can take care of itself, and that healing is in your hands. Don’t just run for medication, but try alternative ways to deal with the message at first.

Pain can be an opportunity to check on your own self-discrimination; those negative ideas that you may have about yourself, and the way you view your own reality – your cultural beliefs, your thoughts, desires, frustrations. They are all energy, and they all can affect your body and your overall health in positive or negative ways. Pain can bring change, can make us grow, and it can show us the way to our better selves…

Don’t get me wrong. Pain is real, and pain is, well, painful. And sometimes medication is indeed a good option. But, for example, one way I have changed with practice (my daily Qigong, my meditation, and my martial arts practice) is the way I react to pain. My first automatic response used to be fear – when my knees hurt I thought, “crap” the cancer may have come back, and I worried, and worried some more. And then I would feel sorry for my “poor” knees, and felt victimized that “this” happened to me. I would eventually talk myself out of it. Eventually.

Now, when my knees hurt, and they do hurt sometimes going up and down stairs of my house, my first response is to be thankful. Second, I take care of my kidney by conserving more energy, doing more Qigong, eating more salty food. I massage my ears once a day, and give myself some acupressure in some of the points of the kidney meridians. I also imagine myself without pain, and I know from my heart, that the pain is just energy stuck, and that eventually it will flow. I talk to myself with love and respect, and I talk to my knees with kindness. They are not broken, they have been through a lot, and they are still standing, taking me places. They are awesome!

Fear and worry are just emotions, are just energy, and we will all feel it one way or another, one time or other. It is part of who we are as humans. Accepting the fear, seeing where it is coming from and letting it go is a healthy way to deal with those emotions. Pain is also energy, with a message. Exploring what your body is telling you can be life changing.

I highly recommend practicing the simple Qigong routine of the Four Energy Gates that I learned with my Qigong master (Dr. Nan Lu). It is really simple but effective. You can find it at

Needless to say, we did not go for the hike that day. The kids (old souls in smaller bodies) convinced us that sitting in front of the fire on a cold winter day was a better option than weathering the storm, literally.

Remember that, according to Yin and Yang, there is no light without darkness, no summer without winter, no morning without night, and certainly, no pleasure without a little of pain.

After all, the rainbow only shows when there is rain…




Another point of view


Lately, I have had several conversations with friends who are in despair. The reason for their despair varies: broken hearts due to unrequited love (one of the worst feelings in the entire world!), the death of family members, sick family members, empty nests, and hardships at work. Some of the more altruistic are in pain for what is going on politically and how it affects others. And I am not talking in general, these are conversations that I have had in the last 30 days with people I love and admire. 

 Through my own ups and downs (divorce, cancer, my awesome relationship with my now-recovered-alcoholic husband), I have found ways to understand my own feelings and emotions, and take a step away (sometimes many, many steps away) to find another point of view. My Qigong Master says we create our own reality. That was a hard one to bite. But I think I am actually getting it. We are what we think, and we can choose our own perceptions. We just need to be open to the possibilities.

 By that I don’t want to be callus and suggest that people who suffer are doing so out of choice. Pain, fear, sadness, grief . . . they are all part of our human condition. What I want to offer is a respite, to suggest that even in the worst of moments, there is the potential for growth. With perseverance I have been determined to see the good. Easier said than done, you must be thinking. Yes, I agree. It’s a daily practice; it’s a moment-to-moment practice. 

 Opting to see the good is not like shopping in the supermarket, but it can happen while shopping in the supermarket.  I need to pay attention to what is going on inside me, and around me, because seeing the good is about understanding what is my daily default setting and trying to be mindful about the way I think about any particular situation.

 I have learned that if I approach every moment with playfulness I get more out of it. Even a broken heart can laugh a bit about itself. We are all too serious too often. Yes, the world seems to be upside down with so many shootings, earthquakes, hurricanes, political upheavals, and bullying across nations, within nations. So we can sit and worry like mad, or we can choose to look at it all from another point of view. There is always another point of view. 

 In this same world of so much devastation there is also love, compassion, friendship, laughter, hugs, and so many caring people working hard at making a better world one day at time. It is yin and yang.  The bad and the good are always entangled in the same rope. What are you going to focus on today?

 When three months ago Hurricane Maria was hitting the Caribbean, I was trying to find footage on the Internet about what was happening on the islands…I could not be with my part of the family there, but I was trying to stay connected with their reality so I could feel closer to them. I found a few YouTube videos showing the winds, so loud and scary, and some of the videos showed things flying around in parts of Puerto Rico, and other islands. But then I also found a NASA view of the Hurricane from a satellite. This video showed another point of view of the same reality: quiet, serene, even beautiful. You could see two sides of nature at its best, beautiful and peaceful but also scary and devastating, depending on which one you clicked. 

 There are always many sides to a story, many different ways to perceive our reality. In the middle of the storm, it is a good idea to breathe deep and to separate oneself from the raging winds, find some peace, and then (like Dori, the fish–see my previous post) keep swimming. I can say that I am a pretty content human being who takes good care of herself, but it was not always like that. I had to break with my automatic unconscious beliefs, and give myself choices by paying attention. It takes effort, a lot of discipline, and constant awareness. The more I have been able to do that, the better my story has become.