Every year, against the preference of my humble sifu, my kung fu brothers and sisters would all gather to honor him on his birthday. Since my birthday happens to fall on the same day as my teacher, the celebration would always make room for us both. This, for me was a great honor, and for my sifu, a way to have some of the limelight taken off himself.
One of my favorite memories of my sifu occurred on such an event. Our whole kung fu family was together on the day of our birthday, and one of my fellow students bought Sifu a giant cake. He insisted Sifu make the first cut.
My sifu waved his hands and smiled his cresent-eye way, declining the invitation modestly. My simu (his wife) immediately shuffled me forward by the backs of my elbows and said robustly, “The birthday people together! The birthday people together to cut!”
This my sifu agreed to, and we stood before the cake together. As we held the cake knife with our right hands, he quietly instructed me as though it were a lesson. “Use power. Use power.”
And as we lifted the knife and pressed it into the angel food softness, he again stated firmly, “Use power.”
I was melting inside with adoration for this man, who used every opportunity to teach me his wisdom, but the absurdity of needing to use power in order to cut a cake was too much for my sense of humor and I smiled so big I thought I might break my cheeks.
It was only later that I realized my sifu’s seemingly-silly remark was much deeper than I knew, on many levels.
The first of which I discovered while chopping vegetables, and I found that if I made each cut by using power, as in moving from my lower dantien, I was able to have much more control and ease of movement in each chop.
The lower dantien is the energy center located three finger-widths below the navel, and is where we store all of our creative qi— the energy that inspires all movement and action. When you move from the dantien, you move from a place of absolute connectedness to the source of every motion.
In other words, when you “use power” you cut that cake with the whole of your being— all parts working together because the hand that holds the knife is moving simply as an outward manifestation of the inspiration an energetic movement has caused within your reservoir of creative energy.
That might seem deep, but it’s only the first layer to my sifu’s teaching.
The broader, spiritual teaching was to be revealed to me years later, and bit by bit. I have come to use his command on myself whenever I feel any sort of lack of gusto, motivation, or magic in my life. And it goes something like this:
Feeling sorry for yourself because you’re inside doing housework instead of playing in the sun?
Having a hard time getting motivated to organize that “I’ll deal with this later” paper pile?
Have a free afternoon that you might just nap away instead of working on your tai chi/ art/ chosen personal practice?
Walking the dog?
Brushing your teeth?
Every single action we take in life, whether mundane or magnificent, can be approached from a place of inspiration— if we so choose.
What happens when you make the choice to use power?
You take the authority to decide that whatever it is you are doing will be done with a specific intention.
You will the experience into being something you created deliberately.
For instance, say you’re like me this past week, feeling some vague, deep longing you cannot pinpoint. I could have easily spent my days doing the things I had to do: the housework, the animal chores, the—ahem— article writing, all the while ignoring the drip, drip, drip, into the pitch-black well in my stomach.
I could have hammered away at my weekly duties, feeling grumbly about it, and not listening to that feeling in my gut. Instead, I decided to stop, get quiet, and be still enough to really hear what it was that my body was telling me at the pit of my belly.
My stomach said, “If you continue to resentfully do these chores believing you have better, more poetic things to do with your life, you are not exercising your ability to decide that what you’re doing is inspired, significant, and poetic, no matter what it is.”
“What?” I responded, dumbly.
“Use power,” my gut told me.
Ah yes. These were words I understood. And I took the guidance of my belly just as swiftly and trustingly as if it were my sifu himself directing me.
I threw myself into my housework, vacuuming and wiping and organizing as if it were an installation piece I would show at MoMA.
I happily went about feeding, watering, and cleaning up after the dog, cats, ducks, and chickens like I might find a mystical message in the duck pond poop-water I was bucketing out to water the garden.
And while writing this article— well, I used power. I decided it would teach me every last bit of what it was I needed to learn about this unsettling feeling in my gut that made me think I needed something more from life.
By putting my all into my chores, my chores gave it all back to me, and more.
When you put your creative energy into what you do, the action creates energy within you.
After having completed my grunt work (not counting the writing, which I really do consider to be an artistic expression rather than a chore), I felt alive. I felt ready to throw myself into actions I had previously felt too tired, too busy, or too timid to tackle before.
I put on a dress my designer-friend had fashioned for me and I went outside to make some photos like I used to before I decided I had to be a entrepreneur instead of an artist. (Who says I can’t be both?)
The next day I looked outside my kitchen window and found the most peaceful view of a mother cow and her calf resting in the shade of a piñon, picturesquely adjacent the dramatically lit mesa peak in the distance. I made a film and put it to music.
On Thursday it was the full moon. I used to hold ceremonies on full moon nights, every single month. Instead of taking the too-tired ticket, yet again, I lit some incense, and created my altar in honor of the power that is shed on us from our moon at the peak of its cycle.
I felt rejuvenated, inspired, and alive. I was lit up again. I was me. I was living the poem of my life, in all its glory and mundanity.
Think about the things you have on your plate for the day, the week, or the month. Choose the thing you have been least looking forward to.
Now, I’m not saying you have to do it. You’ll get it done if you need to, and when. However, you have a choice here, that can take this chore and transform it into a tool for creating inspiration within you.
If you don’t know what I’m going to instruct you to do here, think of birthday cake.
Channeling my sifu now, I charge you with the duty of cutting the birthday cake that is your chosen chore from above (sounds like something spiritual here, when really I’m just referring to that thing you have to do this week.)
Need to visit your friend post surgery? Ignore your aversion to hospitals and go. Use power. Decide it will bring you inspiration.
Gotta call the phone company and negotiate lowering the fee you were charged? Use power. Decide you will learn something from the experience and feel better afterward, no matter what the outcome.
Bananas about to go from super spotted to black right there before your eyes on the kitchen counter? Use power. Turn those suckers into bread, baby! Decide to infuse every part of your soul into that batter and bake it into banana bread fit for the angels (they prefer cake that is light on sugar and heavy on inspiration, you know.)
The power to decide what you get out of what you do is yours alone.
Only you have the power to turn a humdrum task into the source of your enlightenment. Use power. Find your muse in the housework, the nitty-gritty, the drudgery.
Make your life your art.
Or, at the very least, next time you cut a cake (or banana bread, you there with the brown bananas), remember my sifu’s words. Cut that cake as if it were a brick; take all that creative energy and let it transform your experience.
If you had any idea how happy it makes me to hear from you after I post these articles, you would do it with delight. Hey! Use power. Use power and write me your thoughts on this one! Comment below, or send me a personal note.
When I was a girl, summer was my most beloved season of the year. It was my favorite time for several reasons:
As an adult, this time of year means other things, but for some reason I have always held on to it being my favorite.
This year it was not my favorite summer. It was intolerably hot, it barely rained, and then there was The Move. And as we begin to really fall in love with our new mesa-top home, other things have shifted, too.
New Mexico now finds itself in Monsoon, so the rains have come (hallelujah!) and that means the temperatures have dropped. Our anxieties about our water catchment system have been put to rest, our yard is finally beginning to go from yellow to green, and days can now be spent doing things as opposed to a full-time effort to move as little as possible.
In addition to the rain and the cool, summer suddenly became enjoyable again, because I took time off from work to— dramatic pause— play.
Sometimes the hardest work is to get yourself to play, but when you do, everything becomes easy again.
I allowed myself to get a taste of that essence of summer— the part I loved so dearly as a child— and I managed to blast myself with it during these last two weeks of the season.
All throughout my childhood I spent most of my summer days either at the pool or the river. All. Day. Long. My best friend and I would get dropped off at my grandmother’s apartment complex at 9am, and we would alternate between swimming and sunning the whole day through. Or I’d go to my other best friend’s house on the river, and we’d jump off the dock into the water and do the same water-sun cycle that felt so incredibly good.
As summer began its decline, I, as my present day self, had a burning resolve to swim— an absolute dedication to the river.
My inner 12-year-old was delighted by this. She and I had the best time, swimming and sunning, swimming and sunning, swimming, and sunning. Only instead of baby oil for a tan (ack!) I was slathering up with coconut oil for its natural sunscreen effect.
The other difference being an adult made in my summer swimming routine, was that instead of having my best friend there by my side, I had another sort of “friend” with me nearly the entire time.
This friend was the voice inside my head. I call her my friend lovingly, because I know she means well and is trying to protect me; however, she isn’t very wise, and can be down right nasty at times. This voice was nagging at me every chance she got, telling me I should be working, reminding me I wasn’t a kid anymore, and lecturing me on how time is precious and I should be using it to be productive…
But The River was there. The River soothed me, and told me not to listen to that voice in my head. The River gave me permission to stay all day. The River told me to come back tomorrow, too.
My inner 12-year-old agreed.
Your inner child is infinitely more wise than your inner critic.
So I languished in the sun, read books to the music of water flowing over rocks, and refreshed my spirit in the eternal cool of The River, that mystical teacher and longtime friend.
What I learned, or perhaps remembered, is that nothing is more productive than relaxation and enjoyment.
“A relaxed mind is a creative mind.” —Anonymous (Yogi Tea tag quote)
I had been letting my mean voice boss me around for too long, and when I finally began to disregard its demands, I found that everything it was telling me to worry about was actually getting done in perfect timing, with total inspiration, and— joyfully.
As soon as I lightened up and stopped working so hard I began to really get inspired.
And that is the final part of what I used to love so much about summer as a kid— I got to do all the creative things I truly liked to do. I wasn’t in school, but that didn’t mean I didn’t learn, explore, and create.
I made books of drawings, I designed my dream house, I wrote short stories, I painted, I collaged, I sang, I danced. I was like a creative spring, spurting up from the earth and flowing throughout the land of Brea in summertime. (Cue the birds singing and the rainbows beaming.)
As I reflect back on the wisdom of my youth, it seems pertinent that the theme of the current time of year would be “maturity and levelheaded discernment.” This is how qigong master, Robert Peng describes it, in his explanation of Liqiu Jieqi, or Start of Autumn. According to the Chinese seasonal calendar, we here in the Northern hemisphere are now at the exact midpoint of the year.
Likening the year to one’s lifetime, we would have been infants at the Start of Spring, which means we are now at Midlife here at the Start of Autumn. Taking in all the knowledge gained from our experiences so far, we can reflect and apply, assimilating everything we’ve learned, making adjustments where necessary, and gaining the wisdom that comes with age.
The truly wise look to the very young for guidance.
Everyone has a perfect place of balance— a plumb line that draws straight through the body, the central axis, the midline.
Your challenge is to find this midline and to use it as a starting point for gaining access to the wisdom of your inner child, the younger versions of you who still exist within your heart.
Begin by standing in Wuji Stance,* following these points of direction to get there:
*If you have balance challenges, just keep a hand on a nearby wall or chair back. Alternatively, this meditation can be done sitting, with upright spine, rocking back and forth from the hips.
1. Feet are hip-distance to shoulder-distance apart, parallel, and relaxed against the floor
2. Knees are soft and slightly bent, as if you are about to sit down onto of a large energy ball directly beneath your bottom (this will straighten and lengthen your spine)
3. Hips are level and relaxed
4. Tailbone is drawn toward the earth
5. Crown of the head is lifted to the sky
6. Tip of the tongue rests against the roof of your mouth, just behind the teeth, which closes the energetic circuit
7. Arms are relaxed at your sides
8. Shoulders are dropped, letting all burdens gently fall off and away
Now begin to shift your weight forward and back, rocking gently and rhythmically. Rock back and forth, shifting the weight from the balls of the feet to the heels. Do this anywhere from 8 to 36 times.
Now gradually begin to decrease the range of movement, slowing the rocking momentum with each shift forward and back. Little by little, bring your rocking to a close, resting in the very middle point between forward and back.
This is your perfect place of balance.
From this point you are now aligned with your central axis. This is the outward version of what is taking place internally: you are now blended with the eternal part of you, the inner teacher, the spirit, your higher self, the inner being.
There are so many words to describe this part of you, so just go with what feels right to you.
Close your eyes, and intend to connect with your inner child.
See yourself as a child, at whatever age comes naturally in the space beyond your closed eyes.
Watch this version of you. Notice what you are wearing, what your face looks like, what you are doing. Are you sitting or standing? Are you in a room or outside?
Now ask your younger self for advice. Ask, “What can I do to live a more joyful life? How can I have more fun? What do I need to do to enjoy myself more?”
Your inner kid will know. This, we can trust. Your task is to hear, to really listen, and to take that advice.
Stay with your inner child self for as long as you want. Ask whatever you feel like, and be open to receiving wisdom form this younger part of you who knows a lot more than you think.
When you are ready, gently release your focus. Slowly begin to move your body, gradually increasing the movement until you feel fully present in the room.
My lazy days by the river weren’t just a waste of time, or an atrociously decadent way to procrastinate.
By letting yourself relax and have fun, you powerfully set yourself up to dive into your work not from forced drudgery, but from truly inspired action.
Even though summer is technically behind us, I encourage you to give yourself a break, and go do something you would have loved to spend all day doing when you were twelve.
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