Sitting in Oblivion to Blow Up the Outside World

 

Almost twenty years ago, I was suffering from one of the lowest points of my life. I was an undergrad at the time, but the downward spiral of anger and depression that I was going through were so debilitating that I would spend days on end at home, not wanting to go outside, not wanting to see or speak to any of my friends (or whatever friends I had left). I held myself hostage inside of my apartment that I treated like a turtle shell, inside of which I hid. The only energy I had was just enough to sleep, smoke cigarettes, and listen to the radio. At the time, it was the mid-90’s and alternative/grunge was my savior.

And that’s when I first heard Soundgarden’s “Blow Up The Outside World.”tumblr_o7tlqyyupr1sbf4sbo1_540 I listened to every word of this song with tears streaming down my face, feeling as if Chris Cornell himself were telling me, “Hey brother… I know how you feel.” When you’ve felt grief for so long, somewhere along the line something starts to kick in, and you start feeling angry. For me, I felt rage. Hatred. A resounding resentment towards the human society that seems to do whatever it takes to destroy you, while the family and friends – whom you thought were your support – tend to enjoy ripping the heart out of you. When it came to relationships with friends, relatives, my parents, and the general public, it was an ongoing heartache that eventually turned into hatred of this world. This song couldn’t express more perfectly how I felt. From the moment I heard this song, even till today, it’s become one of my personal anthems.

Someone tried to tell me something:
“Don’t let the world get you down.”
Nothing will do me in before I do myself
So save it for your own and the ones you can help

“Don’t let the world get you down.” People have said that to me before. It’s easy for them to say when they haven’t been subject to the racism, bullying, and abandonment that I’ve endured throughout my life since childhood. It’s easy to say “It shouldn’t bother you” if you’ve never experienced the struggle of being hurt by both society and your own family, as well as people whom you thought were your friends. Unless you yourself were beset on all sides, leaving you feeling cold and alone trying to pull yourself together during those sleepless nights, then you didn’t understand.

Want to make it understood
Wanting though I never would
Trying though I know it’s wrong
Blowing it to hell and gone
Wishing though I never could
Blow up the outside world

I’ve often wished I didn’t feel the way I did, but I couldn’t help it. I knew it was wrong to want to rid myself of the whole world which included everyone I once cared for. I’ve often come at a crossroads between remaining a part of society or leaving it completely. Sometimes I even felt as if maybe it would be best if society just got rid of my existence permanently since I knew I couldn’t do it myself. But trust me, I’ve considered it.

I’ve givin’ everything I need
I’d give you everything I own
I’d give in if it could at least be ours alone
I’ve given everything I could
To blow it to hell and gone
Burrow down in and
Blow up the outside world

I felt that I gave everyone around me – all my friends and my family – every ounce of honor, love, and loyalty that I had in me, but when things got hard for me they all turned their backs on me. I wanted so badly to believe that if I gave everyone my best, from relative to stranger, that everyone would treat me like a human. But deep down inside, I knew nothing would change. It was going to remain a heartless world no matter what. So I wanted nothing other than to destroy it. But I was never the violent type. Destroying the world was figurative to me. But at the time, if the world blew up, it would’ve made me happy.

For more than a decade since then, I held on to such deep-seated hostility until the anger became so tiresome that I needed to start searching for peace of mind. I needed to find a way to deal with this human existence without destroying myself and/or alienating my wife and kids in the process. I needed to bring my mind back to the time when I was once content. So I began a spiritual search for answers in the realm of Eastern Philosophy, an area of study I once engaged in before anger consumed me for several years. Through a thorough life search and several months of introspection, I eventually discovered that being a healer would be the best way to reconnect myself with society, and I thus became reunited with Taoism.

Soon after that realization, I found myself sitting in front of a book by author Livia Kohn, entitled “Sitting in Oblivion.”

“Sitting in oblivion” is the English translation of the Chinese word “zuowang,” which is often translated as “sitting and forgetting.” Zuowang, according to Kohn, is the “heart of Taoist meditation” because it’s a central practice of several Taoist lineages. Sitting in oblivion is very much like many other meditation practices in that it’s a way to achieve peace and tranquility of mind, while ascending to higher consciousness. But what makes it different is the fact that, according to Kohn, “zuowang demands the complete abolition of all sensory perception and conscious evaluation.” In plain English, this means that you focus your awareness deep within the limitless depths of your own soul by letting go of all of the senses that connect you to the world, such as sight, smells, touch, sounds, taste, and thoughts. It’s only when you are able to rid yourself of those senses that you can actually get a glimpse of that peaceful and higher consciousness that we’re all wanting so badly to realize. But you have to destroy your senses and destroy your thoughts in order to sit in oblivion.

In both Taoist and Zen circles, inner peace, happiness, and higher realms of consciousness aren’t something that you attain outside of yourself. These things are already there, deep inside of you. The more far-gone you are from inner peace (like I was), the deeper inside yourself you have to go. You have to sit and forget about everything all around you and journey into the vastness of your inner, limitless universe that lies inside of you. There is nothing outside of you that you can stretch out and reach for, but there is everything inside of you that you can realize. That includes inner peace, contentment, and happiness.

nly3glSitting in oblivion involves destroying whatever sense of “self” you have in relation to the outside world in order to look inward for the answers you seek. So in a sense, you have to “burrow down in and Blow Up the Outside World.”

It’s been more than 20 years since I’ve heard this song, and as I’ve mentioned before, it’s still my anthem. But nowadays, I’m not wishing to blow up the world out of hatred and resentment, but out of love and compassion. Because it’s only when I find peace within myself that I can find peace with the world. The reason why I’ve become involved in healing is because I’ve come to grips with the fact that I’m angry, not because I don’t care, but because I care immensely. I’m angry because I see the way humans treat each other (and everything else on the planet) and I want to fix it. So I use that anger as motivation to help others find peace of mind so they can make much clearer and more compassionate decisions for themselves and others. Bringing peace to this world means everything to me, even if I’m only doing it one person at a time through my healing practice. I’m here to bring comfort to those who’ve been scarred by the same society that’s hurt me. Like a wounded healer, I truly understand their pain, and I’ll do anything within my power to help. I truly believe that the more individual lives I help change, the closer we’ll be to a better society.

So as you can see, sitting in oblivion helped changed my life.

Sitting in oblivion is a powerful practice to bring you inner peace and to transform your life. Just like any meditation technique, it’s a difficult practice to meditate for several minutes a day. And that’s why they call it a “practice.” In the same way you can’t lift 300lbs over your head overnight, you won’t ascend to a higher consciousness overnight either. But I’m proof that it’s possible to go from someone who’s close to giving up on this world, to someone who’s found peace. And all you have to do is sit down, shut up, and Blow Up The Outside World.

Moving on

A few weeks ago I found out something about my Taoist master that was both disappointing and angering to me. Without going into much detail, I decided to leave both priesthood program and the Taoist lineage altogether. It was a tough decision to say goodbye after all of the hard work, time, and money I’ve invested into this pursuit, but it was something that had to be done. Even though I feel a bit betrayed and misled by him, I’m still grateful for all of his teachings, and will always honor him as my shifu (master), but it’s time to move on in a different direction.

While on my search for another Taoist shifu in a legitimate lineage, I’ll still be continuing my studies in clinical qigong so I can professionally enter the realm of energy healing, which I’ve found that it complements my acupuncture practice really well.

I’ve often asked myself why I’d need to become a Taoist priest, or at the very least, why would I need to have a Taoist shifu when I can just study Taoist philosophies instead? I don’t I believe my endeavors are of such an egotistical nature that I need to call myself a “priest,” but I do believe that belonging to a time-honored lineage and to study with a shifu will take my practice to a much deeper place. In the same way that I study acupuncture and clinical qigong energy healing, it’s all for duty. I’ve raised my hand to help humanity in the deepest way, and if a shifu says that I understand Tao practice very well, then I can teach it to my patients in hopes that Tao practice will change their lives the way it changed mine.

So during the course of my previous Taoist priesthood program – the one I just left – I had a series of written assignments that were to be compiled into a sort of “thesis” or “treatise” as my final project, to show how much I understand Tao practice, especially the meditative aspect of it. Since I’m no longer writing for the purpose of priesthood, I guess I’ll share it here.

In honor of my Master

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Me with Doctor Alan Uretz

Back in September of 2008, I stood outside of Midwest College of Oriental Medicine anxiously anticipating the first of many classes of what was to be a long journey into the field of holistic medicine. Nervously, I was standing alone watching the cars roll by in the Saturday morning Uptown Chicago traffic when I turned around to see a tall, thin man, wearing a dress shirt and tie, slacks, Chuck Taylors, and a cowboy hat walking into the school. He had the air of a collegiate professor with the demeanor of a punk rocker. “If that’s one of my professors,” I said to myself, “I’m in the right place.” As I walked inside the classroom, I looked up at our professor and found that it was him.

I’ll never forget that first class on our first day of school. I was scared and anxious, knowing next to nothing about Chinese medicine, but somehow I found myself in the middle of a Masters program for it. It was intimidating and exceedingly foreign to me. But the moment Doc spoke, his voice resonated with experience, authority, and passion, with a soft, underlying tone of compassion riddled with the wisdom one can only garner after a lifetime of trials and tribulations. During his welcome speech, he didn’t speak to us as if we were students in the midst of the sterile environment of academia, he spoke to us as friends and future colleagues. He knew nothing of us at the time, yet we were as familiar to him as apprentices that he personally took under his wing. He spoke and looked at us endearingly, as if to say “Kids, I’ve been there. I’ve been you. Let’s enjoy this together. Let’s live this path together.” We weren’t alone on this formidable journey. His energy was infectious and his passion was captivating. He welcomed us to the school, to the program, and thanked us for taking part in the medicine that was to revolutionize the country. We were going to change a lot of lives and help a lot of people to find comfort in their suffering. And it started right then and there in that classroom, face to face with a brilliant man who was going to teach us all we need to know to change the world of healing. I’ve never been inspired so viscerally in my life. His reassuring tone confirmed that I belonged exactly where I was sitting at the moment, that I was where I was meant to be. After so many years of feeling uneasy in my own skin, lost in this tumultuous world, he welcomed me home. And with him – at that very moment – I finally found a glimpse of hope.

Throughout the years of getting to know him, I’ve felt within his voice and saw within his eyes the pain and turbulence that was his life. The hurt and sorrow, and the struggle to be a sensitive creature in such an unforgiving world. I saw myself in him. There are only a few spaces where people like us can turn to for solace, and that’s the arts. Doc mastered the musical, performing, philosophical, and martial arts. But his greatest achievement was his mastery of the art of Traditional Chinese Medicine. Indulging in all of the arts that he loved, and by merely being his own eclectic and eccentric self, he was able to heal, inspire, and to help change lives. And by doing that, he found his inner joy. He taught me the value of being unapologetically true to your wild, weird self. And through him, I learned that when all else fails, the greatest way to heal yourself was to heal and inspire others.

I’m now keenly aware of my own grief from Doc’s passing. I simply miss him. I lament the fact that I didn’t spend as much time as I wanted with him. I wish that I could listen to his horribly dry jokes and to see him smile and to hear him snicker through his teeth just one last time. Most of all, I’ll miss his friendship, his influence, and his guidance. He helped me change my life.

I regret that I won’t be able to make it to his life’s celebration hosted by Midwest College in the coming days due to my obligations to my patients. But in that way, I’m honoring him in the way an apprentice forever honors his master… by carrying on his teachings. And I know in my heart that as long as I’m a healer, he’ll always be with me. Because of the wisdom that Doc has transmitted to me, now a professional acupuncturist myself… through every patient, through every single person that I’m able to bring at least an ounce of peace and comfort to, the healing spirit of Dr. Alan Uretz – my teacher, mentor, and friend – lives on.

Thank you for everything, Doc.

 

Happy Valentine’s Day

“To love at all is to be vulnerable.” – CS Lewis (via Zen Pencils

To all of my single friends, I’ve been there.

All those times you gave another person your all. Your best. Your soul. And they just chewed you up. They devoured you. And spit you out. Maybe they laughed at you while they were doing it. And it left you reeling with the resounding feeling of being alone, emotionally battered, and vulnerable.

I’ve been there.

I remember the grueling nights, all cried out. You wanna cry more just to release all that pain, but you ran out of tears. So you lay there clutching yourself, wondering if this pain is real. It’s very real. It hurts so badly you find it hard to muster enough strength to stand up. 

You bet I’ve been there.

And you see your friends happily coupled, happily married. A sort of resentment grows within you and you lock yourself away from the world. From life. From love. 
“I don’t care how nice they think they are, nobody is ever going to destroy me again,” I said to myself. So I closed myself off from the world. 
Yup, I’ve definitely been there. 

But then I realized how much is out there. So many people and cultures I’ve yet to experience. So although I closed myself off from “love,” I opened myself up to more friendships and the vastly different walks of life. My heart became open to the bigger realm of the world, and began to enjoy life once again. And after several years of nurturing myself, learning about  myself, and being compassionate towards myself, I met someone. At first I was careful, but realized that the more guarded I was, the less this wonderful woman could see the true me.

And that’s when I discovered that true strength is allowing yourself to become vulnerable enough to give and receive compassion. 

Compassion is what unifies us and allows us to experience oneness. My pain and joys are yours, and yours are mine. Without compassion, there’s no true love.

The moment you open your heart up to the bigger world in order to evolve and experience compassion towards others in its truest and most organic form, you’ll find that other equally compassionate people will seek you like a flashlight in the dark. 

So on Valentine’s Day, while couples are annoyingly expressing their love towards each other in front of you, there’s no need to hit up Tinder for a quickie, or express how you resent others, or how you resent this dumb materialistic Hallmark holiday (can you tell I’m with you here?!). Simply turn off all media and, as Chuang Tzu would say, cultivate yourself. Learn more about yourself, nurture yourself, and be compassionate towards yourself.

Open up your heart to the bigger picture of the world, and you’ll find that there’s others – hurt, lost, lonely, emotionally bruised, and looking for light – just like you.

The Tao of McDonald’s

Earlier today I realized after my morning coffee that I had forgotten my wife’s papers at the office last night, as well as a bag of gifts that one of my patients had given to me to give to my 3yo daughter. Dang… because that means I’d have to drive, which also means that I’d have to drive around other drivers, and other drivers are – to put it mildly and skillfully – challenging. After another 60hr workweek and a record breaking January at my healing practice, I was tired, and in no mood to “put up with” other people. BUT… if I were to be something of a skillful seeker of The Way, as well as bring home the stuff I left at the office, I must get out of my own dumb head and do my thing. So I got dressed, walked a half a block to my car, slapped on a good audiobook (Bill Bryson’s “The Lost Continent” – which is hilarious, by the way), and off I went.

When I got within a block of my office, and for some reason, the sight of the golden arches of the McDonald’s sign suddenly popped into view with a rather profound distinction unlike I’ve ever experienced in the last few years since I stopped eating meat and fast food. Then I felt my stomach rumble. How odd, since I don’t particularly like fast food. However, I was hungry, and I could use some hash browns and an orange juice. So I slowed down and turned into the McDonald’s parking lot.

Right as I turned into the parking lot towards the drive thru, a silver colored Honda who was driving towards me suddenly punched the accelerator and bolted aggressively right at me, then turned right into the drive thru with a daring sharp turn, finishing with a screeching stop at the ordering screen. The young millennial in the passenger’s seat turned and looked at me like they had just beaten me at ping-pong.

“Jesus fucking whore Christ,” I said to myself, while simultaneously almost regretting that I did. I tried to tell myself that they must’ve been hungry, and that their puppy is dying in the back seat, and if they didn’t get it a sausage and egg mcmuffin on time, it would certainly meet the doom of samsara. But I didn’t. All that came out of my mouth inside of the safe anonymity of my own car is “Please go on ahead of me kind sir, I do recognize how fucking important you and your boyfriend are, and that I realize that if you had to wait 30 seconds behind my order of hashbrowns, I know you’d certainly be late for your appointment with your goddamn television set. Fucking rat-race ass piece of shit.” I was saying all of this to myself as I watched him yell into the ordering monitor, watching his order on the screen becoming progressively larger and larger.

“Hooo-leeee SHIT, guy. What the fuck are you ordering? Can you even eat that much? Are you ordering for your goddamn church?” He finally stopped yapping at the machine and drove through. I proceeded to place my order and waited in line patiently, still blathering on to myself about the guys in front of me. Lord knows what I said. The funny thing was that the people in front of them apparently ordered a ton of food as well, and that’s when I remembered that five minutes in a fast food drive thru line seems like an eternity to many people. It was kind of fun watching the two morons in front of me go apeshit as the seconds ticked by. I remember the last time I was at a drive thru, it was at White Castle where it’s customary to order 30 cheeseburgers at one time. I finished about half of the book “War and Peace” by the time I got my 2 veggie sliders and fries.

Anyway, Mario Andretti and his trusty pal Sancho Panza finally got to the drive thru tumblr_lonv2z0d8F1qbi94vo1_500window, ungraciously received their order, but then waited a couple of minutes to check and recheck their order, holding up the entire line behind us. Then I watched as the driver opened up his door and tossed trash out of his car onto the ground. The littering was a nice cherry on top of their deliciously ignorant sundae.

I couldn’t believe it. That’s when I lost it. That’s when I looked at the assholes in front of me, and all the assholes behind me. I’m surrounded by assholes. I yelled at myself. Why did I do this to myself? Why did I place myself in a situation where I would willfully receive mediocre food suited for people of the most mediocre existence?

That’s when it hit me: maybe they weren’t the assholes. Earlier today, I tweeted:

I posted that tweet because throughout my life, people were being judgmental towards me. But it struck me… that right in the middle of McDonald’s today, I was being judgmental as well.

I was exactly who I thought those people were: an asshole. ME. I was the asshole.

A part of our suffering comes from the fact that we believe, no matter what circumstance, that people “should” act a certain way, as opposed to accepting the fact that people simply act the way they do. There’s a huge difference there. Thinking that people “should” do or be certain things is a product of our own ego, a filter… and it causes us so much anger, indignation, and maybe even resentment. Accepting people, animals, circumstances, and weather for what they do and what they are at the particular moment is the only real skillful way to remain centered and at peace.

By no means am I condoning littering and dangerous driving as “good behavior,”  however, it’s really important to note that there are people who are so incredibly “stuck” in their own sense of self importance that, for whatever reason – whether circumstance or upbringing – they just don’t have it in them to be mindful of the cause and effect that their actions have on the world. As Jesus pleaded to God as he was being tortured on the cross: “Forgive them Father, for they know not what they do.”

The same goes for seekers of The Way, or The Tao. Not everyone is where we are in life, and we have to understand that it’s not their fault. Many people just don’t have it in them to seek a higher version of themselves, the compassionate version of themselves that realizes the interconnectedness with the entire world around them. Once we reach a certain level of cultivation, then we realize that we have to be responsible for our own reactions to what others do. We can’t judge them, but we can help them if help is what they’re seeking.

So what would I do if I had a chance to rewind? I would have simply allowed the guy to move into the drive thru first, which I did, but without the animosity. I would have simply waited, ordered my food, and continued listening to my hilarious Bill Bryson audiobook. And when I witnessed the littering, I would have waited for him to drive away, get out of my car, and I would have thrown away the garbage properly. And like water that simply moves around a stone blockage, I would have gotten my dumb food peacefully, without contrivance.

But I can’t rewind time. So all I can do is learn.

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Or… “You are not what I think you are. I am what I think you are.”

Forgiveness.

My meditation/qigong practice borders on obsession, my nutrition and exercise are [nearly] on point, my studies on Taoist scriptures are solid, but one thing I keep forgetting in my Taoist practice is forgiveness… I’ve got a lot of un-eradicated resentment to work through. And it doesn’t help that our society not only condones anger, but actually perpetuates it. It’s pretty toxic shit, and it feels like we’re getting worse about that.

Society says it’s okay for individuals to suffer their own anger, to act upon it unhealthily, and to even spread it to some extent. But that’s “their” suffering. The question I pose to myself is should I suffer along with our angry, polarized, and resentful society?

We should always fight for what’s right, and to right every wrong. So forgiveness isn’t about letting other peoples’ bullshit slide. As I’m learning from cultivating the Tao, forgiveness is less about others, and more about letting go of the inner wrath that I’ve allowed myself to feel. To liberate myself from the insufferable anger and resentment I feel towards others for what has happened in the past.

And only I can do that for me, no one else.

It’s empowering to forgive. When the world has hurt you so badly and has taken so much from you, then forgiveness means that they can’t take what’s left… the most important part of you: your very “soul.”

I have a lot to work on.

The Piss and Shit of Reality

Master Tung-kuo asked Chuang Tzu, “This thing called the Tao… where does it exist?”
Chuang Tzu said, “There’s no place it doesn’t exist.”
“Come,” said Master Tung-kuo, “you must be more specific!”
“It is in the ant.”
“As low a thing as that?”
“It is in the grass.”
“But that’s lower still!”
“It is in the tiles and shards.”
“How can it be so low?”
“It is in the piss and shit.” 

I love this entry from the Chuang Tzu/Zhuangzi. It’s probably my favorite entry in the whole book, because in my eyes, it talks about reality.

When I talk to some people about spiritual practice, they’re taken aback by how “ordinary” I seem. I swear a lot, I’m into punk music, I laugh at fart jokes, and have the sense of humor of a sailor. But the reason why people are weirded out by me is because many people’s idea of “spirituality” is an image of a sage with flowing robes, floating just above humanity, walking two inches off the ground, speaking in a sagely tone using the word “one” as a fucking pronoun (“one must…”), and that everything is puppy dogs and ice cream.

But that’s all bullshit.

Taoist spirituality and meditation practice is about reality. Reality isn’t about the world being such a pretty and perfect place, or at least the popular idea of what might be pretty and perfect. Reality is everything. Everything is reality. Reality is you, me, TPS reports, dick jokes, zebras, horny couples fucking on the floor, and of course, piss and shit.

The practice of Taoism isn’t an escape into a delusional reality where things look like a 1940’s cartoon with singing flowers and impromptu animal parades where everyone looks happy, the practice of Taoism is a skill that allows you to accept things for what they are in order to become the centered pivot around which the chaos spins. That’s what true inner peace is…. it’s not an escape. It’s being present in the thick of life, being exactly where you are, and finding harmony with whatever life hands you.

But the above entry by Chuang Tzu not only teaches that reality is everything around us, but he also means that in order to accept everything as reality, we can’t just concentrate on the things that we find “pretty” or “nice” or “pleasant.” Because those things are judgments relative only to the human ego. I’m not suggesting that you go out and drink some piss and eat some shit, however people have to understand that everything in nature has its purpose. To be honest, I don’t know what the purpose of piss is (I’ll look it up eventually), however, shit is not only just a stinky waste product, but it’s also food for flies and for the earth. Flies eat turds, then go on to be food for other insects or animals, who are then eaten by other animals, who are then eventually eaten by us. And if shit isn’t eaten by insects, then it eventually becomes compost to further nourish the earth and plants and trees. The ecosystem that helps give us our existence is in constant flow, and even something so “low” as excrement also has an important role in it. Hence, “the Tao is in the piss and shit.”

So what Chuang Tzu is suggesting is that everything can be both ugly and beautiful at the same time, and that if we can allow ourselves to view life past our limiting human egos, then we can truly see the endless ebb and flow of the universe around us… and to find peace within it.