“The unexamined life is not worth living.” ~ Socrates
A child’s heart
When I was little, I was rather shy and reserved, preferring to stay in the background and observe. While I had some friends, I was just as content to do my homework or spend long hours reading on my bed, as I was doing anything else.
If others were unkind to me, I didn’t think too much about it and easily let things go. I wasn’t unkind to others in return and never held a grudge. It didn’t even occur to me to be this way.
I always listened to my parents and teachers, and followed the rules closely. I thought of others first and tried to do what I could to be helpful. I believed others were good, even if on the surface they sometimes might not seem to be. I knew the difference between right and wrong, and doing the right thing came naturally and easily.
Like my state of mind, life was simple and uncomplicated.
As I grew older, my self-interests also grew. My desire to have fun and do what I wanted began to take precedence over being helpful, or even doing the right thing at times. As a result, I sometimes did things that I later regretted.
But when I compared myself to others, I thought I wasn’t doing so badly. After all, I still tried to be kind and help others. But my standards for myself were not what they once had been.
I was often told I needed to toughen up, to not let others walk all over me, and to speak up for myself lest I be taken advantage of. During my family medicine residency in Philadelphia, a classmate even suggested I move back to the gentle south after training, or else the city would eat me alive.
Gradually, I lost that child-like heart I once had and I grew to believe these things. I felt that if someone wronged me, instead of letting it go, I should speak my mind. As my tolerance diminished, my feelings of competitiveness and jealousy grew, though I didn’t know it at the time. I became more easily annoyed and harbored bad feelings toward others, even over small things.
As my selfishness grew stronger, my patience and compassion weakened. Even so, I still believed I behaved better than others. I often looked down on others, enabling me to justify my own bad behavior.
Many things were deeply buried, such as my desire to show off and my concern for what others thought of me, and these selfish parts grew to be quite strong. Little did I realize that these thoughts and behaviors were covering over the true me, the kind and compassionate me.
As a result, I often slept poorly and my mind was not peaceful. Life was no longer as simple and straightforward as it had been when I was young. Now, my heart was uneasy and I sometimes didn’t feel good about myself deep down inside.
Learning to examine my heart and mind
Today, I’m most fortunate to have discovered the importance of examining my heart in my quest to return to the pure and simple state of mind I once had. This is thanks to an ancient practice known as Falun Dafa, also called Falun Gong.
Falun Dafa is a mind-body practice for self-improvement and good health, and while it originated in China, it’s now practiced the world over. The practice, taught by Mr. Li Hongzhi, teaches one to live by the principles of Truthfulness (Zhen), Compassion (Shan), and Forbearance (Ren), and focuses on improving one’s heart and moral character. An introductory video on the practice can be found online.
I’ve come to understand that it’s important to look closely at myself, rather than pointing a finger at others for their wrongdoing. It’s not easy, and sometimes it’s even painful. I’ve uncovered things that I didn’t know were there — selfish things. Many things that I saw in others, things that often annoyed me, were, in fact, things within me.
“The ancients recognized that all life follows the rhythm of the universe. It’s the wise person who internalizes this rhythm, harmonizes with the ‘surrounding all,’ and conforms what he does to the flow of life, the Tao.”Abigail Brenner (Psychology Today)
It’s believed that what’s on the inside manifests outside. Therefore, your heart and mind have significant roles to play in your health.
Since practicing Falun Dafa, I have experienced dramatic and unexpected improvements in my health.
As a teenager, I was diagnosed with scoliosis. The curvature of my spine was so severe that, in order to try to avoid major surgery, I had to wear a back brace 23 hours a day, seven days a week, for over two years.
Although I was able to avoid surgery, my back pain progressively worsened, and I often found myself irritable due to the constant aching and burning. Despite deep massage, stretches, strength exercises, and even an inversion table, my pain was unrelenting. It became an unavoidable part of life.
After studying Falun Dafa and doing the exercises regularly, I realized one day that my back no longer hurt like it had. This improvement continued, and I now no longer have back pain, something I’d once thought impossible.
I also had gallbladder attacks multiple times in the past, and this too resolved, along with the hormonal issues I’d once dealt with. I now sleep soundly and have all the energy I need to get through my day, something I’d always lacked. There are many stories of practitioners experiencing health benefits, some of which are truly amazing.
Life isn’t easy for any of us. Trials and tribulations inevitably come, sometimes small, sometimes large, and sometimes like a storm, with many raining down at once. Yet when I persevere and view hardships as opportunities, as chances to do the right thing, even when it’s painfully difficult to do so, I find myself better for it.
In the words of Carl Jung: “Your vision will become clear only when you can look into your own heart. Who looks outside, dreams; who looks inside, awakes.”
No matter what one’s religious or spiritual affiliation may be, the universal principles of Truthfulness, Compassion, and Forbearance are recognized by all as good and upright. Holding these in your heart leads you to a place of self-reflection and self-improvement, and whatever your chosen path may be, the world is naturally a better place when you improve your heart.