Year of Sagely Living: Some more thoughts on the twelve categories

Just a few more thoughts on the categories and a few example practices. Be sure to check out the original introduction to the Year of Sagely Living. You can read other articles on the project by choosing the “Year of Sagely Living” category in the dropdown menu to your right.

1) January (GB) – Study/scholarship: Taking Confucian/neo-Confucian principles seriously means developing a serious and self-motivated attitude towards learning. Instead of being outwardly motivated, one becomes deeply interested in learning despite what rewards or penalties are associated with it. This doesn’t mean studying for no reason, or studying for the sake of studying. It means that one doesn’t study for grades, or for the sake of feeling clever. One learns to improve one’s own understanding and abilities, and takes this to be one of the most important activities possible. I will post later today about my current list of practices in this category.

2) February (LR) – Strategy/business: As physicians, we are likely to be in business for ourselves. Too often, CM schools neglect this topic in the curriculum. Following in suit, students fail to learn how to run their practice and thus not only do they end up broke, but suffering people do not gain the benefits of the student’s care. In this month we might learn business specific skills or simply how to think in a way that is strategic without sacrificing personal principles. Possible practices include:

  • If you have a business, clear your mind of everything that it is so far and write a mission statement as if you do not have a business yet. Let your dreams run wild and really write a road map of your ideal business. If you do not have one, this is easier – just write that statement. Include objectives, the central vision of your business, your desires for both financial and non-financial gains, etc…
  • Read a book about compassionate/principled business and write up a summary of each chapter.
  • Goals specific to your business practice. For instance, if you have a practice seeing 15 clients a week, pick a goal for the end of the month (say 20 clients per week) and do something specific each day to bring in new clients or re-contact old clients you haven’t seen in a while.
  • A simpler goal might be simply to call everyone back who calls you within 2 hours.

3) March (LU) – Rest/activity: Sleeping and waking in time with the seasonal rhythms is often mentioned as a key to good health in ancient Chinese literature. Failing that, at least some regularity has been shown in many systems to be very beneficial. However, how many of us follow these recommendations?

  • Set a sleeping and waking time for the month that is close to the cycle of the sun. Stick to it for a month, recording observations.
  • Regardless of the hectic nature of your schedule, take at least 45 minutes out of every day to simply sit and rest. Preferably do this in a beautiful atmosphere, free of electronic or other distractions.
  • When in a protracted period of stillness, such as when studying, break every 45 minutes to change position and relax your mind.

4) April (LI) – Care of planet/consumption: I think nature appreciation activities should be included in this category, since its harder to care for something you’re not well acquainted with. There are many simple practices here that will not only improve one’s relationship with the natural world but also help to reduce your impact on the planet.

  • Start a compost pile and resolve to compost all of your biodegradable material for the month.
  • Don’t buy anything new (except food and medicine) for a month.
  • Walk, bike or take public transportation to work, without fail, for the month.
  • Learn the Latin names for all of the plants in your yard, then sit with each plant in turn for some time to get a better feel for it.
  • Go to a new park each week and pick up any trash you find while appreciating the natural beauty of the place.

5) May (ST) – Physical cultivation: Keeping my body strong and flexible, my channels unobstructed and vital, my balance and poise fully attuned… all of these things are important in becoming a great physician. While I could be quite out of shape and be a decent doctor, I would rather that my body not be an obstacle in my quest.

  • Daily Qigong, Taiji, Yoga or martial art
  • Take a walk in the morning each day, begin with 15 minutes and increase by 2-5 minutes per day. Pay attention to breathing, and gradually increase the strenuousness of walking until you notice your breathing rate increase.
  • Begin some specific program of exercise, but be careful not to exercise to the point of tiredness.
  • Even something simple like doing isometric exercises at home and keeping track of progress could be a great practice – sit-ups, push-ups, pull-ups?

6) June (SP) – Food choices: Moderation in food intake will help physical cultivation to be more effective. Immoderate food intake is also behind a lot of pathology. Eating pure, simple foods in moderate amounts, at appropriate time and with careful attention can only help you maintain excellent health. I’m astonished at how difficult this is to practice.

  • A wide variety of elimination programs could be undertaken. No refined sugar! No dairy products! No alcohol! Even tobacco could be included here.
  • Conversely, you could add things – Eat leafy green vegetables every day! Add Omega 6,9 fatty acid containing foods to your diet?
  • Eat at precisely regular times each day for all of your meals.
  • You could follow one of the Paul Pitchford meal plans – eating twice a day, or even the one bowl method!

7) July (HT) – Community building/Charity: Another epidemic in contemporary society is personal isolation. Though many of us have close family and friends, how many of us stay in close regular contact with relatives and friends that live far away? How many of us know our neighbors? How many of us give time or money to help improve the lot of less fortunate people in our community, and in so doing, get to know those folks? How many of us spend significant amounts of time participating in other communities – such as at our schools, workplaces, neighborhoods, religious institutions, etc…? The practices in this category should help remedy any deficiencies in this area.

8) August (SI) – Ethical behavior: For me this is going to mean taking the more prohibitive precepts of my preferred spiritual systems to heart. The Eightfold path of Buddhism contains some gems. Certainly the deeper elements of the Christian path will play a part. Also, the more difficult recommendations brought forward by my training in feminism and moral epistemology will be examined closely. I expect a wide variety of practices will emerge for folks, regardless of their spiritual predilections. It should be interesting to see how this plays out!

9) September (BL) – Arts/aesthetics: This is a fun category. This category should include all of the “associated arts” of the classical Chinese educated person.

  • Using a book or your own prior knowledge, practice calligraphy. Take one character per day as a subject and write it for half an hour. At the end, write them all together as well as you can.
  • Learn Go! Start a Go study group at your school or in your community.
  • Take up an instrument or get back into one you have already learned to some extent.
  • Visit the local art institutions in your community including museums, galleries and schools.
  • Pick up a book of poetry at the bookstore or library and study one poem each day – allow it to do its work on you.

10) October (KD) – Chinese medicine skills: I will be an intern at Pettygrove Classical Chinese Medicine clinic by the time this month rolls around. Actually, I will have been for several months. It will be a good time to focus carefully on the continued development of the most important skills of Chinese medicine.

  • Outside of your normal “hands-on” time at school or in your practice, endeavor to physically work with one or more skills necessary to the medicine.
  • Find a book or new teacher to help you improve some skill you are particularly interested in perfecting.

11) November (PC) – Relationships: Our personal relationships can either provide a vital rooting for the rest of our lives or wreak havoc on everything we have worked so hard to accomplish. The ability to sustain healthy personal relationships as well as professional relationship skills are covered by this category of practice.

  • Try to wait at least 5 seconds after a person has spoken before responding.
  • Train yourself to focus only on what a person is saying (not thinking about what you’re going to say) in each conversation throughout the day.
  • If you don’t currently have special time to spend with your family, institute a weekly time when you do nothing but focus on your family members – playing games, working on an art project together or something of that kind.
  • Write a letter to each person that is special to you thanking them for their presence in your life, perhaps sending them a little token of your appreciation: a pressed flower, small art project, or collage of pictures relating to your life together.

12) December (TB) – Spiritual cultivation: As our descent into darkness completes, we turn to the explicit cultivation of the Spirit. In some ways, this category is a bit out of place. All of what we’ve already discussed above IS spiritual practice. For some, it is the sum total of spiritual experience in their lives. This month will simply be an invitation to go deeper into your own understanding of Spirit. Even if you have no particular religious preference, taking a month to focus on those parts of yourself that are neither mental nor emotional nor physical nor social – the nurturing of the deepest core of you… this will be time well spent. For some, the practices will be more explicitly religious.


About Eric Grey

Hi - I'm the founder of this site and the primary master of all functions here. When I'm not writing, you can find me reaching out to the Chinese Medicine community across the web and in my own backyard. I currently teach Chinese herbs at my alma mater, the National College of Natural Medicine. Additionally, I'm the founder of Watershed Wellness, a thriving local clinic in Southeast Portland in Oregon. No matter where I'm working, you'll find my focus on the Classical approach to Chinese medicine laced throughout everything I do.

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