Year of the Fire Monkey: My Top 10 Biggest Changes of 2016

I could expand a lot more on a number of these bullets in future posts, but for now, let’s see what changes the Fire Monkey brought me back in 2016 (in no particular order)…

1. Awakening the feet

In truth, I’m practicing to awaken the entire body, but the feet are an easy target, having been entombed since birth by the sensory deprivation tanks we call modern footwear. Unfettered from the thick slabs of rubber disconnecting my feet from the earth, my entire reality became novel again. What if our culture instead walked on our hands,2 placing oven mitts over them since infancy? And then you decided to remove the mitts from your hands in adulthood? Your hands would be exposed to a rich world of sensation, but too numb to take any of it in; for true nourishment, the capacity to feel must be developed. Therefore awakening is both the removal of a physical barrier (i.e. shoes) and the learning process of creating and strengthening neural pathways to the amnestic area. Neurons that fire together, wire together.

Side-note: Well, actually, only in this case does awakening involve the removal of a physical barrier; otherwise, the barrier is invisible, somatic, self-imposed. The mitt spans the entire body; my Nei Gong chisels away at this whole-body death-disciple cast. It’s really interesting how, immediately after directing the attention solely on feeling with the skin for half an hour, I’ll grab my phone and it will feel like I felt it for the first time, or I’ll go on my laptop, and as my palms first rest on keyboard, be suddenly taken aback. Holy fuck this is what the metal actually feels like.

The world we live in.

Stroke the metal chassis in awe for a bit then go on with my life,3 because hey, I can’t pet my computer all day. What the hell was I feeling while in the cast? When people are high on drugs and report increased sensitivity to touch, taste, and sound, I don’t think their minds are creating some fictitious reality. I think that, like my Nei Gong practice, the drugs chisel away at the self-worn cast. It’s a particular mind-body relationship accessible to anyone willing to strive for it.

I never knew what it felt like to workout the brain until I started Toega (toe yoga); neuroplasticity can quite literally be felt as a localized fatigue in the brain. Other interesting effects happen too, such as fingers instinctively mimicking the actions you’re trying to get your toes to do, due to muddled bodymaps.

So, at the start of 2016 I started wearing barefoot shoes – not the goofy foot ‘gloves’ like Vibram five fingers (the crocs of the minimalist shoe world) – but minimalist shoes with wide toe boxes and ultra thin soles, as well as performing drills for intrinsic foot strengthening, balance, and proprioception. The foot is one hell of a proprioceptive sensory organ, with over 100 muscles and 33 joints, all of which must work and fire properly in relation to one another to dynamically stabilize our entire body weight. It’s astonishing how many upper body and lower body problems are in fact manifested by improper functioning of the foot and ankle. As they are the root of our bodies, taking care of them fixes a lot of structural issues upstream in the body.

When my feet woke up for the first time, a distinctly primal, animalistic feeling overtook me. I looked at my feet and felt connected to my monkey nature unlike ever before. A peculiar form of intelligence became accessible; an entirely new stream of data was plugged into the system. Upgraded. The genius member of the X-Men, the Beast, immediately came to mind, and the fact that he always used his feet suddenly made incredible sense.

I’m sure there are absolutely valid reasons for using orthotics, but I’m also sure they are sometimes prescribed because of the (Western) market’s ‘magic pill’ mentality: “give me something that works NOW (i.e. create an artificial arch in the foot for support) and requires NO effort on my part (i.e. diligently strengthening the musculature over time to create an arch naturally).”

For those in the internal arts, awakening the feet has produced qi sensations in the feet (bubbling spring), much improved grounding, and from that, greater ability to draw energy from the earth.

2. F.lux

Provide this app with your location and it will automatically adjust your screen’s colors to match the setting and rising of the sun. Improved sleep, reduced eye strain, more pleasant experience – JustGetFlux.com. Just get it! And if your phone has a ‘Night Shift’ mode (like iOS does), try enabling that when it’s dark out. It took me a couple weeks to adjust – I now can’t live without it – so I would recommend some time before deciding if you like it or not.

3. Sleep timer

I started using a specific sleep alarm as opposed to a general purpose alarm. A sleep alarm essentially is kept bedside and either listens with a microphone or tracks movement with an accelerometer, to know precisely which stage of REM you are in, and to wake you up at the end of a cycle so you’re refreshed and not groggy. I use the Sleep Timer app on iOS, set my alarm, and it will wake me up at the most optimal time within a 10-20 minute window of the set alarm.

4. No more meat

I never thought I would see the day, but I pretty much stopped eating meat. At the start of 2016, my meals were 80/20 – only 20% had meat in them. In a few weeks that escalated to 95/5, and then 99/1. I still love meat, but only enjoy eating it knowing the animal was treated humanely. Meat should be a luxury, not a right.

I’ve known about cruelty to animals for a long time, read books and watched videos, but it was never quite enough to actually stop me from eating meat. It wasn’t until a pivotal shift in my spiritual practice that I woke up one day and, quite literally, was unable to eat meat. I felt absolutely repulsed by it; the disgust radiated throughout my body. The intellectual knowledge of all the factory farmed animal abuse, my core values against the suffering of animals, had fully integrated into my flesh, became physically embodied.

Knowledge is only a rumor until it lives in the muscle.Proverb of the Asaro tribe of Indonesia and Papua New Guinea

5. No more mattress

In the past few years I’ve needed progressively firmer and firmer surfaces to sleep on. My softening practices have culminated in me ridding myself of my mattress entirely, opting for a 3 in. futon on top of a 2 in. thick tatami mat – I essentially sleep on the floor now, and love it. The softer my body becomes, the more it needs a hard surface to relax against. Think of foam rolling; a firm roller applied to tender areas resolves them of tension – taking a deep breath, you’re reminding your body “shhhh it’s OK, no need to contract.” Similarly, sleeping on a hard surface reinforces this pattern of non-tension holding, a feeling of melting with gravity into the earth.

6. Rolfing

Easily the most transformational bodywork I’ve ever received. Rolfing has had a powerful effect on my entire practice: posture, grounding, gait, mobility, and stretching.

7. Going to the mountain

Finding a Practice and committing to it wholeheartedly.

8. Reverse posturing

I got this term from Mike Reinold who describes it better, but for a long time I’ve half-assed stretching, mobility, and stability training, not really putting enough time into it, or only attacking it from one angle. In 2016, I basically only did this type of work, grew to love it, and it has become my main focus as opposed to just an afterthought.

9. Tao

I started last year not even knowing what Taoism was, and I ended it knowing that to know Taoism is to experience it; the first verse in the Daodejing reads “The Tao that can be spoken of is not the eternal Tao.” The tiny glimpses of the Tao I’ve experienced in my Practice are enough to know this is the most important thing in my life right now.

10. Productivity suite of applications

I found and settled on a nice ecosystem for capturing, storing, and organizing my ideas and writing:

  • Drafts (iOS): this is great for quickly capturing notes on my phone; it has a ton of pre-built integrations so I can easily then export those notes to other apps
  • nvALT (macOS): this is what I use to quickly capture notes when I’m on my Mac
  • Evernote (all): I generally export what I jot down in Drafts or nvALT to Evernote, where I then clean it up, expand upon it, organize, and tag it
  • Ulysses (iOS/macOS): a terrific Markdown editor; what I use to write longer pieces
  • MindNode (iOS/macOS): a really excellent flow chart tool I use for mind mapping
  • OmniFocus (iOs/macOS): a good planning, time organization tool

Runner ups

Neti pot

I picked this up in 2015, but I wanted to mention it anyway because it’s such a game changer; I irrigate my nose often. This thing really provides an immediate, refreshing environment for your nose. Whenever I see a dog with a really wet nose, I can’t help but see it as a sign of health, even if that’s not necessarily the case for dogs4 – for humans, it is a healthy habit! Besides, doesn’t it look like a delicious sensation? My biggest aversion, at first, was thinking it’s ‘unnatural’ to irrigate the nasal passage – but Neti usage can be traced to BC era – and bringing the neti on my travels has revealed how polluted some hotels and cities can be – you may find some disgusting shit being flushed out your nose.

Yoga pants

I’m reluctant to speak of any commercial products, so I’ll keep it short. Lululemon has the most comfortable pants I’ve ever worn, for use in the gym/studio (yoga pants) and in casual/work (ABC pants). They’re on the pricey side, but I’ve worn them a ton over the past year and they’re still in perfect shape. 4-way stretch anti-ball-crushing for life, yo

No aluminum deodorant

One day I just decided to start using natural deodorants. I did no research into it, but figured it’s healthier to not rub aluminum into my pores. Besides, I prefer the more natural, non-aluminum scents.

No fabric softeners

Again, I did no research, but heard fabric softeners were unhealthy – so one day I skipped on fabric softener and dryer sheets, didn’t notice a big difference, and have never used them since. Whatever money I save from not buying fabric softener, I can put towards the slightly more expensive natural deodorants.

Moved to marketing

I feel pretty fortunate to have had the opportunities to hop around in my professional career, from engineering, to sales, and now to marketing. If there’s a consistent thread, it’s that I enjoy being more of a generalist, each foot in a different world. Being in marketing has given me much more understanding of what goes on behind the scenes to create the advertisements and campaigns I see in every day life.

  1. http://www.the-athenaeum.org/art/detail.php?ID=236384
  2. see video and article
  3. let alone how pleasurable skin-on-skin contact feels…
  4. The moistness of your dog’s nose is not an indicator of health – PetMD

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