Firing Up the Inner Gyroscope Once Again - Finding My Center in the Hospital

Ken Gullette in hospital
In my gown with my IV stand at the hospital.

I am writing a book on how the philosophies that I learned during the time I have studied martial arts have guided me through some of the storms of life. 

Last week, I found that I was living a new chapter.

After a break of a few years, I suddenly began coughing up blood on Friday, June 4. We're not talking about the type of coughing up blood that you see in the movies -- a fleck or two in a handkerchief.

When I cough up blood, it looks like someone was shotgunned in my sink. I put a picture up on a blog post around 2015. It was gross.

This began in 2009, after three laser ablation procedures on my heart, attempting to stop atrial fibrillation. Instead, the final procedure shut down my  left pulmonary veins, so no oxygenated blood goes from my left lung to the heart.

How my body has survived the past 12 years, I have no idea, but it hasn't been easy, and it has made martial arts quite a challenge -- only one lung, coughing up blood occasionally, and, to add insult to injury, I developed exercise-induced asthma.

So after three days of coughing up blood, last Monday my pulmonologist told me to get a CT scan. I walked into the hospital, got the scan, and they told me I was to be admitted because of pulmonary embolism -- multiple blood clots in the left lung.

I'm not a doctor, but I know that a blood clot in the lung is not a good thing, and multiple blood clots would be a worse thing.

I was worried that a clot could break off, go to my brain, and cause me to lose my ability to think. If that happened, I would probably start wearing a MAGA hat, or I might start believing in the no-touch knockdown, or I might try to heal you with my qi -- crazy $#!+ like that.

Nancy rushed from work and met me at the ER. I was taken to a room on the sixth floor of Genesis East in Davenport, Iowa. An IV was put into my right arm and they started a Heparin drip. Heparin is a blood thinner.

I thought blood thinners dissolved blood clots but they don't. They keep the clots from getting bigger, and the clots are absorbed into the body over a period of weeks or months. 

Hospital-2021-6
Looking out my hospital window after checking in.

When Nancy left to go home that evening, a rainbow formed outside. Now, I don't read anything supernatural into that, but it was pretty cool. I don't consider it a message from God. Bruce Lee, maybe, but not God.

For the next five days, I was in the hospital. From the start, my goal was to make the nurses laugh. I am always their easiest and most low-maintenance patient. 

But I am also a questioning patient. I don't leave my critical thinking skills at the door of the hospital. When a doctor or nurse says I need something, I ask questions.

One think I have learned over the years is this: you must be your own advocate, because doctors will make mistakes.

I don't want to give you the impression that I rolled through this without getting emotionally smacked around. It was a difficult week. I had been on a plateau for years without coughing up blood. I had a pacemaker installed a year ago and I have had other procedures, but I felt reasonably stable because I had not coughed up blood.

It was very difficult to find myself suddenly back in the hospital with a damned IV in my arm without Nancy.

But I held up pretty well, trying to remain centered and determined to get through it. Two days later, however, when I looked out my window and saw her walking across the parking lot to visit, the tears came, and when she entered the room, I hugged her and sobbed for a minute.

I am 68 years old, with one lung, an irregular heartbeat and a pacemaker, asthma, and I don't really think it gets better from here, does it? Seriously. I have survived and continued to pursue the internal martial arts for 12 years. My doctors have been amazed. And now this? 

Ken's arm after blood draws
My left arm after having blood drawn for five days.

It also didn't help that they were coming in every six or 12 hours to draw blood. You want to talk about centering yourself? If you stick me with a needle, I don't like it. One of the worst things about the hospital is that they are constantly sticking me with needles.

That evening, I tried to keep it together when Nancy said goodnight to go home, and after she left I had a talk with myself. I stood up and did Zhan Zhuang with the IV hose dangling from my arm.

Just breathe. Focus on your Dantien. Sink your energy. Establish peng. Become aware of everything around you.

Remain centered, I reminded myself. Just calm down, find your center, find your determination. Let's get through this. You have been through it before, you can do it again.

Some people misunderstand the concept of being centered. They believe if you are centered, nothing bothers you. No matter what happens, you remain emotionally calm.

They are wrong. Being a human being means you will experience a range of emotions, and if you lean toward Eastern philosophies as I do, you will continue to experience a range of emotions. You can be knocked down emotionally. You can be insulted, you can be hurt, you can be angry.

It is okay to be knocked off-balance, but when you suffer a tragedy or crisis, and you look inside yourself for the tools to survive and cope, what do you find?

When you find yourself off-balance, do you look outside of yourself for help (gods, other people, drugs, alcohol) or do you cultivate the ability within yourself to get back up and regain your balance?

That is what the philosophies of the martial arts, which I first encountered while watching the "Kung Fu" TV show as a teenager, have taught me.

Standing in my room, focusing on my breathing, my Dantien, and realizing I am part of all things made me feel balanced again.  

When you lie in a hospital bed without getting up, your strength leaves the body quickly, so I was taking walks a few times a day around the sixth floor, walking the circuit back to my room, and I noticed a lot of the doors had "Fall Risk" and other signs on them notifying nurses of various predicaments the patients were in.

I created my own sign and placed it on my door. "Tai Chi Risk: Patient prone to sudden calmness."

Within a few minutes of putting it on my door, there was a shift change and my night nurse, Adam, opened the door, laughed, gave the sign a thumbs up and walked away. Two or three other employees over the next few days laughed and commented on the sign.

I took a walk around the floor and told nurses I was the floor supervisor. They laughed. I cracked one-liners to lighten the mood. Dressed in my gown and rolling my IV stand, I told them, "I'm busting out of this joint." More laughter.

Hospital-2021-2One evening on my walk, a frail, elderly woman was in her bed, looking to the hallway. I waved to her and said hello. She waved back and said, "Hi." Sometimes, the elderly are treated like pieces of meat in situations like this, but I know that, like me, they are wondering how the hell they got here. They are thinking, "I was just 18 a moment ago, it seems, and now look at this!" They deserve kindness and respect.

"I hope you get out of here soon," I told her. 

"I hope you do, too," she said.

Doctors were waiting for my Coumadin level to increase before they released me. Coumadin is a risk for me because of my history of coughing up blood since my pulmonary veins closed in 2009. With thinner blood, the risk of bleeding is a real possibility.

I practiced tai chi one day in my room, in my gown with the IV hose dangling off my arm. Do you know how hard it is to do "Lazy About Tying the Coat" without getting tangled in the hose or without pulling the needle out of your arm? I did it very, very carefully.

I kept myself in shape all my life, never took drugs and did martial arts, and all this has happened. We all have to play the hand we are dealt, and if we are lucky enough to grow old, something is going to get us in the end. How we handle it is a test of our character and a test of our belief system.

By Saturday, the doctor decided to release me because the Coumadin level was high enough and it was on the way up. It would be where we wanted it by Sunday, and he told me to go in and get checked on Monday. 

Ken-Nancy-Home-from-Hospital-2021
Home with Nancy after five days!

I got home Saturday afternoon. The entire time I was in that hospital room, I realized how we sometimes take little moments for granted. What I most wanted was to be with Nancy in our basement with the dogs, sipping wine and watching the big screen. Well, I should word that differently. The dogs won't be sipping wine and watching the big screen, Nancy and I will.

I try not to take any moments for granted. But they slip by us anyway. They are here and they are gone. The moments pass and the weeks, months and years pass. Suddenly, we find ourselves in a place where all we want is to get one of those moments back.

I do not believe we encounter anything negative after death. If you subscribe to philosophical Taoism, death is the unknown, so there is no point worrying about it. But what makes sense to me is that we return to the same place we were in before we were born; a state of complete peace. 

If you remember, on the day we were born, none of us had any complaints about where we had been.

So I don't worry about dying. However, I am not in a hurry to get there. I have too much to enjoy -- Nancy, my daughters and grandchildren, my friends, the internal martial arts and my students, Marx Brothers and Laurel & Hardy movies, and every single moment of this life. As long as you don't stick me with a needle. I don't care for that, but I have found that I can bear it if I focus on my breathing and my Dantien.

How can you truly appreciate the good moments of life without the bad moments? It's all part of the journey. Enjoy the journey.

Remain centered, my friends.

-- by Ken Gullette


How to Use Zen Buddhism in Daily Life - "A Handful of Nothing" has 88 Stories Pointing the Way

Handful-Cover-webI began reading, studying, and contemplating Zen Buddhism and philosophical Taoism in the 1970s. It wasn't easy to figure out how to use Zen in my daily life, even with wonderful books such as "Zen Buddhism," by Christmas Humphreys. But I worked on it.

I could find no good Zen books that made it as easy to understand Zen Buddhism as the old Kung Fu TV series did back in the 70s. The writers of that show had the actors portray living versions of Zen koans, stories of a young monk being guided by old masters who imparted their wisdom. I started watching the show for the fight scenes (hey, I was only 19), but became fascinated by the philosophy. After growing up in the racist South in a conservative Christian church that told us we were sinners from the day we were born, the TV series introduced me to an entirely new and peaceful way to look at the world. I wanted to find a book that told me how to use Zen in daily life.

Most of the books I read on Zen Buddhism were abstract, focusing on the paradoxical statements that are designed to shock you out of linear thinking, freeing your mind to see the reality that lies between the lines of logic, statements such as, "What is the sound of one hand clapping?" But that did not help me use Zen in the real world.

I waited fifty years to read a book that makes Zen Buddhism simple, accessible, understandable, and useful in daily life -- a book that is about people facing the problems and challenges of life, religion, ethics, and morality.

So I decided to write it. "A Handful of Nothing" is now available on Amazon. It includes 88 short Zen stories about a young monk in a monastery asking an old master about the questions on his mind -- questions involving Zen, religion, morality, racism, honesty, and more. Through the old master's answers, it provides instruction for all of us. I hope readers take one chapter a day and think about it, then try to adopt the message into their daily lives.

I tend to write books that I want to read. A few years ago, I wrote "Internal Body Mechanics for Taiji, Bagua and Xingyi" because nobody had written a book that explained, in plain English, the body mechanics that make Tai Chi "iron wrapped in cotton." Most books are abstract or focus on Qi instead of the how and why of internal movement.

"A Handful of Nothing" is the book I have wanted to read on Zen Buddhism. If you are interested in this way of seeing the world -- as it is, with no supernatural spin -- I believe you will find this book helpful. With Zen Buddhism, you seek a clear view of reality, with mindfulness, and you treat everyone you meet with compassion, empathy, and kindness. You seek the path to enlightenment with an understanding that our expectations and attachments lead to suffering. You can't live a full life without some suffering, but the goal of Zen is to eliminate as much suffering as possible.

Here is the link to the U.S. Amazon book page:

https://www.amazon.com/Handful-Nothing-Stories-Pointing-Way/dp/B0CTQMNG1B

If you live outside of the United States, you can find it by searching "A Handful of Nothing Ken Gullette" on Amazon in your country.

If you read the book, let me know what you think.

If you are unable to find it on Amazon, you can order it through any bookstore in the world with the book's ISBN number: 979-8-218-36685-8.

--by Ken Gullette


The Young Monk and the New Year's Resolutions

Zen Buddhist Young Monk 1 SmallFrom the upcoming book, "A Handful of Nothing."

The day after the young monk visited the village during the Spring Festival, he was sweeping the hallway near the monastery’s kitchen, trying to remain mindful of his chore, but his mind kept turning to the new year approaching. He knew that people looked ahead to the new year and set goals for personal achievements, but this was not something he had ever done.

The old master emerged from the kitchen with a cup of tea.

“Master,” the monk said, leaning his broom against the wall, “is it wrong to set goals for a new year?”

“What goals would you like to set?”

After thinking a moment, the young monk said, “Success. Enlightenment. Those would be my goals for the new year.”

The master took a sip of tea. “As long as the goals are set mindfully, I would encourage you to align them with your values. The goals should not be pursued with attachment or ego-driven desires.”

“Is a goal of success ego-driven?”

“I would answer your question with a question. What are your daily activities now?”

The monk said, “I meditate, eat, help maintain the monastery, and seek to develop my compassion and kindness, living in the moment, realizing my connection to all things, experiencing life as it unfolds.”

“And what will you do when you find success?”

The monk’s eyes widened. Slowly, he said, “I will meditate, eat, help maintain the monastery, and seek to develop my compassion and kindness, realizing my connection to all things and experiencing life as it unfolds.”

The old master’s face widened in a smile and the young monk was enlightened.

"And now, I am going to work on the only goal I have set," said the master.

"If I may ask, what is your goal?"

"To enjoy this cup of tea," the master said with a smile as he walked toward the garden.

--by Ken Gullette


A Parable: The Zen Master and the Tree

Monk and the Tree 3-800pxIn a serene Zen Buddhist monastery nestled among mist-covered mountains, a young monk approached the master, his heart heavy with defeat.

He had striven for years to understand the nature of the mind, yet enlightenment eluded him, and recent personal tragedies had further clouded his path.

The elderly master led the young monk to a garden where a single tree stood. This tree, once vibrant and full of life, had been struck by lightning, leaving it scarred and half-destroyed.

The master pointed to the tree and asked, "What do you see?"

"A broken tree, master, damaged by misfortune," the young monk said.

"Look closer," said the master.

The monk stepped closer to the tree and examined the trunk. He noticed new shoots emerging from the scars, reaching delicately toward the sky.

"This tree, struck by lightning, faced its own form of tragedy," said the master. "Yet, it persists, finding a way to grow anew amidst its scars. Its branches may be fewer, but each leaf now basks in the sun's embrace with greater strength."

The young monk's eyes widened. 

The master continued, "In life, every one of us encounters moments of tragedy and defeat that scar us deeply. Yet, like this tree, our true nature is not in the tragedy, but in how we rise and grow from the damage of our experiences. What we seek, young monk, is not to avoid all damage. Instead, we seek to embrace each tragedy and defeat as a chance to rise stronger."

The young monk was enlightened. He thanked the master and walked from the garden, contemplating the root, the internal strength, that would allow him to grow anew.


Toxic Masculinity and Martial Arts: What Does It Mean to be a Real Man?

Toxic Masculinity
The cover of a recent catalog for Century Martial Arts

"Hey Four Eyes!"

I didn't even have to turn around to know a bully was targeting me.

I turned.

He was obviously older, taller and heavier. Two smaller young tough guys were behind him.

"Yeah, you, pussy."

His two toadies glared at me with looks that said, "You're about to get your butt kicked."

My two younger and smaller cousins, Bobby and Mike (ages 11 and 10) were with me in front of the drugstore in downtown Wilmore, Kentucky. We had just enjoyed a vanilla Coke at the drugstore's fountain and looked at some of the comic books on the spinning wire racks.

The bully saw us when we walked out onto the sidewalk that ran up Main Street. Now he was taunting and following a little too close. "I'm gonna kick your ass."

We walked behind the drugstore and the bully and his buddies followed, his insults growing louder. We found ourselves on a gravel parking lot behind the building.

"Kenny, that's the sheriff's son," my cousin Mike whispered. "He's the town bully. He's 17 YEARS OLD!"

As usual, being a bit scrawny and friendly, always looking to smile and make jokes, I had been targeted again. If I stood in a crowd of 20 guys and a bully walked up, his eyes would focus on me like the radar on a guided missile. Every time. You could take it to the bank.

On the small gravel parking area I turned to face him, realizing there was a chance I was going to encounter some serious violence. Four years is a big age difference when you're 13. But I did have one thing going for me.

I didn't want to fight. I tried to avoid the fight. But once the fight began, I loved it. A fight was the ultimate one-on-one challenge. When the first punch was thrown, I always calmed down. I had some kind of inner confidence in myself. Where it came from, I'm not sure. I recognized the possibility of losing, but I couldn't visualize defeat. And I didn't really believe it would happen. I did not have a mental image of myself that included the option of being beaten up. I knew I would somehow find a way to win.

But I still didn't want to fight. I wasn't stupid. There was always a chance I could be hurt by a bully.

It was a tough position to be in.

I took off my glasses and handed them to Bobby. My mom would be pissed if I broke my glasses.

Jimmy was bouncing as he approached quickly and pushed me. He danced away, laughing and calling me names worse than "pussy." He bounced back up and slapped me across the face, then danced away laughing. He came up again and pushed me down. I caught myself as I crashed to the ground. The gravel scraped my palms. I got back up and picked a piece of gravel off my palm where it had been embedded. My hand was bleeding.

This went on for what seemed to be 45 minutes. The new scratches on my face were stinging. But I really didn't want to fight a 17-year-old.

He danced up again maybe the twelfth time and punched me on the side of the head as I ducked. I had to face facts. If I did nothing, I really was going to take a beating.

We have a story we tell ourselves in situations like this. "If I defend myself, if I take action, it will really make him angry. I'll really be in trouble. So maybe if I do nothing, he won't hurt me."

That is a myth, of course. 

The big guy was bouncing and laughing, feeling like he was going to have an easy victory.

Alright, here goes, I thought to myself. I have to do something.

Jimmy came dancing up again, laughing like a maniac, and when he got in range, I unleashed my right fist and it caught him right in the nose.

CRACK!

He staggered back, stunned. His eyes were watering and he looked terrified. His hands went to his face.

"YOU HIT ME!" he shouted in pain. "YOU HIT ME!"

He began scrambling to back away, but I was walking toward him, feeling pretty determined.

"No! No!" he shouted, tears running down his face. "Don't hit me again! Don't hit me again! You win! I'm leaving!"

I was surprised, standing there with Bobby and Mike behind me, watching Jimmy, now the Former Town Bully, run away with his two toadies following after him, glancing behind them to make sure I wasn't coming for revenge.

My cousins were jumping up and down like they had bet money on me to win.

The mean streets of Wilmore, Kentucky, population 2,300, were safe again.

Why do I tie this story into a post about toxic masculinity?

Because the voices of guys like Jimmy make a lot of noise on social media, particularly on martial arts sites and pages. They are keyboard bullies and they criticize videos, accuse other martial artists of being weak, belittle you with "laugh" emojis, and they use the same common language like, "Try that against an MMA fighter," or "Take that into a cage and you'll be killed."

Jimmy's voice is also prominent now in politics, with guys who have a misguided idea of masculinity. They make fun of men who have replaced camo with compassion, braggadocio with humility, and racism with respect. If you are concerned about the hardships others face, you are accused of being less than a "real" man.

The bullies who call themselves "real" men want to say what they want, about anyone they want, when they want, and if you don't like it you are nothing but a woke pussy. 

What does it take to be a real man? Does the young, normal kid on the cover of the Century Martial Arts catalog a couple of years ago (pictured above) really want to become the hulking, bearded, slightly menacing guy with the black belt in the mirror?

Toxic Masculinity2I saw an ad for a men's workout program on Facebook last week and the guy selling the program posed with a gun, dressed in camo, with bulging muscles that looked to be straight out of a steroid injection, and a German Shepherd by his side.

Is that what it means to be a man? Is that what it means to be fit?

Does strength come from the size of your muscles or the quality of your character? What is the meaning of "Internal Strength" in this context?

In the Tao Te Ching, Chapter 67 has been interpreted as suggesting that true stength and leadership come from kindness, humility, and generosity.

When you are good to people, empathetic with people whose color or religious beliefs are different from yours, and when you are aware of how words can hurt, it takes strength to decide to move through this world and leave something positive in your wake. Each day, everywhere I go, I look for ways to be kind to people.

Can you be a "real" man as you do good and be kind?

Josh Hawley is a U.S. Senator who has a new book out called "Manhood." You might remember Josh. He is the one who raised his fist to salute the mob on January 6 that tried to violently overturn our democracy. Josh raised his fist to salute the mob and not long afterwards was seen running for his life to get away from the mob. It was captured on video.

But there are a lot of people Josh doesn't like. Gay people, trans people, non-Christians, immigrants trying to find a better life, poor people -- the list of people Josh Hawley doesn't like is a long one. If you have empathy for some of the people Josh doesn't like, he thinks you're a woke pussy. 

He saluted the violent mob and then ran for his life.

I don't think Josh has very much he can teach me about manhood.

That's why I have my own definition of manhood. And it's the definition I try to live by. 

It is "quiet confidence."

As I grew up, I tried to develop the qualities in myself to greet everyone with a sense of humor, with politeness, kindness, and fairness. I worked on making myself more empathetic to the problems and needs of people who are different than I. If I made a mistake, I owned up to it. When I was a "boss," I tried to treat people fairly and help them succeed in their careers. I'm still working on myself. We are all works in progress.

A general manager who hired me to run the newsroom in his TV station told me, "One thing I like about you is that you are as nice as you can be, and you are as tough as you have to be."

I've tried to behave that way as a martial arts teacher, too.

In my day-to-day life, I try to be aware of what is going on around me, and I know that if someone is in physical danger, or being emotionally mistreated in my presence, I will take action. 

When someone is with me they are safe. I don't announce it. I don't have to announce it. They might not even be aware of it. But they are safe when they are with me. 

I don't have the need to look tougher than you or act tougher than you. You might be tougher than I am. That isn't even a concern. You're training for a full-contact cage match? Good luck. It doesn't change who I am. And your self-esteem shouldn't be affected by what I'm working on in the arts.

I cry at movies. Hell, I'm so sentimental, I cry when they show the "Turn Off Your Cell Phone" announcement at movies.

I raised my daughters to have a sense of humor, to understand they are loved, and they turned into women who feel compassion for others.

I treat my wife with love and try to help her live a fulfilled life, like she does me.

I seek to feel the pain felt by people who have suffered from racism. I hurt when I know people are up against the wall and can't afford to meet basic living expenses.

In the classic story by Charles Dickens, A Christmas Carol, Ebenezer Scrooge is cruel, stingy, and critical of people who are poor. But through a series of ghostly visitors who make him look at the past, the present and the future, Scrooge "awakens" to the true meaning of life. At the end of the movie he is "woke" and he helps ease the suffering of others. He becomes a good man by the end of the story.

There is a reason Scrooge's story is so popular. The message resonates with people. We want to be better people, more kind and generous. The bad guys are the ones who are cruel and stingy. The bad guys are the ones who are not woke.

"The Buddha" is a name that means "one who has awakened." The Buddha was born into a rich family and he was shocked and horrified when he became aware of the suffering of others. He became woke and devoted the rest of his life to teaching people how to achieve enlightenment and ease their own suffering.

Our society is in a defining moment, when some "leaders" are trying to tell us that if we become awakened to the pain and needs of others, and we do something about it, we are "woke" and that means we are their enemies. Ron DeSantis is waging a "War on Woke." To him, to Josh Hawley and many other guys like them, I am not a real man.

Tonight, coming home from dinner with a brutal heat index of 110 degrees, a mentally ill woman was sitting outside on a sidewalk on one of the busiest streets in town, talking to herself. I spotted her as we drove by. I stopped and bought a cold bottle of Gatorade at a nearby store and took it to her. She was sitting in the grass next to the sidewalk, babbling incoherently about finding her lighter. She took the Gatorade and poured it on her head. I called 9-1-1 and police were sending a patrolman to see that she is alright.

It would have haunted me to pass on by to leave her sitting in the heat. How many cars passed her by? How many people saw her and were thinking critical thoughts about a poor homeless woman talking to herself?

Am I less of a man? 

Live your philosophy. If you are a Christian, love your neighbor. If you are a Buddhist, ease people's suffering. I lean toward Eastern philosophy, so I want to remain centered and do good and be kind. There is no other meaning of life greater than this, in my opinion.

Chapter eight of the Tao Te Ching says, "The highest form of goodness is like water. Water knows how to benefit all things without striving with them."

As a great man once said, "Be water, my friends."

I would much rather have a drink and joke around with guys like Jimmy, the town bully, rather than fight.

But if Jimmy decides he's a real man and tells me I'm not because I don't behave like he does, or because I don't do his martial art, or because I look weaker, or he says I'm a "pussy" for caring about others, or because I try not to say things that hurt other people, he's not being a real man. He's not being a "true martial artist." He's a bully, plain and simple.

And you know what happens to bullies. Here's a secret: They aren't really very strong inside. Right, Jimmy?

--by Ken Gullette


Five Ways of Centering Yourself During Anxious or Negative Times

Taoism SandIf you have listened to my podcast, you'll hear me encourage listeners to "remain centered at all times."

In Taoist philosophy, one of the fundamental principles is to find balance and harmony within yourself and with the world around you. To center yourself in the face of anxiety about the future, here are some recommendations:

  1. Focus on the present moment: Instead of worrying about what the future might bring, focus on what you can do in the present moment to take care of yourself and your needs. This might mean practicing mindfulness or meditation such as qigong to help quiet your mind and bring your attention to the present. If you are washing your car, sweeping the floor or reading a book, focus on that one thing and if stray thoughts cross your mind, let them go and refocus to that one thing.

  2. Let go of attachments: In Taoism, as in Buddhism, it is believed that attachment to things outside of ourselves can lead to suffering. Instead, try to let go of attachments to outcomes or expectations and focus on living in the present moment with an open mind and heart. It can be very damaging to tie your happiness to any one thing, such as a job, or the amount of money you have, or a relationship. The more we attach to an idea or a thing, the more the loss of that thing can knock us mentally off-balance. This doesn't mean you should not care about people and relationships or money or achievement, just realize that happiness comes from within you, not what something else gives you.

  3. Cultivate gratitude: Focusing on what you are grateful for in your life can help shift your perspective from anxiety to a more positive outlook. Try making a short list of things you are grateful for each day, no matter how small they may seem. To people who are not religious, like me, "grateful" can be a loaded term. Grateful to who, or what? Perhaps a better term is "appreciate." Cultivate appreciation for the things you have. Remember, happiness does not depend on getting the things you want, it is wanting the things you've got. Sheryl Crow said that, I believe. 

  4. Practice self-care: Taking care of your physical and emotional well-being is essential to finding balance and harmony. Make time for activities that bring you joy, such as spending time in nature, practicing tai chi or exercise, or engaging in creative pursuits.

  5. Embrace change: Change is a natural part of life, and resisting it can cause anxiety and stress. Instead, try to embrace change as an opportunity for growth and learning. Trust in the natural ebb and flow of life, and have faith that you will be able to handle whatever the future may bring. Very often, the events that seem the most negative turn out to be very positive, as long as you "go with the flow" and persist through what you see as negative times. I lost a job in Cincinnati and moved to Omaha in 1987. At first, I considered myself a failure for losing the job and ending up in Omaha. But it was in Omaha that I met my first internal arts teacher. If I had not lost my job, I may never have been connected with these great arts. You can't stop change. It is constant. Roll with it, baby.

Remember, finding balance and centering yourself is an ongoing process that requires practice and patience. It takes real effort. By incorporating these Taoist principles into your daily life, you can learn to cultivate a sense of peace and calm in the face of anxiety about the future.

--by Ken Gullette


A Trip to the Oral Surgeon is a Reminder of the Importance of Mindfulness and Centering

Dental ImplantI had two teeth pulled yesterday and an implant screwed into my jaw -- all in the same appointment.

It used to take two appointments and two or three months to get an implant done, but new techniques have reduced the time.

This experience showed me again how important it is to be mindful and remain centered.

You see, very often the expectation of something makes us more distressed and unhappy than the actual event itself.

This is my third dental implant. The first one was a miserable experience. I remained awake even though I was numbed up with novocaine. There were moments when the pressure was so great, and the stress on my jaw was so intense, I was convinced it would crack at any moment. The surgeon put the screw in and used some type of socket wrench, jerking my head with each pull.

When it's over, I love my dental implants. With the crowns, they are better and more solid than my real teeth. The process of getting them is the rough part. And while they heal in your head, you have to avoid eating on that side of your mouth for a couple of months. 

This time, with two teeth being removed and then getting screwed, I opted for the IV sedative. Just knock me out, thank you. It costs more than $900 for the sedative? No problem. It's money well-spent.

As the day approached, however, I found myself worrying, not about the procedure itself as much as the aftermath. How much pain medication would I need? How loopy would I be on the pain meds? How hard will it be to eat only on the right side of my mouth?

The comedian Rita Rudner had a quote about exercise, but I apply it to medical procedures. Some people say "No Pain, No Gain!" But Rita had the right idea. Her slogan was "No Pain, No Pain!" 

Each time the worry would arise, I would center myself -- put part of my mind on my Dan T'ien -- and reminded myself to relax and focus on what I was doing at that moment. Be mindful and calm. Center yourself, Grasshopper.

I worked on this for a couple of days and I believe it helped.

Finally, the appointment arrived. I waited in the outer waiting room for an hour before I was taken to the operating room. Then I sat for over half-an-hour in the chair as the surgeon finished another patient, I listened to the music he had playing in the operating room. I told the nurse how much I enjoyed the songs. She said it was Dr. Lee's playlist.

When Dr. Lee finally entered with a couple of nurses, I said, "Hey, hey! You're interrupting my music!"

He laughed. We talked about one of the songs I had never heard before, "Strange American Dream" by Rayland Baxter, and he promised to share his Spotify playlist with me.

I hate being stuck with IV needles. When I was in Cleveland Clinic 15 years ago, they had a policy of changing the IV needle every couple of days. Since that time, being stuck with the IV needle is one of my least favorite things. But Dr. Lee took my arm and the needle went in painlessly.

They started the sedation and I told them it wasn't going to work on me.

Then I woke up and Dr. Lee was finishing the procedure. Because of one lung, my oxygen level had dropped a bit so they let the sedation up sooner than usual.

I went home with Nancy driving, and when the numbness wore off later in the day, there was very little pain. And now, a day later, I'm eating on the right side of my mouth and I haven't had to take one pain pill. Not one.

This is not what I was expecting.

Modern medicine is pretty cool. And so is mindfulness and centering. 

A lot of our happiness or unhappiness is created by expectations. We need this and this and this to be happy. If I get this job, I'll be happy. If I live in a home like that, I'll be happy.

If this happens, I'll be unhappy. If this relationship fails, my life is ruined. If I lose this job, I'm screwed.

But that's not being screwed. Being screwed is when they put a frikkin' implant in your face!!

Just kidding. But we expect that all these events are going to be horrible!

As usual, the bad things we fear are not always as bad as our expectations make them out to be. This is true, I believe, with everything from dental appointments to losing a job to death itself.

I've lost jobs, I've lost marriages, and I've had dental appointments. I'm still able to have fun, enjoy life, and to be honest, I found a much better marriage than I had before. 

When you have things coming up in your life that you assume are going to be horrible, just calm your mind, focus on something you are doing or on something fun, and really focus the mind. Let thoughts that worry you come up, acknowledge them, and then re-focus your mind on the present. Be engaged with the moment, and enjoy it.

It isn't easy. Talking about mindfulness and being centered is easy, but putting these concepts into action on a daily basis requires a little work.

It pays off in the end.

--by Ken Gullette


A Warrior in the Garden -- Why Peaceful People Learn Martial Arts

Lucky Smile 2
My dog Lucky smiling as he greets my wife. His smile says, "I am not aggressive."

My dog Lucky smiles when Nancy or I get home from work or other errands. He is a strong, 55-pound Labrador/Pit Bull mix who could tear one of us apart if he wanted, but instead, he smiles at us when he greets us.

I didn't know why he does this, so I looked it up because someone who doesn't know Lucky might think he is baring his teeth, ready to eat them alive.

When dogs do this, it is called a "Submissive Smile." It is their way of communicating, "I am not aggressive."

I found out about this "Submissive Smile" and realized I do the same thing. When I encounter a stranger, I smile, nod or say hello, even when I just pass someone in the cereal aisle at the grocery store, among the boxes of Cocoa Puffs and Honey Smacks.

I am always quick with a joke or a light comment to put people at ease. I like for people around me to relax and have fun.

Perhaps I'm communicating, "I am not aggressive" in my own friendly way.

I once told someone, "I am a man of peace." The person replied, "Then why do you study violent martial arts?"

It's a fair question.

There is an ancient Chinese saying that goes like this:

"It is better to be a warrior in the garden than a gardener in the war."

So why have I been obsessed with learning martial arts for nearly 50 years? Punches, kicks, blocks and deflections, joint locks, takedowns -- the art of self-defense is fun for me.

A man of peace?  

In truth, I never want to fight again. My last fight was at age 18 in 1971, when I finally confronted a bully -- Rob Brewster -- who had tried to terrorize me with a couple of bully buddies -- Dan Cotter and Tom Prentiss -- for years. It didn't go well for Robby. He ran away after a couple of punches in the nose. It is now 51 years later, and other than tournament matches, I have not had a violent encounter with anyone.

Something interesting happened in my mind when I was a kid and had to fight a bully. I enjoyed it. I tried to avoid a fight, but if I could not peacefully walk away, there was something about fighting a bully that felt like important things were being tested within me -- my inner strength, my determination, my fighting skill, and also my self-confidence.

I never lost a fight..

If you study martial arts like I do, and you push your body to learn how to creatively and effectively apply the techniques against another person, it doesn't make you a violent person. I almost consider martial arts to be like a puzzle. When a bully attacks you, it is a problem that has a solution.

When I competed in sparring at tournaments, or in the full-contact Toughman Contest, my goal was to size up my opponent as quickly as I could, figure out his strengths and weaknesses, and then avoid his strengths and exploit his weaknesses. It was a puzzle, a mystery I had to solve very quickly or I would lose the match.

I don't compete anymore. I would love to compete, but as I approach the age of 70 in three months, I am forced to realize those days are behind me. I still work with my students on the puzzle -- the mystery -- because it is fun to build and maintain these skills, and to see how all the movements and techniques in our arts can work if you need them for self-defense.

And so I become the warrior in the garden. I have the ability and the skills to fight, but I focus on living a good life, cultivating my relationships and my own personal fulfillment, spiritual nourishment, and enjoyment of life. My writing and teaching and my wonderful marriage became my garden.

A garden is peaceful, pleasant and without stress. We want everyone to enjoy the garden with us.

But don't make the mistake of thinking we are simply gardeners.

If the moment arises when we need to protect ourselves or our loved ones, the warrior steps out of the garden, ready to help.

--by Ken Gullette


Remaining Centered When the Ceiling Collapses

IMG_0135Do you know the story of the Buddha and the 84 problems?

The Buddha was passing through a village and a farmer wanted to ask some questions. The farmer asked if the Buddha could make it rain so his crops would grow. The Buddha said, "No, I cannot help you with that."

The farmer asked if the Buddha could get his son not to move away from the farm to the city, so the farmer would have someone to help him with his crops. The Buddha said, "No, I cannot help you with that."

The farmer told the Buddha that he owed money to some people, and asked the Buddha if he could get the people to stop demanding payment until the farmer could save more money. The Buddha said, "No, I cannot help you with that."

The farmer was getting angry. "What good is Buddhism if it can't help me with these problems?"

The Buddha said, "Everyone has 83 problems. I can't help you with those. I can, however, help you with the 84th problem."

The farmer thought for a moment and asked, "What the hell is the 84th problem?"

The Buddha replied, "Thinking you should not have 83 problems."

Nancy and I narrowly escaped serious injury almost two weeks ago when our living room and dining room ceiling collapsed with no warning.

We had been drinking coffee and reading the paper at the dining room table, as we do every Sunday morning. At around 9:00 a.m. I decided to go to my office to prepare for a video shoot for my website. Nancy hit the shower.

About seven minutes later, the house shook with a loud CRASH! At first, I thought Nancy fell in the shower, but then I noticed the crash lasted a bit too long for that.

I stepped out of my office, looked up the hallway and saw what you see in these pictures. 

The sheet rock and insulation came down. I tried to pick up a large piece of the sheet rock and it was heavier than I expected. That's when I realized how lucky we were. Nancy often goes to the couch to look at her laptop at that time of morning on Sunday. If she had been there, she would have been hurt (or worse).

I went to where she was and tried not to alarm her. I said, "Nancy, we have a problem."

We walked down the hall to survey the damage. We were both stunned, and immediately, my decades of training kicked in and I centered myself. 

We have our homeowners insurance through State Farm. A couple of people with State Farm told us that our policy doesn't cover ceiling collapse, especially if it was caused by "shoddy workmanship." And apparently, houses built in our area during the 1970s sometimes had ceilings that were nailed up, not secured with screws. Over time, those nails can loosen and the sheet rock can fall. 

The day after it happened, Nancy called a number for State Farm. The man on the other end said, "We don't cover ceiling collapses." Then he asked, "Do you want me to close out your claim now?"

Isn't that strange? Fortunately, she said no. 

I worked in the news business for 22 years, so I know a good story when I see one. If more homes in our area have the potential for this type of disaster, I would want to know, so I contacted two TV stations and we were the lead story on KWQC-TV, the NBC affiliate in town, and on WQAD-TV, the ABC affiliate in town. Check out the story on KWQC-TV Check out the story on WQAD-TV.

After these stories were broadcast, I received a call from State Farm assuring me that a final decision had not been made, and I would receive a letter to that effect. I'm not sure what good it does me to get a letter saying a decision has not yet been made. I was in public relations for a while, so I do understand why they needed to respond that way.

But the horror stories started coming in. Friends who had been dropped by their insurance for making claims; friends who had been refused payment by their insurance company. I saw that State Farm made $3.4 billion dollars profit in a recent year. That is "billion" with a B. 

It is now almost two weeks since the collapse. We had the mess cleaned up (mostly) within four days. State Farm sent an insurance adjuster out and he explained that we would likely be covered if we had put heavy stuff in the attic and it fell through. 

I told him we didn't put anything in the attic. Apparently since we did not put anything in the attic, we wouldn't be covered if the ceiling collapsed.

IMG_0137 (2)He asked if we had water damage, because if the roof leaked and water caused the ceiling to collapse, it would be covered.

But we put a new roof on the house three years ago. We did it because we DIDN'T WANT water damage. Apparently if there was water damage and the ceiling collapsed, it would not be covered.

Someone with State Farm told us it isn't covered if it is shoddy workmanship. But our house has stood for 48 years. I'm not sure that would qualify as shoddy workmanship.

Our home was owned by one couple before us. When we bought the house, it had to undergo a home inspection. The inspector signed off on everything, including the ceilings. If the construction in Moline, Illinois was a problem for homes built in the 1970s, why didn't the inspector know it? Why didn't he warn us? Why did State Farm insure the home (even though the contract does provide a lot of exclusions for ceiling collapse)? And why didn't anyone inform us that this could potentially be a problem?

I called the man who inspected our home when we bought it. He says he never heard of a ceiling collapsing like this. But the ceiling repair guys say they see it regularly.

Who do you believe?

Sometimes, you follow the money. Who benefits if houses have this construction issue and it passes the inspector, the realtors and the insurance company, which has an exemption in the policy for ceiling collapses unless the collapse is caused by specific things. How many people make money off the sale and insuring of this home?

You are supposed to be safe in your home. Who expects their ceiling to collapse on them?

It's not easy to remain centered when you feel as if you are in a Joseph Heller novel, caught in a Catch-22. 

A family bought the home next to us last year. The husband did a lot of work for weeks to get their home ready for them to move in. I walked next door and showed him the pictures you see on this post. He said he realized the ceilings in his home were built the same way, so before they moved in, he fixed all the ceilings.

Again, it makes me wonder why Nancy and I are the last to know about this?

The investigation is still officially underway by State Farm. Today, a structural engineer came by the house, along with our insurance agent, who explained that they are looking for a reason to cover the collapse. We probably won't know for another 10 days. I am hoping they do the right thing and I will provide an update when we find out.

Meanwhile, our ceiling in the living room and dining room is a plastic sheet. A ceiling expert came over to give us an estimate and he said the ceilings through the house would need to be worked on to support them. He went into my office, where I am writing this. He stood on a step-ladder and pushed up on the ceiling. It gave and creaked a little bit. That is not what I wanted to see.

I am sitting here with the knowledge that the ceiling above me could crash down, too. You know, it isn't paranoia if your house IS actually trying to kill you.

The estimate for fixing the ceilings is $13,500, and if State Farm doesn't pay, that will come out of our pocket.

Chicken Little was right! The sky really IS falling. But if you look at it from the lesson of what Buddha was saying, why not? Some people experience this kind of disaster in their home. This time it happened to me.

Maybe that's my 83rd problem.

So I was able to remain calm and like with any crisis in life, take one step at a time, put my head down and get through it.

I will provide an update on whether State Farm is really like a good neighbor.

This has had an impact on my practice for the past couple of weeks, although I did teach two classes Wednesday. I should be back on my regular schedule by Monday.

It seems a bit ironic that you can die in your living room.

Remain centered, my friends. Don't let your 83 problems get you down.

--by Ken Gullette


Peering into the Void: Death and Taoism -- the Internal Fighting Arts Interview with Taoist Monk Yun Rou

Yun RouTaoist Monk Yun Rou is facing a serious health situation; a brain fungus that is usually fatal. 

So how does your philosophy of life serve you as you stand at the edge of the cliff looking into eternity?

Will it give you peace or will there be anxiety or uncertainty? In your philosophy or religion, does the possibility of judgment exist? Is there the chance you will be eternally punished, even tortured? Will you expect to stand before a god with a long white beard who is looking at a book with all your thoughts and actions written in it? Or will you approach the end knowing that there is nothing to fear?

For the past 13 years, I have been in a tenuous health situation, which I've written about many times. When I found out that Yun Rou, a Taoist monk, was facing a similar situation, I thought that I finally had someone I could talk with about a heavy issue that is difficult to understand until you are facing it yourself.

Monk Yun Rou is the guest on the 63rd edition of the Internal Fighting Arts podcast. Follow the link to the podcast page where you can listen online or download the episode.  


In the Concrete Jungle of Chicago, a Flower of Kindness Blooms

Do Good Be Kind Ken Nancy
Nancy and I wearing our "Do Good. Be Kind." shirts.

Rob and Kathryn Swarczewski of the Chicago area deserve a salute. In a city that has a reputation as a dangerous place, they showed two strangers -- Nancy and me -- kindness and generosity. Here is the story.

I rarely find myself in a situation where I have no idea what to do. It is unknown territory. I am always confident I can handle any situation. Like water, I'll find a way around an obstacle.

But when United Airlines left Nancy and me twisting in the wind in Chicago last week, I was at a loss.

We were flying home from Philadelphia, where we spent four days seeing sights and, while Nancy went shopping, I spent four hours each day at a great Taijiquan workshop by Nabil Ranné, who had flown in from Germany.

The first leg of the return flight on Monday evening, May 16 was from Philly to Chicago. Due to severe weather, we sat in the plane on the tarmac for nearly 90 minutes in Philly before taking off. We were supposed to change planes at O'Hare for the trip home to Moline, but severe weather elsewhere disrupted the system and United cancelled our connecting flight.

Around 8:30 p.m. we got off the plane in Chicago and found ourselves stranded. There would be no flight available to Moline for at least 24 hours. Our luggage was on the plane, and to make matters worse, my heart medication was on the carry-on bag that they made me check before boarding the plane. Since we were in the cheap seats (economy) the plane ran out of carry-on room before we boarded. I would need my heart medication the following morning. This presented a problem. It seemed like a slap from United. "You should have paid more for better seats!"

I had seen many news stories about passengers having to camp out in airports because of cancelled flights. It had never happened to us.

It was roughly a three-hour drive to our home from the airport. There had to be a way to get home.

We almost walked out of the airport to see about a cab to take us to any nearby hotel that was available. Two security guards warned me I was about to leave the secure area and I would not be able to get back in, so Nancy and I sat down on the concrete floor against a wall to consider our options. People walked past, staring at us. 

My mind went blank. It was the strangest feeling. My mind is never blank. It had been a very busy five days (including travel) and I had worked hard at the workshop. After a few moments sitting on the floor against the wall, we admitted we had no plan, then trudged back to the United Customer Service desk in a different concourse. The line of people at the counter stretched 50 yards down the hallway. Connecting flights had been cancelled for a lot of people. We found the back of the line and by that time I was mulling some options:

One -- We need a place to stay. How about a hotel? But we have none of our toiletries or medicine. It was all in the luggage. As we stood in line, I checked local hotels on my phone. The cheapest room was $149. There would be taxi or Uber charges, if the hotel had a vacancy. Then there would be food costs. And no medicine. It wasn't the money that bothered me, it was the expense that would still leave us with no flight and no medicine the following day. This would not work.

Two -- I could try to get my medicine off the plane. I found out this would take a minimum of three or four hours, maybe more. That would leave us without a room at 1:30 a.m. at the earliest. 

Three -- We could wait for the medicine to come off the plane and then camp out at the airport. For 24 hours? No way.

Then I thought perhaps we could get an Uber ride to Moline. I checked and a driver was listed for $219, not including tip. That seemed reasonable. We could get home in three hours, sleep in our bed and have medicine. I would tip the driver handsomely.

I scheduled Uber to pick us up. The message from Uber said the driver would meet us at Level A. We scrambled down the hallways looking for Level A, where the driver was going to be. Walking fast down the large hallways, I was breathing like a freight train due to my silly one-lung situation, feeling a lack of oxygen and gasping for air. A few hours ago, I was sweating through the fourth day of a martial arts workshop with cramping quadraceps and dwindling energy. I was ready to stop for the day.

We walked out and saw where the cars were coming around. A couple was standing outside waiting for a car. They were strangers. It was Rob and Kathryn Swarczewski.

"Excuse me, is this Level A?" I asked. "Our flight was cancelled, we're hiring an Uber to take us to Moline. They are supposed to be at Level A."

According to my memory, Rob said yes, it was Level A. I thanked them and turned my attention back to my Uber app.

A moment later, the driver called.

"Where are you going?" he asked.

"Moline, Illinois," I said.

"Oh. I don't want to drive that far," he replied. "Sorry."

I couldn't blame him. A six-hour round trip that would take most of the night? Oh well. It would have been a really large tip. 

Suddenly, we were back at square one, looking at each other and wondering what to do.

As we stood there, Rob and Kathryn walked up. Rob observed that we appeared stressed and they needed to get their car situation straightened out, but he would be glad to drive us to Moline if we needed a ride.

I was floored. It was my "Do Good. Be Kind." mantra coming to life. 

"What a kind offer," I said. Surely there was something we could do that wouldn't impose such a burden, even to someone generous enough to make the offer. 

Rob asked for my cell number. He texted me his name so I would also have his number.

"If you can't find a way home," he said, "just call and I'll give you a ride."

We thanked him. As we walked away, Nancy's eyes were red and watery. She said, "That was the kindest thing."

These were people I was happy to meet. Two people who didn't know us from Adam (and Eve), extending compassion, ready to help shoulder our problem. It was awe-inspiring.

Then I thought we should check rental cars. Would they even be open this late to rent a car? Would they rent one for a one-way trip?

We made our way through the terminal to the Rental Car area, stood in line at Avis only to be told they were out of one-way cars.

"Try Hertz," the woman at the counter suggested.

We waited at the Hertz line and saw a couple of people rent cars on the spot. When it was our turn, we were told that yes, they could give us a car to drive one-way to Moline for $400.

Wow! 400 bucks? Luckily, I wear a pacemaker, so if my heart stopped for a couple of seconds it would zap me back to life.

I didn't hesitate. "Sold!"

We made the payment, got our papers, then walked into the parking garage and picked out a car, a Chevy Malibu, fired it up and began the three-hour trip West on I-88 across Illinois to Moline.

On my phone, a text message had appeared from Rob, repeating his offer: if we couldn't find a way home, let him know and he would drive us.

Blown away. That's what I was. I didn't respond at that moment. I was a man on a mission. Nancy and I were hungry, tired, and looking forward to sleeping in our own bed. 

Around halfway, my plan was to stop at the Dekalb Oasis, a popular place for travelers that included a gas station, convenience store, restrooms and a McDonald's. We needed dinner, and I thought a Quarter-Pounder with Cheese sounded good.

We pulled off into the Oasis at around 11:30 p.m. and discovered the McDonald's closed at 11:00.

"Okay, that does it," I told Nancy. "After all we've gone through today, the McDonald's is closed? How can I be centered? I'm going to lose my $#!+." 

She laughed. We got drinks and some Chex Mix in the gas station and continued on our way. We arrived home at 1:30 in the morning. It was luxurious to stand in my own shower and crawl into my own bed. I think I was out when my head hit the pillow.

The next morning, I drove the rental car to the Quad Cities airport, which is less than 10 minutes from our house, dropped off the car to Hertz, went to the United desk and was told our baggage was on a flight that was arriving in 40 minutes. We had not been offered this flight because it was fully booked.

I stayed, ate breakfast, and got our luggage when it arrived, then went to the parking lot, found our car in long-term parking, and drove home.

As our headlights cut through the night on I-88 the night before, Nancy and I kept bringing up Rob and Kathryn, and how stunned we were that we ran across two good people like that at the moment we were at a loss; two people who were ready to help strangers.

I contacted Rob this morning by text before writing this blog post. He let me know that today is their 36th wedding anniversary.

There are a lot of good people like Rob and Kathryn Swarczewski in the world. Yes, even in Chicago. They don't always get as much publicity in the media as the people who do bad things, but they deserve to be recognized and saluted. This is my way of doing that and also saying "Happy Anniversary." In just a couple of minutes, Rob and Kathryn made an impression on us that we won't forget.

As you go about your day, I hope you will do what I am going to do, fueled by their inspiration. I will look for opportunities to be kind to people in ways that will brighten their world, too.

-- by Ken Gullette