The 5 Tibetans has a world-wide following. If you go to the internet and type in “5 Tibetans,” hundreds of videos, web-sites, and commentaries will pop up. The focus of a majority of those artifacts is exercise, a perfectly reasonable aspiration considering the number of positive health effects that have been linked to a regular practice of the postures. I am absolutely more fit than I was even when I worked out at the gym 3 times a week. Participants in our 5 Tibetans Work- shop seminars have reported significant physical gains, including reduction in chronic back pain, increased balance, and relief from asthma symptoms. It will take you several moments to read through all the testimonials at the start of Peter Kelder’s inaugural book on the 5 Tibetans, TheAncient Secrets of the Fountain of Youth. There is no doubt that regular practice of these 5 postures can enhance the physical body.
Over time, however, I discovered that the “mystery” of the 5 Tibetans was not in just doing the expected 21 repetitions of each posture every day. The transformative power lay in the mantras and contemplations originally taught to me by my Teacher and, more recently, the ones I reconstructed for my own practice. When I started delving into “traditional” yoga in the midst of writing this book, my teacher told us that her yogi had said, “Yoga without breathing is just gymnastics.” I immediately conjured that statement’s parallel with the 5 Tibetans: The 5 Tibetans without meditation is just exercise. While the exercise will be good for your body, the medita- tive practice can change your life.
My time in Scotland also led me to consider other ways of thinking about what I expect from life and the stories I tell myself about my past. My Teacher had learned the 5 Tibetans from Dekyi Lee Oldershaw, a former Tibetan Buddhist nun who had studied the postures with a Ti- betan Buddhist Master. As I learned the postures from my Teacher, I was also taught correspon- ding elements and chakras and delusions that cause suffering. This was my first real exposure to Buddhist philosophy. Upon my return to the US, I did not turn to Buddhism, but I did begin to read the works of the venerable Vietnamese Buddhist monk, Thich Nhat Hanh. In the way that the 5 Tibetans became my daily meditation partners, Hanh’s book You Are Here, became the voice that directed my inward steps in those first months after returning from Scotland. I read the little yellow paper back from cover to cover at least 5 times in the year that followed.
It became the symbolic spiritual artifact of my initial year as a “wanderer.” Although I didn’t know it in the beginning, I was in desperate need to hear the things Hahn offered in his compassionate, yet direct, way. Many of the concepts from You Are Here will filter into this book. I took the guidance from this gentle monk like I take just about any lesson...I went kicking and screaming. But I also listened. And considered how different the concepts he laid before me were from my own world view. Hearing the possibility that things manifest when the conditions are right and do not manifest when the conditions are not right. Being with my pain as though it were my own precious infant. Believing that the “garbage” of my life can be the compost that nourishes the next remarkable part of my path. Working to extinguish a way of thinking that caused me to see some parts of myself as “bad” and other parts as “good.” I am still processing.
Likely, one of the biggest Ahas! (or Duhs!) on that spiritual journey in Buddhist literature was the all-too-obvious reality that everything changes. Nothing is permanent. I am guaranteed nothing. Not even my next breath. I know this at some level, but I think I tend to try to ignore the truth of it. Once I just about got my head around the concept of non-permanence, I was hit square on with the accompanying realization of its close partner, non-attachment. Simply put, not only can I not expect anything to stay the way it is, I cannot hold onto anything either. It was a spiritual one-two-punch straight to the solar plexus. It took my breath away and shook my sense of security.
I don’t know about you, but non-permanence and non-attachment have to be the hardest concepts of reality that I have been forced to take on. I want my relationships to last forever. I don’t want my friends to die. I don’t want to move time and time again trying to find a place where I can be myself and make a living. I not only expect things to stay the same, I am shaken to my very core when they are not. Over time, though, as I have accepted change as a necessity, I have begun to find it easier to open my hands and heart to let things go with less grasping and misery. I am not yet an expert at it, but at least I am more aware of the times I am resisting the flow of “what is.”
In many ways, the concepts of non-permanence and non-attachment are the real teachers in this book. As you read through the chapters that follow, I invite you to explore these realities both in the world around you and within your own heart and life.
Each metaphor from nature or story of my own personal resistance has a built-in connection to the need to accept change and let go of the things and ideas that keep us separated from our best selves and our highest service. Linked with the physical activity of the 5 Tibetans and meditations on the mantras, your ongoing contemplations of non-permanence and non-attachment will bring about a shift in your expectations which, in turn, will be accompanied by a modification in your thoughts and actions. When you are willing to shift your thinking and your actions, healing and transformation can come streaming in like morning light through an east- erly window.
The purpose of this book is to support your courageous acts of looking deeply and mindfully into the actions and attitudes that create pain in your life and to coach you forward on the path of living more fully with increased gratitude and joy. The stage for that important work will be a daily practice of the 5 Tibetans and contemplations of their representative chakras and mantras. I have called the book a workshop because it is my desire that you will see this as a safe place to tinker with, repair, and build...you.
Each time you go into the book to read a chapter, visualize yourself walking out the back door of an old farmhouse and heading for the quiet confines of the little workshop down by the pasture. Go in, close the door, gather your tools, and unpack your personality wares and past mistakes. Take stock of your relationship to the concepts of non-permanence and non-attachment. Take time to consider your attachments.
Commit yourself to the work of your own healing and wholeness. I feel confident that when you leave the workshop, you will be well on your way to discarding the behaviors and con- cepts that are not serving you, and ready to take on ways of thinking and being that can set you free to enjoy a life of intimacy and connection as well as expansiveness and authenticity.
The book is divided into three parts. In Part I, you will get “outfitted” for the journey ahead. You will learn about the five postures known as the 5 Tibetans, explore descriptions of the chakras and elements that will be part of the mantras, and get a brief introduction to the stars of the show, i.e., the grasping and healing behaviors. In Part II, you will be led through the five grasping behaviors and their connections to the 5 Tibetans and to your life and relationships. Each of the 5 chapters will begin with a story taken from a natural setting or my own experi- ence meant to create a metaphor for you to carry out of the “workshop” and use for greater awareness in your daily life. Part III offers the antidotes to the grasping behaviors; actions that can bring healing and wholeness and a greater sense of connection to yourself and to the world. Each healing behavior will be linked to the chakra represented by one of the 5 Tibetans postures.
In essence, this book is your workshop between two covers. When I say the word “work,” my mind automatically hears my grandson, Ben, say, “I have wuk(sic) to do!” I assume he hears that from his parents, but the sweet chirp of his voice and his two-year-old semi-lisp make it an irresistible statement. I find myself repeating it, adding the rise in pitch on the word, “wuk” as he does. There is work to do. To heal the results of the hurts and disappointments that have come your way. To open your heart to greater love and compassion for yourself. To create con- fidence and peace so you can stride out into your world and your relationships with greater joy. Yes, there will be some ease and flow. Yes, there is also work to do. It is a courageous act; there is no harder job on the planet than standing steady and taking a look inside at all those layers we have constructed over the years. You are here today because you believe it is time to do that work. You have been led to this perfect place at this perfect time for your perfect heal- ing. Welcome to your workshop!
Part I: Preparing
1. The 5 Tibetans
2. The Chakras and Elements 3. Grasping and Healing
Part II: Grasping
Part III: Healing
Discussion Group Guide