Tag Archive | technology

The Wisdom of Age: We Are All ‘Original Medicine’

old_new_hands_plantCarl Jung taught that we spend the first half of our lives developing who we are not, and the second half of our lives becoming who we authentically are. In the wisdom years from 50 onward, we shift from defining ourselves by our experiences to defining ourselves by our values. And our journey is about bringing it all together.

I had shared Jung’s wisdom with some 50 something high tech friends who confided that they feel old and irrelevant these days, because so much emphasis is on the millennials – what motivates their work, how they buy, why they should be given every opportunity to advance.

At a recent LeanIn book event, I was stunned by the dialogue between Eric Schmidt of Google and Sheryl Sandberg of Facebook about how those younger than 40 should be given the most opportunities, because they are ‘where the future lies.’

As I listened to these ‘thought leaders’ in high tech, I wondered why so little value was placed on the wisdom of age, which indigenous cultures celebrate and even honor with rites of passage from youth to elderhood.

What seems to be missing in our tech-driven world is recognizing that ‘we are all original medicine,’ each gifted with special talents to bring to the world. It is our unique purpose to develop our gifts and share them with others. And our purpose is no less than that.

As I learned from cultural anthropologist Angeles Arrien in her study of The Second Half of Life, it is not until later that many of us ‘make our unique imprint’ on the world to realize our personal legacy. Angeles teaches how American culture is the most ‘ageist’ in that we segment the ability to contribute based on an expectation of age. For example, youth is sought for creativity but not problem-solving, while elders are sought for problem-solving but not creativity. It is only now that we are building inter-generational bridges to integrate the best of both to enhance our culture.

Nowhere is this more evident than in the entrepreneurial community, where young startup CEOs are mentored by senior executives as old as their grandparents.

In my own work mentoring startup CEOs, I am perplexed by how we honor the business acumen of our ‘executive elders,’ yet in our daily work, we often dismiss that same age group.

As we strive for more invention in the tech world, do we limit our creativity by excluding our ‘elders?’ Creativity comes from integrating disparate ideas and concepts. What better fountain of ideas could we blend than those from young and old!

Wisdom and Creativity
In indigenous cultures, the age of youth is viewed from 1-35, in which we define our selves by what we do. Youth is a time of birth and initiation. Mid-life is 35-50, in which we grow through relationship as in marriage and committed love. Our growth is in integrating our lives with others. In our 50s, we embark on a decade of personal integration to prepare for our wisdom years. And in the wisdom decades of the 60s and beyond, our lives come into focus and we redefine ourselves by who we are and how we fulfill our purpose.

Integrating our internal and external selves expands our ‘tolerance of ambiguity’ and way of thinking. And it is ambiguity and a new way of thinking that drive invention in the fast-paced technology industry.

In Louie Schwartzberg’s film on the Hidden miracles of the natural world, he calls curiosity and wonder the intersection between technology, art and science. Curiosity and wonder expand our perspective, while touching our hearts. This is our vessel of creativity, which becomes more spacious as we integrate our selves on our individual journey.

And the experience of age brings integrity, maturity and character to the process.

Perhaps the most stunning example of achievement in the second half of life is from Mother Teresa. She suffered a crisis of faith through her wisdom years. Yet she forged ahead in ambiguity to become a noted humanitarian and won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1979 for alleviating suffering all over the world.

It was her passion and empathy, commitment and managerial skills that created a global network of missionaries to uplift the impoverished everywhere.

Hers was the achievement of a lifetime, and only achievable through the integration of experience and meaning in the first and second halves of her life.

This is what’s possible when we blend the ardor of youth with the wisdom of age.

So for those in the tech world who value only the millennials, whose ‘original medicine’ are we leaving behind?

And what will we lose in our single mindedness?

Bridging the Ancient Wisdom of Qigong

Chang'e_purpleBridging the Ancient Wisdom of Qigong

No sooner had I attended Soren Gordhamer’s Wisdom 2.0 Conference in San Francisco than I headed east to immerse myself in yet another practice of mindfulness and ancient wisdom — so I could “live connected to others not only through technology” but through our hearts and minds as well.

I traveled to Mt. E’mei, one of the four sacred Buddhist mountains in Sichuan, China, to attend the International Health Qigong Federation conference for the heads of qigong federations around the world.

It was a special gathering of people from China to Portugal to Canada to Finland and Estonia – with dedicated practitioners sharing with China’s masters how qigong can help improve our wellness and lead to greater fulfillment in our lives, loves and society in general.

What a lovely follow-on to Wisdom 2.0 for a career-driven tech warrior like myself – in an effort to “thrive” in a life full of “well-being, wisdom and wonder,” as Arianna Huffington so elegantly describes in her latest work.

The Art of Qigong
Qigong is a traditional Chinese form of exercise for health and fitness. It is deeply embedded in Chinese culture and is a pillar of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM.) In ancient Chinese wisdom, qi is the vital energy force and building block of life. It shapes and connects heaven, earth and all things. As a Chinese system for health and well-being, qigong integrates physical postures, breathing techniques and focused intention. Its goal is to help one heal the body, calm the mind and reconnect with spirit, to create a balanced lifestyle for greater harmony, stability and fulfillment.

And like the mindfulness meditation promoted in Wisdom 2.0, qigong leads to a more mindful state of being and way of life.

While many in the U.S. are familiar with tai ji (tai chi), qigong is the foundation from which other such practices have emerged. Tai ji is a softer internal style of qigong, while wushu (kung fu) is a more vigorous style in the family of martial arts.

What I found so compelling about qigong was how gracefully it is integrated in the three schools of thought in China: Confucianism, Taoism and Buddhism. At the gathering on Mt. E’mei, renowned scholar on Chinese philosophies, culture and TCM Professor Lou Yulie from Peking University, taught us how

  • Confucianism governs the importance of integrity in our relationship to the world,
  • Taoism governs our relationship to our body, health and the environment, and
  • Buddhism governs our relationship between heart and mind.

Each Chinese philosophy incorporates the concept of “qi” and how we must cultivate a high integrity qi as a way to live (Confucianism); maintain and rekindle our original source of qi or essence of self (Taoism); and prevent negative qi from interfering with our pursuit of wisdom (Buddhism.)

One way we can do that is by practicing qigong to enhance how our qi flows. For it is only when the states of yin and yang are in harmony that qi can produce life. Yin is the feminine nature of things, while yang is the masculine nature of things. If harmony is lost between them, within ourselves or society in general, problems will arise or life itself will be lost. This concept of balance according to a “golden mean” is pervasive in early teachings of Confucius, Aristotle and others.

It’s a holistic picture this ancient wisdom paints – for how we are all striving to live today, centuries later.

Some traditions really are timeless!

Practice of Qigong for Health and Well-being
The practice of qigong is an art to express oneself and cultivate harmony in pursuit of “the way” of Nature, as defined in Taoism. As a health practice, qigong’s movements are designed to stimulate blood flow, strengthen limbs, muscles and everything in our physical form; and combine physical exercise with spiritual cultivation.

In class, we studied just two groups of movements:

  • Daoyin Yang Sheng Gong Shi’er Fa – to stretch and strengthen the body in a fluid and continuous way,
  • Wu Xin Xie – to imitate animals in their natural habitats to cultivate flexibility and grace.

All of the qigong movement systems are meant to help preserve health, sharpen cognition, improve physical and emotional balance, and lead to greater adaptability for changes in life.

Many countries around the world, like Portugal and Spain, Cuba and Mexico, Sri Lanka and India, Hong Kong and Singapore, Slovenia, the Netherlands and UK, are promoting qigong as both a health practice and a sport. It has been found to help the elderly improve flexibility and cognition, and alleviate mild depression.

And it helps everyone develop a more mindful way of just being.

Perhaps the greatest way to appreciate the power of qigong is not to read about it, but to see it.

Watching Professor Wang Xiaojun from Beijing Sports University practice qigong was extraordinary! His grace and fluidity of movement were beautiful and very special.

He and our other teachers, Professors Hu Xiao Fe (Beijing), Lei Bin, Wang Zhen (Shanghai) and Shi Ai Qiao, were very knowledgeable and impressive.

Many thanks to new friends in China and around the world for sharing this ancient wisdom and contemporary practice to help all of us live well and thrive.