Flow: the Art of Living

Paula Chin shares her life strategy of being flexible and its benefits for both life choices and physical well-being.

Julia: Paula, how did you choose what to do?

Paula: It was something I knew really well, and either excelled at it, or it just came; it always evolved… When I went to school, a lot of people started looking for work right away, but because I was at school, helping around and doing a lot of the stuff that I was learning at the same time, it was a natural step for them to say, why don’t you stay and keep working. And then when I did more work in the same field, it was an extension of everything, one thing led to another… So I didn’t have that that feeling of, “Oh my God, who am I and what should I do,” because it was very organic, the way things happened… 

When I was a teenager, I took dance classes, and they would say, you should audition for that, and so I would audition and get the job and it was pretty easy. One thing leads to another… But there are transitions. When then I got older, of course, and I couldn’t keep dancing… well, dancers can keep dancing into their fifties and eighties, but people don’t give them jobs!!! (laughing)

J: It is too bad!

P:  It is too bad! There was a woman who started the organization called Dancers over 40, because she was also working in shows and she was getting older, so she said, “Gee, what happens to us, what do people do?” and so she started this organization. She can still perform, I see her on television every once in a while. So, things keep happening, as you grow older, you audition for older parts.

For me, as I did other things: I was involved in film for a while. My brother happened to be doing film projection and he said, “Anyone can do this”. I said to myself, “I’ve been on stage for so long, so I kind of know this,” but I got bored with it, and I said, “What is it that I really wanted to do?”  I always wanted to learn about the human body, because I used it all the time.  Then I said, what can I do to make things better for people…

When I was younger, I wanted to study massage, because people were getting injured, and you didn’t want to interfere with natural healing of the body, but rather help it along without doing anything bad to it. So, when I was in my forties, and I was working in film, backstage, I said, “Oh, I should study this.” I never thought I would work professionally with it, I thought I would just help friends who were injured.

And then, as time went on at school, they said, “Do you think you could teach this class?”  I understood the material, so I said yes, because sometimes it seemed convoluted for other people, but maybe because of my background, being Eastern, I can understand a certain way of thinking, the Eastern way of thinking, about these things.  So I said, “Yes, I can really explain this,” and they needed someone, and before I knew it, I was teaching that class; the Western component, which I always liked, as well…

As time went on, I saw that everything that I was doing was similar to acupuncture: it WAS acupuncture, only it wasn’t with the needles, it was working on the points that were involved. And then, when they started the Acupuncture school, I said I might as well do it, because I knew most of it. So, I started teaching in the Acupuncture department. That’s the story of my life, I guess! (Laughing)

J: Would you ever retire?

P: I don’t know, I don’t think so, because I don’t think of it as work. And maybe that’s the art of living: the things that we need to do should not seem like an awful, unbearable burden. There are things that must be done, and I think that’s the art of living, to be able to enjoy all the things that are necessary to do.

J: Not resisting them.

P: Right, go with the flow! Sometimes, I see things changing, and I don’t know if the change is really for the best.  I have to talk to myself, “Give it a chance, try, don’t drag your heels around, be aggressive about wanting to change, because this is how the world is.”  And I think this is the thing about aging: it is not about a physical age, it’s about the ability to change and move along.

Children can do it easier, because they haven’t made judgments about what’s good or bad yet, so everything is new, everything is wonderful.  I think we can hang on to that. So when you block something, you have a much better chance of hurting yourself. Because when you try to hold things back, that’s when the immune systems starts going, then your body starts working contrary to itself. Because your body really wants to keep moving, wants to keep flowing with it. So when you block something and your body no longer goes with it, then there’s tension, there’s a tightening… That goes against the way we should be evolving, at least I think that.

J: You said that there is an Eastern way of thinking about the world. What did you mean by that?

P: When you’re brought up, the way that you look at the world, it goes to what I said about movement and change. We study the way things change. Daoism is what Chinese medicine came out of. The philosophy of the East is that the only thing that you can really count on is change.  So if you study this, it is going to tell you something about the world, and about the body as well. Whenever there is pain, and whenever there’s lack of movement in your body, then there’s ill health. Say, if you have a pain in the elbow, it means there’s lack of movement. There are things that are coagulating, that are stagnant.  So, you can have slowing down, things getting painful, then there’s stagnation, which is a little bit worse, and sometimes you have a complete stasis. And this can manifest as slowing, or pain, and if you still can’t come to terms with whatever it is, there can be swelling, little nodules, which could then harden.  This is also how we feel about cancer and about the cells going haywire, not doing the job they are supposed to be doing, when things grow in a way that is not right, or proper. So, we look at the world in an evolving kid of way, rather than in terms of rigid structures, It’s hard to put in a nutshell, a lot of people spend their lives studying it. This is the thing about Zen – sometimes, all of a sudden, it comes to you…

J: …an insight

P: Right, sometimes you realize how wonderful the world is, the way that it works, you have a kind of awakening, and then sometimes you fall asleep again (laughing). Sometimes you search for the memory of it. Gee, it used to be really clear to me! But once you have that kind of clarity, even for one second, you never really go back. Sometimes you feel down, but in the back of your mind, you really know, because these moments are so revelatory to you. No matter what you do, there always will be that thing that holds your core.

J: You’re connected. You mentioned Dao, and you mentioned Zen…

P: I think at the core of every belief system, it’s the same thing, it’s a certain kind of purity, energy, you can call it God, you can call it Life, and everybody tries to explain it, depending on what the culture is. It’s the same thing, when they are describing that feeling of one moment of, all of a sudden, understanding everything. I believe that mankind, or people, are supposed to come to this moment some time in their lifetime.  Whether you search, whether you just get lucky, maybe you just get hit by a car, whatever brings you to that mode. I believe that every human is supposed to come to that moment; it’s a part of our birthright, which is a wonderful thing. Otherwise, you have to wonder, what am I doing here? It’s a birthright, but some people never get to that stage. And then life is not as wonderful as it should be. It’s like having dirty windows: you see things, but not as clear as HDTV!

J: Are some traditions closer to you?

P: Well, no. Dao, but only because it’s involved in Chinese medicine. I feel all of it is good, like Sufis have wonderful things to say. Every esoteric part of whichever belief system agrees; they really all agree. I remember reading Krishnamurthy for a while… A lot of people have a very clear way of seeing and they are able to express it. It’s wonderful because it helps you remember those moments that you kind of knew, you were awakened, in the moment. The deeper parts of each religion have a way of seeing it. I read it that the jewel that has so many facets, and each facet is a different way of looking at that particular jewel.



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