Mona Lisa’s Secret – The Elixir of Long Youth & Beauty
120 YEARS OF YOUTH
Everybody wants to retain the energy and attraction of youth. In this, nothing has changed since the days of the Yellow Emperor who, concerned with his subjects, asks his advisor:
“The people of antiquity, all lived easily to 120 years. In their movements they remained strong and they did not become decrepit. But the people of today, after only half of a hundred years, their movements and activities weaken and their youth fails them.”
His advisor is Qi Bo, an observer of nature and philosopher revered in capability as we today might consider Einstein. Qi bo’s response is clear and simple:
"The life-styles and habits of the people have fallen out of sync with their own nature and with that of their natural environment."
PREVENTION vs PROMOTION
Such concepts are usually labeled as “preventative” of disease and degeneration. However I think it is more useful to consider them as “promoting” health and vibrancy. You may think I am splitting hairs, but please consider the profound difference on our motivations and perspectives:
Prevention is an intangible benefit. We are talking a long term investment with all sorts of risks and uncertainties on the return on investment.
Promotion, however, provides its benefits with immediate effect. You feel great! You look great. Performance in all areas is improved. You thrive! And you get all the long term returns of prevention rolled in at no extra cost. Dare I use the phrase: “Have your cake and eat it!”
Anyway, let’s take a quick look at some of the “secrets” that Qi Bo goes on to suggest as having the ability to effectively more than double your youthful lifespan!
EAT, DRINK & BE MERRY! 食飲有節 – Eating and Drinking to be ‘Regular’
As usual, the Chinese characters contain a lot of information and can be interpreted in numerous ways. Here are some thoughts from this one short phrase:
Over-eating and Under-eating are to be avoided: In today’s society with high-calorie foods and drinks pushed at us at every opportunity, the former is usually the culprit. Quality of food was not an issue in the Yellow Emperor’s day. Food was food, not a product. Otherwise I am sure Qi Bo would have had something to say about it.
Snacking: The character 節 translated as “regular” also conveys the concept of “spaced periods of time”: Whatever your system of meal schedules or number of meals through the day, some kind of regularity is favourable. And definitely leaving reasonable gaps of time between meals is is recommended. Snacking/ nibbling/ grazing are not: Your digestive system needs some down-time too!
Just Eating: This idea of time also suggests that we should actually devote a “period of time” for just that – eating. An absent minded bite on the run; or perhaps worse, a ‘full-minded’ slump in over the laptop or iPhone whilst going through the mechanical motions of almost chewing is what often constitutes a meal today. In oriental medicine (acupuncture), the digestive system powers both our thinking (see this fascinating book for Western medicine’s more recent agreement) and our muscles. If we are drawing on the digestion for these activities as we eat, the quality of the digestion will most definitely be affected.
Chewing: Chewing your food well is often cited by centenarians as one of the most important factors for long life. It also stimulates the Yang Ming meridians in your face – read below for the importance of this if you want to retain your youthful good looks!
OVER-WORK, STRESS & LIFE MEANING 不妄作勞 – “Do not Engage in Absurd Toil”
Stress: The basic idea here is not to over-work. In the past, the emphasis was probably on physical toil. In modern society we can shift this to include the idea of managing our lives so as not to induce unhealthy stress on ourselves.
Note that a certain level of stress is actually beneficial, even essential! But, like eating, the usual culprit these days is excess – so… basically doing a bit less. Ok, I know I am not going to have much chance with that message, so for some pointers to manage stress during a busy schedule please see WuWei 無為 (relaxing within action). Also, take a look here at what a top UK doctor recently suggested to resolve our stress and financial woes at one stroke!
Life Meaning: The character 勞 “absurd” can also be read as “disillusioned”. Qi Bo is suggesting we ensure that our work has a true meaning for us and fulfils us beyond its mere monetary reward. (This idea is encapsulated and elaborated in the Japanese concept “Ikigai“, as explained in depth in this book of the same name.)
SLEEP 起居有常 – Rising & Resting to have Regularity This is such an important issue that my next newsletter will be entirely devoted to it. I would venture to suggest that sleep is even more of an issue in today’s non-stop, always-on society than in Qi Bo’s day.Suffice to say that regular, sufficient good quality sleep is probably the best medicine available and will make you look and feel amazing. Could your sleep be better?
RHTYHM & TIMING 法於陰陽 – Acting in Accordance with Yin & Yang This sounds esoteric but really it simply means conducting ones daily life in accordance with what is appropriate in relation to the external environment. Your clothes, food, sleep, exercise & daily habits in summer should be different to those of autumn, winter & spring. Considering a shorter (circadian) cycle, creating habits suited to morning, daytime and night-time is also highly beneficial in ensuring great vigour when awake and deep recuperation and rest when asleep.
Our bodies are constantly adjusting and tuning themselves to maintain a suitable internal environment (homeostasis in western medicine). Appropriate behaviour in relation to the external environment supports and promotes this process. (CAN’T GET NO) SATISFACTION 心安而不懼 Calm Heart/ Mind without Fears Contentment: The idea expounded here is one of being content with what one has, where one is and who one is. Despite our fantastic material comfort and wealth as compared with that of our forebears, such contentment is truly in short supply. This is exacerbated in todays world of constant media intervention: often deliberately playing on emotions (particularly fear & desire) to further our involvement in some agenda or scheme – usually financially!
Little & Often: Of course, few of us will achieve complete satisfaction all of the time. This is the preserve of enlightenment. But we can and should deliberately dip into it now and then.
One way is to make a little window every now and then (hopefully every day!) in our busy-ness to realise our existence. This sounds idea seems too nebulous to grasp and implement, but actually it is simplicity itself:
How? Have a look at what Mona Lisa knew...
MONA LISA'S SECRET
Give yourself a few minutes. Stop doing everything. And… …just sit or stand and contemplate the world around you. This can be done in a bustling coffee shop, in a quiet room or on the Clapham omnibus if you prefer. But a relatively quiet natural space is recommended at least now and then.
Once the thoughts and schemes and flights of fancy have begun to die down (let them come!), you may find yourself with a curious feeling. Your face will feel relaxed; the sensation of a growing smile, unbidden, will emerge of its own accord.
It is so subtle and gentle and ongoing – and for no discernible reason – that you will not know whether you actually are smiling physically, or whether it is simply the sense of your facial muscles and nerves in the exquisite continuing state of initiating your smile.
You will sense the un-furrowing of your brow…. You will feel a ‘fullness’ in your face…. This fullness is the flushing of your Yang Ming meridians with Ki – which Qi Bo tells us later (in the same conversation with the Yellow Emperor) is the true source of youthful bloom and beauty.
And therein lies the secret of Mona Lisa’s smile. She is so beguiling and timeless precisely because she is smiling for no reason at all. Or perhaps, because just for a moment, she has realised that there is no reason not to smile. Beauty & Youth are the external manifestation of her inner state of relaxed contemplation.
SIMPLE The fundamentals for Long Youth and Beauty are so simple. Seemingly too simple perhaps, as to be ignored or overlooked (mostly in favour of something highly complicated!) This quote from the Tao Te Ching reminds us of the power of practicing the simple – and the profound effect this can have:
As for the Way [the simple], the sages practice it; the foolish pay it only lip-service.