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I met Beau Vandendolder about 8 years ago, when I started managing the acupuncture office he was working out of in my home town of Silverton, Oregon. I was immediately intrigued by his natural sense of calmness and his kindness for others was apparent. We became fast friends. Although Beau was much younger than I, I felt he had so much more worldly knowledge, so much more understanding about life, than I did. How could this be? I had traveled, had met a lot of people, had my own adventures. But it soon became clear to me. His worldly knowledge was based on the fact that he understood himself first and foremost, his inner most desires and limitations.
I now understand that you can’t really be helpful to other people, and the planet, until you’ve figured out yourself first. While I was traveling around the world and making my memories I had no idea who I really was. I never took the time to figure out what it was to be me. While I was letting all the B.S. and drama whip me around like a blender, Beau was allowing it to go by without acknowledgement, as if it were an errant feather floating by on a breeze. Beau’s sense of calmness comes from the fact that he simply gets it, and I feel fortunate to have been able to witness such an act of beauty. Today, I strive for such beauty.
I recently had the chance to sit down with Beau to learn more about his life and his passions:
Can you tell us about yourself and what you do?
I’m 35 years old and live in Portland, Oregon. I grew up on the outskirts of Chicago and have lived in the Pacific Northwest since I was 18. I’m an acupuncturist, herbalist, yoga, tai chi and qigong instructor, certified Alexander Technique teacher, lay ordained Zen Buddhist minister, a photographer, musician, and a father to an eight-year old.
When did you realize you wanted to practice acupuncture?
I had no exposure to any forms of “alternative medicine” in my childhood, nor any exposure to Eastern healing or spiritual traditions. In my teens and early 20’s I struggled with a variety of chronic health issues that only got worse with Western, allopathic medical interventions. In my early 20’s I discovered yoga and meditation practice and began daily practices of both and saw incredible changes in my health. I developed an interest in the ancient Indian medical tradition of Ayurveda during that time and started working with an Ayurvedic practitioner using herbs and traditional treatments to address my health issues and had much positive effect. It was very empowering to experience such dramatic changes in my health through natural means and through dedicated yoga and meditation practices. I began to explore various meditative and developmental arts more deeply and broadly through training with my first Zen teacher as well as a Daoist teacher who was also an acupuncturist, from whom I received my first acupuncture treatments. Yoga and Ayurveda opened the door to me eventually becoming more passionate to study the east Asian traditions. When I was 24 I spent time traveling in southeast Asia and southern China visiting Buddhist monasteries and training with a taiji teacher. Well into my travels, I got extremely ill and nearly died of sepsis in a hospital. I came back to the US and had a challenging recovery process. As Ayurveda and Chinese Medicine had helped me with so much of my chronic health issues prior to that, I turned exclusively to Chinese Medicine to heal from the impacts of the sepsis. I also decided around that time that I wanted to really dedicate myself to a life of self-cultivation and that I wanted a livelihood that not only supported the lifestyle I wished to live, but would give me the tools to bring my passions to others, and so I enrolled in an acupuncture school in Portland, OR in 2005.
Can you explain the Alexander Technique, and why it speaks to you?
I was introduced to the technique after having spent many years practicing, yoga, tai chi, and meditation, and also after beginning my acupuncture practice. I had suffered chronic neck pain as a result of numerous rear-end car accidents in my earlier years. As an acupuncturist, of course I’d seen a number of chiropractors, massage therapists, and acupuncturists over the years for treatment of my pain and everything helped, but only temporarily. After a few Alexander Technique lessons, I realized what I was doing to perpetuate the conditions that were causing my pain and learned how to stop doing those things, and have been pain free ever since. Needless to say, I was impressed with the results of the technique. What impressed me more however was the realization that the technique pointed to something so fundamental to human functioning that it gave me much greater depth of insight into all of my other practices and I actually decided to suspend all other practices for a period of time to focus solely on the Alexander Technique and underwent three years of full-time training.
What do you get out of your practice on a personal level?
I’m a lifelong student and I am grateful to have a livelihood that continually opens me up to a deeper understanding of nature and the human condition. I feel like I could practice this medicine the rest of my life and only have barely scratched the surface. Also, I often feel overwhelmed by the suffering I see in the world and feel that being of service to others and seeking to do no harm helps me have a clearer sense of path and purpose.
In what way do you feel that acupuncture positively affects the world/human life around us?
Allopathic medicine (Allopathic medicine is often used as a term to refer to Western Medicine in general. It also refers to modern medicine.) is under the influence and control of a lot of big money interests, namely the pharmaceutical and insurance Industries. Doctors have less and less time with each patient and less physical contact with patients than ever. Extreme medical interventions and drug therapies have become the norm, whereas doctors of the past used to employ all kinds of natural therapies to help their patients in ways that didn’t come with all of the side-effects and collateral damage that have become all too common. Allopathic medicine is primarily a disease-treatment model. There is little focus on cultivating health and what little focus there is, is often misguided. Chinese medicine offers a profoundly sophisticated understanding of disease processes while also offering equally profound understanding and tools for cultivating health and longevity. So many of the exceedingly common modern diseases that we are seeing are preventable, yet allopathic medicine offers little in the way of preventative healthcare. I personally find allopathic medicine to be quite disempowering and dehumanizing. Instead of seeking to understand biologic processes and relationships, it creates an antagonistic worldview, the patient fighting against their disease, in which the world is full of harmful influences that must be suppressed, purged, removed or destroyed by such methods as drugs, pain killers, surgeries, chemotherapy, etc. Much of modern disease is a product of unhealthy lifestyle, poor diet, and a polluted environment. Chinese Medicine views disease as a complex set of relationships between the person, their conduct, lifestyle, the environment, constitution, inheritance, and climactic influences and seeks to restore a relative functional balance, often through methods that help symptoms express in a such a manner as to achieve transformation or resolution. This is a stark contrast to the allopathic methods of symptomatic suppression. I believe that ancient medical traditions offer an understanding of the human being that modern medicine has lost and unfortunately I don’t see a revolution in the dominant medical worldview when the doctors and now the educational institutions are owned by the pharmaceutical and insurance industries. I feel that my job is not only to provide effective treatment for my patients, but also to educate them so that they can develop a more holistic understanding of health and become empowered to manage their own health.
Acupuncture is associated with a healthy lifestyle. What else do you do to improve/maintain your healthy lifestyle, ie. diet, exercise, etc…
Yes, lifestyle is critical as acupuncture is certainly no silver bullet. It’s a treatment method that aims to restore balance, but we must also cultivate balance through our lifestyle choices. I try to adapt to the seasonal changes by getting up and going to sleep with the natural light cycles, getting up at sunrise and going to bed earlier in the winter. I also eat seasonally, locally, and organic, non-GMO foods. Otherwise I don’t adhere to a rigid diet, but simply seek balance. I try to relax when I eat and make sure for example, that I take a good lunch break at work to properly digest, and get some fresh air before returning to work. I practice meditation first thing in the morning and practice Taiji and Qigong outdoors before heading out for the day. I often meditate before bed as well. I find it important to only do exercise that I really enjoy. I take lots of walks and hike in nature whenever I have the time. I also spend a lot of time hiking in nature and making art and music.
Is there a favorite food of yours, that you can share with us the recipe?
My favorite foods are generally whatever looks most fresh. I love farmer’s markets! One recipe that I like as a sort of staple meal comes from the Ayurvedic ( Ayurveda is a system of medicine with historical roots in the Indian subcontinent) tradition and is often used as a medicinal recipe for aiding digestion and for recovering from illness. It is called “kitchari.” There are many variations on the theme, but here’s how I do it:
Soak 1 1/2 cups rice and 1 1/2 cups mung beans in water overnight. Rinse and add six cups of water, 2 tsp salt, and sliced fresh ginger, and bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer. In a pan, on low heat, saute’ one teaspoon of each of the following herbs in 3 tablespoons of ghee: cumin, coriander, turmeric, cinnamon, cardamom, and if available, a 1/4 tsp of asafoetida. After a few minutes, the mix becomes very fragrant and is then added to the simmering pot and cooked together for about an hour. If desired, garnish with green onion and cilantro and plain yogurt.
Many people find meditating difficult to start. How did you learn to meditate?
I initially learned to meditate by practicing in groups and with teachers. A community can offer a sense of motivation and support for starting however, there aren’t always groups that are resonant for an individual or accessible. Learning to meditate is much like learning any new specialized skill. Consider the example of learning to play a musical instrument. If you learn from a teacher, you’re more likely to practice on your own because you have a lesson plan to adhere to. You’re also less likely to develop bad technical habits or misunderstandings. Your development will correspond to the amount of time you spend practicing and the kinds of habits and beliefs you cultivate around, and put into the practice. Of course it is possible to teach yourself, but it requires more self-direction. The bottom line though is this: if you want to learn to mediate, you have to practice meditation. There’s no way around the “practice” part. When a patient or a student expresses interest in starting a meditation practice, I encourage them to pick a time of day that they can commit to on a daily basis.
If you had to give a new student one tip to finding their way into meditation, what would that be?
People often assume that meditation has to do with stopping your mind’s chatter, or silencing thoughts and tend to get discouraged pretty quickly, and rightly so, as that is an impossible task. It is important to witness the relentless distractedness of our minds as well as the defensive and strategic nature of our thoughts, to see our minds in action and not assume that the purpose of meditation is to stop thinking. When we are aware that we are thinking, we can choose not to think about our thoughts so to speak, to loosen our identification with our thoughts. In time, and with consistent practice, the ability to meditate will develop.
What have you learned throughout your journey to happiness and peace, that you can share with others?
I would say that happiness and peace are a only a small part of the emotional spectrum and that without learning to open to the full range of emotional experience, including loss, grief, humiliation, heartbreak, anger, etc. we are not truly open to experiencing happiness and peace. I’ve learned that my ego is defensive by nature and has no genuine interest in vulnerability and that the experience of happiness and peace, or perhaps I’d more accurately say, the experience of freedom, only comes when the grip of ego is loosened, or broken.
Do you have a goal with your practice, that drives your life and motivates you?
I’ve been talking about multiple practices here, so I’ll address them individually: In my healing arts/medical practice, my goal is to continue to develop my own sensitivities and understanding through study, training and clinical experience and of course, to be an effective physician. In the broader realm of spiritual practice, I have been primarily rooted in the Zen tradition. In the Zen path, a goal of practice is a paradoxical notion. As Bodhidharma, the first Zen patriarch suggested was the aim of Zen practice: “A direct understanding, outside of scriptures, with no dependence on words or letters, pointing directly to the human mind, seeing into our own true nature, and being awakened.” What motivates me is a profound sense of dissatisfaction, a sort of existential confusion and pain. Through the process of developing awareness I see how thoroughly attached I am to my own sense of identity, and how I suffer for it. My practice therefore involves witnessing the radical impotence of the ego and continually questioning it. Who am I? What is this? Beyond any conceptual ideas, what is this? Who am I?
If you could address the world with a short personal message about what you feel passionately about, what would you tell us?
There is a lot of conflict in the world. Our deep humanity is our treasure as humans. That deep treasure is openness and love. We have so much influence collectively in such destructive and creative ways. I hope that collectively, we can learn to be better stewards of the Earth, become more accepting, loving neighbors to those we don’t understand, let go of fixed beliefs and habits, and cultivate a truly open mind.
Want To Learn More?
Contact Beau at firstname.lastname@example.org