By Joanna Myers
Many of us don’t know what our purpose is. It either seems vague, or worse, we feel like our life is at odds with our purpose. We have competing responsibilities, but many of them don’t line up with what we want to do. Fortunately, these days there are many systems for identifying purpose and areas of strength or opportunities for growth in our careers or personal lives. The SUN SHEN One Prayer is one of these systems. It’s not therapy, but rather a system of journaling and cultivation through contemplation, insights, and growth to help us identify which areas of our life we would like to nurture.
The SUN SHEN One Prayer is your own “virtual monastery,” where you get the benefits of a life that’s totally catered to your needs as someone seeking personal growth, without requiring you to leave home or family. It’s designed for the challenges and diversity of lay life. Simply put, living in a mountain meditating in a cave is not congruent with most of our circumstances these days, but that does not mean we cannot have access to our own inner riches and resources. One Prayer allows you to go deep within yourself but in a sustainable way. You start with the resources and time you have.
The One Prayer System was created by my own teacher, Master Sang Kim, a Tai Chi Master and lineage holder in both the Taoist and Christian traditions. Master Kim comes from Korea and has inherited traditional cultivation systems that have been passed down from generation to generation, but he is also a modern person who has lived in the west and trained as an engineer, has a family, and worked in the corporate world.
Purpose in the One Prayer is something that you discover in the details of life. Purpose is what gives you energy, feeds you emotionally, and inspires you. You identify those areas where you feel that already, even if it’s a small pocket of your life, or a vision of what it could be, and you give it attention, nurturing it like a seed.
The foundation of the One Prayer System is the concept of cultivation. Cultivation is not fixing what’s wrong with you, but learning how to use how you’re made, as a uniquely designed person, with awareness. Cultivation is not just a concept for a specific discipline like martial arts or a spiritual practice, but how you relate to yourself as a whole person. It is about taking our hard wiring, our patterns and our practices, and embracing the truths they teach as a way of nourishing our whole being. We are always cultivating something, because whatever we do accumulates to a certain outcome. The question is not whether you’re cultivating but, do you like the direction of your cultivation? Are you cultivating in the area of your purpose? If so, you will feel more energy, more fulfillment, and more clarity.
I started studying with Master Kim because I loved how much he loved his life! Since I have known him, he has always had this energy of being genuinely happy and also full of purpose and fun. He works extremely hard, but never seems burdened by it. The kind of attention he has for a person makes you feel really special, because he’s put that kind of attention into himself. He has cultivated deep presence and self-understanding, and that carries over into all of his relationships. I was attracted to his example of how to live with freedom and ease, how he knew where to put his effort and attention in a way that was effective and added up over time. And what’s more, he was having a great time in the process, not sacrificing in order to get there. That’s what I wanted.
The One Prayer is a tool designed to give everyone that freedom. It’s one giant feedback system toward your purpose. It is a system of tools to organize your life around self-mastery. And this whole system updates with you in real time as you grow.
The system starts with a map where you take a full inventory of yourself. Most of us are familiar with ourselves in the parts where we’re developed, and then we have blind spots, or parts we’re not as aware of. Ironically, our blind spots can often be the areas we’re strong in, and are so fundamental to how we operate that we don’t even see what we’re doing. In my case, I didn’t realize how fundamental it was to seek connection.
When you’re triggered by something and it’s bothering you, this is when the One Prayer kicks in. You have a reference list that is a summary of the latest things you are working on. You have a whole inventory of yourself that gives you perspective on who you are. You have a journal where you track your victories and get a reminder of who you’ve been and who you are becoming. You start to understand the problem from the perspective of growth and not as a failure. If none of that works, you have a section where you deep dive into the problem until you understand what perspective you were missing. When you have this way of working deeply with yourself, you feel like your own best friend.
This process was really eye opening for me. The One Prayer helped me identify how my purpose was hidden in pain. I used to think of myself as a plant person. I’d spend up to 20 hours a week in my garden and I thought that I wanted to design spaces that invited people to have a transformative experience. I was pursuing things like garden design, and I went to a permaculture workshop. I thought I liked sustainability and design, but what I realized through the SUN SHEN One Prayer System was that I was in a tremendous amount of social pain. I was all bent out of shape because I had no idea how to interact socially and I felt like an idiot. My emotions were telling me I lacked some skills I never even knew I needed. I realized I had been hiding behind garden design and behind working with plants because they were safer than people, but what I really wanted was a more direct way to impact and work with people. Because of my lack of skills to relate to people — communication skills, not taking things personally, navigating conflict — I was stunted in that area.
Once I saw this pain clearly, I was able to look at how to develop these skills. What I did externally didn’t change, but how I used what I was doing in my life changed. I ran events at SUN SHEN to see how I could better work with people. I designed to see how I could integrate other people’s ideas into designs. I worked with people individually to understand different perspectives and remove my own blind spots. I continued to work with my Feldenkrais clients and healing clients to improve my interpersonal skills.
Because SUN SHEN is a school of cultivation, everything is seen from a place of growth. The premise is we’re all cultivating something, we’re all doing things every day that add up to a certain result. For instance, if we slouch, then we cultivate having a slouched posture; if we keep standing straight, then we get better and better at having a straighter posture. The question is, do we like what we are cultivating, the direction and the result we’re getting?
As a disciple, you’re expected to teach what you learn, and you learn by teaching. So I began working with people individually on their One Prayer. While I was cultivating my own growth, I was also cultivating the skills to help others.
The One Prayer System has three parts: a detailed map of yourself, including your vision for what you want your life to look like, emotions you seek, and how you naturally take action; emotional processing tools; and tracking of daily practices and strategies for how you want to grow into this purpose. When you put the parts together, it becomes a giant feedback loop to help you understand yourself.
Imagine you knew what kind of emotions you like to experience, and could set up your whole life around experiencing them. Imagine you knew what kind of activities give you energy and could distill the elements of those experiences. Imagine your whole life was set up around this awareness, where all day long you’re feeling ease, feeling meaning, feeling purpose — where if you have pain, the pain gives you direct feedback about your purpose and how to hone it further.
Now imagine you had a group of people who are doing this all together, encouraging each other and supporting each other, adding that structure and validation for one another and having a guide to help you all through the process, someone who’s been through it and can relate to the fears and challenges and who has a really good handle on all the tools. It makes for great bonding and really rapid growth.
The ONE PRAYER Journaling System is the branch of the SUN SHEN System that allows a person to understand themselves deeply, so that their life works the way they want it to work. It’s a tool to bring together everything they’re working on under one umbrella, and can be used by anyone. Whatever your path or calling, the One Prayer is a way to make that calling more clear, more doable. When I started my studies with Master Kim he had us journal every day. We started where there was already energy, explored the area of our interests and dreams. It gave me a way to center my life and make sense of the transition I was in. I was a new mom, felt depleted, and had set my career and external role aside. Even though I was developing in the areas of healing and studying the System, I wasn’t very inspired or confident at the time. I was used to having a strong professional identity, used to feeling capable. And here I was, very much a beginner in this new territory.
About three years after meeting Master Kim, I was invited to join a small group of people who were becoming his disciples, to learn the whole SUN SHEN System in a dedicated way. This is a serious undertaking, because it’s a complete Tai Chi lineage, the journaling and self-understanding part of the system, and studying the Scriptures. It is a set of integrated tools based on Christianity, Taoism, and the modern scientific view. All with the goal of maximizing a life geared toward my purpose.
I met my fellow disciples before we started our formal discipleship training. My husband had been a student of Master Kim’s for several years and had already learned the Tai Chi forms and was instructing in the class. He was a shy, techy guy from Taiwan, very physically gifted and enthusiastic about Tai Chi. Another close colleague, Alexis Neuhaus, had come to Master Kim with some life-threatening health challenges and was getting support from him. He had come to Ann Arbor to get work from some gifted healers and was gradually turning around. He was extremely bright and intellectual, had gone to Princeton. Soon after he started getting support, Master Kim discovered Alexis had a talent for organizational direction, and he was put in charge of the business aspect. He came from a Buddhist background and was familiar with how to transmit a lineage and the kind of agreements and conditions that are necessary for that. He is actually responsible for us setting up the discipleship in the way it is. The three of us continue to work closely and mentor the newer disciples who joined later (there are now 26).
Because we had such a tight structure, and boundaries on our time together, we had a lot of safety. What that meant practically is we could go really deep and be vulnerable. I remember going through our visions for our lives together and reading them out loud, processing through really tough things. The One Prayer allows you to get to the cutting edge of where you are growing as a person, meaning your identity keeps updating and becoming closer to the real you. We had each other to witness and reinforce each breakthrough.
My deeper need for connection was too vulnerable for me to access until I started working on the One Prayer. My whole life I’d been skirting around this need, thinking I was an introvert. If I didn’t have the One Prayer System I would have probably done what I’d done half a dozen other times in my adult life, and started off in a different area without addressing the underlying need. My own career has included being a professional musician, teaching movement, and pursuing design. I literally had no idea that the underlying drive, and the thing that ties them all together, is the desire to connect deeply with people. Without this I’d be chasing after empty skill sets, none of which hit my purpose, or hit it so haphazardly that I’d give up.
I was focusing on performance but I ended up developing skills that made me feel capable. But I was still missing the skills that would help me actually navigate through close relationships: facing conflict, apology, and repair. I learned that we all have these areas, these developmental “holes.” It’s really tricky to be able to hack into them and satisfy the needs hidden inside them, but when you do a whole new world opens up. You transcend the problems you had before.
When teaching the One Prayer System, I love when people discover a need that they didn’t even know was there, the more fundamental need than what seems apparent on the surface, the need that is hidden from our own awareness because it’s so vulnerable. I love when it becomes safe enough to stumble upon this need, because discovering our real needs is a place of invention and agency.
In my case, with developing social skills, I was able to break it down into small pieces and set up ways to track it, journal about what my subjective experience was, and get the feedback I needed. I get support from my teacher. I get encouragement and examples from other students who were working in their own “holes.” The One Prayer brings together many necessary experiences in the whole vast project and everything else that is happening in my life. As a bonus, I now really like my relationships.
I love bringing people into the place where they can safely explore their purpose from a place of creativity and self-acceptance with this most amazing set of tools. I love seeing them able to do things they’ve never been able to do before, and bringing the kind of attention to their lives in the places that need it the most.
Samo Joanna Myers is a practitioner of the SUN SHEN System, a complete system of physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual transformation, integrating Christianity, Taoism and the modern scientific approach. You can reach her at (734) 395-8486 or firstname.lastname@example.org. More information about SUN SHEN is at www.sunshen.org.