Archives for category: Daoism

I TRUST YOU

The soul is a newly skinned hide, bloody
and gross. Work on it with manual discipline,
and the bitter tanning acid of grief.

You’ll become lovely and very strong.
If you can’t do this work yourself, don’t worry.
You don’t have to make a decision, one way or another.

The Friend, who knows a lot more than you do,
will bring difficulties and grief and sickness,
as medicine, as happiness, as the moment

when you’re beaten, when you hear Checkmate,
and you can finally say with Hallaj’s voice,
I trust you to kill me.

By Jalaluddin Rumi translated by Coleman Barks

The seven souls from afe.easia.columbia.edu

The seven souls from afe.easia.columbia.edu

In Chinese philosophy there are seven souls that animate the physical body. They enter during gestation. These souls carry the lessons that were not completed in previous generations or previous lives (If you do not believe in such things, I think no less of you dear reader). In terms of Western medicine we would be talking about trauma and subsequent DNA mutations passed on to the next generations. The Rumi poem describes how Eastern philosophy sees these challenges as more of a legacy than a burden. Each of us face challenges that bring us closer to our authenticity. We are like rough gemstones bouncing in a mountain stream. We look like any other rock. When we erode and become smooth in the constant abrasion, the gemstone is revealed. Sometimes we get stuck on one lesson that we pass on to subsequent generations and we also deal with in future lifetimes. This is the nature of healing; it takes as long as it takes. Our graduation from some lessons takes time. It is common for people to have three major teachings in their lives.

The seven souls in their less evolved form from en.wikipedia.org

The seven souls in their less evolved form, click picture to enlarge, from en.wikipedia.org

The seven physical souls are described in the Dào Dé Jīng (The Classic of Daoism written by Lăo Zĭ) as dirty mirrors. It is our responsibility to clean them as best we can so that we see ourselves with clarity. The most efficacious way to do this is in the midst of a working lifestyle rather than a monastic one. It is a challenge to experience the true self with the distractions of the outside world but this self-awareness is more sagacious.

Cleaning our souls involves eating a diet that promotes the health of our biochemical individuality. Food is medicine in Chinese belief systems. Not everybody requires the same food as others. Meditation and exercise are included in spiritual cultivation, AKA cleaning mirrors. Once the mirror is unsoiled, we see the beauty of our true nature. https://celiadermontblog.com/2014/03/21/meditation-practicing-self-love/ This vision inspires us to follow its direction rather than living exclusively to fulfill prescribed social obligations. At this point we have gained the insight to change. The method to do this involves seeing the space within us that creates our form. It is like imagining the vast distances between the protons and electrons in our molecules. Recognizing our physical permeability is like breaking the mirror. We fall into pieces as Hallaj did. He is joyful because he has another opportunity to reshape his image. He trusts his disintegration because he can reorganize the fragments to match more his spirit’s true form. Indigenous cultures call it a shamanic dissolution. Some call the experience ego death or liberation from earthly desires. A serious illness, mental or physical, is sometimes a sign of this disintegration.

That said it is not necessary to understand anything about enlightenment. Rumi consoles us that the process unfolds whether we consciously pursue it or not. It is our nature to evolve. The Friend can be considered the godhead or the light that lives within everything.

The godhead from en.wikipedia.org

The godhead from en.wikipedia.org

Chinese philosophy describes The Friend as the spirit, which is different from the seven souls. It manifests within the human body as three teachers. From within they are helping us every step of the way whether we are aware of them or not.

The three teachers gazing up at the seven souls sitting on a precipice from itmonline.com

The three teachers gazing up at the seven souls sitting on a precipice from itmonline.com

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The Yellow Emperor transmits books to Léi Gōng, from Wellcomeimages.org

The Yellow Emperor transmits books to Léi Gōng, from Wellcomeimages.org

“There are no incurable diseases, only incurable people.” (Yellow Emperor’s Classic, Sù Wèn, Chapter 14)

Cave, from hcn.org

Cave, from hcn.org

Old Chinese house, from independentwritersstudio.com

Old Chinese house, from independentwritersstudio.com

I live in a small community on a mountain. Needless to say there are not a lot of acupuncturists up here. In China it would be typical to find many more. I imagine them meditating in caves like sages, far away from congested cities, though there are lots in dense areas too. I frequently hear the same refrain when I introduce myself, “Oh, I tried that! Acupuncture didn’t work.”

Chinese medicine, like any time-tested medical system, treats almost any symptom not requiring surgery in the United States. Legally an acupuncturist cannot treat any illness, only their symptoms, which make us sound coy in articles like this. Western medicine is a complete system too although I have not heard anyone say, “I saw the doctor and it didn’t work so Western medicine has failed me.” Most people with an illness seek out another doctor because they know that proficiency varies greatly in the profession.

Chinese medicine is no different. One acupuncturist does not necessarily have the skills of another. I had a patient with hyperthyroidism, who could not take the toxic Western medication because her liver was being damaged. Her endocrinologist was very excited by her response to acupuncture because the hyperthyroidism went away. The doctor was ready to start referring all her patients too sensitive for the drugs to see acupuncturists. Her patient, a Chinese medicine practitioner herself, explained that not every acupuncturist is capable of such results. It is necessary to find the one who can, just as you would a Western doctor. Do not be discouraged by this trial by error. Every time you visit a medical practitioner, you are learning what kind of physician suits you and helps you the most.

Old Chinese book, from aliexpress.com

Old Chinese book, from aliexpress.com

“Acupuncture and herbs are only one aspect of a treatment. To truly heal, one needs to resonate with their clients. The client too needs to have confidence that one can overcome the illness or else the spirit will scatter. Temper one’s emotions or else the illness cannot be treated.” (Yellow Emperor’s Classic, Sù Wèn, Chapter 14)

In other words, “It did not work,” is a capitulation to illness that makes it impossible to heal. As long as we believe that we are incurable, it shall be so. We underestimate the power of the mind’s intention by entertaining such thoughts.

“A good healer cannot rely just on their knowledge and skill. One must have integrity, compassion and honesty as a responsible practitioner. … When both client-practitioner are in resonance, then the illness will no longer linger.” (Yellow Emperor’s Classic, Sù Wèn, Chapter 14)

The other reason a treatment may not work is that they are traditionally performed daily in courses of ten. In this country, the cost and time involved prohibits such frequency unless one lives in a small mountain community where everyone is close and the cost of living is lower. For stubborn issues in this country, treatment is recommended biweekly in the beginning. For every year you have had the problem, figure you will need a month of treatment. Acupuncture uses your energy to reestablish a flow in the body’s channels that helps specific areas. It is similar to reconnecting circuits on an electronic board. During the therapy you are learning how to recreate the regenerating flow. At a certain point in time your body forgets the lesson and symptoms return. This period lasts longer and longer as you master the new information. When discomfort recurs it is time to see your acupuncturist for another energetic tutoring session. Ultimately the patient needs them less and less. As Shīfu Kenny Gong said, “Good acupuncturist put himself out of business. Bad acupuncturist make plenty of money.”

Treatments usually last about 20 to 25 minutes. According to the ancient texts it takes the body’s energy and blood to make a full circuit in 22 minutes. The acupuncture therapy flows to every part of the patient in this time. Some treatments are shorter, such as for acute cold and flu symptoms, because the energy and blood only need to circulate on the surface. Deeper channels access the bones and constitution. Those sessions can last 30 minutes to an hour and they are done weekly rather than more frequently. It depends on what the patient needs at that moment in time. I ascertain this through palpation of the pulse, observation of the tongue and the patient’s complaints. “The process of healing cannot be fathomed because many variables can occur during an illness which will require constant adjustment of the treatment.” (Yellow Emperor’s Classic, Sù Wèn, Chapter 8)

It also pays to be a fast learner and that is the reason children are so easy to help. Adults are more set in their ways. They have worn certain paths in their bodies that are deep below the surface like old European roads. It is harder for them to climb out and take the route ignored for so long.

Bronze man with acupuncture channels, from manyriversacupuncture.com

Bronze man with acupuncture channels, from manyriversacupuncture.com

After your first treatment you should feel some change in your state, either better or worse. Obviously you prefer to feel improvement but the unwinding of illness from the body can sometimes be uncomfortable. If your body is blocked, it is harder to be aware of changes taking place. It is the good practitioner’s habit to acknowledge these improvements until the patient’s self-awareness develops.

Living on a mountain makes it easier to see that the sky is the limit!

“A great woman is one who carries the child in her heart.” Mèng Zĭ

Mencius AKA Mèng Zĭ

Mencius AKA Mèng Zĭ

Being immersed in Daoism, I was inspired by the photos below. The evolution of spiritual cultivation in Daoism moves from childhood through adulthood and returns to childhood with old age. This is not an endorsement of dementia. The elder purposely develops the innocence of childhood. It is clear from their answers that children think deeply about the importance of relationships. They are nonjudgemental about the world. They know instinctively that, “the name that becomes a name is not the Immortal Name” (Lao-Tzu’s Taoteching translated by Red Pine). Under ideal circumstances they let go of trauma easily because they are not yet socialized to hold onto it. Children cry instinctively when they are hurt to wash away the pain. The sun comes out when they finally smile, ready to play again. My children attended a school where an injured child was not instantly picked up and admonished that everything was OK. Instead the youngster lay where they fell, surrounded by playmates and teachers, until she had finished processing the experience fully. Otherwise, with time, trauma accumulates in the body like the sediment in an old barrel and reduces circulation, which causes pain. For the same reason, children adapt easily to new circumstances. Youngsters have the ease of Wú Wéi. This is the idea of accomplishing everything without doing anything. The wise elder knows that this is the best way to live life: immersed in the spontaneity of the moment.

Imgur

Imgur

Mrrozzyroo

Mrrozzyroo

Clive White

Clive White

Meh.ro

Meh.ro

http://www.playmountain.org/

For more pictures see the link below:
http://www.viralnova.com/awesome-kid-answers/#rK1JfSsxl40Yf5kF.01

The Elder

The Elder

Iwihinmu, 'place of mystery', from localhikes.com

Iwihinmu, ‘place of mystery’, from localhikes.com

Spring has sprung on the mountain. The buds have crept up the valleys to our high perch. The snow is melting from the bald top of Iwihinmu. In the Chumash language, the mountain’s name means place of mystery. In a normal year the snowpack might last until June or July. The days are warm. When the wind blows, snow flies upward. It is a flurry of furry seed clumps floating from their mother plants into the sky. The Steller’s Jays are building a nest with pine needles under the peak of our A-frame. They have decided that our proximity in the baby blue Adirondacks is still conducive to chickrearing. The needles are scattered everywhere; they are not tidy builders.

Spring greens, dandelion is cold, good for a frustrated liver.

Spring greens, dandelion is cold, good for a frustrated liver.

The new growth of spring reminds us of the mandate to care for the living things around us. The Yellow Emperor’s Classic says spring is the time of reward rather than punishment, building rather than tearing down. In this culture we think of spring-cleaning to provide a clean slate for the rest of the year. How else to create a space for health, wealth and prosperity in our lives? Prosperity is the luxury of a surplus we can share with others. Cleansing your body is equivalent to tidying your environment; it is called detoxification. It is how we reduce inflammation. Do not pick up the brooms and mops if you are still tired from the winter, keep resting.

Food is the best medicine.

Food is the best medicine.

Chinese medicine considers food the most sophisticated medicine. If you eat according to your biochemical individuality, your digestion is healthy. Imagine tending crops that you know flourish in the soil of your bowels. Unfortunately our minds rather than our guts dictate our diets. Bring awareness to your eating. Consume at least one meal without any distractions such as television or thinking. You will lose unwanted weight this way. Eating becomes a meditation where you focus on the texture, aroma and flavour of your food. It is an intimate experience to ingest anything into your body. Eating anything you want without distractions gives you time to consider your motives. You may not need the foods incompatible to your system anymore, once you understand your reasons for consuming them.

Drink beverages at least 30 to 60 minutes before or after eating. This prevents fluids from diluting digestive juices. Eat when you are hungry not tired. Food gives us energy but a short nap or early bedtime is the real solution to fatigue. Eat until you feel satisfied, not full. If you feel hungry after a standard meal, wait ten minutes before you decide to have more. For some of us it takes a little time to register satisfaction. Insatiable hunger indicates some discontentment with your life. Look inward at the self rather than outward at food for the solution.

The green shoots of spring remind us to eat dark leafy greens. Consume at least 2 ½ cups of vegetables daily to keep the large intestine moving smoothly. I recommend a modified Dr. Bieler’s Health Broth at one or two meals, depending on the frequency of your bowel movements: once daily or after each meal is normal. It is known colloquially as Poop Soup.

Zucchini, from wrensoft.com

Zucchini, from wrensoft.com

Green beans, from buffalo-niagaragardening.com

Green beans, from buffalo-niagaragardening.com

Italian parsley, from gpb.org

Italian parsley, from gpb.org

Bring to a boil and simmer in a small amount of water equal amounts of:

· zucchini (high in calcium, strengthens the digestion and the kidneys)
· string beans (strengthens the digestion and the kidneys, drains damp)
· Italian or regular parsley (detoxifies the blood, calms the spirit, increases satisfaction with life)

Cook until still emerald green rather than dark green. Blend twice in a mixer for a smooth broth (less water makes a delicious thick soup). Make a large amount and freeze it. If you tend to be cold add some chopped ginger. If you tend to be hot add some pre-soaked wakame seaweed. You can also add any other dark leafy greens you prefer. One of my patients hates the taste of parsley so he leaves that out, adding something else. Another patient eats nothing but Bieler’s Broth when she is sick and it shortens her recovery. Dark leafy greens relax the liver. Spring is the season of the liver. Like a healthy mother who gets everything done without stress, the liver achieves the most when it is calm. Spring teaches us maternal nurturing.

Mother and cub curled up, from bear.com

Mother and cub curled up, from bear.com

It is all well and good to recommend getting more sleep but what about those of us with insomnia? Until recently I have woken at 4 am every morning. Needless to say I ran out of steam at around 2 pm every afternoon. I credit mountain living with eventually helping me to sleep until 7 am. A major benefit of country life is the lack of light at night. This is not just a boon for stargazers but for insomniacs too.

Chinese medicine uses nature as its template for health. The twenty-four hour day has a specific circuit that begins when our eyes open in the morning. Western science has a name for the body’s twenty-four hour clock: the circadian rhythm. Similar to Eastern ideas, the eyes relay the time of day to a clock in the brain. The biological clock coordinates sleep, wakefulness, body temperature, thirst and appetite. Without artificial light, the sun leaves our eyes at nightfall and our eyelids close for sleep. On Pine Mountain I call it permanent camping, once the sun goes down I crawl into my ‘tent’ AKA my bedroom. After twelve hours of wakefulness it is time for your body to wind down and prepare for sleep. It is this dedication to rest and the natural darkness of my surroundings that restored my sleep cycle. Those of you having trouble falling asleep should keep light sources in the house down to a minimum at night. Avoid backlit technology such as computers and televisions after sunset. Save that kind of work or entertainment for the daytime. Record Jimmy Fallon! Reading a book with a single light in the ambiance of a naturally dark home is a better choice. Black-out blinds or curtains keep the light pollution out of our bedrooms. I am sensitive to the power lights on electronics and cover them too. To be perfectly honest, my husband has been having a hard time finding that darned pea under his princess’s mattress. He also has difficulty finding his way to the bathroom because it is so dark (speaking of pee).

Sleepy eyes, from bear.com

Sleepy eyes, from bear.com

Go to sleep when you feel tired. A fatigued person who forces their energy to rise for too long past a certain point cannot sleep. The energy that should be sinking into the organs loses its way in the bustle of mental activity. Do not hold your eyelids open despite their overwhelming desire to close. If this happens during the day, and you have the luxury, take a 20 to 30 minute nap. Any more and the twenty-four hour cycle gets reset and some organs lose their turn for refreshment. Have you had the experience of waking from a long nap and feeling even more tired? This is the circuit restarting itself as if it was morning again.

Fast asleep with a blanket of snow, from bear.com

Fast asleep with a blanket of snow, from bear.com

According to the sages, some bedtimes are better than others! When our eyes shut for sleep at night, energy starts to circulate into the deep parts of the body for repairs and maintenance. My martial arts teacher, Shīfù Kenny Gong, used to say, “No fix bicycle while riding it!” Each organ receives a dispensation of energy for two hours before the cycle moves on to the next one. The best time to turn in is between 9 and 10 pm. At that time the liver starts to receive its share of attention. The liver is so active that it produces most of our heat. Going to sleep between these hours is your assurance that the hardest working organ in your body gets its well-deserved rest. And I bet you thought it was your brain! Sweet dreams!

The liver in a Chinese woodcut from the Ming (1368-1644 CE), from wellcomeimages.org

The liver in a Chinese woodcut from the Ming (1368-1644 CE), from wellcomeimages.org

The next installment will have advice for those of you who wake up at night and have trouble falling asleep.

One casualty, one survivor, who is to say what is better?

One casualty, one survivor, who is to say what is better?

Everybody on the mountain knows wind makes things dry. This is the high desert after all. Without humidity, wind creates a parched heat like the one we had near the end of January. Normally wind is associated with spring and humidity. This is the typical seasonal weather. A hot wind in winter is untimely. Winter should be a period of cold and hibernation. Wind prunes trees. Wind is change, the new beginning of spring or the new day, opening our eyes first thing in the morning. Wind reminds us that we can be different. Movement starts to increase in our environment as the New Year approaches and days lengthen. The wooden horse of this year is overtaking the slowness of last year’s water snake. Wood nourishes fire. The horse is fire. This year will be fast, like a well-nourished horse. It will be the opposite of 2013, unless of course you live in mountain time.

Chinese Year of the Wood Horse, stone rubbing

Chinese Year of the Wood Horse, stone rubbing

The only permanence in life is change. Most of us live in the belief that life is better static rather than plastic. The wind’s movement creates adaptation in our bodies. The climate and seasons remind us that nothing stays the same, including ourselves. In the West we have a term for the belief that nature portends human events. It is called pathetic fallacy. In Chinese philosophy, the connection we have with nature is neither pitiful nor untrue. It gives us clues as to how our own physiology operates. The Yellow Emperor’s Classic of Internal Medicine says that wind is the origin of many diseases. We are prone to illness when we forget the importance of change: the modification of our behaviour depending on the environment and our circumstances from moment to moment. Live in the light of your own authenticity. This is the lesson of spring.

Fēng meaning wind, a pathogen has entered the inner sanctum.

Fēng meaning wind, a pathogen has entered the inner sanctum.

The pathogen ie bacteria, viruses, fungae.

Chōng, the pathogen ie bacteria, viruses, fungae.

The inner sanctum ie the body.

Fán,the inner sanctum ie the body.

Let the tender shoots of new growth develop without worry. This includes your own comfort with personal change. The green sprout should not be pulled up to check its roots. The gardener trusts its process. It is the same with the changes you undergo in spring, in the morning and anytime you begin something new. Nourishing the kidney in the winter soldifies this trust. If you missed the boat and did not hibernate this winter, there is always next year. We get lots of opportunities to grow no matter the season or our age.

IMG_0459

If you have trouble relaxing into change during spring, it helps to eat more steamed dark leafy greens. These vegetables are full of magnesium, which relaxes muscles, including the bowels. If you are taking blood thinners, discuss eating these vegetables with your doctor first. Your medication may need to be adjusted if you eat them. Otherwise the Yellow Emperor recommends letting your hair down and walking in the grass barefoot. He says we should go to bed with the sun and wake early. Spring is about the love of the mother for the infant. New growth requires softness.

IMG_0448

On March 20th the year officially turned to spring. Did you notice how many people were sick around this transition? Were you one of them? The Yellow Emperor’s Classic of Internal Medicine describes the profound differences in energy between the four seasons. This ancient book explicitly states that we become vulnerable when we do not follow these shifts adequately. As long as we adapt willingly to changes in our environment, we are healthy. It goes without saying that this includes eating a healthy diet and limiting our indulgence in junk foods and poor lifestyle habits.

There are ways to smooth such transitions in life, to limit the backlash of inertia in the form of colds and influenza. As the digestion converts food into usable nutrients, it also helps us alchemically transform our lives. The time before and after seasonal shifts is controlled by the earth element because it represents the digestion. Our digestion helps us incorporate new environments into our consciousness, the way it does various foods. We stand upon different soil when seasons change or we travel and eat food with different bacterial profiles. A strong digestion makes us more adaptable, less prone to Montezuma’s revenge.

Internal organs, from the Daoist Canon, 15th century Chinese, from Wellcomeimages.org

Internal organs, from the Daoist Canon, 15th century Chinese, from Wellcomeimages.org

The proper transmutation of food and fluids means that we do not collect residual waste. Foods that weaken the digestion create byproducts such as dampness and toxicity. We all know the usual suspects: sugar, alcohol, coffee, chocolate and hot spices create heat; dairy, soy, raw, frozen or cold foods create dampness. At the seasonal transition, the digestion’s first order of business is to get rid of the waste products bogging it down; otherwise change is stymied. If you have more heat, your body’s mode of detoxification will be through the throat. If you have more cold, you will suffer from sinus congestion. If you have more damp, you may tend to get influenza. Whatever the illness, rest assured that your body is house cleaning. Illness during seasonal transitions is the body’s way of preparing for the next season with a clean slate.

Is it necessary to suffer in order to see the process of detoxification to its end? There are ways to speed the resolution of illness. First you must rest. The day or two you stay home from work will do wonders. Shīfù Kenny Gong, my martial arts teacher and a Chinese medical practitioner, used to say in ‘Chinglish’, “Can’t fix bicycle while riding it.” By resting you will not be tempted to take OTC medications that suppress your symptoms, which has the effect of pushing the toxins back in. Sometimes it is necessary, but each time you resort to suppression the garbage piles higher. Secondly eat plenty of fruit. Their high sugar content stimulates the immune system and their fluids help carry out accumulated detritus. You could eat twenty apples in one day with a cold. If this sounds overwhelming, drink unsweetened fruit juice instead. Avoid citrus because they increase phlegm during illness. I do not recommend this regime for diabetics. Their blood sugar gets naturally high during an illness for the same reason. Plenty of water is a better choice for them. Thirdly soak in Epsom salt or sea salt baths to pull out the toxins, especially if you are achey. The skin is very porous and a large detoxifying surface. If a bath is too physically demanding, mix the Epsom or sea salt with some oil, wet yourself in the shower, scrub your body down with the mixture and rinse. Your Chinese medical practitioner has acupuncture techniques and herbs to accelerate your recovery as well. Periodic colds and influenza are signs that you are strong enough to clean house. If you get sick too often, the opposite is true and your immune system needs strengthening.

Hydrating Fruit

Hydrating Fruit

Chinese practitioner palpating a patient's pulse, from Wellcomeimages.org

Chinese practitioner palpating a patient’s pulse, from Wellcomeimages.org

IMG_0437

The Chinese word Qì basically means relationship. It describes how different parts of ourselves and our world relate to each other. Spring is the time when hibernation ends and living things reach out.

In the morning I was walking to the Pine Mountain Clubhouse for the Qì Gōng class. I was going there to move my Qì. As I approached the driveway I saw several patches of frozen water dropping in white cascades down the grass. There was also black ice on the flattened brown turf that was slippery when I tested it. Evidence of the cold night still lingered here. When I returned after class the hard ground was soft and aromatic. It was the smell of unfrozen spring mud. The ice coming down the hill was mushy and pocked with holes. In fact, I was less stiff and icebound after class too! On the mountain we know, like the Yellow Emperor, that the night is winter and the morning is the spring thaw. Melting fluids evaporate into the atmosphere. The sky gazers here hope the water will form into clouds and recycle as snow before spring gets any older.

One description of moving Qì is the cycle occurring between evaporating bodies of water and clouds. Qì is a familiar word to practitioners or patients of Chinese medicine and Qì Gōng. Sometimes you will see it written as Chì but it is always pronounced ‘chee’ with a falling tone. The Chinese character gives us clues to its meaning:

IMG_0441

The outer part of the character symbolizes swirling clouds of gas:

IMG_0446

The inner part is a picture of rice grains:

IMG_0447

(Rice is easy to digest, hypoallergenic and a boon to gluten-free eaters such as myself.) Look at the character:

IMG_0441

Do you see grains expanding as they cook? Do you see the steam rising from the rice pot? Qì also illustrates the digestive process. In Chinese medicine the stomach is seen as the saucepan. It must first heat foods that are cold or raw before their molecules are broken down. Nutrients are then released into the bloodstream from the small intestine. In other words Qì is the vital energy we derive from food. One of my patients had a very hot stomach pulse one summer. When I asked, she was not eating any of the usual hotheaded suspects: spicy food, chocolate or coffee. So I questioned her about cold foods. She was eating large frozen drinks daily. Her stomach was overheating from cooking them!

To me, the beauty of the Chinese language (and the frustration of translators) is that the characters contain many different meanings embedded since at least 1046 BCE. As a writer, the more information I have about a word’s meaning, the happier I am. The character for Qì also represents the gaseous state. The picture can be seen as a cloud rather than rice expanding in all eight directions:

IMG_0441

Water rises as a gas and returns as liquid rain or frozen snow. Qì refers to the energy necessary for these changes in state to take place. Its activity is superficial because it diffuses like fumes filling a container or the atmosphere. It is associated with spring because everything starts to move and ascend after the hibernation of winter. Even our radial pulses start to float on the surface. These are the pulses of spring. A slow thaw in spring means you have done too much in the winter. It takes you longer to get moving even though all around you things are sprouting. Spring Qì is movement. Winter is inertia.

If a Chinese speaker says that you are full of Qì, you could be full of vigor or angry or just breathing. Qì inflates us no matter its source. Qì also references the weather or the atmosphere of a room. When Qì does not move in our bodies, it causes pain. Acupuncture moves Qì to restore a lack of flow in any tissue of the body: skin, muscles, blood vessels, joints, bones and the glands that produce hormones. Areas are targeted by the practitioner through her choice of channels, which are like waterways or roadways on a map. The pulse is my GPS. It guides me to the place in my patient’s body asking for help.

Acupuncture channels create access to the whole body because they form a continuum from its surface to its depths. The map demarcates points along the roadways that influence specific parts of the body. One of the most well known is the Tiger’s Mouth on the web between the thumb and index finger. It is used for headaches. It is not always useful to needle a painful area directly until a point further away has diminished its intensity. It is common to see merchants massaging this point who come to trade at Chinese markets. It is also called Union Valley to indicate its ability to help us avoid suffering by accepting a given situation. If the seller will not lower their price, you won’t be angry when you negotiate with the next one in line. Qì is all about change. Spring is the opportunity for new beginnings and a clean slate.

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Alignment

Alignment

The goal of meditation is to quiet the mind in order to hear the truth spoken by your clear consciousness.

We sink into deeper and deeper levels of consciousness as we fall asleep. For those of us who do so easily, the different states may shift too quickly to discern. We slip through the same tiers in meditation without the goal of sleeping. Some people may fall asleep when meditating. They are just tired. Eventually they will catch up on their sleep. Following the body’s inclinations is the key.

Meditation is like putting your oxygen mask on first, before helping others, in a depressurized plane. The first step in any meditation practice is to love your self. If you cannot look in a mirror and honestly attest your love to the image reflecting back at you, start here. In meditation a mantra is one or more words you remember to repeat in between being distracted by extraneous thoughts such as the electricity bill. Self-love is fostered first by the trust developed as a fetus, when all your needs were met. Repeat the phrases: “I trust myself. I love myself. I am a good person. I do good work.” Fear is overcome by love. No matter how traumatic the life, self-love conquers all.

Meditation is a way to hibernate on a daily basis. The breath moving through the nose connects to the depths of the body at the kidneys. These organs are considered the seat of the self in Chinese medicine. Meditation reconnects us with our own deeply held beliefs, whatever they are. For this reason it is nondenominational. It provides a regular break from the constant input of the outside world telling us what to do. It is a chance to relax in a culture that bombards us with information and often asks us to do too much.

Meditation is commonly practiced twice daily for 20 to 30 minutes. The best way to foster the habit is to do it at the same time everyday. Healthy routines are just as easy to develop as poor ones. If you need, start with once a day and make it 10 or 15 minutes for some real baby steps. It is a good idea to dedicate the corner of a quiet room to the practice. Do not meditate after eating. Our digestion is responsible for the ability to focus in Chinese medicine. It cannot do this effectively while digesting too. Meditation is not necessarily suitable for everyone. Look at the area below your nose where there is a groove running down to your lips. If it is a deep cleft, you will benefit from exercise the most. If the lips are full, you respond more to dietary interventions. If the chin is strong, meditation gives you the biggest bang for your investment. Ultimately you are the one to decide where you dedicate your time for self-care.

seated_meditation

Your comfort while meditating is important. Commonly one sits on a comfortable pillow cross-legged with the back unsupported. The pillow under your butt should keep your knees at hip level or below so the back lengthens and relaxes more easily. This is not necessarily something you may be able to achieve yet. Sit in a chair where your feet are flat on the ground. If your legs are short like mine, you may need a pillow on the floor under your feet. You may even require a pillow to support your lower back. As your physical flexibility increases with exercise and stretching, your goal is to sit with your perineum at the front of the chair. Your back needs to be strong for this step because the chair no longer supports it.

chair_meditation

hand

Your hands may be open on your thighs to absorb heaven’s energy, perhaps with only thumbs and middle fingers touching. Your thumbs can be interlaced to communicate with the divinity of the self. Alignment is important. Keep the tip of the tongue on the roof of your mouth to close the circle of energy you create. Feel the tailbone descend, curling subtlely and the top of the head rise as if a string pulls it from heaven.

The knob on Buddha's head where the heavenly cord attaches.

The knob on Buddha’s head where the heavenly cord attaches.

First and foremost you must sincerely love yourself, check out the mirror again if you want reassurance! If your face does not yet inspire these feelings repeat the mantras suggested at the beginning.

Defined by love, you are ready to let go of the thoughts that enter your head, pleasant or unpleasant. With compassion and understanding you acknowledge their existence. You may imagine them floating skyward or you might repeat the mantra “Let them go” in your mind. Letting go is a process unique to you. Transcendental meditation employs the repetition of certain mantras to discourage thinking. Some thoughts may not leave so easily. In this case just keep letting them go. Meditation can be a slow process because it removes the garbage we accumulate in our minds. How deep is your rubbish pile? Clearing the mind leaves it more open to being in the moment. If we persist in defining our experiences according to history, we will repeat it over and over again. The mind becomes flexible without the weight of all your previous assumptions. It becomes more finely tuned to your personal mandate on earth.

hands_meditation

King's Canyon, photo by Ginny Blades

King’s Canyon, photo by Ginny Blades

Many people on the mountain gaze at our clear blue skies this winter and shake their heads at the lack of snowfall. Winter is related to water not just in our community but in Chinese medicine as well. Snow brings frozen aquifers to the mountaintops that melt slowly providing year round water. Winter is the time of consolidation and storage for the coming seasons of growth. Our energy hibernates in the winter like a bear; it sinks down into our cave-like kidneys to sleep. Cold creates this downward movement, strengthening our bodies through solidification. Unseasonable warmth and dryness interferes with this process by encouraging excess activity in so-called ‘good weather’. This creates possible health challenges in subsequent seasons due to lack of rest. The effects occur on a microcosmic level in our bodies as well as in the big picture of the community and planet.

Snowy Glade

Snowy Glade

Winter dryness affects the health of our forest and crops. It also challenges our kidneys, where fluids are consolidated just as they are on winter mountaintops. Parts of the body become inflamed due to lack of irrigation. Other parts retain dampness, like puddles in a shrinking river. The American continent exhibits a similar dichotomy: currently the west is arid and the rest is cold and wet.

Though we can do nothing about the weather, we can make allowances for it in our bodies. The Yellow Emperor is the archetypal Chinese sage. He is credited with writing one of the oldest Chinese books still in existence, his Classic of Internal Medicine. He says that if an individual changes then the whole state is affected. The transmission of wisdom from a single individual to many people occurs like the contagion of family dysfunction. Isn’t it reassuring that functionality goes viral too? One person’s balance with nature resonates first throughout the household, then the community and ultimately, the planet. These personal insights continue to ripple outward like a stone dropped into the substance of the cosmos.

The Yellow Emperor

The Yellow Emperor

Assuming one believes in global warming, it might be said that these unseasonable weather patterns result from the burning of fossil fuels. Crude oils are like the energy reserves in our bodies. When our activity requires more fuel than we have available, we start to overheat like parts of the planet. We become irritable, we have trouble sleeping and our skin gets dry and itchy. Plundering resources through chronic overwork eventually creates hormone deficiencies. In other words the planet is a menopausal woman fanning a really big hot flash. Without sufficient hormones to handle stress, adrenaline from the kidneys kicks in to do the job and causes a flare-up. The hot flash is an important alarm for the menopausal woman because she is over-extending herself. It is time to stop and relax when it happens.

Healing Water

Healing Water

Dry heat leads to craving damp foods: sweets and dairy smother inflammation. Eating like this leads to weight gain. The solution is to start nourishing fluids more directly (some of us have started watering trees on the mountain). Drink a large glass of warm or hot water first thing in the morning on an empty stomach. It filters all the way down through the empty digestion to nourish the kidneys’ reservoirs. Before exercising drink two big glasses. Workouts not only can create more heat, they also help us get rid of it. Water flushes out anything unwanted and cools any friction generated by the exercise. If this amount of water is too much for you, build up to it gradually. You can only do things for which your body is ready. Take time to adjust to new habits (we want to turn the arid desert into a healthy forest rather than a swamp). Depending on your ability to absorb water, wait 30 minutes or one hour before you eat. You will digest your food better. Fruits build fluids too. They cause weight gain consumed as juices. The high sugar content comes from a lot of fruit concentrated in one glass. A single steamed Asian pear not only promotes fluid production, it helps get rid of excess damp. It is particularly beneficial for smokers or those who have coughs.

Asian pears, from eyewatering.wordpress.com

Asian pears, from eyewatering.wordpress.com

Meditation is also a way to train our energy to be calm and grounded rather than volatile. I will discuss its merits in my next blog.

Solstice Canyon

Solstice Canyon