Going To Church
(inspired by our president's
walk of shame from the
White House to the church)
Like a BOSS
I know where to pray
on the mountain
with the Babylon of
rocks and boulders
on vertiginous peaks
Twisted Limber pines
much older than me
Flowers that no one else may see
succulent white liquid
petals, wet desert daisy
tiny... pink... stamens
(sparkling eyes) drowning
in the vast crown
Rooted in dry gravelly ground
Short-stemmed like me
Cutting every corner to
for the grand, miniature display
My heart is rejoicing automatically
Holy people praying on TV
The virus is culling our weak
Be a humanist and
take care of the herd because
we all have our turn to die
The Bishop is in a hurry
The Rabbi is pedantic and brief
The Imam is rapping woke poetry,
long relay races of chosen words
You know who I preferred
My god is nature
A sea of boulders
rising in a swell,
Granite corners, pink
enclosed by black
Shifting layers like petrified cake
Broken, clefts everywhere
The crack in Mummy’s skin
is where the faeries live
Small people in colourful
in a receiving line
I only feel them
and the need to laugh
when I come near
I sit with them,
sprawling in the pew
The church is warm and
protected in the gale
Liquid black gold running
the side of a crevasse
Twinkly granite under dark moss
in the high altitude wind
scouring the earth
Not even big birds are out
The sun is close,
will these wings melt
before I bring the
to my herd
Latency is defined as the condition of being concealed. Our bodies render latent anything with which we choose not to deal. This includes those pesky colds and digestive influenzas that interfere with our ability to earn a whole paycheck. Most of us would rather tough it out than stay at home and allow ourselves the cleansing experience these minor illnesses provide. Unfortunately a lifetime of such behaviour adds up to an accumulation of toxicity that fills our holding areas. Often we start to encounter the overflow beginning at the age of forty. “Body only have forty-year warranty,” Shīfù Kenny Gong used to say. Recurrent joint pain, sinusitis and digestive problems are just a few of the symptoms indicating this has happened. Chronic issues build for a long time before they manifest. A lot of dross gets deposited first. A knowledgeable Chinese medical practitioner is able to cleanse pathogens from these areas of latency. An attentive doctor understands the appropriate time to hand the patient a mop and broom to clean the house that is her body. Someone who is already tired must build her energy first before tackling these Stygian stables.
Traumas that overwhelm a person’s rational thought are also put into latency but much more deeply. These are extraordinary events that defy our ability to process them. I am referring to misfortunes such as murder, incest, rape and physical or mental abuse. They challenge “the most basic civic, familial, and religious foundations of happiness.” (Storey, The Dante Encyclopedia, p. 306.) A person exposed to these kinds of betrayal at a very young age may not retrieve the memories until they are much older. The more profound the perfidy, the longer it takes to remember. Sometimes it is necessary for the abuser to die before the victim feels safe enough for absolution. It is never fair to prompt a person who has buried this kind of legacy. The memories will arise spontaneously when the victim is healthy enough to process them for the first time. Often they appear several years after retirement when the body has had time to recover from years of labour.
Extreme trauma is buried below the abyss. In acupuncture theory, this is the region referred to by a point on the inner ankle called Kidney 3 by English speakers or Tài Xī (太谿/溪), the Great Ravine, by Chinese speakers. The last character begins with the radical Xī meaning to bind:
It is composed of Zhăo, signifying claws or talons, which truss pathogens with silken threads, as a spider wraps his dinner:
The second radical is a valley or Gŭ, inferring as Dante wrote, that the disposal site is at the centre of the earth:
Ravine can also be written with the contracted water radical Shŭi because its flow carves them from the earth:
Representing water, the kidneys encompass our constitution or DNA. These experiences can induce certain gene sequences to turn on or off at this level. Tumours at a young age, whether benign or otherwise, can be an indication of this situation. Endometriosis at menarche might be an example. Early onset leukemia might be another. The offending article is so far beneath the surface, it is frozen. Think of an ice cube around a putrifying memory. This is the bottom ring of Dante Alighieri’s hell. His Inferno houses those who have challenged social stability at the expense of joy (see above). It is a deep place, at the centre of the earth. Lucifer is frozen in ice up to his chest, allowing each of his three heads to chew on one of the worst betrayers.
Below the abyss a person has no consciousness of the material buried there. It is like freezing garbage to cut down on the smell and, on a mountain, discourage bears. It is true, as in Dante’s telling, that it causes chronic pain akin to being a giant’s chew toy, like the hapless sinners in Lucifer’s three mouths. Cocytus or the river of wailing surrounds the last ring of hell. Any blockage down below creates one above in the head, as any good plumber knows (AKA Chinese medical practitioner). It is essential to have an upper air vent if one expects sewage to flow down. If one end is clogged, the other is too. Think of dipping a straw in liquid and putting your finger over the upper opening. When you lift the straw from the fluid it remains in the straw until you release your finger. An obstructed head causes foggy thinking from accumulated fluid, like a cloudy sky ready to rain. When Dante sees the huge wings of Lucifer, he describes just this state:
A far-off windmill turning its huge sails
when a thick fog begins to settle in,
or when the light begins to fade, 6
that is what I thought I saw appearing.
And the gusts of wind it stirred made me shrink back. 10
The wind Dante describes is what Chinese medicine calls internal wind. It arises from excess heat in the body, like the fire in hell’s upper rings. This is the heat that the body attempts to hold latent. Unresolved illness or trauma functions like decomposing organic material in an unturned compost pile. It gets hot in the centre! This, despite the cold packed around it. Internal wind provokes abnormal movement in those afflicted. Examples are tremours or the spasms of blood vessel walls that induce hypertension.
When we had moved far enough along the way
that my master thought the time had come to show me
the creature who was once so beautiful, 18
he stepped aside, and stopping me, announced:
“This is he, this is Dis; this is the place
that calls for all the courage you have in you.” 21
How chilled and nerveless, Reader, I felt then;
do not ask me – I cannot write about it –
there are no words to tell you how I felt. 24
I did not die – I was not living either!
try to imagine, if you can imagine,
me there, deprived of life and death at once. 27
These last stanzas chronicle the difficulty of confronting trauma that is devastating. They underscore the importance of patience until one is sufficiently healthy to face the truth. The death of beauty and hope sequestered in one’s being is shocking to behold! Dante also makes reference to the nervous system, which is affected more by in utero trauma. This may lead to illnesses such as epilepsy, multiple sclerosis or cystic fibrosis.
The greatest artists, such as Dante, are clearly informed by the collective consciousness:
When we had reached the point exactly where
the thigh begins, right at the haunch’s curve,
my guide, with strain and force of every muscle, 78
turned his head toward the shaggy shanks of Dis
and grabbed the hair as if about to climb –
I thought that we were heading back to Hell. 81
“Hold tight, there is no other way,” he said,
panting, exhausted, “only by these stairs
can we leave behind the evil we have seen.” 84
Dante describes the location of an acupuncture point called Support Mountain or Chéng Fú (承 扶) where the thigh meets the buttocks. Two hands hold a seal, the kind stamped to close an envelope:
In this interpretation, they are retaining latent material. The area is cupped to release it (see celiadermont.com to read about cupping). Chéng also refers to establishing order from the chaos created by internal wind. Being closest to heaven, the lungs perform this function in Chinese medicine. Fú also has the radical for hand and that for a man:
It takes a strong grip to maintain latency and hold up the mountain that is the body. The conservation of latency consumes a fair amount of energy. This last stanza describes what happens when we clear the lion’s share of our latency. Remember, it can take a long time, depending on our strength and its virulence. As the protagonist, Dante is ushered by the poet Virgil. A patient needs a wise facilitator in this challenging process. Choose prudently. In earlier stanzas Virgil explains to Dante that a great weight has been lifted from him:
“You think you’re still on the center’s other side,”
he said, “where first I grabbed the hairy worm
of rottenness that pierces the earth’s core; 108
and you were there as long as I moved downward
but, when I turned myself, you passed the point
to which all weight from every part is drawn. 111
The sensory orifices open in the head, which gives us more clarity. Our eyes are no longer shrouded by the experiences of the past. We see heaven because the stars shine from its black canopy the way our eyes do from their sockets. Each day arrives as if we are newborn to the planet. It is easier to fulfill our potential and our destiny without the burden of latency.
We climbed, he first and I behind, until,
through a small round opening ahead of us
I saw the lovely things the heavens hold, 138
and we came out to see once more the stars.
All quotes are from Canto XXXIV of Dante Alighieri’s Inferno translated by Mark Musa.
In any medical system pain is considered a warning sign that there is a problem in the body. Pain can be sufficiently extreme and chronic to result in suicidal thoughts. I am thinking of female patients who have endometriosis their whole lives that rivals the pain of natural labour. Chronic psoriasis from childhood into adulthood can itch enough to cause agony. Pain can be significant. Western medicine sees a person as a collection of individual parts rather than the seamlessly functioning whole envisioned by Eastern philosophers. Today there is a specialist for every part of the body, including our mental health. Eastern medicine regards the mind and body as the same. The ancient medical texts identify physical symptoms rather than mental because it is not Confucian to intimate someone is ‘crazy’. According to this ancient tradition, someone who has physical symptoms has mental ones as well, whether they manifest them or not.
It is an individual’s free choice to face the psychological issues related to their pain or set them aside. Stagnation and pain increase as we repress our feelings. Pain is telling us to change something about ourselves and its emotions provide clues. Sometimes it is very difficult to acknowledge the sweeping adjustments that need to be made in one’s life. Unexpressed emotion sits like a compost pile in our interior, growing hotter and hotter the way organic material ferments. As old age approaches, the heat and inflammation can reach a crescendo. A healthy day-to-day life involves constant processing of outer stimulation and the exploration of our inner being’s reaction to it.
Some people somatize their symptoms, feeling them as physical pain. Some experience emotional upheaval rather than body aches and some allow a combination of the two. Generally sufferers of severe pain have a history of extensive trauma in their lives, whether it is physical or mental. If you choose to work with a therapist, find one who understands that the more you experience the emotion behind pain, the more it decreases. Pain is the result of anything unresolved. It could develop from eating large amounts of ice cream because it tends to obstruct areas from its dampness. It can begin with the chronic use of OTC medications for colds and flus because you choose not to take time off for trivial illness. In the Eastern tradition, these minor maladies provide an opportunity for cleansing. Drugs that suppress symptoms also prevent the toxins from expression and discharge. An acupuncturist familiar with the Shāng Hán Lùn School (Injury Caused By Cold) will know how to help you express rather than suppress illness. The course of a cold will shorten and you will recover more easily while understanding its importance to your general health.
Many of us have obstructions created by trauma, which bruises the blood and can create stagnation that is deep and persistent. Swollen purple veins under the tongue reveal this situation. I am reminded of a massage therapist who complained that she could not help a client who had been trampled in a bar. I suggested she scrape the area with a clean coin and some oil. Acupuncturists call it Guā Shā because it brings old blood and heat to the surface in the form of red spots resembling hickies (they resolve in a few days). What emerged from this woman’s back was the perfect print of a man’s shoe. This is an excellent illustration of how our bodies tend to retain trauma unless it is treated. Needless to say the massage client felt much better.
By the time pain has reached the low back or shoulders, we are reaching the limit of places to store suppressed material, emotional or pathogenic. We see the body like a house with cupboards, an attic and a basement. These are the places where we store experiences we feel we have no time to process. This is the idea of making something latent or putting it into dormancy. The repositories get full in older people because they have experienced more. Ask anyone who has emptied an ancestral home, even if it has housed only one generation: there is a lot of unwanted stuff!
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
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 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.
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.
“A great woman is one who carries the child in her heart.” 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.
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).
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.
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 next installment will have advice for those of you who wake up at night and have trouble falling asleep.
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.
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.
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.
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.