Rose does not ask for a pet, she powerfully demands recognition whenever she needs it or the mood strikes her. Luckily for me, that is actually quite often. At the same time, she is fiercely independent and happily and ceaselessly performs her task of guarding the farm. Our connection is not one of devotion or need but of choice, given as a mutual gift to enrich both of our lives from a place of power and freedom. Having this force of nature in my life serves as a constant reminder to myself of my own animal nature. It also inspires me to exist in the moment in a non-rational presence that perhaps can temporarily transcend the subjective or objective experience of reality, as it is filtered through the divisive activity of the rational mind. This is as close as I come on a daily basis to the ideal Chinese state of “fasting the heart.”
This blog is a continuation of my previous post, “Why I Dislike Walls, Part One,” which you can read here. That post was an attempt to give voice to some of my personal experiences with walls in Germany and on the US-Mexican border, to explain my personal gut reaction. In the present writing, I am putting on my supposedly objective historian’s hat for Part Two, to look more closely at arguably the most famous historical example of wall-building, namely the Great Wall of China. So let us travel far away in time and space, to fifteenth-century China and the construction of the Great Wall in the Ming dynasty. And here I’d like to add the disclaimer that I am not a specialist in late imperial Chinese history, but merely get to revisit this topic once a year while teaching a survey course on Chinese History and Culture to students of Chinese medicine at the National University of Natural Medicine. My original inspiration for this topic came from a brief lecture that Professor Donald Harper gave more than two decades ago at the University of Arizona in an undergraduate Chinese Civilizations class, for which I served as a Teaching Assistant. All mistakes are of course my own.
The prospect of yet another wall going up and mercilessly dividing a contiguous region by cutting through towns, communities, families, and friends who I deeply love and care about on both sides, and the reality already of innocent people being torn from their communities, rounded up, marked as different due to some human-made distinction expressed by a piece of paper, and shipped off to a place of no return, breaks my heart and forces me to speak up. The current hateful political discourse on building a wall and deporting “illegals” to “make America great again” touches me more deeply than any other political issue ever has in my entire adult life, and I have been around the block.
The following is a short excerpt from one of the books that I translated and self-published a few years back, actually the first book produced by Happy Goat Productions. It seems to me that the wisdom of Virtue Healing embodied in Wang Fengyi's teachings is particularly relevant in our current political turmoil in the US. I am holding the very first copy of our new edition, hot off the press, in my hands and, while reviewing it one last time, just came across this passage, which I think is worth sharing. I love the conclusion in particular:
...do not use reason to work things out. If you reason with each other to work things out, you will only explode in anger. These days, people all reason with each other, until they reason each other into the ground. If they don’t end up separating, they end up getting a divorce. Between husband and wife, you must use your feelings to work things out. If you use your feelings to work things out, you will end up dearly loving each other again.
Orientalism is a term and topic that has crept into my thoughts repeatedly over the last few months. I have tried to push this unwanted visitor back out the door, with excuses ranging from “Everything there is to say on the topic has already been said by much smarter, more erudite people than myself,” to “This is just another example of me sticking my foot in my mouth and stirring up a hornets’ nest with no need,” to “Who am I to say anything about this topic, because wasn’t it this very same fascination with the ‘Orient’ that got me started in the field of sinology in the first place?” But alas, the term has gotten a foot in the door and a draft of this blog post has been sitting on my desktop for months now, waiting for me to accept the challenge. Please forgive me if I offend you, dear reader. I’d rather step on your toes than continue tiptoeing around the subject, remaining silent, and smoldering internally as I witness this attitude rearing its ugly head again and again in innocent statements by the most well-meaning people who simply have never critically thought about its historical baggage in the context of learning, practicing, or teaching what is far too often still tellingly called “Oriental Medicine.”
Dear Friends, family, colleagues, neighbors, acquaintances, or anybody else who may be expecting a present from me! Dear marketers, intentional manipulators of my emotional Christmas hang-ups, and purveyors of junk mail! Dear anybody who is trying to get me to buy or sell anything this Christmas!
It is the intention of this letter to inform all of you that I have not and will not be buying presents to celebrate Christmas this year. I regret to inform you all that nobody will be receiving a hippopotamus from me for Christmas, regardless of how nicely you can sing that tune. Allow me to explain, in the hope that you will understand and not take it personal if you do not receive a present from me or get me to buy your product.
May I introduce you, dear reader to my two new friends? A cedar and a pine tree living in a secluded corner of the thick rain forest, in a magical grove behind my home. On a recent morning walk, I found them in an intimate embrace with such good strong healing qì that they drew me in and convinced me to pause for a moment and listen to their wisdom. It was much-needed balm for my troubled heart and spirit so I decided to share it. I also got the strange sense that they wanted me to pass this on. Here’s what they had to share with me.
In an escape from current politics and to regain my balance and faith in humanity, I have been burying myself once again in Suwen 5, which may or may not evolve into the next book-length publication by Happy Goat Productions. What follows is probably the nerdiest blog post I have ever written, but it has brought me great satisfaction. Feel free to share constructive criticism, questions, or any other feedback in the Comments section below. I am perfectly aware that I am trying to put something in written words that is ultimately better approached intuitively. The passage below is found about two thirds through the chapter, following directly after the famous passage where Qi Bo explains the associations of the five directions with the dynamic agents, organs, climatic factors, sounds, flavors, etc etc. I am aware that the references of traditional gender roles in my discussion below may strike some readers as offensive, but I ask you to reserve judgment that comes from a modern Western perspective. Yes, I have opened another can of worms there and I promise to address that can in a different blog post in the future.
This past Monday morning, I was going to give a rousing lecture on classical philosophy from the “Warring States” period to my dear students in my Chinese History and Culture class. I was going to fill them with hope and certainty and a spirit of community and activism, and somehow transmit to them, magically, how their future role as healers in the proud tradition of Chinese medicine would enable them to “harmonize Heaven and Earth” and heal this horrid mess that we find ourselves in right now. When I opened my mouth, though, I realized that I had no wise words but only tears to share for these beautiful people in front of me. I find myself torn in an unpredictable and often disturbing pendulum between a strong need to spill my insides out and utter speechlessness. Being a teacher in this state is quite challenging, especially if you have to teach something as personal and relevant (at least for me) as philosophy and history.
After a few days of reflection, I have decided to accept the risk of offending some readers with my perspective as a brand-new American citizen, who has nevertheless lived here for most of my adult life, mastered the art of making apple pie, learned to shoot a gun, and raised a thoroughly American daughter all the way through prom and beyond. I feel the need to share my personal story because it may spark a conversation or offer a different perspective. I believe that these times call on all of us to speak truth from our hearts, and to listen to our fellow humans’ truth with an open heart in exchange. For only with honesty and openness to other viewpoints can we start the hard work of overcoming our current divisions and make room for love and reconciliation instead.
WATER IS YĪN; FIRE IS YÁNG. YÁNG IS QÌ; YĪN IS FLAVOR.
A commentary on this line from the Lèi Jīng:
“Thus in Heaven, the sun and moon are water and fire; in the Yì Jīng, [the trigrams] kǎn and lí are water and fire; in medicine, the heart and the kidney are water and fire; and in alchemy, essence and qì are water and fire. Now the kidney is water, and the generation of qì inside water is precisely true fire; the heart is fire, and the generation of fluids inside fire is precisely true water. The mutual storage of water and fire within each other, this is where the utmost Dào is located, and this is what any physician should first examine attentively.”
On the wonderful synchronicities of life, here is an early-morning commentary on Sùwèn chapter five (陰陽應象大論篇第五, “The Great Treatise on Yin-Yang Resonating in the Manifest World”), inspired by my walk with the dogs this morning in the first foggy rainy soupy Oregon fall day. Every year, I get to revisit this chapter, which I currently consider perhaps the single most important treatise in Chinese medicine in general, in the course of teaching three Neijing Seminars in the Classical Texts curriculum at the university. We start off with Suwen 5, and invariably some eager students will voice a bit of disappointment, after a quick look at the syllabus, that we are only going to cover a single chapter. Don’t we want to read the entire Néijīng (黃帝內經 “Yellow Emperor’s Inner Classic”)? And equally predictably, we run out of time long by the end of the term, long before the end of this chapter. So here are some ruminations on just the first couple of lines.
1) The Emperor said: “The sages in ancient antiquity made fermented medicinal brews and yet they did not use them. Why is that?”
2) Qí Bó said: “The reason why from ancient times the sages made fermented medicinal brews was as a precaution, and nothing else. Thus in ancient antiquity [the sages] did make these liquors and yet they did not ingest them. In the age of mid-antiquity, [people’s] inherent power (dé) as a manifestation of their Dào had gradually declined and evil qì reached them from time to time. When they did ingest [the medicinal brews in cases of harm from evil qì], they were a hundred percent effective.”
3) The Emperor said: “Why is it that this is no longer invariably the case in our current age?”
4) Qí Bó said: “The reason for this that in our current age, we must line up toxic medicinals, to attack the patient’s center, and apply lancing stones, needles, and moxa, to treat their outside.”
Disclaimer: The following blog is merely a collection of notes and not a serious scientific research paper. There is obviously a pressing need for more research. My intention with this blog post is not to make any conclusive statements about the practice of placenta encapsulation or placentophagy, which I am not qualified to do anyway, but merely to offer the classical Chinese perspective as an urgently-needed correction to some misinformation promoted in popular and Chinese medicine circles.
It's been a long week for me, ever since I received an email from a attentive reader about an inexplicable error in my newly published translation of the "Divine Farmer's Classic of Materia Medica" 《神農本草經》... It is the year of the Fire Monkey, and I knew it was going to be a wild ride. Which is why I had been so determined to publish the book before the New Year. But I guess it was too late, the Fire Monkey did his monkeying anyway, and what a gift that has been for me! Like the gold filling the cracks in the Japanese art of Kintsugi, healing the break, so to speak, and thereby making the final product more beautiful and stronger as the result, I have spent the past week contemplating what happened and how to resolve it. All is well, imperfection is the nature of the world, I just need to chill and read my Laozi. Which I truly have been doing. Words are always just imperfect pointers at the greater truth of reality. The Dao that can be taught, expressed, walked, or transmitted as a path for others to follow, is never the unchanging, constant Dao. We all know this. Empty your heart and fill your belly..
...this text should be on every herbalist’s desk, and would also serve as an excellent introduction to herbal medicine for acupuncture/ ’moxabustionists’ as well. I’m looking forward to taking the Shen nong ben cao jing into the forests, as I commune with the plants and minerals in the fields. Or as Zhuangzi once said, ‘cloud hidden, whereabouts unknown’.
Perhaps because I am teaching a gynecology class right now while dealing with the very final last-minute revisions and the release drama of my new book, the "Divine Farmer's Classic of Materia Medica," it has struck me lately how similar the production of a book is to the conception, pregnancy, labor, and birth of a real child, and then the postpartum recovery.
While I was really hoping to announce the release of my forthcoming (and over-due) translation of the Divine Farmer's Classic of Materia Medica, we are still fine-tuning it. It is a precious text that needs to be treated with reverence and presented correctly. So please be patient and accept my apologies for the delay. Any day now though....literally!
In the meantime, I have a sweet little story to share with you: A friend recommended that I check out the work of Jane English, translator, publisher, shaman, nature photographer, and apparently just somebody whose work I would really relate to.