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A collection of notes on the topics of classical Chinese, medicine, and traditional culture.
 

The Gift of Imperfection

It's been a long week for me, ever since I received an email from an 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》. I ended up not sleeping very much for a few very long days and going through every line and every Chinese character of the book, side-by-side with my translated manuscript and the original Chinese source, to see if there could have been other errors. And indeed, I found a handful. Not a disaster but a very valuable lesson in imperfection. I had gone through such trouble to create an error-free book and indeed had created a manuscript that was ALMOST perfect (I found exactly one typo! There are probably a couple more but still... that's a pretty big accomplishment, I think), greatly assisted by several reviewers and critical readers. But here it was, just a few very strange and totally random errors that had slipped in at the very final stage of submitting the manuscript to the printer, in a totally inexplicable manner with no rhyme or reason. Oh the mystery of the universe. Anyway, thanks to print-on-demand technology, they have been corrected and the revised edition is getting printed as I write this.

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In the meantime, I have contacted every person who has bought a copy of the first print-run, informed them of the situation, and offered options on how to proceed. And the responses I have received have just been so insightful, gracious, understanding, and supportive that there is really a giant golden lining to this whole experience for me. Once again, I feel so fortunate to be working in this field of Chinese medicine and healing, full of beautiful mutually-supportive, respectful, centered human beings with such an awareness of the greater purpose of healing and harmonizing heaven and earth that we are all committed to!  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.

The picture attached to this blog was sent by one of my wonderful readers, as a reminder for me to embrace my imperfections. What a perfect image, and certainly the attitude expressed by every response I have received except for one. Wanting to use the picture in this blog and being concerned about copyright, the person who had sent it to me told me where she got it from: A lovely blog called "mending the cracks" by "candidkay."  Since that didn't seem like the original source, I looked further on the Internet and found this blog about the Reverend Tim Dyer and his journey through brokenness. And if you google "kintsugi," you find a whole lot more stories like this, a whole wide world out there of lessons on using art to mend brokenness. Apparently it is a message that not only Sabine is in need of.

This reminds me of a Zhuangzi story that I think of often and find highly relevant for my students at the National College of Natural medicine. The following translation is by Patricia Ebrey from her "Sourcebook of Chinese Civilization":

Consider Cripple Shu. His chin is down by his navel His shoulders stick up above his head. The bones at the base of his neck point to the sky. The five pipes of his spine are on top: his two thighs form ribs. Yet by sewing and washing he is able to fill his mouth; by shaking the fortune-telling sticks he earns enough to feed ten. When the authorities draft soldiers, a cripple can walk among them confidently flapping his sleeves; when they are conscripting work gangs, cripples are excused because of their infirmity. When the authorities give relief grain to the ailing a cripple gets three measures along with undles of firewood. Thus one whose form is crippled can nurture his body and live out the years Heaven grants him. Think that he could do if his virtue was crippled too!

And just because there is always room for another Zhuangzi story, I'll finish with another one of my favorites:

Root of Heaven roamed on the south side of Mount Vast. When he came to the bank of Clear Stream he met Nameless Man and asked him. "Please tell me how to manage the world."

"Go away you dunce." Nameless Man said. "Such questions are no fun I was Just about to join the Creator of Things. If I get bored with that, I'll climb on the bird Merges with the Sky and soar beyond the six directions. I'll visit Nothing Whatever town and stay in Boundless country. Why do you bring up managing the world to disturb my thoughts? ''

Still Root of Heaven repeated his question and Nameless Man responded "Let your rnind wander among the insipid, blend your energies with the featureless, spontaneously accord with things, and you will have no room for selfishness. Then the world will be in order."

And lastly, I want to let interested readers know that I have uploaded two files to the Shennong page in the Store:

  1. A cross-reference list for modern Pinyin medicinal names (for which I gratefully acknowledge the assistance of Justin Penoyer), and
  2. A Questions-and-Answers page, which I will be updating periodically.

Best wishes and happy monkeying to you all!

Sabine WilmsComment