Friday, December 16, 2005

Talk Snippet

Recently I gave a small talk to a very small "audience" at a toddler center, a snippet of same follows. Rest assured that this was the most "technical" bit....................................................

The existence and understanding of Qi is essential and central to the understanding and practice of Oriental Medicine. The Chinese character for Qi incorporates the characters for vapor, steam or gas and for uncooked rice, indicating that Qi can be both rarified and material. It also indicates that Qi is a subtle substance derived from a coarse one, just as cooking rice produces steam. Translating the word Qi leads to many and varied definitions; energy, material force, matter, ether, matter energy, vital force, life force, vital power, moving power. The difficulty in translating the word lies in the changeable nature of Qi; Qi can assume different manifestations and be different things in different situations. Most modern physicists would agree that Qi can be thought of as expressing the continuum of matter and energy as is now understood by modern particle physics. Zhang Zai who lived and thought about things in the late 11th century China said, “ If Qi condenses, its visibility becomes effective and physical form appears”. I think this is very much the same as the physics definition. Some other current ways of labeling Qi range from EMFs to biophotons to the nervous system, these are all valid in a somewhat limited or rather specialized sense of Qi. In the Chinese sense Qi is everything and everything has it’s own special Qi;, each organ has special Qi and so do rabbits, monkeys, the Empire State Building and the moment of your conception. And it is all connected because it is Qi. There is a Qi for space, time, location and organism, and there is Qi for the mind and the spirit.
Qi is material and immaterial. For the purposes of healing the physical body we are most interested in the invisible Qi, the Qi that has not yet become form because that is where is easiest to encourage a change and hence a shift in the physical. One of the best ways to understand the unseen is by its relationship to the seen; we can understand wind in its relationship to a tree and the motion it causes. Chinese Medicine says, “Qi is the leader of the Blood and Blood is the mother of the Qi” From this we understand that Qi is the animating element of the body; Yang to the Yin of the blood. On the continuum both are Qi, so we differentiate by calling the invisible driving Qi, Yang and the more material Qi, Yin. Organs function because Qi is animating them, each organ has it’s own special Qi with it’s particular and sometimes peculiar attributes. Through thousands of years of observation and experimentation Chinese Medicine has mapped out the Qi of the body into 12 main meridians with a total of 360 points on the meridians. Each point has a special use and some have many more.

Qi is a shape shifter, a mover and a shaker.

Remember that material is Qi condensed, a coagulation of Qi. Substances have special Qi. We know what kind by the effect they have on the body. For instance dried Orange peel or Chen Pi has been observed again and again to dry phlegm, this is due in part to its Qi, which is warm and dry. It is the effects of these different Qis that give herbs and food their power to shift the physical body.

Children’s Qi is quite available on the surface of the skin, it is easily changed and changeable. Classic Chinese medical wisdom states
“Xioa fu jiao ruo, qi yi chu dao” or “ Organs are fragile and soft, Qi easily leaves it’s path”. We have all seen how babies can get too hot or too cold and simply loose it, cry, get sick, sometimes becoming very ill. This is the Qi loosing its path. By the same token young children can pull out of a serious illness, almost as if by a miracle. This is because of the same very changeable nature of their Qi. The changeability, availability, the openness of children’s Qi is the gift and the issue in children’s health.

On the energy-matter continuum adults are more matter than children. Our Qi is not as available, it is harder to move, and the patterns are more ingrained. And that’s good and not so good, we may not get an infectious disease as readily as a small child or fever for days, but we are more prone to chronic degenerative conditions.

Saturday, November 19, 2005

Don't Read While You Eat: Part XIII

Hoping to be alone with Second Sister in order to talk about his ability to disappear at least a part of his body into another place/world/dimension, Little Fish ducked out of Martial Arts practice during some line work on sidekicks. When he arrived at the kitchen Ma Huang was so distracted by the correct presentation of the Dinner of Immortality that she barely acknowledged his presence and soon after left, balancing on one hand a huge tray filled with bowls and dishes. The children were left alone, completely to themselves. Little Fish checked out the window and Second Sister the door. All the same they huddled in the furthest corner by the rice bin and spoke in rapid whispers.
“How did you do it?” Second Sister asked.
“I’m not sure exactly, but I can get there every time I try.”
“Do it now” she insisted.
“I don’t know if we have time, I have a plan and I wanted to tell you about…..”
“No,” she cut him off “show me again.” She half suspected it was a trick.
“Alright, alright.” Little Fish stood, breathed deeply, settled into his legs and sent out a questing hand. Slowly, slowly it searched and then disappeared.
“There you are,” he whispered triumphantly.
“What happens if you put more of you in? What if you put you head in? What would you see?”
“I tried to put my head in, but it wouldn’t go.”
“Wouldn’t go?”
“Wouldn’t go, I think it needs to go with my spine. I’ve gone up to my shoulder, but I didn’t want to go all the way in case I couldn’t get back.”
Second Sister was very excited, “ This might be a way we could leave here and go home.”
“And with me here, I could hold you on this side and you could look around.”
“And maybe between the two of us we could figure out how to get in and out and move around.”
“You know Little Fish, you’re pretty smart for a little brother.”
Little Fish grinned “Exactly.”
Second Sister snorted, she’d set herself up for that one, however they had no time for proper quibbling.
“Shut up and I’ll hold your other hand while you put in more of your body.”
“Let’s see what…” Little Fish collected himself and slowly advanced, then a startled look washed across his face. “I’m being pulled in.” The siblings watched as more and more of the struggling Little Fish’s arm disappeared into thin air.
“Pull me back,” he hissed. Second Sister grabbed his other arm and dug in her heels.

When Ma Huang returned the kitchen was empty. She examined the scuffle marks on the dirt floor, sniffed the air, breathed a sigh of resignation and poured herself a cup of green tea.

Saturday, October 22, 2005

Don't Read While You Eat: Part XII

Second Sister sat in the kitchen with Ma Huang, Second Sister had been unable to speak with Little Fish alone at length since she had seen his hand disappear and reappear. It had been three days now, they were very, very closely watched she realized. However a plan had been spawned between the siblings in quick whispers. There was a time every week when Ma Huang brought the Master the specially prepared Dinner of Immortality. Usually during this time Second Sister and Little Fish were in a Martial Arts practice session, but Second Sister had faked an ankle injury, so she sat in the kitchen chatting idly with the scar faced Ma Huang, waiting to see if Little Fish would show up. Whether it was nerves or anticipation of Little Fish’s conversation about the mysterious hand, Second Sister became bold, even insolent.
“Tell me, how did you get the scar on your face?”
Ma Huang kept smoothly chopping the vegetables to go in the bone broth.
“Once upon a time I was a very beautiful girl.”
Second Sister stared hard at her and looking past the scar she could see it, Ma Huang was still extraordinarily beautiful. “Many men hounded my father for my hand in marriage. Wanting to make the most advantageous match for family prestige and his pocket book, he allowed the process to extend for three years. During that time a wandering Taoist Monk came through our town. My brother became interested in his teachings ad he stayed at our house for the summer months when it was too hot to travel. He taught my brother and I many Taoist internal alchemical practices, and I felt I had found my path in life. I felt I had found my true home. Soon after Xing Ren, for it was he, left our house my father found the best possible match for me and insisted I marry the man. I thought him an oaf and he thought me a treasure to be kept wrapped in silk and displayed. Resolutely, one morning I stole my brother’s sword and cut my face. My betrothed retracted his offer and my father disowned me as mad. And I was free to practice internal alchemy and other Taoist arts.”
Ma Huang spun around, kicked high over the soup cauldron and dropped a handful of vegetables into the savory broth.

Sunday, October 16, 2005

Don't Read While You Eat: Part XI

It seemed that Second Sister and Little Fish could do anything they like. Sometimes they stayed in the kitchen with the green-eyed, scar-faced woman. Here they helped prepare the food for the hundreds of monks staying at the Temple. Often they joined in a Martial Arts practice. Little Fish learned several moves of Tai Chi Chuan, which he would practice for hours on end in one of the innumerable courtyard that punctuated the temple buildings. Second Sister took advantage of the scrolls in the Temple buildings, though she was only allowed in with Xing Ren and then only at certain times. Life seemed to have settled after a couple or three weeks. One day they were in the kitchen and Ma Huang, for that was the green-eyed woman’s name, had just stepped out to gather a few things from the kitchen garden. Little Fish glanced furtively around and whispered to Second Sister, “Have you noticed we are never alone?” And she realized this was true.
“What so you think is going on?” she whispered to the beet she was cutting.
“Come with me to practice in the North Courtyard just before dinner”.
Second Sister had always found Little Fish’s obsession with the slow moving and, in her opinion, boring Tai Chi worthy of ignoring, but this time she nodded just as Ma Huang returned with an armful of greens. That afternoon the two children arrived at the North Courtyard and Little Fish showed Second Sister the opening moves of the Tai Chi set. A monk had certainly followed them albeit from afar. After an hour another monk took the first monk’s place. Second Sister wondered how she could have failed to notice the monkish tails….

The dinner bell rang and Little Fish made off to the dining hall, Second Sister following. The monk on their case passed them, satisfied of their destination. However Little Fish circled around and they returned to the courtyard, this time unobserved.
“Watch, quickly we haven’t much time.” He settled himself, breathed and moved into a stance called Single Whip. Second Sister gasped as his foremost hand disappeared.
“So” intoned Little Fish as he retrieved his hand from invisibility, “we have to go to dinner not or they’ll come looking.”

Thursday, October 06, 2005

Don't Read While You Eat: Part X

Second Sister stared into her soup bowl then glanced at Little Fish, who was equally entranced by his bowl. ‘I wonder if it is safe to eat’ she thought to herself. Xing Ren and the woman joined the children with soups of their own.
“It is good” Xing Ren intoned into his soup and lifted a spoonful to his lips. Little Fish and Second Sister lowered their spoons into their respective soups. Soup, which was a world unto itself, topped with five fresh, floating, flowers, the middle layer riddled with loosely waving seaweed and the bottom thick with primordial sludge. Second Sister knew from the smell that the stock of this soup had been slaved over, prayed over and pampered like a newborn horse. Her mother made the same such stock to keep her husband and children strong. Eating a flower Little Fish felt his head unfold, a surprise to him as he hadn’t been aware that it was folded. A strand of seaweed unclenched Second Sister’s solar plexus. A single tear made it’s way down Xing Ren’s nose as a spoonful of soup sludge filled his bones. Only soup sounds could be heard for many, many heartbeats.

After soup Second Sister felt quite herself again and asked, “Can we go home now that Little Fish is cured?”
Xing Ren rubbed his nose where the teardrop had traveled and looked sad.
“Actually, no, you can’t.”
“What! Why not?” Second Sister was alarmed and suspicious. Had they been kidnapped? The woman with the green eyes and the scar cleared the bowls and spoons as Xing Ren settled back in his chair and spoke.
“For twenty years I lived in a little hut on an auspicious site on the side of a mountain. Two years ago a messenger arrived with a letter from my teacher, the Head Priest of this Monastery. The letter informed me that a divination using the I Ching, Astronomic and Astrological calculations and a series of portents seemingly sent from the gods had been made. At the heart of it was the forecast of much sickness in the Winter and Spring four years from the date of the letter. Surrounding the heart was war and unrest in a number of provinces. My teacher asked me to collect enough herbs to supply the Monastery in the time of need. He gave me a list of the symptoms, garnered from the dinvination, so that I might tailor the formula to the approaching evil wind; relentless fever, sore throat, cough, difficulty breathing, extreme fatigue, green phlegm and boils. These were the main symptoms. I did not want to leave my mountain, but loyalty to my teacher and the place I received my training was stronger than my personal desires. For two years I have traveled arranging the collection of enough herbs to serve the monastery and the surrounding countryside. Some of the herbs are to be delivered in a year, some will be picked up by myself or one of the monks.”
“So why can’t we go home?” Second Sister interrupted.
“If I let you go home your parents might not grow enough Jin Yin Hua, the amount I require is more than their usual harvest, they will have to put forth special effort.”
Little Fish squirmed; he couldn’t let Second Sister do all the talking now that he was better. “Then, then…we are hostages?”
Second Sister chimed in “And what about my family, are we to die when the evil wind comes because you have taken all the Jin Yin Hua?”
Xing Ren laughed.
“What? What? What?” demanded Second Sister.
“I find it infinitely amusing to be found fiendishly horrible. But how could you know? I had not gotten far enough in my story. You see the Jin Yin Hua alone would not quell this evil wind, nor would the herbs in the countryside surrounding your farm. Only the formula I arranged from nine provinces over two years will quell it. I will have enough of all the herbs left at your farm to take care of your family and nearby inhabitants. You will stay here for one year, you might even like it. I wish I could send you home, but my first loyalty is with the welfare of the monastery.”
Unappeased Second Sister asked “And do you get to go home to your mountain?”
Xing Ren slowly shook his head “Alas, no, I must stay here and write, the people need something good to read in times of trouble.”

Friday, September 30, 2005

Don't Read While You Eat: Part IX

Holding high the lantern to illuminate the three traveler’s faces, while keeping it’s own identity in shadow the tall silent figure surveyed the scene. Xing Ren had stopped pulling at his burnt beard, his hands hung at his sides, still holding a handful each. The children were dusty, pale and slightly burnt. Second Sister sported a cut over her eye and Little Fish had straw in his hair from the bag that been over his head. It seemed to Little Fish that they stood in the dark outside the gate for an hour, it was in fact but two breaths.

“What have you done to these children, Xing Ren?” asked a woman’s voice from behind the lantern.
“Well, don’t you know? I had to take a short cut. We were attacked by bandits.”
“I did know about the bandits, but I didn’t know you took them through there, I can’t watch everything.

As the lantern lowered the children saw green eyes flashing from a face cut diagonally in half by a white scar.
“Let’s get them to the kitchen.”

Though a small, half-size door a short way from the main gate and across a courtyard, the children and Xing Ren followed the lantern. Second Sister and Little Fish felt as if they were walking through honey, all was sticky and difficult. Left, right, another right turn and then a left, the lantern’s light lead through a maze of buildings. Second Sister began to stagger, she grabbed Little Fish’s hand for security, but he was already falling. “Sifu!” she called as her lags gave way and all was dark.

Little Fish awoke to kitchen sounds and that gave way to low voices. Feeling Second Sister near he opened his left eye a slit to see if he could see her. She, too, seemed awake, but was pretending to be asleep and Little Fish realized why. The conversation was very curious.
“This is your fault,” hissed the woman’s voice, then sounds of chopping and rustlings.
“It seemed the best choice to spend less time, rather than more.” This was Xing Ren’s voice. Sounds of stirring and moving about.
“Yes, then more later on and we’ll have to watch them carefully.”
“Better than them getting too familiar there.”
“Sifu won’t be happy you got yourself into that situation in the first place.”
“I know, I believe there is something else going on. They’ll be alright won’t they?” Xing Ren sounded truly concerned.
“Of course, they’re young and you’ve been making them walk all day.”
Footsteps towards the children and away.
The woman’s voice said, “They are already awake, are they always so devious?”
“We are not devious!” cried Second Sister, sitting up and dragging Little Fish with her, “We want to know what’s going on. We have a right to know what happened. Why can’t…” but she stopped. For even stranger that the woman with the scar was Xing Ren. He had pulled his entire beard off and the face beneath was not old. His skin glowed and barely a wrinkle marred his countenance, until he burst into laughter.
“I think” said the woman “we’d better give these children some soup.”

Saturday, September 03, 2005

Don't Read While You Eat: Part VIII

Two days from Wu Dan Mountain the three camped as usual and Xing Ren retreated into the forest. Second Sister and Little Fish feasted on wild yams cooked on the fire and the last of the sesame cookies from the farm. A twig snapped and Second Sister glanced up, hoping to see Xing Ren. Six men with great swords at their sides crashed into the clearing and looked expectantly around.
“Where are your parents?” the one with the biggest sword roughly demanded.
“Not here” said Second Sister, realizing these must be bandits.
“Hey, Boss, here are their packs” called one with a bandage on his forehead.
“Take ‘em” growled Big Sword, “and the kids, too.”
“I’ll do this little job, Boss,” rasped a bandit with only one ear. Little Fish began whimpering.
“Ah, don’t pee in your pants” hissed Second Sister, because she was scared too. Jumping to her feet she faced her attacker. At the Iron Rabbit School the girls had specialized in a Kung Fu style called Wing Chun, a method of fighting designed especially for the female body. Second Sister took on her fighting stance; goat stance with feet at shoulder width, toes turned and fists at her hips.
“Oh, ha, ha, ha, heh, heh” laughed the bandit “the little missy is showing off her stance.” He shook out a rope with which he intended to tie her up. The other bandits retreated, ready for a bit of a show. Little Fish put his back against a tree and started shouting for Xing Ren. A bandit circled behind the tree.
“Come on, missy, nice and quiet and I won’t hurt you… much”

Second Sister stood watching without blinking, ready without seeming to be. One Ear came closer, then lunged for her arm, but she was faster and did a snap kick that caught him under the chin. Stumbling backward the bandit slumped into the arms of his fellows, who dropped him to the ground and advanced on Second Sister en masse. She heard scuffling sounds behind and the calls for Xing Ren ceased as Little Fish was trussed up with a sack over his head. Second Sister kicked her foot sending a dust cloud into the faces of the four advancing bandits. Pausing for a few seconds only, then they were on her. She held her ground with lightening fast Wing Chun punching and low shin kicks, more than one bandit was bleeding, and so were her knuckles. Big Sword drew his weapon.
“I’ve had enough” he spat.
Then, as Second Sister would tell later, Xing Ren leapt backwards out of the fire, beard and robes aflame. He swung his robes at the bandits, flames spun off, hitting the bandits who scattered like cockroaches. Grabbing Second Sister by the wrist, he swooped Little Fish up, tucked him under his arm and stepped backward into the fire. Too surprised to object to being dragged into the fire, Second Sister was additionally surprised to find she felt as if she was being turned inside out, flattened, then popped back into shape again.
“Well, here we are” announced Xing Ren in a matter of fact tone.
“Where?” asked Second Sister.
“At my teacher’s temple” replied the Taoist hermit as he drew the sack from Little Fish’s head.

The two children looked around. It was dark, but they could see an immense red, closed, double gate with stone walls to either side. Behind them was a steep path up which they had not come. Standing next to them was a scorched Xing Ren, who was pulling his once long and luxuriant beard out by burnt handfuls. A shaft of light fell across the scene and a figure glided toward them holding high a lantern.

Wednesday, August 31, 2005

Don't Read While You Eat: Part VII

Second Sister noticed that the closer Wu Dan Mountain loomed the more distant the hermit became. There had been a time when he joked and talked with the children. Now even Second Sister’s most respectfully posed questions were answered in monosyllables. At night in the camp Xing Ren left the children to cook for themselves and disappeared into the surrounding forest, returning after Little Fish and Second Sister had settled down to sleep. One night on a full moon, Second Sister, who did not remain curious for long without action, silently followed the bearded sage into the forest. Careful not to wander out of sight of the fire and equally desirous to spy on her guardian, Second Sister was struck by inspiration; if she climbed a tree she would be able to see farther in both directions. Second Sister ran lightly through the trees ‘til she could no longer see the fire, climbed a tree and to her delight could see both the fire and the shape she knew to be Xing Ren. Brilliant moonlight made spying easy and as the bright orb rose Second Sister watched and watched. Xing Ren began by walking in a circle, then as though by a trick of the light he would be going in the opposite direction. As time went by his changes of direction became increasingly complex until Second Sister would have sworn on her mama’s gold turtle brooch with ruby eyes, that he looked like a dragon swimming in the air. The nearness of the shining moon demanded Second Sister’s attention once the edge was taken off her curiosity. The Rabbit That Lives On the Moon And Pounds The Elixir of Immortality was one of Second Sister’s favorite stories. Looking at the moon she recounted this tale silently to herself, word for word, just as her mother told it every full moon since before Second Sister had been born. She could almost smell her family’s farm; the honeysuckles, the chickens, onions drying, green tea and cooked rice. Lost in her memories she almost fell out of her tree when she heard Xing Ren’s voice softly calling “Shu, shu, shu, Second Sister, it is time for bed.”

They walked back to camp, hand in hand. Little Fish had already gone to sleep, hogging both blankets. As Xing Ren dug in his pack for an extra blanket Second Sister quietly asked “Shifu, what were you doing in the forest?
Sighing softly, Xing Ren felt a softening in his hard hermit exterior, “I am practicing.”
“And why is that, Shifu?”
“Because my teacher, my Shifu, will be at Wu Dan Mountain and I fear he will find my skills wanting.”

Second Sister nodded in understanding, when she attended the Iron Rabbit School of Marital Arts the teachers had always made her feel as if her skills were insufficient. What she did not know was that they corrected her because they felt she was worth the effort. After this night Second Sister allowed Xing Ren to retreat by himself. There was a night when she awoke to see him walking backwards into he camp, then disappear into the air and return again backwards. She thought she might have been dreaming.

At the Huang family farm Youngest Sister’s face crinkled in confusion as she ran her fingers over the smooth round surface of her sister’s bracelet. Usually the stories came so easily, but tonight she was not sure what she had seen in her mind. Then suddenly she told a story about a man who turned himself into a mirror and danced on the sea.

Monday, July 11, 2005

Don't Read While You Eat: Part VI

The road took an abrupt turn and seemed to disappear. Xing Ren, the children and the ox stood looking at a narrow ledge that clung to the cliff. Below what had been the path, ten times the height of a tall man, flowed a river.
“Well” said Xing Ren “there’s enough room for a person to walk and there’s enough room for an unloaded ox.”

While the children and the ox waited, Xing Ren carried the ox’s baggage along the ledge to the point where the path widened again. He made five trips and tried to reassure the children by telling them the ledge was no more than a hundred steps long. Second Sister went first, leading Little Fish by the hand; Xing Ren followed leading the ox. Second Sister looked down only once, after that she kept her eyes and her intent focused on the path ahead. Little Fish concentrated on his feet, until he heard a rock dislodge and tumble into the river below. He glanced back. Second Sister sensing his distraction stopped and they both turned to see the ox arc through the air and splash into the river. The ox soon rose to the surface, looked up the path and began swimming purposefully with the current.

“Quickly, children, before the path gives way” admonished Xing Ren.
Children and hermit scurried up the path rabbit-like to the top of the cliff where the path widened. On achieving safety Little Fish swung around and kicked Xing Ren in the shins.
“You threw the ox in! How could you?“ Indeed” replied Xing Ren, unfazed by the rough treatment his shins were receiving “how could I?”

Xing Ren brushed Little Fish aside, picked up a sack of rice and a sack of other edibles and strode up the path. Second Sister looked at Little Fish, then at the rapidly retreating man. Grabbing a bag of things-that-might-come-in-handy, she jogged up the path. When the children caught up with Xing Ren, Little Fish continued haranguing him, occasionally throwing in a kick at the wise man’s shins. After a time Xing Ren halted, dropping his bags and both children began yammering at him.
“Stop” intoned Xing Ren clapping his hands with a crack like thunder “one at a time, please!”
“Why did you throw the poor ox in the river?” asked Little Fish.
“Firstly, I did not throw the ox in the river. Secondly, the ox seemed really quite happy, did it not?”
“Shifu, did the ox jump in the river?” asked Second Sister.
“No, the ox did not jump.”
“Did you push the ox into the river?” asked Little Fish.
“No I did not push the ox.”

Second Sister was frowning hard as she sometimes did when thinking on difficulties. “What river is that?” she asked eyebrows still contorted.
“That river” answered Xing Ren, sounding almost pleased, “is the river which runs past the Huang family farm. Now it is my turn to ask questions. Little Fish, do you realize you feel quite well?”
Little Fish looked surprised. “You’re right!” he answered.
Xing Ren addressed Second Sister, “what do you think happened?”
Second Sister spoke slowly “You have the ox’s nose rope in your pocket. This makes my think its swimming lesson was planned, you didn’t want it to get tangled in the rope. The ox wasn’t thrown, or pushed and it didn’t jump. But surely you have something to do with the event. And that is our river….hmmm…what have you done?”
Smiling behind his beard, the Taoist explained, “The event had a three fold purpose. Firstly, the ox needed to be returned, it will swim until it gets to a bank it recognizes, then will climb ashore and walk him. Secondly, by becoming angry Little Fish’s cure has been catalyzed. Thirdly, every hard working ox should have the opportunity to fly once in its life. It is true (Xing Ren looked exceptionally pleased with himself), our friend the ox did not jump and was not thrown. The ox flew.”

That night as the embers of the cooking fire glowed like rubies, Xing Ren explained the workings of Little Fish’s cure.
“You see, Little Fish, you fell ill because too much studying and thinking hurt your Spleen, The Spleen is very important for energy and digestion. Each organ belongs to one of the five elements; Fire, Earth, Metal, Water, and Wood. The Spleen belongs to Earth. To cure a problem in an element one must engage the controlling element, which in the case of Earth is Wood. The emotion connected with Wood is anger, when you got truly, thoroughly angry Wood was engaged enough to get the Spleen under control.”

Then Xing Ren told a story about a man who became very, very happy when he passed his government exams after the third try. A Doctor from his village feared this excess of joy would irreparably damage the man’s heart; so he told the joyful man that his father was dieing. Fraught with fear the man rushed home to find his father well. Later he asked the Doctor why he lied. The Doctor replied, “To save your life.”
“So you see, children, this was a case where excess emotion threatened to damage the correlating organ and by engaging the controlling emotion to Doctor was able to cure a disease before it happened.”
Children missed this explanation. Both Little Fish and Second Sister were asleep, heads pillowed on the bag of things-that-might-come-in-handy. That night at the Huang farm Youngest Sister told a story about an ox that had been raised by eagles to believe if could fly. And, indeed, it could.

Sunday, June 26, 2005

Don't Read While You Eat: Part V

The Huang family had two oxen and Father Huang needed both to farm the land to its greatest potential. Worried about a farming season with only one ox he drew Xing Ren aside. Xing Ren had been listening to one of Youngest Sister’s endless implausible stories, in his decades of mountain solitude he had forgotten how much people could talk.
“We are so grateful” Father Huang began “and Little Fish certainly needs an ox to ride. At the same time there is a farm to work and five mouths to feed…”
Xing Ren looked into Father Huang’s face, following the trails of tiny lines into his dark eyes, eyes akin to those of his ox. After traversing the broad forehead, Xing Ren’s gaze paused on Father Huang’s left ear. Knowing better than to fidget under the scrutiny of a wise man, Father Huang waited patiently. Focusing beyond the ear Xing Ren watched the three Huang girls who would stay at the farm, sitting and playing a spinning top game.
“Your ox…” Xing Ren spoke slowly, almost distractedly “your ox will be returned to you in a timely manner.”

After the midday meal the ox chosen for the journey was loaded with four bags of rice, two bags of goods from the farm, and Little Fish. So weak he could barely sit up, Little Fish slumped back against a bag of rice. Second Sister held an umbrella above him to keep off the hot sun. And so they set off down the road. As they rounded the first bend, the farmhouse slipped out of view. Second Sister tugged on Xing Ren’s robe as he padded ahead leading the ox.
“Please, Sir, Venerable One, Grandfather…what am I to call you? But, please, how are they to know how we are doing?”
Xing Ren stopped, the ox stopped. Xing Ren regarded the girl; the ox gazed into the distance, an ear cocked towards the man’s voice. Here again was something Xing Ren had forgotten during his decades of mountain solitude; the concern of family members for one another. A kind of love, when it didn’t tip the scales into imbalance. He could tell the girl to trust in the Tao, but she was too young to take comfort there.
“First, you shall address me as Shifu*. Second, how long have you worn that bracelet?” He pointed to a slender circlet in orbit around Second Sister’s wrist.
“I’ve worn it for three years, I keep it on all the time. When I practice Kung Fu I push it up out of the way.” She demonstrated.
“Take the bracelet off, run back and give it to Youngest Sister. Tell her to hold it every night and tell the family a story of whatever comes into her head.”
“But how…” Second Sister was full of questions.
“No time, do as I told you and catch up with us. Hup, hup.” These last words were addressed to the ox. Second Sister turned without a glance and sprinted down the road, back to the farm, her family and the fat black chickens.

As the sun was beginning to consider peering around the earth to another side of the globe, Xing Ren came to a small traveler’s hut.
“We’ll spend the night here.” He said as he tied the ox’s nose rope to a small tree, which seemed to exist for that very purpose. Xing Ren lifted Little Fish off the ox and settled him under an adjacent tree in the shade.
“Unload the ox, Second Sister.” Then Xing Ren turned and stepped toward the forest, which had been their constant traveling companion for half the day.
“Wait, where are you going?” called Second Sister. Not used to having to account for his actions, Xing Ren was momentarily puzzled. He replied before disappearing into the shadows “I’m going to look for something.” This was true, but it was not Xing Ren’s primary motive. He really wanted to be alone.

Upon his return Xing Ren produced from inside his robes a large skin of water from a spring he had located. This was set to boil in a three-legged pot over a fire Second Sister had made. As the water began to bubble Xing Ren slipped what looked like grass into the pot. From one of the sacks the ox carried, he took a handful of vegetables. These he broke into pieces and added to the pot.
“Shifu, there is a knife” said Second Sister.
“Metal disturbs the QI paths of the food,” she was told.

Xing Ren allowed Little Fish to drink only the watery broth. He and Second Sister ate the vegetables and bits of dried meat. That night on the Huang’s farm Youngest Sister told the family a story wherein Little Fish drank moonbeams and frolicked with the rabbit that lives on the moon.

For a week the trio walked through woods and mountains. The three became comfortable with each other; Second Sister asked her questions only when they burned too hot for her to answer herself, Xing Ren pointed out useful plants and at night made the children look at the stars with him and listen to a story about one of the great Celestial Teachers. More that once Xing Ren wondered if he were talking as much as Youngest Sister. Little Fish spoke only when spoken to and then only in muttered monosyllables. Each day Xing Ren made Little Fish walk 100 steps more than the previous day. Each night Little Fish drank the broth from the three legged pot and in the morning ate more rice and meat than the day before.

On the morning of the seventh day of traveling Xing Ren woke with a feeling of anticipation, had he been Second Sister’s age he might have thought it was his birthday. Before setting out he knelt and felt the path, then placed a pinch of its dust on his tongue.
“Come” he said, probably to the ox, which seemed almost to skip behind the fast moving hermit.

*Teacher or master, as in someone who has mastered a skill to a high degree.

Saturday, June 04, 2005

Don't Read While You Eat: Part IV

Xing Ren, for that was the name of the Taoist hermit who was approaching the Huang’s farm, paused for a thousand heartbeats as he observed the home and the surrounding terrain. In the dusk he could, because he had practiced for many years, discern the Qi flows of the earth. They fire, wind and water, stirring and swirling in patterns beneath the surface. And they were not. They were Dragon Lines. Quietly, Xing Ren stood, only a faint breeze stirring the tip of his beard. He blinked, then continued his steady walk toward the farm; this was the place and there was something else for him to do here. He sighed, the smallest of sighs, recalling his mountain hut, bare and sturdy, perfectly perched on the side of a mountain.

Before long the hermit was inside the farmhouse, a cup of tea warming his hands. Mother and Father Huang were telling him the story of Little Fish’s illness, starting from the moment of his conception. The sisters peeked in at the adults in the kitchen and wondered at the curious old man. Xing Ren listened attentively, when Father mentioned the name of the thing he sought his breath barely changed, but Second Sister saw it.
“What is wrong with Little Fish? can you help our boy?” pleaded Mother Huang.
Xing Ren sipped his tea, wondering why all elderly strangers were thought to have extraordinary healing gifts.
“Let me look at your son.”
Mother Huang showed Xing Ren into a small clean room. Kneeling down the hermit placed his fingers on the boy’s thin wrists, feeling for the twelve pulses. He looked at the boy’s tongue, examined his face, and palpated his abdomen.
“Can you help him?” Mother Huang persisted.
Xing Ren rocked back on his heels and squatted, as limber as a child. In his mind he recalled the particular pattern of the Dragon Lines he had observed earlier that evening. He could cure the boy, what was the easy part. The difficulty was deciding whether to do it here or at the temple on Wu Dang Mountain. His mind pursued each possibility, turning over different combinations and permutations of potential destinies. As he peered into the face of Little Fish again Xing Ren thought not of the boy, but of the twisted Pine, which stood sentry duty on the path leading to his hut. What was he to do? Who was he to decide? Ina sense all fates were equal; life ending in death, when the Corporeal Soul returned to the Earth and the Ethereal Soul flowed back to the world of the Subtle and Non-material. Even if this little fish died before jumping the Dragon Gate, it was still a life. ‘Please let someone else decide’, Xing Ren silently prayed to his twisted Pine. He heard the family pressing closer, mutely urging him to say anything.
“Mommy” whispered Youngest Sister “is Little Fish going to have to go away?”

That was all Xing Ren needed. Straightening up he bowed his head to the parents. “I do not have the ability to heal the boy.”
Both parents choked back sobs, Youngest Sister moaned, and Second Sister knew lied from the flutter of his eyelids.
“I must take him to my teacher’s temple on Wu Dang Mountain. There he will be healed.”
The family exploded with questions as Xing Ren ushered them out of the sick room.
“When will he be back?”
“Is he well enough to travel?”
“How far is Wu Dang Mountain?”
“What can we do for you in return for saving our boy?”
Second Sister hung back as the rest of the family flowed into the eating room; she turned and looked up, straight into Xing Ren’s eyes. She was terrified to do this; it was an act of boldness beyond bad manners or social taboo. She had considered this act alone could kill her.
“Take me with you” she intoned.
Xing Ren suppressed a smile, which even Second Sister did not see, such interesting children the Dragon Lines of this valley sparked.

With the family settled Xing Ren spoke, pacing the room, as if already on his way to Wu Dang Mountain. “My teacher can heal the boy, I know this. Although he is weak Jing Liao can travel on an ox. I will need an assistant to care for him on the road; your eldest daughter had best come with us. Of course, my teacher will accept no payment until the boy is well. In a year I shall return with the children, at that time I will collect ten bales of you Jin Yin Hua herb.”

Father Huang’s eyebrows rose like ravens taking wing, ten bales was twice his most bountiful harvest of the gold and silver trumpet flowers, but he and Mother Huang agreed to the plan. Second Sister bounced on her heels.

Friday, May 27, 2005

Dont' Read While You Eat, Part III

In his seventh year, Huang Jing Liao, called “Little Fish” by his sisters after the legend “The Carp Jumps the Dragon Gate”, commenced study for the test which had to be passed to become a government official. Every other day Jing Liao walked to the river, took a ferry to the other side, then walked a mile to Bing Lai Village. Here along with a dozen hopeful scholars he was taught to read, write and memorize long historical documents. Often he would be accompanied by Second Sister. Second Sister, who since the death of First Sister during a Fever Time, was really First Sister, chose to retain the title of Second Sister in honor of the true First Sister’s memory. Second Sister attended the Martial Arts School of the village. Mother and Father Huang hoped that a fierce fighting girl would be less attractive as a wife, thereby insuring someone would be left to work the farm in their old age.

Initially, Second Sister and Jing Liao paid for they education with small surpluses from the farm. Later Second Sister paid for her schooling with money won in fights with boys in the marketplace. Jing Liao wished he could attend the Iron Rabbit School of Martial Arts, but alas he future was set, besides as a boy he could not attend. Iron Rabbit taught a style called Wing Tsun, which at that time was predominantly a woman’s form. All the same it was what he wanted to do most and took every opportunity, real and fabricated, to watch through the hole in the fence. He loved watching the girls practice. A casual observer might think Wing Tsun one of the ugliest Kung Fu styles, with toes turned inward in goat riding stance and constricted movements. Jing Liao found that if he looked into the empty space of the movements and softened he eyes he could see dragons. This, he felt, was important and indicted a thing to pursue.

Walking back from the ferry in the evening he always badgered Second Sister to show him some Wing Tsun, and she would, in return for some knowledge he had gleaned from his school. In this way Jing Liao learned Buddha Hand, Monkey Palm, Three Prayers to Buddha, Beggar’s Palm, Sticky Hands and Skirt Kicking, and Second Sister learned to read and write. On the days he did not go to school Jing Liao did not work on the farm, he had special dispensation; he had to study. The family’s Little Fish got the best of the food, was praised to the Heavens and received daily foot rubs. But still his sparkle began to recede. He even lost interest in watching the girls practice at the Iron Rabbit School; he no longer took pleasure in chasing the fat black chickens. His wrists looked like sticks, dark shadows pooled beneath his eyes and one day he could not get out of bed. Frantic, Mother Huang made him congee* cooked with special roots and berries. Youngest Sister tried to amuse him with her implausible stories. Still after three days he did not seem better. Little Fish was ten years old.

Outside in the purpling dusk a stranger to the family was walking along the road that led by the farm. His feet did not stir the dust and he burbled to himself, under his long beard, like a spring tree frog.

*Rice Soup, 1 part rice to 6 parts water, simmered for a minimum of 3 hours.

Monday, May 23, 2005

Don't Read While You Eat: Part II

Meanwhile a new world was being settled and an old Taoist hermit was making his way to Wu Dang Mountain. As the hermit walked along the dry and dusty road an observant person would have noticed his footfalls made no puffs of dust and he sang a little song, quiet as a tree frog.
“Tu Si Zi mends expiry and damage, supplements insufficiency and makes one fat and strong. Long time taking brightens the eyes, makes the body light and prolongs life. Shi Chang Pu, bitter and warm, treats cough and counter flow and damaged center, disinhibiting the nine orifices, it sharpens the wits, strengthens the will and doubles strength. Take a long time to make the body light and prevent senility. It grows in the rivers and valleys…”

In his later years Huang Jing Liao maintained he had lead a carefree existence the first seven years of his life. In fact the little farm with the view of the mountains was subject to flood, fever and taxes on a regular basis. When the flood came the family fled to the foothills accompanied by most of their animals and valuables. When the family returned to the farm if a south-west wind blew before the flood waters had sunk beneath the surface, the fever came bringing hot heads, sore throats, body aches and swollen glands. Those afflicted, and it was usually the children, drank a tea made mostly from herb roots which the family gathered while they waited in the foothills for the floodwaters to recede. A special and essential ingredient of the Fever Tea were honeysuckle flowers (Jin Yin Hua), which grew in abundance on the farm. Mother and Father Huang collected and dried the tiny gold and silver trumpets, carefully storing them in covered porcelain bowls for the Fever Times.

Every year just after harvest time the tax collector of the province came driving a wagon pulled by six oxen. This wagon was to be piled high with the bounty of the farm: rice, chickens, a pig or two, dried beans, lotus roots, cucumbers, carrots, tea, garlic and White Cloud Ear Mushrooms (Bai Mu Er). Every year in the days before the tax collector arrived the family felt as if they were rolling in riches and at one with the world.
“Oh, so much, so much” Mother Huang would sigh; happily sniffing the fresh dried lotus roots and watching her children chase the fat black chickens.
“Yes, so much” Father Huang would agree, hugging a bag of beans to his chest and tousling the head of the nearest child.
Every year Mother and Father Huang would try to persuade the tax collector not to take so much. They served him green tea and steamed dumplings while quoting their favorite sage, Lao Tzu.
“The Way is the Pivot of all things, but to have too many things, a warehouse of food for instance, is not good, for this is not calmly advancing along the Way.” Said Mother Huang as she refreshed the tax collectors teacup.
“Recall that over taxation causes illness in the people.” Father Huang offered as he proffered a tray of dumplings. Sometimes the tax collector would laugh and counter with “The Way of developed people if to cultivate the body by calmness and nurture life by frugality. You see? I am helping you!” And sometimes, after the tea and dumplings, he would turn his head away from the loading of the wagon and pretend not to see the bags of straw, which diluted the yield.

Thursday, May 19, 2005

Don't Read While You Eat: Part I

Layered between the examination of my morning oatmeal is this story, Don't Read While You Eat, in many parts. Originally exposed to the eyes of others as part of the Santa Cruz Waldorf School newsletter, The Glimpse, under the heading of School Store Notes, it was at that time called the Peccary Chronicles. The reason for that is another story. The reason for the current title is the following;The Chinese recommend that one does not read and eat at the same time because it is the same Qi, the Spleen Qi, that helps with both reading and digestion. One just shouldn't spread the Spleen too thin...........

Huang Jing Liao was the first boy and the last child to be born to the branch of the Huang family who lived on the farm by the mountains. With five sisters the boy was never wanting for care. Even the youngest sister, who was only two years his senior, was always happy to give up her toys for his amusement. His nappies were always clean, stomach always full and each cry attended to almost before it came out of his mouth. His sisters promised to be more beautiful than lotuses, cleverer than rabbits and as good natured as a bowl of fresh steamed rice at the end of a long day; but they were girls and girls meant trouble and expense.

Father and Mother Huang were sure that if their girls did not run off to marry bandit princes, the parents would have to sell their small farm to provide dowries.
"Don't worry, honorable and fretful parents, we promise we will never leave you and the farm when you are too old to plant the rice and tend the chickens"
Although these words were spoken from the heart, Mother and Father Huang knew that one day each of their daughters in turn would betray the girlhood promise. A scent, a look, a certain light, a tone of voice, the silhouette of a shoulder against a stonewall; any of these things could turn a girl's heart into a woman's.

At the moment of his birth little Jing Liao changed the fate of his family. A boy who would grown up to be a man could also grow up to be a government official. The job of government official in those days was probably the most stable and lucrative career a person of ordinary heritage could expect. As the yelling infant was laid on her breast to suck Mother Huang thanked the gods for now her daughters could have decent dowries and she and her husband could stay on their farm with it's mountain views, fat black chickens and honeysuckle scented breezes until their deaths in venerable old age.

Saturday, January 29, 2005

Anatomy of Oatmeal, part I

The most important meal of the day is breakfast. We have all heard this, usually from our mothers, but I am sure it is somewhere in The Yellow Emperor's Classic of Medicine. Breakfast in our house has been carefully composed; each ingredient has a rationale and special properties. Mixed together they get us through the morning without an energy drop. Ingredients: fresh rolled oats, Gou Ji Zi, Gui Zhi, dried apricots, dried prunes, Coconut oil, butter, raw cows milk (goat in season), maple syrup and sea salt. Subsequent postings will address each of these ingredients from a variety of sources.