Sagely Living


March wanes today, and supposedly in this corner of the Northeast, winter is waning too. While it certainly is dwindling, there are still good bits of snow and ice about, making our transition to Spring and its bursts of blossoming energy slow, and halting. Two steps forward, one step back. I write this in the middle of a snow squall, much like the one that left 5 inches of wet snow on Friday. Yet, our dirt driveway is thawed enough that plowing the snow would just dredge a mountain of muck in front of the garage. Instead, we wait. We rest.

One of the most enjoyable, hard to grasp, profound yet frustrating aspects of Chinese Medicine is the shifting landscape of 5 Phase correspondences. On the one hand, Spring time corresponds to the Liver and Wood phases, but also to the Lungs, and Metal phases. Michael “Delli” Dell’orfano’s article at Deepest Health posits that one reason for this wealth of correspondence could lie in the importance of developing an internal environment that will balance the influences of the external environment. In this way, the Sagely Living project, has stretched me to consider multiple correspondences in new ways by pairing certain activities with each month of the calendar year. This month our charge is to balance rest and activity.

Others in the sagely living project are experimenting with habits of waking, sleeping, and mindfulness, but not me. For me, this month of march madness (and I ain’t talking basketball) in Maine during which spring winds and warm sun play hide and seek with storm clouds, snow squalls, hail, and brimstone, no, no scratch the brimstone, I wax melodramatic…, I am called to experiment with a different type of rest and activity, to draw yet another correspondence from within the wisdom of Chinese Medicine to illuminate the rest/activity motif of March. For me. As someone with a sensitive gut all these thwarted bursts of spring have called my attention to my Spleen. In response, I’m called to the task of reinvigorating the rest and activity of digestion.

Alert to the 5 phases of Chinese Medicine, I experience this (and other) seasonal transition times as a call to make right what is in my belly, the whole long digestive track. The unpredictability of the weather like a storm at sea, turns us in towards the palpable, reliable and stable, keel at our center, the body’s middle, the pivot between heaven and earth. The Japanese call the abdomen ‘hara’, and much attention in Japanese acupuncture goes to palpating the abdomen or hara to find the places in the middle where the energy cannot travel freely. With blockages in this central keel, the innate drive to homeostasis is off-balance and falters.

In paying attention to the eat/digest/rest cycle this past month I saw ways in which I could increase the rest portion, allowing myself more emptiness in an otherwise very full life. Failing to heed my own need, choosing fullness over emptiness a time or two too many, I was given the opportunity to learn my own lessons this weekend, granted by the ungraceful visit of an intestinal virus. I fasted and feel as a result refreshed, cleared and ready for spring. If only it would come to stay. Even the skiers are sick of snow.

Being out of sync with the season always feels a little like walking up the down escalator, and brings to mind images of Sisyphus, carrying the rock up the mountain only to have it roll back down again. This was not a good month for me to create something new.

We’re preparing for yet another snow storm in Maine, making sure the wood is brought around from the now dwindling “big” pile, to the small pile just outside the front door, and rearranging plans so we can stay in during the worst of it. While I’m at work, my husband will make a trip to the grocery store, and will probably buy a few extra batteries, just in case we lose power again. Tomorrow is Saturday, the first day of March, and I hope to God our kids will let us sleep late tomorrow morning. Why is it that our kids don’t feel the same need to hibernate that strikes us?

They are bundles of relentless energy–less bothered by the relentlessness of a northern winter. But I am bothered. One day I smell spring in the air as clear as a Beale Street Barbecue, the next day it’s gone, hammered beneath the downpour of white we used to call snow. Now we just roll our eyes and say, “ick.” But we laugh. I sat in the sauna at the YMCA yesterday and a woman I don’t know came in. When she mentioned the aforementioned storm a’coming, we both bared our teeth at one another, and growled and growled, all inhibitions unleashed, until finally we laughed. What else can you do?

One thing, really. Try to stay with the energy of the season. Because of the Sagely Living focus on Business and Strategy, I spent a considerable amount of time early in the month researching some of the foundational issues for my new business venture–packaging and selling my gluten-free, vegan, agave-sweetened cake mix. As one snow storm came after another, and my computer screen started to look strangely psychedelic every time I entered Thomasnet.com, it occurred to me that this relentless winter was not an auspicious time to push the new baby out of the oven. All hopefulness aside (such as my last, “spring is coming” post–ha!) the prevailing energies abounding around about here is not the “new beginnings” energy of Spring, it’s the let’s crawl back under the covers and go to sleep again energy of a winter that has lasted too long.

Not one to push rocks up mountains, I turned my Sagely Living focus to reflections on the state of my current business (sole proprietor, acupuncturist). The result of my reflections are these conclusions:

  • Sisyphus was damn lucky he didn’t have to push that rock up a snowy mountain in late February in Maine.
  • Next year’s business plan must include an island vacation in early March.
  • My existing business is on track except that I really should quit pretending that I can do it all, and I should hire a book-keeper. Also, I should quit relying on my neighbor’s fax machine because he went skiing for a week and wouldn’t you know it now something comes up that absolutely must be faxed….
  • My research into the foundations of my new venture have brought me no closer to production. However, two people have emerged to advise me. Thank you Andrew and Carol.
  • As soon as I can get my hands on a copy I’m going to read the book, Five Minds for the Future, by Howard Gardner. I learned about him because I started looking into getting a domain name for this blog. Fiveminds.com and org, etc. are being used by a company whose website is almost entirely in a foreign (Germanic) language. Nice graphics though. It seems to be about finances (one of the few English words). But in the process of researching who else uses these simple words, I found this book which seems fascinating and which also happens to be about business, leadership, and 5 kinds of intelligence. Sounds like a good match for me.

By the way, I’ve settled on fivemindsmedicine.com for this blog. I haven’t moved it yet, but I bought the domain name. Moving it will allow me to get google ads (and other advertisers?) on the site. I’d really like more time for writing and ads could help allow for that.

See you on the other side of the storm.

february-buds.jpgFebruary Buds

I don’t care what Punxsutawney Phil saw–shadow, schmadow–spring is coming soon. This morning my son pulled on my daughter’s sleeve, sending her into a rage. Her hair is matted like would-be, white-girl-dreadlocks from lack of combing after swimming at the Y yesterday, and she won’t let me brush it–she prefers to glare at me instead, while snot drips from her nose. Is this not the death of winter and the labor pains of spring? I think it is. Please, God, let it be so.

spring-beneath-the-ice.jpgSpring is the season of surprises–when pale green shoots break through the frozen earth, or poke up between broken pieces of asphalt, to claim their places in the sun. Such brazen, bold, and unlikely beginnings give way to the overwhelmingly lush greenery, unpredictable winds and growing warmth of the season. Just as my daughter’s anger gives way easily and naturally. She sat down at the table in her hateful huff, and began to draw and cut. 10 minutes later she had her just-made paper-crown atop her head. “Now,” she proclaimed in her best voice o’ royalty, “I’m Queen of the house!”

queens-crown.jpg
Queen’s Crown.

Anger is a much maligned emotion. But take away all the bad things people do in anger–petty acts of revenge, screaming matches, murder–and anger’s quick moving-power can be a refreshing burst of energy. What I’ve done with anger has, at times been as stunning as what the little green plants, those first to poke their heads out of winter’s wasteland, have done. Like the time I was running on a bike path and a man lurked in the bushes up ahead. No one else was on the path. I was angry, and instinctively showed him some attitude. I started growling, loud and low, and I made my stride strong and fluid. He took off through the woods away from the path.

Wang Pi (226-249, greatest commentator on the Lao-tzu) is reported to have said

…what the sage has in common with ordinary people are the emotions. The sage has a superior spirit, and therefore is able to be in harmony with the universe and to hold communion with Wu [i.e., the Tao]. But the sage has ordinary emotions, and therefore cannot respond to things without joy or sorrow. He responds to things, yet is not ensnared by them.” (Commentary, Chapter 28).

[From A Short History of Chinese Philosophy by Fung Yu-Lan.].
While it is easy to be ensnared by anger, it is also easy to learn useful information from it. Disentangled from anger, look at it’s value as information-laden energy: Anger tells us

  • About ourselves: what we like and don’t like, what we are comfortable with and not-comfortable with, how important something is to us, etc.
  • About our world and our people: can we trust this situation or individual, do we feel valued and respected in this situation or by these people?
  • About how well our boundaries (or lack of them) serves us: Is there something I can do to respect and value myself which will alter my relationship to situations or people with whom I am angry?

My daughter’s simple rage told her: She is uncomfortable with sensory stimulation (sleeve-pulling, hair-brushing) that she is not ready for, that younger brothers and mothers with agendas (I didn’t just say, brush your hair! I started brushing it for her without so much as a “may I…”) don’t always respect her need to prepare for sensory stimulation. And finally, her art project was just the thing she needed to do to affirm her “queen-ness” in her own home (read, body).

Healthy anger is like wind. When it comes, it helps us to readjust our course, re-establish communication where it has broken down (such as when your mom attacks your rats’ nest hair with a brush instead of asking), and then it is gone, like the wind. For me, the winds of anger that swept through the house this morning were a reminder of that delicious spring forcefulness so useful for new beginnings. That same forcefulness is pulsing right now beneath the piles of melting snow outside. It’s that energy that I am counting on as it rises to give me the violent, surging energy of a new green shoot pushing up to the sun, as I continue working on my yearly Abundance (read, business) plan.

P.S. I’ve already had one burst of spring-like exuberance in my thinking, which luckily for me has trickled like the melting snow into small rivers of creativity in my mind. In that sudden burst of creative thinking I jumped out of the deep solo contemplation of my project, (in other words) my isolation (appropriate for winter, not for spring), and I have made two important contacts with people who should be helpful to me as I move forward on the cake project. More on that in my next Sagely Living Post!

It’s the 2nd month of Sagely Living, in which our focus shifts to business and strategy. For previous posts about this topic, click on the category, Sagely Living, on the right and you’ll arrive at a page with my previous posts, or check in with Eric Grey at Deepest Health.

Before I lay out my approach to Sagely Living: Strategy and Business, let’s talk money. I know I’m not the only one who had to shift psychological gears in order to get to a place of peaceful welcome around money (which had always seemed little more than “hard, cold cash” to me). For many years I thought money was a shallow, materialistic pursuit, which caused people to act badly even if they weren’t bad people. Good people did bad things merely because it was profitable, either for themselves or for their chosen few. As an observer of human nature I was confused by this seeming duplicity. As a child who often fell outside the ranks of my father’s financially chosen few, I felt hurt and rejected, which engendered a significant psychic connection within me between money and shame.

If you’re shaking your head and feeling that vibe because you’ve been there too, my heart goes out to you. If you haven’t already excavated that negative attachment–do it, now. You’re worth it. For me it’s been a long process, helped no doubt, by the fact of simple necessity–it was OK to have money-ambivalence when I was just supporting myself, but when I had a family to support it was critical to excavate the demons and come to terms with my absolute, God-given right to abundance and prosperity.

I’d like to thank my friends in the ‘Money and Spirit’ Life Circle hosted by the faith community at the United Church of Christ in Bath, Maine. Over the course of 40 days last winter we each committed ourselves to daily meditation and writing about the spiritual aspect of money. For me, it deeply resonated with the central theme of Judaism, exemplified by the daily prayer, the Shema, that God is One. To me, God is One doesn’t mean God is one dude (or deity). It means God is everything. There is nothing that is not God. Nothing, not even money!

The group met once a week to individually and collectively affirm our intention to change our relationship with money to one based on a belief in abundance, not scarcity. It was a phenomenal experience, which I recommend to anyone. We used a book called The Abundance Book by John Randolph Pierce as a focus point for our meditation. Many people in the group took issue with the book, and for different reasons: some found it too religious, others found it too hokey (I was somewhat in that camp), others found it strayed too far from the Christian bible. If you get the book, remember, it’s just a tool. The measure of any tool is in what you do with it.

If it hadn’t been for the shift in my consciousness about money, I would never have begun to explore ways to make more of it. But that is exactly what I have been doing, and feeling good about it, too. In this month of Sagely Living I’ll be creating a bare-bones beginner’s business plan for an income-producing project which has been stewing in my consciousness (and literally baking in my oven) for some time now. If I’m ever going to get my awesome gluten-free, dairy-free chocolate cake out of my kitchen and into yours, it’s going to take some serious strategy. Stay tuned.

The first month of A Year of Sagely Living –an experiment outlined by Eric Grey at Deepest Health and Abdallah B. Stickely at Even Unto China–has come to a close.

In this month participants have focused on scholarship. I came into the month of scholarly pursuits late, when I discovered Eric Grey’s site a few weeks ago. Rather than set myself some new scholarly goals I examined my current project–to develop a blog, and proposed to invoke the power of intention: To take what I was already doing and “become scholarly” about it.

Now, in retrospect I see that intention, while quite possibly the mother of cultivation, is no substitute for the acts and practices of a cultivated life. In other words, to do what I’m already doing, and envelope it in an aura of scholarly intention misses the mark in that it did not challenge me to engage in specific practices to cultivate a deeper understanding of my subject. I have continued to do what I was already doing, prior to my announcement to do it with a scholarly intent. Nothing really changed.

Well…maybe one thing changed. Participating in the project of two other bloggers means I started to approach blogging more as a participant in something greater than myself. Prior to that I had basically just been the mastermind of my own (controlled) environment. By connecting my blog to other blogs I actually did something scholarly.

One of the richest aspects of scholarship is the ability of focused learning to form a bridge between people. Anything worth studying just naturally engenders a yearning to be shared. That is why good scholarship involves more than just private study time. It also involves team-building, creating a community with whom to share the fruits of one’s studies. Blogging is a natural conduit for such connectivity. I decided to take it a step further, and started emailing people I know with my blog address. I’m beginning to post a few comments on more blogs, and recently offered to host the Carnival of Healing on March 22nd. (Just getting those words to light up and actually link to another page on the web is a major scholarly accomplishment for me).

Tomorrow begins the second month of Sagely Living, in which the focus of our intention turns to strategy and business. I recently happened upon a blog by an acupuncturist who offers business advice for other acupuncturists. Check out her site here.  She has a great sense of humor.  Her section about naming her business is hilarious.  This month I’ll set some specific goals, above and beyond what I’m already doing!

I found a great blog called Deepest Health written by a man named Eric Grey, a student of Classical Chinese Medicine. He proposes a year of Sagely Living for himself and others, in which we will all follow some sagely practice for each month of the year, write about our experiences, and share our writings with one another. The first practice in the first month of the year, in which we Mainers are sitting by our wood stoves, hunkering down anyway, is scholarship. I am studying like crazy this month, as it turns out. Not about acupuncture or Chinese philosophy or medicine. No, this whole thing, this blogging thing. I am studying this new (to me) art form and science of blogging. In this month I have started a blog, started reading other people’s blogs (yes, for the first time!), and started researching ways that blogging can enhance my life. So far I’m having a blast, which I very much appreciate. I strongly value fun, but don’t get enough of it–like most working moms, I suppose (except for the kid-centered kind of fun, which is great, of course, but which tends to involve lots of not-as-fun clean-up afterwards…if only I could always remember the words of my wise friend Bruce who says, “celebrate the task.”). So I’m having fun blogging, but it’s also definitely requiring of me a foray into a kind of scholarly attention. It’s nothing like the spleen-wasting memorization and whole paradigm shift of graduate school, perhaps, but it is a whole new language (RSS? Backlink? SEO?) and a vast network of relationships (yet another “web that has no weaver” –sorry, couldn’t stop myself–that’s an inside joke for acupuncturists, The Web that Has No Weaver is the title of a book about Chinese Medicine by Ted Kaptchuk). So I’ll be participating in this project, and reporting here on my progress. For now, in the month of January, my scholarly efforts are devoted to this new energetic domain–the other web that has no weaver.

One of the challenges of any scholarship is to integrate the subject studied into one’s life. I’ve been blogging for a few weeks now and have not integrated it in my existing networks or sought connections to other bloggers which could mutually enhance our virtual community. This is the next step in my scholarly blogging: to let people know I am here. In the language of the 5 phases this step, making something manifest in the world is a function of the Heart, and the province of the shen. The inspiration (Earth, Yi) to blog came to me, in part through conversations with my Brother, who thought I should blog about my awesome gluten-free desserts (more on that elsewhere, perhaps). I put some intention into the idea, began to say to myself, yes, I’m going to become a blogger… and before I knew it emotion and instinct (Metal: Po) drove me forward (or down into the rabbit hole). I applied my will (Kidney: zhi) to the project, and began blogging, and as my experience took shape, so did my vision (Liver: Hun). And through that vision I came to see that the kind of bloggin’ that will suit me is the kind that makes connections with people. And to do that I have to share it. Participating in another bloggers project is all part of that process, from my heart to yours, Eric.