h Phoenix Qi: January 2007

Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Sand Fantasy - video

This four-minute video is breathtaking, absolutely stunning, and of course birds are prominent figures playing important roles in the art and design. Enjoy!

Thank you Ilana Yahav!

Monday, January 29, 2007

Yin Yang Theory

The terms Yin and Yang have become very popular in the last few decades, but they are sometimes misunderstood and therefore misapplied.

Yin/Yang did not originate with the I Ching as many people think; the earliest terms for the two types of lines in the I Ching were "firm" (yang lines) and "yielding" (yin lines). One of the earliest uses of the terms appears in the ancient text on Daoist lifestyle and Chinese medicine, the Yellow Emperor's Classic of Medicine, often referred to as the Suwen, where we learn of the energetic properties of yin/yang as applied to the natural world and the energies of the physical body. Yin/yang never meant woman/man or female/male, but does represent the male and female principles of acting and responding.

Yin/Yang is the first level of existence after the Dao, and encompasses all judgments and opposites. (I'm sure you don't need me to give you a long list of opposites, but I'll give you a few to get you going, and I'm sure you will recognize these beginnings of existence from many world cultures.) The first things to come into existence were the spiritual (yang) and the material (yin), the sky (yang) and the earth (yin) quickly followed by the sun (yang) and the moon (yin). I'll let you take it from there and come up with your own list of yin/yang comparisons.

An important principle of Yin/Yang is that it is always comparative; a thing can never be all yin or all yang. An item is only yin or yang as compared to something else; for example, water can be hot (yang) or cold (yin). The day can be sunny (yang) or cloudy (yin), it can be dry (yang) or raining (yin). This goes back to the idea that you can't make a judgment without making a comparison; you can't know good without knowing bad, you can't know happiness without knowing sadness. You can't know yang without knowing yin.

The origin of the word yin is related to "shady" or "cloudy" and pertains to the shady side of a hill. The word yang related to the opposite, "sunny" or "bright," and indicated the sunny side of the hill. That's fine as far as it goes, but it's only half the story. The sun doesn't stand still. Well, actually it is Earth that is moving, but from our perspective, the sun rises in the east, travels across the sky, and sets in the west, so that is the way I'll talk about yin/yang. Imagine that you are the photographer, and that you were facing north when you took the picture above at dawn. The sunny side of your hill (labeled yang) is the east side, and the shaded side of the hill (labeled yin) in the west side.

You know that if you stayed in that spot all day, the sun would follow its normal path across the sky and sometime after noon you would see the right/east side of your hill become shady (yang become yin) as the left/shady side turned bright and sunny (yin become yang). This is the most important principle of yin/yang: they are not static or stagnant, they each turn into the other, and the change is usually based on a natural cycle such as summer turning into winter, day turning into night, warm turning into cold, etc. In its turn, yin turns into yang: winter turns into summer, night turns into day, and so on.

Not only that, an item that is yin in one comparison may be yang in another comparison: for example, if you compare noon to sunset, noon is yang and sunset is yin, but if you compare sunset to midnight, sunset is yang and midnight is yin. This happens through all cycles of natural phenomena; yin cycles into yang which cycles back into yin just as winter (yin) cycles into summer (yang) and back into winter (yin). The moon is yin when compared to the yang sun, but a full moon is yang when compared to a new moon which is yin.

The other very important principle is that there is always a little yin in the yang, and a little yang in the yin. If you have ever had the flu, you know you can have fever (yang) and chills (yin) at the same time! Even on the driest day (yang) there is some moisture (yin) in the air. Also, because so many cycles overlap, there is bound to be a cycle at the top of its yang while another is at the top if its yin; for example, we have noon (yang) in winter (yin), and the light (yang) of the stars at night (yin). I think the best example of this is the popular taiji symbol. The white side is the day, and the dark side is the night. The dark dot in the day side (yang) is the new moon (yin), and the white dot in the night side (yin) is the full moon (yang). The new moon always rises in the morning so is up all day, and the full moon always rises in the evening so is in the sky at night when we can best see and most appreciate its light!

When you combine yin and yang with the five phases of energy (see Basic Five Element Theory), you have all the energetic interactions to enable the practice of the many branches of Chinese medicine, astrology, feng shui, and the basic Daoist philosophy that enables you to live in harmony with universal energies.

Thursday, January 25, 2007

Basic Five Element (Phases) Theory

Many people say they find this topic difficult to grasp. There are no books specifically about Five Element Theory; it is usually explained symbolically through the interactions between everything from seasons (astrology and feng shui) to flavors (Chinese Medicine) to bodily organs (acupuncture). The basic concept, however, is easy to understand and can be applied to anything and everything if you look at it from the perspective of the behavior of energy.

The word "Element" in this context is actually incorrect. Today, people use the terms "Phases" or "Changes" to describe the energy and interactions. When we discuss the element wood or water, we are not talking about real wood or water. Those names are symbolic, a metaphor for the way the energy behaves.

Every thing that happens in the universe is the result of the behavior and interaction of energy. Plants grow because the heat of the sun warms the soil, and nutrients in the soil feed the plant. You may feel more energetic if you have breakfast in the morning than you do when you are in a rush and skip it. We all know that a candy bar at 3:00 P. M. will give us that extra oomph to keep us going until dinner time!

Five Phase Theory is simply a way to track, explain, and understand the cycles and interactions of energy. The Five Phases of energy are Wood, Fire, Earth, Metal, and Water. Wood represents energy that is growing or expanding. Fire represents energy that has reached its peak. Energy that responds to other influences, or transforms other energies, is labeled earth. Metal is shrinking or contracting energy, and water is energy in its valley (lowest point), or at rest.

The three main cycles of energy movement and interaction are the Creative Cycle, the Destructive Cycle, and the Reductive Cycle.

The Creative Cycle The order of wood, fire, earth, metal, and water is called the creative or creation cycle. Each phase creates the one that follows. Energy that is expanding eventually reaches its peak. It pauses there for a moment then begins the waning process: the energy shrinks or contracts until it has reached its valley. The cycle begins anew when the energy at rest begins to expand again. To explain it through the names of the phases: the cycle begins anew when water (energy at rest) creates (or cycles into) wood (the energy of growth or expansion). The energy of wood creates (reaches) fire (a peak) which creates earth (transformation), which in turn creates metal (contracting energy), which eventually creates water (resting energy) again. Each phase of energy contributes to the next. They each follow in a logical sequence of waxing and waning, yang and yin.

The Destructive Cycle This cycle usually represents a clash of opposing energies. In a period of low energy (water), high energy (fire) is destroyed, or not allowed to manifest. (For example, if you were getting ready for sleep (a period of resting energy) would you be likely to want to go jogging (behaving like energy at its peak)? In this case, high energy is kept from manifesting, or is "destroyed," during a period of low energy.) The ability of energy to shrink or contract (behave like metal) is destroyed when it encounters a cycle of energy at its peak (behaving like fire) just as a piece of coal (made from contracted soil, and a metaphor for metal energy) cannot be further compressed into a diamond if it is burned through high (fire) energy as fuel. Transforming energy (earth) destroys energy at rest (water). Energy cannot "rest" if it is being "changed!" Expanding energy (wood) is halted or destroyed when it must contend with a cycle of contracting energy (metal) just as the growth of a woody plant would halt if its metal container restricted the expansion of the roots.

The Reductive Cycle As each energy phase or “element” feeds the cycle that follows it, it itself is reduced. (If you put all your energy into something, you get worn out, don't you? Universal energy works that way, too.) Growth or expansion (wood) is reduced when it reaches an energetic peak (fire) just as real wood is used up as it burns. (When something reaches it peak, it is no longer expanding, is it? It has grown to its limit and has hit its high point.) When at its peak, energy (and most everything else for that matter) begins to wane: the peak of energy (fire) is reduced as it changes or transforms (earth). Transforming energy (earth) is used up, or reduced, as it becomes contracting (metal) energy just as soil itself is used up when it becomes, through compression and chemistry, coal, iron, or other ores. When energy’s ability to contract or shrink (behave like metal) is reduced, it is then energy at rest (it behaves like water). The energy of water is reduced as it feeds wood energy just as the water in a pot is reduced as it is soaked up by the roots of a plant or a sponge.

Sunday, January 21, 2007

Daoism on Compassion

She whose picture you see is Guan Shi Yin, Bodhisattva of Compassion. For the record, "Guan" means "observe" with the connotation to do something about that which is being observed; pay attention! "Shi" means "world." "Yin" means "sound," and is a completely different Chinese character from the "yin" of "yin/yang." Some people translate her name with great complication and aggrandizement; one that I saw recently went something like: She Who Hears The Cries Of All The Human Beings In The World And Saves Them.

Most Daoists like to keep things simple. Indeed, that is much of what Daoism is about: simplicity, and the natural order of things....so "Observer of the World's Sounds" is the translation I embrace for the name of Guan Shi Yin. Besides, how much time does it leave us to think of others, act compassionately toward them, if we are giving our attention to fancy titles?

The quote below on "Compassion" is from the book 365 Tao by Deng Ming-Dao, ISBN 0-06-250223-9. Compassion seems a timely topic since many sorrowful things have been (and still are) happening in our world. Being aware of them, and practicing Compassion, certainly is in order these days.



Once you've seen the face of god,
You see that same face on everyone you meet.

The true god has no face. The true Tao has no name. But we cannot identify with that until we are of a very high level of insight. Until then, the gods with faces and the Tao with names are still more worthy of veneration and study than the illusions of the world.

With long and sincere training, it is possible to see the face of god. Holiness is not about scientific objectivity. It is about a deep and clear recognition of the true nature of life. Your attitude toward your god will be different than anyone else's god -- divinity is a reflection of your own understanding. If your experience differs from others, that does not invalidate your sense of godliness. You will have no doubts after you have seen.

Knowing god is the source of compassion in our lives. We realize that our separation from others is artificial. We are neither separate from other people nor from Tao. It is only our own egotism that leads us to define ourselves as individuals. In fact, a direct experience of god is a direct experience of the utter universality of life. If we allow it to change our way of thinking, we will understand our essential oneness with all things.

How does god look? Once you see god, you will see that same face on every person you meet.


The word Compassion means "suffering with." When we feel compassion toward someone, we can have empathy with them...we can identify with their feelings, situation, motives....we can see and accept who they are.

In our interactions with other people, who after all are mirrors of ourselves, we should strive to be in a state of compassion. It's easy to connect with people who are not suffering, who are living life to the fullest, who have everything they need to satisfy their needs and desires. It's less easy to connect to people who have less. It's less easy to reach out to them on a personal level. Why is that? Is it because they mirror our shadow side, and we don't want to look at that, we don't want to identify with that?

Oh, we may donate to charities, and maybe even put in a couple hours a month or a week at a shelter for the homeless, but when was the last time we invited one of these people into our lives? When was the last time we offered to take them to lunch (as opposed to giving them money to buy a meal), sat and talked...really talked, shared information and understanding...with one who is less fortunate than we are?

Why is it easier to show compassion in a time of crisis than in a time of not-crisis? Is it because we are usually one of many responding to the crisis, sort of one cell in a larger compassionate being? It may be easier because we are that one-step removed; we are a nameless face in the crowd; the shadow side isn't ours, it's everyone's. We don't have to see it as a reflection of us, it's a reflection of someone else; we're just helping out in a pinch.

The thing we often don't realize is that, for whatever reason, we do find it easier to offer compassion to others than we find it to be compassionate with ourselves. When we do offer compassion to others, it opens a doorway to our Self. Our Self steps through that doorway into the world of the other. Our Self then can empathize and understand that other person. It's more difficult to turn around and walk back through that door, back into our Self, and retain that compassion for what we find within. However, the more frequently we do return through that door, the more we find it possible to be compassionate to ourselves.

We tend to be hard on ourselves. I believe this is why we avoid looking at that shadow side; not because we know we won't like what we see, but because we know we should work to change it. We don't want to change, change is hard, it will turn us into someone else. Strangely enough, we tend to be pretty territorial with our problems. We don't want to change, but we do expect everyone around us to accommodate us while we securely hold to our problems and phobias.

If we could go that extra step with ourselves, be as compassionate and understanding with ourselves as we know we can be with others, I believe we can not only deal effectively with our shadow side, but help others to deal with theirs, also. The more we help them, the more we help ourselves, the more we can help them, and so on and so on. It certainly brings to the light the idea that we are all One. We might even make the world a better place some day!

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

View Of Earth From Saturn

Yup, that's right, a view of Earth from Saturn!

Last autumn, the Cassini spacecraft visited the area of Saturn and took a long look back toward home...that would be toward us! These are actual photographs taken by Cassini and transmitted back to Earth, not artists renditions.

See that tiny little dot just above the ring (at about the 2:00 position)? That's us, folks....Earth. The inset is an enlargement of Earth. In the enlargement, at about the 10:00 position, you will see a bump of fog or a shadow; that's our moon! There is more info on this photograph on the 2006 September 27 page at Astronomy Picture of the Day.

Next up, another photo from a different perspective, behind Saturn looking back toward the center of our solar system. The first-ever photo of Saturn eclipsing the sun! This just blows me away...who could have imagined we would ever see a sight like this?! :-)

You may have to click on the picture to enlarge it to see Earth in this one, or check the original at APOD on 2006 October 16. Our planet is the the tiny dot on the left and just above the bright main rings of Saturn.

Thanks to CICLOPS, JPL, ESA and NASA for use of the photos. Visit the CICLOPS (Cassini Imaging Central Laboratory for OPerationS) site for more pictures and further information on Cassini which, at this writing, is still circling Saturn and sending back images!

Monday, January 15, 2007

The Sacred Wheel of the Year as revealed through the I Ching.

In Chinese mythology and legend, Fu Xi was the First Emperor. He is attributed with establishing the moral and social order of the nation, inventing trapping, fishing, and writing which moved the population from a hunter-gatherer society to a less nomadic society. Even more important, he revealed to the people how the universe worked through continuous transformations by showing them the circle of the eight trigrams (the three-line symbols) of the I Ching. The Early Heaven Sequence is often called the sequence of Time. Please note that North is a the bottom, and South is at the top of all diagrams. (If you read the post about Nu Wa, you may recall that Fu Xi was the husband or brother of that original Mother Goddess.)

The Early Heaven arrangement of the eight trigrams of the I Ching is not, strictly speaking, a calendar. It is the Chinese equivalent of the Sacred Wheel whose symbols represent the seasons of the lifetime striving toward enlightenment in the context of the seasons of the year. The most noticed feature of the Early Heaven Trigram Sequence is the symmetry of the lines; comparing opposite quadrants, the yang/yin lines are exactly opposite, too. When reading the trigrams of the wheel, the perspective is from that of standing in the center; the lines are always read from the bottom to the top, from the wheel's center to the outer edge.

In the Early Heaven or Fu Xi Arrangement, developed c. 1950 BCE, the eastern section containing the vernal equinox is marked in the east by the sign (gua) for fire, called "Li." Moving clockwise around the wheel, the next station, between the vernal equinox and summer solstice, is the sign for the lake, "Dui." The section containing the summer solstice is marked in the south by the three yang or firm lines that comprise the sign for sky or heaven, "Qian." The section stationed in the SW contains the symbol for wind or wood, "Xun." The autumnal equinox in the west is contained in the sign for water, known as "Kan." In the NW is the sign of the mountain, "Gen." The sign for earth, "Kun," the three yielding lines lies in the north and contains the winter solstice. The circle comes to completion when the sign for thunder, "Zhen," begins to reawaken the seeds of life still dormant within the winter earth. The elemental attributes of water, wood, fire, earth, and metal are the trigrams’ five-phase association and are symbolic of types and movement of energy.

In the traditional diagram (the one without lables), you can see that as yang grows from the bottom to the top, (the color white of the popular tai-chi symbol, and the solid lines of the Early Heaven Trigram Sequence), yin declines (the color black, and the broken lines), and vice versa. As soon as one peak of all yang or all yin lines is reached, the pendulum swings back into the opposite direction; yin grows while yang declines. Growth and decline follow in cyclical order in all things.

Everything in the universe is comprised of ever-changing degrees of yin (the broken line) and yang (the solid line) energy. Yin and Yang, often regarded as "female" and "male," represent any two polar opposites: dark/light, receptive/projective, cold/hot, etc. Yin actually translates as "the cloudy" or "the overcast." Yang translates as "banners waving in the sun," indicating something bright. The terms Yin and Yang were introduced into the I Ching in the 4th century BCE. Prior to that, the solid lines were called simply "the firm," the broken lines "the yielding." In the Fu Xi arrangement, you'll notice that the numbers assigned to each trigram, 1 to 8, when added to the number directly across the wheel, make the sum of 9 in all directions.

When it comes to the Taijitu symbol, the “Yin/Yang” as it is often called, my personal, pet theory is that the symbol is partly based on the observed motion of the Big Dipper, called The Plough in Chinese astronomy. As the year progresses, the handle of the dipper points to different horizons of the sky when you observe it at the same time every evening. In the winter, the handle points North, in March it points East, in June it points South, and in the autumn, it points West. Imagine that the bucket of the dipper is able to collect and pour yang energy. At the point shown here in the rotation, the winter solstice with the handle pointing down or north, the bucket is just able to begin to collect energy just as at the winter solstice, yang grows. At the opposite end of the rotation (imagine the picture upside-down), yang has reached its peak, the handle is pointing to the top (south), the bucket is at the bottom, and yang pours out or declines as yin energy begins its autumn/winter growth period.

The wheel remained as it was created until the time of King Wen, c. 1150 BCE. He felt a little differently about things. During a lengthy incarceration at the hands of a rival warrior-lord from which he was never freed, he rewrote the Judgments (those little sayings you get when doing an I Ching divination reading), and rearranged the wheel of the year as well to reflect the physical rather than the metaphysical plane. This arrangement is called the Later Heaven Circle or the King Wen sequence. It is considered to be the sequence of space – as in area, not outer-space, and is the basis for the practice of feng shui. You'll notice that he changed the numbers also, and that number 5 is missing. Though it is never written this way, it's understood that 5 is in the center to represent the physical world and humans; the five Chinese phases of energy (fire, water, wind/wood, earth, metal), the five appendages (legs, arms, head), the five senses. If you add the numbers opposite each other, the sum is 10, the number representing Perfection.

King Wen begins the year in the east with "Zhen," symbolic for beginning growth and movement, and called "Thunder" here in the West because in the spring come thunderstorms; its number is 3. Next is "Xun" symbolic for and sometimes called "Wind;" it also represents wood and the growth of plants. Summer solstice in the south is appropriately in the sign of "Fire," "Li." The next section represents the time of year when the first grains are ripe, and they are reaped from the "Earth," "Kun," at number 2. "Dui," called the "lake or marsh" here in the West, marks the autumnal equinox in the direction of west. In the northwest is "Qian" symbolic of "sky/heaven." Winter solstice is spent in "Kan," the "Water" symbol. The year ends in the northeast with "Gen," the symbol for the "Mountain," stillness awaiting the wakening "Thunder" again.

The energetic representations in King Wen’s Wheel can also be understood in the context of light/dark or above/below. The two earth trigrams, Gen and Kan, represent turning points of the year (earth energy is often considered to be the power of change or transformation). The energies between Gen and Kan on the left (Zhen, Xan, and Li), represent the growing and light side; things above ground. The symbols between Gen and Kan on the right (Dui, Qian, and Kan), represent the declining and dark side; things below ground.

This is how Water came to be associated with Winter as was written about in the previous post. When you honor the energies of all the seasons, you are honoring Sacred Wheels from the beginning of time and harmonizing yourself with the energies of the universe.

Saturday, January 13, 2007

Daoism on Winter

An important aspect of living a relaxed and harmonious life is being observant of Natural Laws, our guides to living in the moment and in tune with the natural cycles. This is what is meant by living in balance, not unchanging equilibrium.

As Deng Ming-Dao tells us in his writing “Balance” from the book 365 Tao, “Nature does not achieve balance by keeping to one level. Rather, elements and seasons alternate with one another in succession. Balance, as defined by the Tao, is not stasis but a dynamic process of many overlapping alternations; even if some phases seem wildly excessive, they are balanced by others.

Everything has its place. Everything has a season. As events turn, balance is to know what is here, what is coming, and how to be in perfect harmony with it. Then one attains a state of sublimity that cannot be challenged.”

Last month we experienced one of the major natural cycles of the Earth, the Winter Solstice on Friday, December 22, at 00:22 Universal Time. Coincidentally, the moon was New on December 20, and we may recall seeing the first sliver of a crescent on the night of the Solstice, another tiny bit of yang brightness peeking into the otherwise yin darkness.

Many people think of the Yijing (I Ching) only as a divination tool, but Daoists often regard its lines and symbols as a sublimely meaningful, philosophical map for a long and happy life.

Fu is the Chinese name for hexagram 24. It means: return; repeat, repeatedly; return to a normal or original state. Parts of this Chinese character represent footprints going and coming back – a symbol indicating cyclic travel or change.

Hexagram 24 is often called "Return." It represents the month of the Winter Solstice, the "re-turn" or cyclical change back to longer daylight hours. The lines are comprised of the symbol for Thunder (the lower three lines) within the Earth (the upper three lines). The budding influence is the bottom yang/light line; all the lines above it are yin/darkness. This arrangement of the lines heralds that first moment of increasing daylight although the length of day is still very much shortened by the quiet, still, darkness of the longer nights.


Here is what the Yijing has to say about hexagram 24 and winter: a quote from the Richard Wilhelm I Ching translated into English by Cary F. Baynes, Princeton University Press/Bollingen Foundation Inc., New York, 1977, p. 506:

Hexagram 24, called Return or The Turning Point

The Image:

Thunder within the earth:
The image of The Turning Point.
Thus the kings of antiquity closed the [mountain] passes
At the time of the solstice.
Merchants and strangers did not go about,
And the ruler
Did not travel through the provinces.


If you've observed the evening sky this month, you've noticed that the handle of the Big Dipper (Ursa Major) is pointing toward the Northern horizon. North is symbolic of yin, night and darkness, cloudiness (the meaning of "yin" originated with the "cloudy" or "shady" side of a mountain; "yang" was the sunny side), underground, water, the downward direction (in Chinese feng shui and most maps, North is customarily at the bottom of the page), and valleys among other things; all things symbolic of serenity, non-action, responsiveness which means taking no initiatory action, but only responding to outside stimuli. Think of responsiveness this way: a seed in the ground takes no initiatory action, it doesn't decide when to grow; it sprouts in response to the stimuli of water from the rain and heat from the sun.

You might think that the Winter Solstice is the most yin day of the year but, technically speaking, that is not the case. The day before the Solstice is the most yin day; on the day of the Solstice, the Sun turns around and the days begin heading in the other (yang/light) direction.

In the Old Farmer's Almanac, I discovered that there is a city in Montana where, on the day of the Winter Solstice, the hours of daylight are exactly 1/3 the length of the hours of darkness, and 12:00 Noon almost exactly marks the middle of the daylight hours (it is off-center by only four minutes!). Sunrise occurs at 8:04 AM and sunset occurs at 4:04 PM giving eight hours of daylight and sixteen hours of darkness on the Winter Solstice day. (Yes, the Summer Solstice day there is exactly opposite, with sunrise occurring at 4:04 AM and Sunset at 8:04 PM!) That 1:2 ratio is important - it is Nature's message to us telling us how we should be utilizing (or, perhaps I should say restoring) our own energies at this time of year: one-third active, two-thirds passive.

(In case you are curious, I happened to discover this when I was searching for a location where Noon on the clock really was in the middle of the day (the sunrise-sunset cycle) on the day of the Winter (and Summer) Solstice. I don't have the almanac handy, but I believe the city is Glasgow, Montana.)

In the past, this time of year meant a time of rest for warriors and farmers alike, in fact for all segments of society. Even the ruler "did not travel through the provinces." After all, "the king closed the passes" restricting travel and therefore activity, possibly for the safety of the merchants and other people because traveling through the mountains in winter can be risky! (Some Daoists believe that even your qi flows more slowly in the winter.)

However, with technological advances, we've lost that connection with the cycles of Time and Nature. We can get up earlier, go longer, faster, and farther whatever the hours of daylight. Obviously this offers great advantages to our ability to produce, to get things done, to be active (yang), but it does rather go against the purpose of the yin season, to properly utilize this time given to us to rest, to reflect in silence, to attune with the universal energies. We listen to music on the
radio instead of the sound of falling snowflakes (yes, they do make a sound when they land on the ground!). We turn on more electric lights instead of basking in the softness of the moon's reflection. It's a bit of a paradox that this time of year which should be our most quiet time often turns out to be our busiest time because of holiday parties and shopping. We have become quite out of harmony with Nature, Time, and the Dao. We no longer allow ourselves time to reflect, to rest in the solitude of the season of the night.

In the Five Phases of Energy, often called the Five Elements, water is the energetic signature for winter. It should always be our intention to live by the words "go with the flow"…emulate water; ever gently moving, following its course with quiet, soft determination, finding its own level. Water can carve through mountains with its persistence but that is a spring and summer activity. In the winter, even water "stops" – it freezes, ceases flowing, it is at rest. It falls from the sky as snowflakes; it solidifies into the mirror-like surface on a lake or pond – yet another symbol of the "reflective" quality of this season. If indeed we strive to emulate water, we must stop and be at rest, too.

When the body is at rest, the mind gains the time to reflect, and the spirit receives the energy to rejuvenate the body. This is the secret for a long and happy life.

Friday, January 12, 2007

Tonglen Healing

Tonglen is an ancient healing practice that is getting some much-deserved publicity these days and deserves another “day in the sun” here. Though I wrote this over a year and a half ago, and originally sent it to an email group I once belonged to, I do continue to use the practice when in need of self-healing. I hope you find it useful!

Graphic courtesy of Dharma Haven


Posted on Monday, April 18, 2005 - 9:36 pm:
Hello everyone,

There was mention of a healing practice called tonglen made in another thread. I didn't know much about it then; I know more now and share it here for both healers who would like to incorporate it into their practice, and people in need of healing who would also like to help themselves (and others).

Tonglen (sometimes spelled "tonglin" for folks who would like to do some research of their own) is apparently a practice that comes to us from Tibet.

It is practiced entirely through breathing. As the fellow in the book (cited below) says, "If you can breathe in and out, you can practice tonglin."

As you inhale, you think of people you want to help who are suffering. You can visualize those people if you know them, or think of their names and locations if you do not. You may work on specific problems, or do general work.

As you think of them, you inhale and bring into yourself their pain and suffering. Do not worry that you will somehow be contaminated by their problems; you will transform and exhale the problems almost immediately.

You exhale, and send with the outgoing breath healing, relief, or compassion. When you exhale, imagine and see your breath as flowing expansively outward, reaching all the people whom you are trying to help.

It's not a forceful practice (you don't "suck in" as much air as you can and then force it across the room), but it is deliberate; you should pay attention to each inhale and exhale, and breathe with the purpose of accepting suffering of, and sending healing to, others.

And here is a very interesting point about this practice if you are doing it for yourself. If you can breathe in the suffering and pain of other people who are experiencing the same thing as you, you are sharing the burden of your suffering and thereby reducing it ("a burden shared is a burden lessened" as they say). As you breathe out healing, you heal not only others with the same affliction, but yourself.

I believe the key here is to set aside the "I" and merge with the "us." It is not recommended that you work on just yourself; you should include others who are experiencing the same thing you are. You need not do this on an individual or personal basis (you may not know the name or location of a person with the same problem), but there are 6 billion people in the world today: whatever you are experiencing, you are certainly not alone.

To work on yourself, when you inhale, say or think or intend something like "I breathe in the suffering of all of us who have a pain in their left arm" (or whatever your problem is; it need not be physical, this practice may be used to relieve anger, sadness, grief, etc.). Exhale and say/think/intend "I offer (or send) healing to all of us."

If, at the end of your practice for the day or session, you should feel that you are still connected to someone else's suffering or problems, disconnect by saying "I am done now," or simply "Good-bye!" Repeat if necessary. (Sometimes, if we are working on an emotional problem that triggers us, it will bring up troubling things which we must dismiss for the time being. You could always work on it again during another healing session if needed.)

FYI, I learned about this in a book by Andrew Weiss titled Beginning Mindfulness, New World Library, Novato CA, 2004, ISBN 1577314417. The book presents a ten-week mindfulness course, and the practice for the tenth week is tonglen. There is a Buddhist slant to the material, but the author incorporates other practices as well. (Wanting to develop my own mindfulness material, I am reading what is already out there so as to avoid duplicating it.)

I used the tonglen method four days ago (Thur, Apr 14, 2005) on my arm; I have carpal tunnel, and have had pain of one kind or another in my hands every day for the past three years. (I am having massage therapy for the condition. That helps quite a bit, but sometimes I move the wrong way, or grasp something the wrong way, and it aggravates the condition.) The other day, my left arm, from the heel of the hand to the shoulder, was just about killing me. I did this tonglen practice for ten to fifteen minutes, and my left hand has been completely pain free ever since....and I do mean completely pain free which is nothing short of a miracle! It may start bothering me again, but the last four days have been heaven as far as my left hand is concerned! :-)

As an update (Sunday, May 22, 2005) I'd like to add here that I have been having some carpal tunnel problems lately (mostly because the keyboard is at the wrong height again...will have to fix that!), but a few minutes doing Tonglen relieves the pain admirably.

Further update (Monday, June 13, 2005): in the past couple of weeks I've also used this method to relieve an annoying tooth problem. I walk every evening for 10 to 15 minutes, and I practice this healing method while I walk, breating in pain and breathing out healing. It's an incredibly wonderful practice.


Here is some of the feedback I received on this post:

Massage therapy helped my carpel tunnel without surgery too. Due to neck & back problems from a fall from a tree when I was a child, I had been going to the chiropractor 2-3 times a week, then got it down to once a week or less....then realized my Buddhist practice, which includes some tonglen, relieved me of having to go to the chiropractor. I had learned of tonglen practice from reading Pema Chodron. She also has a CD which explains tonglen.

I like your version/explanation of tonglen best..... :-)......much more simplified than Pema Chodron's. However, if someone wants to read/study Pema Chodron's, I recommend her CD which, for me, was easier to understand than her book. Her book is "Start Where You Are". The CD, book & daily inspiration cards are in a set titled "The Compassion Box.”



I just wanted to Thank You for this Tonglen Healing. This morning coming in from watering, I slipped on the tile and twisted a muscle in my shoulder blade. I thought, good excuse to go and do Phoenix's Tonglen Technique. I did, I sat and did the breathing and letting it heal through. I like that you add others into the technique as well. It made me feel real good… The muscle now barley has any little twinge left in it at all. I am just taking it easy and continue to do the breathing. Thanks again and I will definitely add this easy technique to my list of uses!



I tried Tonglen once, on my stomach ache, and it really did work!
Thanks Phoenix, for sharing with us that wonderful technique. :)


Tuesday, January 9, 2007

Life Purpose

"The Tao is very close, but everyone looks far away.
Life is very simple, but everyone seeks difficulty."
-- Taoist Sage, 200 B.C

If you've been giving thought lately to finding your Life Purpose, please ponder the writing "Purpose" from 365 Tao: Daily Meditations by Deng Ming-Dao, Harper San Francisco, 1992, ISBN 0062502239.


Suddenly, things snap into focus.
I've been pursuing unity all my life,
But could only glimpse the monstrous vision in fragments;
It has haunted me for years.
Each time I sighted it, I struggled to make it concrete.
At first, it seemed I only had a sculptor's yard of unfinished figures --
Then it slowly began to make sense,
Gathered from glimpses and inferences.
More and more, this mysterious life comes together.
It may take years more to reveal the whole.
That's all right.
I'm prepared to go the distance.

One's life's destiny is not easily revealed. It's too big. You may certainly set your sights early, but you will still have to make changes and adjustments as your true purpose is clarified. When it does begin to come together, there is a tremendous feeling of assurance.

Then with each step upon the path of Tao, your certainty rings from peak to peak.

-End Quote-

Ask anyone these days and they'll tell you that knowing your life purpose is pretty important. The sooner you know why you’re here, the sooner you can learn your life lesson or fulfill your destiny. Many people think that finding their life purpose will make them healthy, wealthy, and wise…and famous!

I'm going to tell you something, and you may think I've missed the boat with this one, but here it is anyway: stop looking. Searching for your life's purpose can be a bit like looking for sleep; the harder you look, the more elusive it is.

While you are diligently reading the book by the latest sage or following the guidelines of the latest guru, your life purpose, not to mention your life, is wandering off in the opposite direction one street over.

If you live your life correctly, as you progress through life, your purpose will unfold before you. What is living correctly? It means living in harmony with people and the environment without expectations. (Personally, I believe this is the primary purpose of the life of every person living on this planet.)

You do have to live first, though. You can't learn about life purposes if you don't know about life. You need to try many different things, visit as many places as you can, open your mind and your heart and let in everything. The things that don't belong or aren't pertinent to you will leave soon enough on their own. The things that stay with you are the things you should pay attention to for if they, individually, do not define your life purpose, they may at least be contributing principles. Examine every "coincidence" you experience for these are messages to help you find the right direction for you.

How will you know when you have discovered your life's purpose? Doing it will fill you with joy, give you energy, you can talk about or do it for hours (paid or unpaid), and you can't wait to get started on it every morning. When you discover what makes you feel like that, you will have met your life purpose.

Do not think that this is a static purpose. You may find that it changes over time; your joy and energy move to another facet of life. That is ok. As you grow and learn it is correct that your purpose shifts to accommodate and utilize your acquired knowledge and experience.

Below is the (slightly edited) response I left on a message board in 2003 in response to a post on life purpose. I feel it is a fair description still:

I do believe, first, that you must be open to new ideas, even if they aren't your first or second choice....even if they aren't on your list of choices. These things do come out of the blue in many cases....it did in mine. You find (quite by accident!) something you do well and enjoy....something you never thought of trying except for circumstances giving you a boot in that direction.

Of course, you must love what you do, but you must also find that it is Very Easy for you to do it. If you tell someone what you do, and they say, "Wow...that is very difficult." or "I could never do that." and you don't understand why not, then you have identified something that is easy for you and that you are well suited to do.

However, "easy" can become "boring," so there must be challenges in the work. These should not be of the "Oh, no, another stupid problem," variety, but rather of the "Ah, something I can sink my teeth into," type of problem. Challenging does not mean overwhelming or distressing. It means something that brings out the best in you, and demonstrates (and allows you to practice) your specific talents.

The challenge sets you up to exercise your inspiration to tackle the problem. Only you could have thought of that solution...everyone else is still standing around scratching their heads over the problem, wondering how to deal with it, and here you've solved it. If you find the challenges are too many and too large, realize you are in the wrong place and not quite doing what is right for you. You should not need to struggle to overcome challenges; work, yes (because you love the work), but not struggle.

The final step is the reward you feel, the sense of satisfaction and accomplishment, that "I did it!" feeling.

You can find your "purpose" at any time in your life. Age does not matter. I began working as an assistant with emotionally disturbed children just as I turned 40, after having been a stay-at-home mom for 13 years. I was looking for a job, and friends thought I'd be good at this....I had never considered it as a career choice...hardly knew it existed. Now, I am beginning my tenth year in the field. It's easy for me, challenging, which I am able to overcome with flashes of inspiration, and extremely rewarding.

I have found this cycle to exist for most people who are happy with where they are in their lives, people who feel they have found their "purpose," a place where they can do the most good for themselves and others.

Nu Wa the Sun Crow

Photo by Millenium Twain.
The Chinese goddess Nu Wa may have been the original model for the phoenix in China. Here she is shown as a bird associated with the sun, "Nu Wa the Sun Crow," which resonates well with the associaton of the phoenix with fire.

As the original Earth Mother, Nu Wa repopulated the earth following a Great Flood by fashioning people from the yellow clay of the earth and giving them the breath of life. (Her husband/consort/brother was FuXi, the legendary first emperor of China, and the man who received and revealed to humankind the secrets of universal balance and harmony through the I Ching.)

In later eras, the Earth Mother was associated with the Queen Mother of the West, one of whose names is Nine-Phoenix Supreme Perfect Queen Mother of the West of the Jade Tortoise Platform. She dwelled in the Kunlun Mountains where she tended the Peaches of Immortality.

The Jade Tortoise Platform is, of course, the earth. Possibly the Nine-Phoenix refers to birth through the association of the sun's movement through nine constellations (i.e. nine months of human gestation).

Sunday, January 7, 2007

The Phoenix

Fenghuang, the Chinese phoenix, has no connection with the phoenix of the Western world. The images of the phoenix have appeared in China for over 7,000 years, often in jade and originally on good-luck totems. It is a totem of eastern tribes in ancient China.

During the Han Dynasty (2,200 years ago) the phoenix was used as a symbol depicting the direction south, shown as a male (feng) and female (huang) phoenix facing each other. It was also used to symbolize the Empress in a pairing with a dragon where the dragon represents the Emperor. It might come from the merging of eastern and western tribes of ancient China. The phoenix represented power sent from the heavens to the Empress. If a phoenix was used to decorate a house it symbolized that loyalty and honesty were in the people that lived there.

The Fenghuang has very positive connotations. It is a symbol of high virtue and grace. The Fenghuang also symbolizes the union of yin and yang. It appears in peaceful and prosperous times but hides when trouble is near.

In ancient China, they can often be found in the decorations for weddings or royalty, along with dragons. This is because the Chinese considered the dragon and phoenix symbolic of blissful relations between husband and wife, another common yin and yang metaphor. -End Quote- -Wikipedia.

I've read elsewhere that the feng and the huang lived on opposite sides of the land and that when an omen needed to be delivered to someone on earth, they flew together and then descended to deliver the message. This fits nicely as I am a diviner in I Ching (Yijing) and Tarot.

As it happens, in Chinese Four Pillar astrology, the day of my birth was the day of the Rooster which is also known as the day of the Phoenix.

More from Wikipedia:

Phoenix (also known as Garuda in sanskrit) is the mystical firebird which is considered as chariot of Hindu God Vishnu. Its reference can be found in Hindu epic Ramayana.

The Greeks adapted the word bennu (and also took over its further Egyptian meaning of date palm tree), and identified it with their own word phoenix φοινιξ, meaning the colour purple-red or crimson (cf. Phoenicia). They and the Romans subsequently pictured the bird more like a peacock or an eagle. According to the Greeks the phoenix lived in Arabia next to a well. [The symbolism of the well is extremely significant in the I Ching.] At dawn, it bathed in the water of the well, and the Greek sun-god Apollo stopped his chariot (the sun) in order to listen to its song.

One inspiration that has been suggested for the Egyptian phoenix is a specific bird species of East Africa. Another suggested inspiration for the mythical phoenix bird, and various other mythical birds that are closely associated with the sun, is the total eclipse of the sun. During some total solar eclipses the sun's corona displays a distinctly bird-like form that almost certainly inspired the winged sun disk symbols of ancient Egypt and Mesopotamia. -End Quote-

Here is a composite photo of a total solar eclipse that occurred on July 11, 1991. Photo copyright Steve Albers published on Astronomy Picture of the Day for October 24, 1995

Note the appearance of a bird-like head in the NNW direction, a tail in the SE direction, and wings spreading out over the NE and SW directions.

A solar eclipse often symbolized the death of one era and the birth of a new one, so you can see why the lifespan of a phoenix may have been so long (500 years), and the symbolism of the "rebirth" into the new era. Furthermore, it's very likely that a "new era" was measured from the beginning of a new dynasty with the ascension to the throne of a new Emperor, King, or Pharaoh. If this followed a lenghty conflict with a neighboring empire, fire may have been involved in the destruction of the former ruler and his nation, hence the death of the phoenix (the old era) by fire.