Saturday, October 24, 2009

Mini-Universe: The I Ching

Whether you believe in divination or not is beside the point in dealing with ancient wisdom from such classic texts as the I Ching, the five thousand year old Chinese Book of Changes. The texts and tools of the Ancients are invaluable; the possibilities for self-evaluation, reflection, meditation, and discovery are endless. I myself was shocked to discover how spot on the oracle was this morning. Simply put, it’s a system of divination, but it isn’t just a fortune-teller. What it can reveal to you is much greater. It has been described in different ways throughout time, but what’s important is the content, so read it. It has profound spiritual value. The Chinese called it the “universe in miniature.” The I Ching is concerned with yin and yang, terms most Westerners are familiar with. Yin and yang are opposing elements, and when combined represent a unified whole. They emphasize the importance of balance in all things. Of all Chinese religious traditions, the concept of yin and yang is most closely connected with Taoism.

Following the instructions in the front of the book (The I Ching for Writers) I thought about my writing as I rubbed the pennies between my fingers. I tossed them onto the coffee table. Tails, tails, heads, a yang line. I drew an unbroken line then repeated the process five times. To read more about how to use the I Ching click here. I skimmed the sixty-four hexagrams of the I Ching for the one my coins produced.

The hexagram I cast is described by the Chinese symbol “Li” meaning fire. This symbol is pictured above in the old flag of the Empire of Vietnam (the flag for the Republic of Vietnam is the symbol for heaven, "Qián").

I feel a strong connection spiritually to fire. Astrologically speaking, I’m a fire sign. I was a given a totem once, the phoenix; the bird that rises from the ashes. I’m obsessed with candles (have too many to count). I once dabbled in pyromania.

The sixty-four hexagrams are derived from the eight trigrams of the I Ching, which represent the powers of nature. Taoism asserts that the meaning of life can be understood through observing nature.

I flipped skeptically to the section titled “Enlightenment” which described the meaning of the “Li” hexagram. This adaptation of the old Zhouyi (another name for the I Ching) interpreted the hexagram to contain the overall theme of enlightenment. It spoke of “the fire of knowing.” When I think of “the fire of knowing,” I see the faces of the enlightened, like Thich Nhat Hanh. They glow as if there is a fire burning inside them that shines right through their skin. Their eyes gleam. They know something that can’t be put into words.

Enlightenment for me, according to this oracle, will be attained through writing consistently, especially at the same time each day. Writing has been officially added to my list. The path to Nirvana is paved with many typos. That’s ok with me. Have you ever heard anyone comment on a bodhisattva’s grammar?

Friday, October 23, 2009

Don't Sweat the Small Bugs!

Let me start by saying that I do not have sex with insects, nor do I involved them in any way shape or form in my sex life. I know this is the common dictionary definition of entomophilia, but I’m an Ancient Studies major and looking through the lens of my Classical education a word like entomophilia reads as “the love of bugs.”

Maybe it’s just the nature of a sensitive soul. When I was five or six I remember crying hysterically because some kids killed a beautiful spider at school, and tore down its web. Its web was large and perfectly constructed, and the spider, resting in the middle, was also quite large and multicolored and shining in the morning light. I stared in wonderment, and others must have noticed because they came and killed it, and laughed.

I fell asleep on the couch last night, too sick to get up and put a bug outside that I noticed on the curtain of the bay window. I excitedly noticed it was one of my favorites, a leaf bug! To my dismay, this morning when I woke up it was in the exact same position. I was sure it had died. I thought I would take some pictures of the lovely creature before taking it outside.

As my camera flashed, the leaf bug started crawling! The flash must have woken him up. I happily took several pictures, went and opened the door and got something for it to crawl into. I went back into the living room and the leaf bug was nowhere to be seen. I’ve left the door open as much as possible throughout the day in the hopes that the bug will find his way outside.

These magical bugs look exactly like leaves. I live in a very leafy state so they’re fairly common here, but I never tire of finding them because I’m fascinated with bugs, especially “strange” ones. I’m even taken with the house centipedes that live with me (not when they surprise me, though).

I wrote the above section this morning. This post was originally going to be about my entomophilia, but something happened when I was getting ready for my bath...there was a tick in my thigh. The same tick I noticed last night and tried to get rid of, but I guess he came back for his revenge. Ticks are nearly impossible to kill. It's like something out of a scary movie, you have to burn them alive, or chop them up into little pieces...or in my case, just flush it down the toilet.

I know what some of you are thinking. Why do I flush ticks, but put leaf bugs outside? I don’t have an answer for you, except that life is full of such contradictions.

Soon after disposing of the tick I checked the site of the bite, where I could feel a dull, pulsing pain, and noticed a bullseye. An eye for an eye (pun intended). I drowned the tick, but not before he gave me Lyme’s disease.

The point of this post isn’t really about my relationship with insects. What I’ve realized through something seemingly trivial is this: there are a lot of roadblocks on the road to recovery. I was doing pretty well the first week and a half or so out of the hospital, but then this week I came down with the flu. And now I have Lyme’s disease. The important thing is that I don’t get negative, feel sorry for myself, and let these pesky setbacks drag me down. Nothing lasts forever, and a positive attitude makes for a quicker recovery.

P.S. A great example of the power of positive thinking in healing.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Swine Flu Silver Lining

I didn’t post last night for the first time because I have the swine flu. I am miserable but am forcing myself to sit up and write some. Yesterday I started having some cold symptoms: sore and scratchy throat, congestion, headache, stuffed-up/runny nose. I went to bed early and woke up at 11 pm feeling absolutely miserable. I felt like a human oven my fever was so high, and I wept from the body aches as I knelt over the toilet, nauseated.

I plopped a couple of cherry Alka-Seltzer tablets into a glass of water. I drank the that, then some Yogi Throat Comfort tea, then a bottle of water. After my long drinking session I went back to sleep. The flu sometimes seems like a long series of drinks one after the other, doesn't it? Water, broth, tea, Alka-Seltzer, water, broth, tea, Alka-Seltzer...

I don’t want this whole post to be a bitch fest, so I decided to write some good things about having the flu:

1. Easy way to lose a few pounds (I could only stomach a couple of bites of Top Ramen today)
2. I can’t smoke
3. People take care of me (hey- who doesn’t enjoy a little pampering from time to time?)
4. I have a valid excuse to blow things off I didn’t really want to do anyway
5. I can kick back on the couch and watch movies all day without feeling guilty about it.

Since swine flu, for most people, is no more serious than the "regular" flu, I’ll try to stay positive and enjoy the good things about the flu. After having pancreatitis the flu doesn’t even seem that bad. I guess I’m just used to being sick.

P.S. For certain groups of people, the swine flu can become a very serious illness. To see if you are one of those people, and to get other official information about the swine flu, click here.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

The Zen of Tea Time

"Drink your tea slowly and reverently,
as if it is the axison which the world earth revolves-
slowly, evenly, without
rushing toward the future;
Live the actual moment.
Only this moment is life."
- Thich Nhat Hanh

Drinking tea is the perfect meditation for me at the end of the day. It is a tactile, sensuous experience. First I shut my eyes, cupping my hands around the large shiny black mug, my palms warmed by the steaming hot liquid. I press my bottom lip carefully to the rim, and before sipping breathe in very slowly through my nose. The minty aroma creeps up my nostrils, cleansing sinus cavities, and as I exhale I feel a tingling at the top of my head where the “third eye” is supposed to be. I open my eyes and catch a glimpse of my reflection wavering on the surface.

I take a sip. I feel it on my tongue and teeth, the back of my throat, then it cascades down my esophagus like contrast dye highlighting vital organs to be seen in an ultrasound picture, each body part lights up as it is warmed by my chamomile tea.

I blissfully swallow the drink bit by bit until I can see the bottom of the deep dark mug, the temperature now not quite so hot. I let the last sip linger in my mouth for awhile before swallowing.

Right now I feel like a calm person. I don’t even care that I need an herbal aide to meditate.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Ye Love Me Some Olde Ellicott History

It had finally stopped raining when I woke up this morning, so I decided to hike around Old Ellicott City, hit the boutiques, and take some pictures. There are oh so many reasons why I love this town. Why I love Old Ellicott City, Especially in October:

1. HELL HOUSE. Fabulous place to get spooked and take freaky photos. Unfortunately some lunatic decided to knock down the over a century old St. Mary’s College three years ago, so all we have now are our outrageous ghost stories (rarely believable, highly exaggerated), memories, and old pictures.

2. The fabulous fairy factory (The Forget-Me-Not Factory) is having a store-wide sale. Pixie dust was 10% off today! This place never fails to bring out the kid in me. In warmer weather a man blows huge bubbles out front. It’s a festive place that I don’t think I’ve ever passed without walking in.

3. Southwest Connection (another Old Ellicott City boutique that just so happens to sell pixie dust) always has new and different authentic Native American jewelry and crafts, like dream catchers, handpicked by the owners in their travels out West. The unique pieces are handmade with different gemstones and crystals, and very reasonably priced…I’m obsessed with their rings. I wear them for years, until they break.
4. The town is cutely quaint, (founded in 1772), and my Dad proposed to my Mom on the railroad tracks, which happen to be the oldest 13 miles of tracks in the country. And they’ve been married almost 30 years… that’s pretty quaint in today’s society.

5. Fun places to eat and drink: La Palapa, The Phoenix, Ellicott Mills Brewery, The Wine Bin, Tersiguel’s French Country Restaurant (I recommend the poulet, it’s free range, in a champagne sauce with seasonal veggies, topped with puff pastry); and for your caffeine and sugar addictions, the place to go is Sweet.

6. Ye Haunted History of Olde Ellicott City…to be continued (after I attend the tour this weekend).
7. Seven Hills. This one is bittersweet for me because a lot of good kids have lost their lives to this road. Now that I’m older and a bit wiser I strongly discourage anyone (I don’t care how good of a driver you are, or think you are) from trying to jump the hills, especially if you’re in a car with a driver that is at all under the influence (of anything!). Speeding on this road is suicide. Period.

I am looking forward to dispensing plenty of tricks and treats for you in my upcoming blogs the rest of this month, Halloween is one of my favorite holidays and there are so many things to do and write about: hay rides, pumpkin picking, real apple cider straight from the mill, costume parties, costume contests, trick-or-treaters, ghosts, witches, Michael Myers; and of course the devilish chocolate candy that will be tempting me to cheat on my strict pancreatitis diet every step of the way...should be a fun, bumpy ride.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Healing through Bird and Bay Watching

My Dad loves birds…most people spend most of their time looking straight ahead of them. He looks up. He’s taught me all about birds, hawks especially. I have spent hours on my parents’ porch in Caroline County, Maryland, waiting for a pair of playful red tanagers to return.
Nighttime at the country house is magical. It is as dark as a cave- I can’t see my hand right in front of my face. Or, the stars light the air a musky smoky purple, making everything look like it’s underwater. The light reflects off the golf course behind the house as sleek as new snow. The moon shifts and ripples in the dark water of the spa. The trees are black and menacing, blocking out some starlight; their branches casting long jagged shadows across my sister’s pale white cheeks. When I’m released from the hospital I spend time there. It’s a good place to reflect. The air is clean, fresh, and sweet, like biting into a fresh-picked peach in summer. Fresh air is what I miss most in the hospital. The windows don’t open. I tried to go outside once and the security guard stopped me, pointed at my two IV poles and said; “You can’t go outside if you have those.” My IV lines were my shackles. The ton of tubing pulled at my IV sites constantly, bruising my skin. I still have sore spots: my inner arms and the tops of both of my hands.

When I would take walks around the unit, I tried not to breathe in too deeply. I couldn’t help but think that the stale air was full of sickness and disease. When I leave the hospital the first thing I do is gasp like someone coming up for air from being underwater for too long; a desperate, ecstatic breath.

My Dad hates his work commute, except for one small part, the part where he crosses the Bay Bridge. On our way home from the hospital recently he told me; “I love crossing the bridge because the water is never the same. It is always, always different.” He didn’t just mean this in the “You never step into the same river twice” type of way, although he is a Zen Buddhist. He also meant that it always looks different. It always acts different. I looked down on the Chesapeake and even in the light of dusk could make out little rivers within the Bay, currents crisscrossing the water, concealing the mystery of America’s largest estuary below.

My personal address, where I am most of the time, is on the opposite side of the bridge. Because of this I know the value of Eastern Shore living. My head is always buzzing where I live, twirling with a billion thoughts, it’s a more urban, suburban place. I feel no connection here, not even to my own backyard. Everything feels separated, isolated. In Caroline I study families of deer, and they study me. They’re peaceful as they forage for food in the field of high yellow grass, past the front yard. I could scream and no one would hear me. But I’d rather be silent, and take in the sounds of birds calling, of wind rushing, of bees buzzing, of dogs barking, of wild turkeys squawking. It’s a noisy, quiet, place. If you learn how to listen to nature you’ll never be bored. Canaan Valley, West Virginia taught me how:
I lived a low impact life underneath a simple tarp, hiking by day, observing the fiercely beautiful wilderness there, at night falling asleep to the sounds of owls and the occasional mountain lion. I learned to spot camouflaged little squirrels from dozens of yards away in the woods, just from being quiet and watching. We are never alone. If you can learn to just sit and be with nature, it’s a feeling of being loved unlike any other. To be a part of the grand scheme, to really know you are, is the greatest gift you can give yourself. Know that you are no less important, and no more important than a ladybug, a leaf, a rain darkened stone. Too often we make ourselves apart from each other, it’s no wonder there’s an epidemic of chronic loneliness among humans. Be a part of.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Cold Pizza & Warm Beer- Never again!

I just got out of the hospital again. Here goes my second and possibly last chance to recover from pancreatitis successfully, or I risk developing chronic pancreatitis, which sounds like absolute hell (basically acute pancreatitis [what I have] that never goes away). I don’t want to live the rest of my life on huge amounts of narcotic drugs just to breathe normally without pain…

Plan of Action:

1. Learn how to cook healthy meals for myself. I’ll have to expand my repertoire beyond spaghetti. Maybe even go vegan again?
2. Don’t drink (caused my pancreatitis). Quit smoking (irritates the pancreas).
3. Find ways to exercise outside that are fun (can no longer afford my gym membership).
4. Get some God, some Universe, some Mystery in my life…spiritual fulfillment seems to be the only thing that can fill me up like vodka, but without the trip to the hospital.
5. Reconnect with old sober friends (hopefully some still are?).

I’ll find a way to enjoy my life healthily. I just have to see it like a grand new adventure, full of endless possibility and opportunity…instead of being motivated by fear, which didn’t get me too far last time. This blog will keep me honest. I’m starting a new life, reinventing myself, and for some crazy reason, writing this blog about it!