Friday, February 3, 2012

Chinese Spring 2012

Saturday, February 4th is the first day of spring on the Chinese calendar this year. If you got my email last spring, I made a mistake -- New Year's Day is NOT the first day of spring on the Chinese calendar. The New Year is determined by the lunar calendar, falling on the second (or sometimes third) new moon after the winter solstice. However, the first day of spring is based on the solar calendar, and occurs each year at "lichun," when the sun is at 315 degrees in the sky -- usually around February 4th. This means that sometimes spring starts before the new year does; furthermore, according to the Chinese Almanac the new zodiacal year doesn’t start until the first day of spring. This raises an interesting question regarding the status of people born between New Year’s Day and the first day of spring – to which year do they belong? Are you last year’s Rabbit, or this year’s Dragon? Maybe I’ll understand by next year, and will be able to correct this year’s mistakes then.

The element associated with springtime is the Wood element. The Wood element's emotion is anger, including frustration and impatience, and it hates being hemmed in or constrained. Wood’s positive attributes include drive, focus and ambition. Its color is green, its flavor is sour and its organs are the gall bladder and liver, which the Chinese call the "Free and Easy Wanderer." At the change of season is a good time to treat seasonal issues or issues associated with the season's element. Usually in the springtime it’s easy to see how people are becoming impatient with being cooped up all winter – “cabin fever” is a very Chinese description of a seasonal ailment – and it’s fairly easy to soothe people and re-channel their impatience and feelings of constraint into something that will give them a constructive outlet for their drive and ambition. Cleaning their fishing gear, preparing their garden plan, etc.

However, it is also important to make a smooth transition from one season to the next. Winter’s emotion is fear, and it can be kind of difficult to see how fear gives birth to anger, much less how to smooth the transition between the two. This year I have had a personal understanding of how this dynamic works, and I’m hoping this will help me to make smoother transitions between Winter and Spring.

As some of you know, I have become quite involved in local politics in the last few years and have even run for state office twice. Having been beaten soundly both times, I was content to hang up my state-wide political ambitions. However, I have been fearful about the future recently, both in personal terms (“How am I going to pay my mortgage?”) and in a larger sense (“What’s going to happen to our state with fracking? What’s going to happen to our democracy with the obscene amounts being spent on political campaigns?”). These fearful questions led me to angry feelings, which led to a desire to DO something so I didn’t feel so trapped and helpless. The main action I came up with, though, was to run for office again, as an anti-fracking, anti-money-in-campaigns candidate. Although I believe that both are noble and sensible positions, and although I hope that someone (actually, a LOT of someones) start to run on such platforms, it would be suicidal for me to do so. Although fracking isn’t having the generally enriching effect on north-central PA that was promised, some people have made a lot of money from it. Also, as indicated in the movie “There Will Be Blood,” the people who run the petroleum industry are rich and powerful and used to getting their way. Not only would I kill any future political aspirations I might have, I would also likely kill my acupuncture practice and might even be actually killed if I were to stick my neck out like this.

So I’m trying to come up with an alternative course of action that acknowledges my legitimate feelings, helps alleviate my fear and anger, and takes into account the seasons’ influence on the whole thing. It ain’t easy. But acupuncture doesn’t promise ease – just an understanding of nature’s patterns, which can help us avoid nature’s pitfalls. Because frankly, nature doesn’t care if I destroy myself – it’s only my family, friends and patients who will mind.

If you find yourself in a similar suicidal rage, consider the possibility that your fear is feeding your anger in a way that makes you blind to the consequences. “Blind rage” can lead you straight off a cliff. “Clear, cold-eyed fury” is more likely to have a positive outcome, at least for you. The target of your fury, that’s another matter, but maybe they need to learn to quit using fear as a political tool and to quit inciting anger to achieve their political and economic goals.

If you suffer from seasonal allergies in the spring, if you have liver or gall bladder ailments (including migraines, dizziness, high blood pressure or vertigo), if you feel a need to cleanse after over-indulging at the holidays, or if you have a serious case of cabin fever from being cooped up all winter, now is a good time for an acupuncture treatment. Me, I'm focusing on reassuring myself about my financial obligations and keeping my political feet on the ground. Otherwise, fear might combine with anger to fuel an outrageous act that has no constructive outcome.

Then who would write this blog?

Chinese New Year 2012

This year the Chinese New Year begins January 23, 2012. It will be the year of the Black (Water) Male (Yang) Dragon. The Chinese calendar is lunar, so New Year's Day changes from year to year, but it is on the new moon in late January or early February. The first day of Spring, however, is determined by the sun, and occurs every year at "lichun," which is around February 4th.

The dragon and lion dances that are well-known in China and Chinatowns throughout the world are intended to chase out the bad luck and bad spirits of the past year. In general, "Good riddance!" seems to be the common Chinese perspective on the recent past. It is also customary to thoroughly clean house before the end of the old year, so that you aren't setting out into a new year with a bunch of junk and garbage weighing you down. Finally, it is the custom to give red envelopes of cash to children -- red is the color associated with good luck and with the shen, the fire spirit of summer. The cash implies a hope for prosperity in the coming year, and the red envelope represents the hope that spiritual growth and progress will accompany material comfort.

Family reunions, new clothes and feasts with specific traditional dishes are also associated with the New Year. In my family, we have a big bonfire on Chinese New Year's Eve. This is partly to defy the cold and dark of winter with an outdoor party, but is also to burn the flood debris, downed limbs and my neighbor's old receipts and unwanted paperwork that end up in my bonfire every year. I've got to think that it would be better luck for her to burn her own garbage, but she's not very Chinese in her outlook -- more Yankee thrift than Oriental soul. Still, we lighten our load before the New Year starts, and make a pretty big noise while we do so.

Happy 4709!