Thursday, September 06, 2007

The Yin and the Yang

I used to have a yin/yang symbol necklace on a leather cord choker back in the '90s. No, I didn't buy it in Asia or an Asian-owned Store. I think I got it from Brass Plum at Nordstrom's. Appalling lack of cool (or then, post-colonial anxiety, blessed was I) notwithstanding, for all my Buddhism and reading in East Asian philosophy (a fair amount), I'm as bad as any suburban kid at really comprehending this idea.

Yin (dark)/Yang (light). Thesis/antithesis to me recall last year, what I set out to do and what I ended up doing. But as many times as I've read the Tao te Ching (three, I believe), I think I constantly mess up the use of the idea. It's not just opposites, it's dichotomies: each symbol has a seed of the other (the little dot thing) and each cannot exist without the other. This at least makes more sense than the Harry Potter prophecy (blah blah, neither can live while the other one survives, blah blah). It goes beyond the paradigmatic dichotomy of good and evil, though one may argue that without good, evil does not exist as an opposite, and without evil, the good cannot be ascertained. And there's a kernel of each in the other, although with good and evil there are so many shades and degrees that it's hard to call them opposites or theses/antitheses.

Anyway, this is more than opposites, it's even more than antidotes. Remember that last bit in Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon in which Michelle Yeoh's character cries over Chow Yun Fat's character as the poison runs through his veins, and he says it is too late--Yeoh cries "but we must find an antidote! Every thesis has an antithesis!" I don't think that captures Yin/Yang.

Suffice it to say, Yin/Yang is not used well in our everyday thought and culture. I use it very poorly myself. I may approximate it best when I use Chinese medicine techniques. In addition to Nyquil, whenever I have a bad cold, to knock the cold wind out of me I drink a pot of ginger root tea. That's about as descriptive as I can get: take a ginger root, cut off a 1 inch chunk, boil it in a pot of water, and drink it. It's insanely peppery tasting and makes you choke a bit. It feels like fire down the esophagus. But I swear it makes me feel better. This I do on my own.

When I was really sick, my mother used to make me strip off my shirt, take a $0.25 quarter and a pot of Tiger Balm (think: eucalyptus/methol balm in concentrate) and rub my back with the balm and scrapes along pressure points with the quarter to release the bad, cold wind inside me. Again, this is probably is the closest I'll ever feel to someone putting a candleflame to my bare flesh. It is so hot I start sweating as soon as she rubs the Tiger Balm, and add the painful scraping and the sweat is mingled with tears. I look like I've had a hundred lashes when she's done. Again, I usually feel better, but maybe that's psychosomatic, or I just will myself to feel better so that she won't do it again.

I could go on. My parents making me sit around a pot of boiled eucalyptus leaves and throwing a blanket over my head, giving me a menthol steam bath. This is almost Western, a ghetto sauna. But by this I mean to say: cold wind bad. Hot wind good. The opposite is true when I have a fever. I am not allowed to eat mangoes, because the have hot properties. Eggs, also. It's really hot outside right now. But if I could afford mangoes, I'd eat them, even in this heat. But Cherry Garcia ice cream is delicious. I forgot if cherries are hot or not. They probably are. Everything is. My mom says that watermelon is inflammatory. The only things on the good list that I recall are green leafy vegetables and cucumbers. Yuck. Thank goodness for citrus fruits like oranges and lemon(ade), but for some reason pinapple is also hot. But I can't eat pinapple anyway.

Okay, this, I'm not sure I buy into, because I can't tell my core temperature without a thermometer, and don't observe a change based on my diet. Although it's funny to me how much Chinese medicine recalls the mythology of the spleen and how it affects "humours and health" back in the Victorian era.

But otherwise, I'm doing an awful lot of merely compensatory, rather than antidotal or antithetical things to correct other things these days.

Things I am doing that aren't quite yin-yangy, but that I'm hoping are doing something to off-set the bad stuff:

1. Eating cholesterol-reducing oatmeal every morning to counteract the imported European butter I eat every day in baked goods/with dinner rolls.

2. Eating homemade chicken soup from my own stock, in hopes that the collagen and elastin in the broth will help repair my joints from the 10-15 miles a week that I run. This was suggested by my bioengineer friend. I'm going to believe her, and that popping glucosamine pills is both expensive and not as tasty.

3. Running to counteract all the lemon bars that I'm eating. Running makes me hot. Lemons are cooling. And delicious.

4. Running to counteract a case of the blues. This is more for the endorphins. This works. Not as delicious though.

5. Blogging to make myself feel better for other types of crap writing. You know what I mean.


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