Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Year of the Dragon

New Milk Moon

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I am the unquenchable Fire,
  The center of all energy,
  The stout heroic heart.
  I am truth and light,
  I hold power and glory in my sway.
  My presence
  Disperses dark clouds
  To tame the Fates.

  I am the Dragon.

Year of the Dragon

Gung Hay Fat Choy! January 23 is the new Fasting Moon in Annette Hinshaw's calendar and the first day of the lunar new year, a huge celebration all over Asia. The festival is called Tet Nguyen Dan in Vietnam, Chaul Chnam Thmey in Cambodia and Chun Jie, or the Spring Festival, in Chinese speaking communities. When I was a little kid in San Francisco Chinese New Year was almost as big of a holiday at my elementary school as Thanksgiving or Spring Break. We made red envelopes to fill with chocolate coins and watched lion dancers at school and parades in Chinatown. 

Every year in the Chinese calendar is ruled by an animal, creating the Chinese zodiac. The year 4710, or 2012 in the Gregorian calendar, is a Year of the Dragon, a headstrong, charismatic, and enthusiastic animal who's luck just never stops. Dragon is known for being a free spirited doer who always wins people's admiration and never accepts defeat. Though my theme for 2012 is Grabbing the Tiger By the Tail, the Chinese Dragon is a perfect poster child for the kind of year I want to have. Bright, buoyant, active and adventurous. There is a caution, though, with Dragon because they can tend towards being a bit brash, abrasive or prone to power-over dynamics. I am liable to fall into these patterns myself so I will be calling on the Water Dragon, this year's elemental dragon, to help me remain more open minded, to see other people's points of view and weigh all the options before rushing into action. Martin Luther King, Jr., Woodrow Wilson and John Lennon were all born in the Year of the Dragon. I wonder what will be born this year?

Dragon and Mandarins

Food plays a central role in the celebration of the Chinese New Year and there is much symbolism on the banquet table. Oranges and tangerines are given as gifts and eaten at meals both because they are so deliciously in season this time of year, but also because their names sound like the words for luck and gold in Chinese. Whole fish are often served to represent the beginning and end of a lucky year and sweets of various kinds bring a sweetness to the year. The local Asian newspaper here in Portland printed the following recipe and I hope to try it sometime this season. Long beans or long noodles represent long life and lobster represents the dragon of the zodiac. Shrimp or chicken can be substituted for the lobster, or combined with the dragon of the sea. Combining lobster and chicken is another traditional food, symbolizing the lucky union of the dragon and the phoenix.

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Dragon Beans
1 tbs oil (vegetable, peanut, or lard)
1/4 tsp Sichuan peppercorns, crushed
1/2 tsp Chinese five-spice powder
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 1/2 pounds Chinese long beans (also called yard long beans, string beans can be used)
1/2 cup water
1/4 cup oyster sauce
1 tbs soy sauce
1 tbs toasted sesame oil
splash of Sriracha sauce
7 oz cooked lobster meat, chopped (substitute/combine shrimp or chicken)
1 tbs toasted sesame seeds

In a wok or deep skillet over medium-high, heat the vegetable oil. Add the peppercorns, five spice powder, and garlic. Heat, stirring constantly for 30 seconds.

Add the beans and toss to coat. Add the water, oyster sauce, and soy sauce and cover. Allow the beans to stem for five minutes, or until just tender. Add the sesame oil, Sriracha, lobster meat, and sesame seeds. Toss together and cook until just heated through. Serve immediately. 

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Lion Dance

How are you celebrating this ancient and global festival? Do you have family or community traditions around the Chinese New Year or is all of this new to you? What foods bring good luck and wealth in your home? How is the dragon going manifest its optimistic, exuberant and charming energies into your life this year?

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New Milk Moon 2009: New Milk Moon

New Milk Moon 2011: The Quaker Year

This post is about Chinese New Year, which I mention in the Full Fasting Moon 2009 post and The Nian.

** This winter was tough and I got messed up in my calendar. I wrote this thinking it was the Fasting Moon but it was really the Milk Moon. Since the post itself is more about the the Chinese New Year I just changed the tags and labels. For more on my thoughts about this, see this post. **

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Playing Games

Birth Moon

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The low winter sun streams through the Douglas fir and cedar branches along the Wildwood Trail. The trail winds along a contour line out in the deep wooded heart of the park and I am alone. Well, almost alone. Around a bend in the trail my comes my dog, running full out, her ears flapping and mud flying out behind her. She skids to a halt in front of me, her doggy face practically grinning as she hops up to touch my hand with her nose, spins and darts off up the trail. I can’t help but laugh.

I laugh out loud, my voice muffled by the ferns and fir tree foliage all around me. I laugh at her silly antics and goofy ways. She’s not a clown of a dog, but her little hop, flapping ears and flying leaps make me crow with laughter. I giggle uncontrollably at her yipping and yowling in her sleep. Is she dreaming about giant squirrels or flying tennis balls? Goddess only knows what goes on in the mind of a dog.

My laugh softens into a chuckle and a grin as I catch sight of a flock of chickadees tumbling their way through a stand of cedar and hemlock trees. The sheer joy she gets out of living her dog life makes me laugh, too. She is never self-conscious about her pleasure at a smelly fence post, at a sunny spot in the lawn or a good chase. She is never anything but herself, without reservation or apology. The chickadees come closer, chipping and chirping at each other, completely oblivious of my presence. They, too, are fully present in their lives, not worrying or pretending. They simply are. One flits from one branch to another, doing a somersault over the new perch, hangs upside down and digs in the needles for bugs. I can’t help but grin.

Me ant Tummy
I heard an interview with Brother Guy Consolmagno, a Jesuit priest and astronomer, recently in which he tells a story about his mother. When he was about 9 years old she played cards with him one rainy Saturday afternoon. They played for hours and she let him win more often than not. Of course, she could have beat him every hand but that wasn’t the point. Playing the game was a way for her to say she loved him and Brother Guy sees exploring God’s created universe as a similar game. He is an astronomer and a mathematician so super novas and equations explaining planetary orbits are the game God plays with him to show his love.

I am a naturalist and a dog person so God plays a slightly different game with me. She shows me how to stop worrying and just be through a muddy Labrador. She shows me how she cares for every being through a flock of chickadees. She shows me that she will light my way with a big bright moon rising over the mountain as I drive home. She shows me that she loves me by making me laugh. 

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I wrote this for my Quaker Meeting's journal, Minding the Light. The querie this season was "When has god made you laugh?" I think this story about my dog, about chickadees and about the games God plays with us fits well with the theme of the Birth Moon. This is a time when the light of the Sun Son is new and feeble, but growing stronger each day. The Goddess watches over that growing light, protecting it, loving it, giving it what it needs to become the Light of The World as the summer waxes. I think she is doing that for all of us, giving us exactly what we need exactly when we need it... be that a muddy dog, a giant full moon or another dark, rainy night. 

You can read past issues of Minding the Light online here. My previous posts written for the journal can be seen by checking out all the posts tagged Minding the Light.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Grabbing the Tiger by the Tail

Full Birth Moon

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Welcome to the first full moon of 2012, the Birth Moon. Happy New Year! Did you have a wonderful holiday weekend, full of friends, parties and maybe a few more thoughtful moments? Have you been savoring the darkness of this time of year, incubating plans for the coming season of light? Or have you been trying to drown out the dark with lights and liquor, food, parties and go go go, fun fun fun? Yeah, I've been doing some of both, too.

Last year at about this time, I looked over the year before, did some gwishing and came up with a theme for 2011: Building a Better Teacher. As I look back on this last year I see how that theme really filled out the year. I really enjoyed my coursework, did a lot of processing with the deeper themes of equity, child development and how our public schools work, and actually spent some time in a public school classroom. I
Winter Sky
feel like so much of the rest of what I did this year helped me build a better teacher, too. The play and poetry I engaged in during the spring and summer, my trip to visit my family in Southern California, working through all the hard stuff and then more hard stuff and every bit of reading and writing I did this year all helped me become a stronger, clearer person and more ready to be a friend, mentor and leader to teenagers. 

The days between Christmas and Epiphany are considered the 12 Days of Christmas and there are many esoteric beliefs and traditions associated with these dark nights. Some people believe that the weather of the twelve days associates with the weather of the corresponding months in the upcoming year, and others use that correspondence to do meditation or planning for those months. Other people use the 12 nights to focus on the upcoming year in a more general way, on their own spirituality or on inner work they might want to work on in the coming year. No matter what, it is a time of sinking into the deep dark, bringing the magic of the Christmas rebirth into the new year and getting ready for the Epiphany, the lighting up and insight, that can come if you are ready for it. I spent some of the 12 days, and some before and after, pondering about this upcoming year, 2012.

As I worked through what I want 2012 to look like and listened intently to what the Universe was hinting at, I used some old techniques and some new. I read my Fairy Tale Tarot deck and looked at Sabian Symbols. I prayed in Meeting and in my car. I listened to the conversations I had with my friends and examined what stories were really speaking to me during this time. I brainstormed qualities and imagined scenes from the year. It took a lot of pondering and meditating and thinking, but finally… I am ready to unveil 2012.

Grabbing the Tiger By the Tail

  • 2012 will be a year of saying yes to adventure, of facing the fearsome, of just doing it, no matter what "it" is.
  • 2012 will look ballsy and awesome, effortless and amazing! Sometimes it will look as challenging as it feels, but it will always look real. 
  • 2012 will feel exciting and terrifying, hard but do-able, good like a hard work out or a tricky puzzle. 
  • 2012 will be bright orange and zebra striped. It will smell like cinnamon and snow. It will sound like big bells, the crack of a bat and the roar of a crowd, it will sound like the Rocky Theme song (being played by a Hawaiian marching band... which will follow me everywhere this year. Get ready).

2012 is going to be full of adventures. I am student teaching at a middle school, looking for a job in the spring and summer and good Lord willin’ start as a classroom teacher in the fall. I might have to move and will definitely be meeting new people all along the way. I have no idea what adventures this 
The Tiger's Stripes
summer holds for me, in fact, I don’t even know where June rent is coming from. I am going to need to step up to the plate this year and grab each tiger by the tail as it comes my way or I might miss an opportunity, either material or otherwise as they zoom by.

There are other kinds of tigers lurking in 2012, though, too. The story that I shared with you earlier in the month is a story about a man who runs from a tiger that is more about emotions than about the material world. Stefano is terrified of the columber and spends his whole life running, ending up a sad and lonely man. Almost immediately after my motto for the year came to me I had a situation where I realized that I was running from a columber. Something was scary to admit, hard to feel and I ran away from it through blame and anger. As hard as Grabbing the Tiger of jobs and teaching By the Tail might be, turning to Face the Columber is even harder.

Over the last year I’ve been thinking a lot about courage. Courage is not necessarily not feeling afraid of what you are facing, but it is working through that fear and doing something anyway. The last time I really examined courage, I realized that it is the root of all other virtues. To be generous, or loving, or loyal, kind or grateful all require facing fear of being laughed at, or rejected or judged and acting anyway. This year, I will need to draw on all of my courage to Grab the Tiger and Face the 
By Don Kenn
Columber. The Mission Statement I wrote a couple years ago declares that I am an ambassador of the Universal Divine and ambassadors are always under the protection of those who send them. I have the full backing of god in my work, and I have nothing to fear. 

“My life, glowing with integrity, shines a bright light out into the world. I am filled with the light of god and others around me see it and respond.”

What does 2012 have in store for you? Did you do some gwishing or dream decreeing during the 12 days of Christmas or at some other time this winter? What is your motto for the upcoming year, what is your year going to look like or smell like? Do you have a story about gathering your courage and Grabbing a Tiger by the Tail or Facing a Columber? Happy New Year!

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** This winter was tough and I got messed up in my calendar. I wrote this thinking it was the Milk Moon but it was really the Birth Moon. Since the post itself is more about the the new year of 2012, I just changed the tags and labels. For more on my thoughts about this, see this post. **

Full Birth Moon 2008: Outer Darkness and Inner Hope

Full Birth Moon 2009: New Year! and A Story for the Birth Moon 

Full Birth Moon 2010: The Dark of the Dark.

Full Birth Moon 2011: The Columber

Some Birth Moon posts are dated for a Gregorian year but are a part of a lunar year that mostly takes place in the Gregorian year before. Confusing.

This post is about new years, a topic I discussed in the posts The Quaker Year, New Year and New Milk Moon.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

The Columber

Full Birth Moon

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The Colomber
Dino Buzzati, translated by Lawrence Venuti

     When Stefano Roi was twelve years old, he asked his father, a sea captain and the owner of a fine sailing ship, to take him on board as his birthday gift. 
     “When I grow up,” the boy said, “I want to go to sea with you. And I shall command ships even more beautiful and bigger than yours.”
     “God bless you, my son,” the father answered. And since his vessel had to leave that very day, he took the boy with him.
     It was a splendid sunny day, and the sea was calm. Stefano, who had never been on a ship, happily wandered around on deck, admiring the complicated maneuvers of the sails. He asked the sailors about this and that, and they gladly explained everything to him. 
    When the boy had gone astern, he stopped, his curiosity aroused, to observe something that intermittently rose to the surface at a distance of two to three hundred meters, in line with the ship’s wake.
     Although the ship was indeed moving fast, carried by a great quarter wind, that thing always maintained the same distance. And though the boy did not make out what it was, there was some indefinable air about it, which attracted him intensely.
     No longer seeing Stefano on deck, the father came down from the bridge, after having shouted his name in vain, and went to look for him.
     “Stefano, what are you doing there, standing so still?” the captain asked his son, finally perceiving him on the stern as he stared at the waves.
     “Papa, come here and see.”
     The father came, and he too looked in the direction indicated by the boy, but he could not see anything.
     “There’s a dark thing that rises in the wake every so often,” Stefano said, “and it follows behind us.”
     “Despite my forty years,” said the father, “I believe I still have good eyesight. But I see absolutely nothing.”
     And the boy insisted, the father went to get a telescope, and he scrutinized the surface of the sea, in line with the wake. Stefano saw him turn pale.
     “What is it? Why do you make that face?”
     “Oh, I wish I had never listened to you,” the captain exclaimed. “Now I’m worried about
you. What you see rising from the water and following us is not some object. That is a colomber. It’s the fish that sailors fear above all others, in every sea in the world. It is a
tremendous mysterious shark, more clever than man. For reasons that perhaps no one will ever know, it chooses its victim, and when it has chosen, it pursues him for years and years, for his entire life, until it has succeeded in devouring him. And the strange this is this: No one can see the colomber except the victim himself and his blood relations.”
     “It’s not a story?”
     “No. I have never seen it. But from descriptions I have heard many times, I immediately
recognized it. That bison like muzzle, that mouth continually opening an closing, those terrible teeth. Stefano, there’s no doubt, the colomber has ominously chosen you, and as long as you go to sea, it will give you no peace. Listen to me: We are going back to land now, immediately; you will go ashore and never leave it again, not for any reason whatsoever. You must promise me you won’t. Seafaring is not for you, my son. You must resign yourself. After all, you will be able to make your fortune on land too.”
     Having said this, he immediate reversed his course, reentered the port, and on the pretext of a sudden illness, he put his son ashore. Then he left again without him.
     Deeply troubled, the boy remained on the shore until the last tip of the masts sank behind the horizon. Beyond the pier that bounded the port, the seas was completely deserted. But looking carefully, Stefano could perceive a small black point which intermittently surfaced on the water: it was “his” colomber, slowly moving back and forth, obstinately waiting for him.

     From then on, with every expedient the boy was dissuaded from his desire to go to sea. His father sent him to study at an inland city, hundreds of kilometers away. And for some time, distracted by his new surroundings, Stefano no longer thought about the sea monster. Still, he returned home for summer vacations, and the first thing he did, as soon as he had some free time, was hurry to the end of the pier for a kind of verification, although he fundamentally considered it unnecessary. After so many years, even supposing that all the stories his father told him were true, the colomber had certainly given up its siege.
     But Stefano stood there, astonished, his heart pounding. At a distance of two to three hundred meters from the pier, in the open sea, the sinister fish was moving back and forth, slowly, raising its muzzle from the water every now and then and turning toward land, as it anxiously watched for whether Stefano was coming at last.
     So the idea of that hostile creature waiting for him day and night became a secret obsession for Stefano. And even in the distant city it cropped up to wake him with worry in the middle of the night. He was safe, of course; hundreds of kilometers separated him from the colomber. And yet he knew that beyond the mountains, beyond the forests and the plains, the shark was waiting for him. He might have moved even to the most remote continent, and still the would have appeared in the mirror of the nearest sea, with the inexorable obstinacy of a fatal instrument.
     Stefano, who was a serious and eager boy, profitably continued his studies, and as soon as he was a man, he found a dignified and well-paying position at a store in the inland city. Meanwhile, his father died through illness, his magnificent ship was sold by his widow, and his son found himself the heir to a modest fortune. Work, friends, diversions, first love affairs- Stefano’s life was not well under way, but the thought of the colomber nonetheless tormented him like a mirage that was fatal and fascinating at the same time; and as the days passed, rather than disappear, it seemed to become more insistent.
     Great are the satisfactions of an industrious, well-to-do, and quiet life, but greater still is the attraction of the abyss. Stefano was hardly twenty-two years old when, having said goodbye to his inland friends and resigned from his job, he returned to his native city and told his mother of his firm intention to follow his father’s trade. The woman, to whom Stefano had never mentioned the mysterious shark, joyfully welcomed his decision. To have her son abandon the sea for the city had always seemed to her, in her heart, a betrayal of the family’s tradition.
     Stefano began to sail, giving proof of his sea-worthiness, his resistance to fatigue, and his
intrepid spirit. He sailed and sailed, and in the wake of his ship, day and night, in good weather and in storms, the colomber trudged along. He knew that this was his curse and his penalty, and precisely for this reason, perhaps, he did not find the strength to sever himself from it. And no one on board, except him, perceived the monster.
     “Don’t you see anything over there?” he asked his companions from time to time, pointing at the wake.
     “No, we don’t see anything at all. Why?”
     “I don’t know. It seemed to me…”
     “You didn’t see a colomber, by any chance, did you?” the sailors asked, laughing and
touching wood.
     “Why are you laughing? Why are you touching wood?”
     “Because the colomber is an animal that spares no one. And if it has begun to follow this
ship, it means that one of us is doomed.”
     But Stefano did not slacken. The uninterrupted threat that followed on his heels seemed in fact to strengthen his will, his passion for the sea, his courage in times of strife and danger.
When he felt that he was master of his trade, he used his modest patrimony to acquire a small steam freighter with a partner; then he became the sole proprietor of it, and thanks to a series of successful shipments, he could subsequently buy a true merchantman, setting out with always more-ambitious aims. But the successes, and the millions, were unable to remove that continual torment from his soul; nor did he ever try, on the other hand, to sell the ship and retire to undertake different enterprises on land.
     To sail and sail was his only thought. Just as soon as he set foot on land in some port after a long journey, the impatience to depart again immediately pricked him. He knew that outside the colomber was waiting for him and that the colomber was synonymous with ruin. With nothingness. An indomitable impulse dragged him without rest, from one ocean to another. 

     Until one day, Stefano suddenly realized that he had grown old, very old; and no one around him could explain why, rich as he was, he did not finally leave the cursed life of the sea. He was old, and bitterly unhappy, because his entire existence had been spent in that mad flight across the seas, to escape his enemy. But the temptation of the abyss had always been greater for him than the joys of a prosperous and quiet life.
     One evening, while his magnificent ship was anchored offshore at the port where he was born, he felt close to death. He then called his second officer, in whom he had great trust, and ordered him not to oppose what he was about to do. The other man promised, on his honor.
     Having gotten this assurance, Stefano revealed to the second officer the story of the colomber that had continued to pursue him uselessly for nearly fifty years. The officer listened to him, frightened.
     “It has escorted me from one end of the world to the other,” Stefano said, “with a faithfulness that not even the noblest friend could have shown. Now I am about to die. The colomber too will be terribly old and weary by now. I cannot betray it.”
     Having said this, he took his leave of the crew, ordered a small boat to be lowered into the sea, and boarded it, after he made them give him a harpoon.
     “Now I am going to meet it,” he announced. “It isn’t right to disappoint it. But I shall
struggle, with all my might.”

     With a few weary strokes of the oars, he drew away from the side of the ship. Officers and
sailors saw him disappear down below, on the placid sea, shrouded in the nocturnal shadows. In the sky was a crescent moon.
     He did not have to work very hard. Suddenly the colomber’s horrible snout emerged at the side of the boat.
     “Here I am with you, finally,” Stefano said. “Now it’s just the two of us.” And gathering his
remaining strength, he raised the harpoon to strike.
     “Uh,” the colomber groaned, imploringly, “what a long journey it’s taken to find you. I too
am wasted with fatigue. How much you made me swim. And you kept on fleeing. You never
understood at all.”
     “What?” asked Stefano, with the point of his harpoon over the colomber’s heart.
     “I have not pursued you around the world to devour you, as you thought. I was charged by the King of the Sea only to deliver this to you.”
     And the shark stuck out its tongue, offering the old captain a small phosphorescent
sphere. Stefano picked it up and examined it. It was a pearl of unusual size. And he recognized it as the famous Perla del Mare, which brought luck, power, love, and peace of mind to whoever possessed it. But now it was too late.
     “Alas!” said the captain, shaking his head sadly. “How wrong it all is. I managed to
condemn myself, and I have ruined your life.”
     “Goodbye, poor man,” answered the colomber. And it sank into the black waters forever.
     Two month later, pushed by an undertow, a small boat came alongside an abrupt reef. It was sighted by several fisherman, who drew near, curious. In the boat, still seated, was a sunbleached skeleton: between the little bones of its fingers it grasped a small round stone.
     The colomber is a huge fish, frightening to behold and extremely rare. Depending on the sea and the people who live by its shores, the fish is also called the kolombrey, kahloubrha, kalonga, kalu-balu, chalunggra. Naturalists strangely ignore it. Some even maintain that is does not exist.

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I first read this story in the journal Parabola: Myth and the Quest for Meaning. I found their May 1983 edition in a library and the story sang when  I read it. I found it a number of places online (like here, here and here). The images are Gustav Dore prints done in 1876 to illustrate Coleridge's epic The Rime of the Ancient Mariner. I found them at this site, where you can purchase them, if you are into that sort of thing. I clearly don't own any of these pieces of art, and am clearly not making any money off reposting them here.

I will post more about my thoughts on this story soon. I promise. 

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** This winter was tough and I got messed up in my calendar. I wrote this thinking it was the Milk Moon but it was really the Birth Moon. Since the post itself is more about the the new year of 2012, I just changed the tags and labels. For more on my thoughts about this, see this post. **
Full Birth Moon 2008: Outer Darkness and Inner Hope

Full Birth Moon 2009: New Year! and A Story for the Birth Moon (these posts are dated 2010, but are for the year that took place mostly in 2009)

 Full Birth Moon 2010: The Dark of the Dark.