Saturday, September 29, 2012

Thank goodness the imperial examination was so hard

A packet of Chinese medicinal herbs, before cooking.

The most truly unique aspect of Chinese culture - and the one with the most powerful legacy - is the Confucian examination system with which the Son of Heaven's empire was staffed with civil servants over the best part of two millennia. The Imperial examinations represented a remarkable attempt to create an aristocracy of learning, which in itself represents a remarkable advance over the warrior and hereditary aristocracies that dominated in the rest of the world. The Chinese examination system, archaic, laborious and daunting as it may have been, was nevertheless, a glorious attempt at intellectual meritocracy.

"The most truly unique?" Hmm. What a phrase. And - well - who knows about that? Though, it is remarkable that the Chinese created an aristocracy of learning because they wanted those who governed to be scholars. Here is a link to the essay.

The men who didn't pass the exam had the option of going into medicine, which was seen as a lesser occupation. Those who had to let go of their hopes and dreams to become bureaucrats brought to the field of medicine a huge body of knowledge about Chinese culture. To prepare for the imperial exams, they spent many years studying poetry, history, philosophy, math and so on and so on.

Chinese medicine is complete because those who became doctors, for a couple of thousand years, were so well rounded in their knowledge. The great Chinese doctors passed their comprehensive perspective down to their students. Chinese medicine is truly holistic and very refined.

Medicine in the western world is mechanical and near-sighted because we train doctors to function as if they are no more than technicians for the machine of the body. Who would think to suggest to a pre-med student that the study of poetry could help them be better doctors?

I just read a study that showed - "proved" - patients fare better when they are treated by doctors who feel empathy for them. They had to do a study to prove this? I guess so!

Western medicine is great emergency medicine. I'm very grateful for its existence. But it doesn't treat the soul. It doesn't treat the whole person. Western medicine has no poetry in it. I am wary of it, which is why I'm just now cooking the batch of herbs pictured above and why I will cheerfully drink the tea even though it no doubt is going to taste absolutely horrible. This terrible tea will help not only the machine of my body, but my soul, too. The healing will be not only corporeal, but soulful as well.

Wouldn't it be great if all those who wished to work in the U.S. government were required to assiduously study our culture, history, arts, music and philosophy in the same way the ancient Chinese did? I think we would be governed very differently, don't you? But that's a topic better suited to my personal blog.

Be well in body, mind and spirit. Shalom.

Monday, September 17, 2012


If you live in the northern hemisphere, fall is right around the corner. If you live down under, spring is almost here. Spring and fall are beautiful seasons of drama and change. And they are quite challenging to the human body.

All summer our bodies fight the heat. The blood literally becomes thinner, and the metabolism does all it can to maintain a steady inner temperature by sweating, thirsting for lots of cool drinks, hungering for cooling foods like salads and melons, and such.

But when fall arrives, the body must make a hairpin turn, thicken the blood, warm the body instead of trying to cool it down. Adjusting to the new season involves a lot of internal backpedaling especially after a summer as hot as this one was in the U.S. It's exhausting work which is why fatigue is so often associated with both spring and fall.

As your body adjusts to the new season, please do what you can to help with the transition. Though you may love your summer clothing, try dressing for the weather. On crisp days, wear actual shoes, long pants, maybe even a jacket. I see people every year at this time, still in flip flops and shorts, covered with goosebumps. It's sweet how attached they are to their summer wardrobe, perhaps, but the gooseflesh is their body's way of trying to shut out the colder air. The body sends a clear message, but these people do not want to acknowledge what's going on. I find this very weird.

Dress for the weather, please? Also, try to eat simply, and eat warmer, well cooked foods (if you're headed into autumn). Soups and stews are easily digestible which will help conserve the energy your body needs to adjust to the changing environment.

Try to get enough sleep. Move around, take a walk. If you're feeling tired, put your feet up, let yourself rest, will you please? Cut yourself some slack, at least until autumn or spring has fully established itself and your body has adjusted.

We expect so much of our bodies. I'm appalled sometimes to notice how we expect full bodily cooperation even when we're unwilling to support whatever it is our bodies are trying to do. It's so unfair, not to mention unreasonable - and disrespectful.

May this season of change, fall or spring, bring to you all good things. Be gentle with yourselves. Shalom.

Monday, September 3, 2012

Until November: duck and cover

Politics is a blood sport, as a friend pointed out today. Campaigns are a lot like a bloody boxing match, a dog or cock fight: crude, primitive, vicious.

Though they are always nasty, my perception of this U.S. presidential campaign, now in damn-the-torpedos mode, is that it is one of, maybe the most, toxic I can remember. My friend said it feels epic, like a mythical battle between the forces of good and evil. The energy, to me, feels carcinogenic, radioactive, fiercely poisonous.

For the John Qs and Jane Does, I mean those of us who feel it is our civic duty to listen to every hateful message, it is literally toxic.

In a world that was sane, we citizens of the U.S. would not need advertising or political analysis. We would check the voting, educational and business records of the two candidates, read what each man has actually said, not what is the result of news media analysis, then vote according to our ethical and moral values. After the election, if our candidate did not win, we would be good sports, understand that both parties want what's best for the country, we simply disagree on how to get there.

The world is not sane. Hence what I advise is to learn as much as you can, IF you can find a neutral source, decide for whom you will vote, then turn immediately to more vivifying pursuits. I have yet to find any truly neutral news source, but I'm not saying there isn't more or less objective reporting going on out there somewhere. Most of what is sold as news is egregiously biased, maybe purposefully confusing, and sadly, too, it is perhaps purposefully crafted to enrage those who take it in.

Stress, outrage, fear and anger are very unhealthy psychically, physically and emotionally. Tuning in too closely to the campaign will set anyone's liver on fire, no matter who or what you support. If you are one who needs to vent your spleen, tune in, vent a little bit, but then get out before you do yourself any lasting damage.

I am methodically hiding every political post on FB, no matter whether it supports the man I will vote for or not. I'm googling "ten cutest cat videos," watching silly movies, taking in beauty and listening to a lot of music in an effort to counter the bad mojo.

Though as citizens we are obliged to try as best we can to stay well informed, when the gloves come off as they have, from now to November, I think it does no one any good to be subjected to the poisonous, bloody sport of politics. You wouldn't purposely eat rat poison, right? I hope you wouldn't!

The ugliness is bi-partisan. There is no escape unless you purposely tune out.

May the best man win. Salaam, Shalom, Peace.