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My Taichi teacher, Wolfe Lowenthal, asked me to write a book review for our school’s newsletter, Taichi Thoughts, so I read Brendan Kelly’s book with an eye to implications for practicing Tai Chi.
In The Yin and Yang of Climate Crisis: Healing Personal, Cultural and Ecological Imbalance with Chinese Medicine (2015), Brendon Kelly, an acupuncturist and Taichi student, draws on cases from his clinical practice based in Chinese medicine, and a solid comprehension of key scientific findings about anthropomorphic global warming, to come to a diagnosis of climate change as a symptom of Yin-deficient heat. “Heat,” he explains, “is an excess of warmth and a state of overstimulation, which can eventually cause our internal fluids, or coolant, to evaporate.” Kelly jumps back and forth between the levels of an individual human body, majority US culture, and planetary environmental conditions. This logic is legitimate from a Chinese medicine point of view, which holds that “the microcosm and the macrocosm reflect the same conditions and tendencies, with the only significant difference being scale.” Accepting this premise and Kelly’s diagnosis means most of us are operating with too much Yang, generating too much heat and thus contributing via our very bodies to the ecological processes of climate change.
Kelly spends time detailing both the ways in which too much heat is generated and ways in which cooling systems are failing, hence the specific designation of Yin-deficient heat. Water is the element mainly responsible for cooling, in our bodies as well as for the planet. Critiquing the rapid pace and consumer-orientation of our culture, Kelly argues that “stimulation is not strength; it’s heat.” This got me thinking about the sensations of practicing Tai Chi, especially Wolfe’s frequent instructions about how we are to engage the air: “caress the air;” “treat the air as if it had the substance and weight of water;” “feel the water-like air.” What if, in addition to sensing the air as an element in physical contact with our hands, we considered the air as literally cooling the excessive Yang in our bodies? A new mantra might be, “feel the air like cool water.”
“Climate change is not just happening in the world around us;climate change is also happening within us.”
As an introduction to Chinese medicine, I found the book compelling. In particular, Kelly’s description of the interaction of the “Five Phases” (or “Five Elements”) with the Sheng and K’o cycles was instructive. “The Sheng or Nourishing cycle is what allows organs and phases to feed what comes next. While the K’o cycle creates balance by limiting and controlling things, the Sheng cycle is the relationship among the different aspects of who we are that promotes growth – physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually” (136). If you want to learn the major symptoms of climate change without perusing the scientific literature, Kelly provides a fair and specific representation. His lessons about the Yin and Yang are familiar, e.g., “By itself, the Yang of doing things won’t lead us to the Yin of understanding our lives.” The unique contribution of his book in Tai Chi terms is his articulation of parallels and successful treatments that will help us “to know within us what climate stability would look and feel like” so that we can help to bring about climate stability “in the world around us.”
Brendan Kelly: ”The Yin and Yang of Climate Crisis“, North Atlantic Books, Berkeley, CA.
Republished with permission, includes minor revisions. Originally published in Taichi Thoughts, Volume 16, No. 3, November 4, 2015.
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Almost a month ago I received an email inviting me to join a Google+ group. I was happy to do so, thinking it was a personal invitation rather than one generated by an essentially anonymous algorithm.
Arriving to the group (I went to check it out right away), the post that greeted me also seemed personally relevant to me; in fact my first impulse was that the founder of this group had invited me because that particular post had just been published. I felt an immediate tug to comment but hesitated…
Very soon (what felt like practically right away), I saw a Facebook post in a related “Conversation” group that complemented the Google+ group’s posting—indeed it felt directly relevant, articulating some of my private contemplations about a particular sub-set of dynamics that arose around a Sceenius’ Knowledge Expedition.
Fortunately, I didn’t have time to compose a comment at that exact instant, but the vitality of my visceral engagement meant I kept thinking about the communication I thought had occurred. That is to say, I felt as if a particular message (or messages) was sent deliberately to me, calling upon me to offer up a response. I say fortunately I didn’t give an instant response, because as I have been able to carve out time to explore more, I discovered that the Google+ post was not that fresh; it had been re-posted by someone other than the original author.
Ron’s original post pre-dated John’s invitation by three days. One could argue (I suppose) that this timing lends some credibility to an hypothesis that John invited me because of Ron’s post. Whether or not this was the case is of minor significance, however, in light of the reality of me experiencing it “as if” the meaning of “invite+convergence glyph” was directed personally to me.
It is more likely that the invitation I’d received from John was random: at least its timing with the (second) appearance of Ron’s Glyph diving in social fields post was coincidental. At most whatever motivated the invite to be sent at that particular moment was not accessible to me in the instant of reception—there was no “evidence” nor any “clues” presented to connect the invitation with anything that had happened before—only my suppositions; call them intuition, or wishful thinking, or fullblown fantasy. The experience offers an illustration of what one might call a communication fact: receivers are the ones most ‘in charge’ of deciding what something ‘means.’
My realization of the serendipity of the timing of John’s invitation and Ron’s posting called into question the construction of meaning in my mind, also casting doubt on the associations I’d made about the content of Joe’s Facebook post, How to Create a Group Mind, being a reflection or commentary relevant to the Sceenius dynamics in question. In fairness to my logic, I had not thought that there was any association between Joe’s post and Ron’s. Nor did I draw any overt connection between Joe’s post and John’s invitation. Rather I sensed a more covert kind of parallel process or synergy whereby different members of a group are always representing various aspects of the group’s whole/holistic experience.
Now, I am writing weeks after the immediacy of those deeply-felt ‘turns’ (John—Ron—Joe) and can imagine the labor of memory required for John, Ron and Joe to recall those original moments from their points-of-view. Certainly each of the their individual communication acts (Invitation—Google+Post—Facebook Post) are not seamlessly connected in their minds as part of a discrete flow of sequential experience. It is unlikely that these separate communication acts were collectively conceived as a conscious representation. One could go so far as to say that it’s ridiculous for me to have made such strong associations among them, particularly in terms of sensing myself as an intended audience. Indeed, only John might have considered his invitation to me a direct engagement warranting a designation of me as an interlocutor, but that single act of communication could hardly have been more than a blip in his day. Ron most likely did not have me in mind as a potential audience member/reader of his post. Joe would not (as far as I know) have had any reason to even be aware of me when he decided to re-share his blogentry (originally written two years ago) on Facebook!
This diversity of communication experience is an illustration of what Mikael Bakhtin meant by heteroglossia: everyone speaks ‘their own language’ and, by corollary, comprehends language by making use of linguistic resources and packaging/interpreting perceptions in ways particular to their own particular ‘center’ according to the sequence of events and experiences. Everyone has different reference points, experiences a unique stream of communicative events, and is informed from the on-going transactions of their specific embodiment and particular social position(s)/positionality. These aggregate and cohere in society to create social reality: prejudices, discriminations, and oppressions as well as strengths, beauties and aspirations. This dialectical process is prominently enabled by language: language use, language-in-use, language as transactional for the transmission of knowledges and equally (though often neglected) the perpetuation of identities and relationships through time (see John Carey).
At an emotional level, I would have preferred to continue to flow onward along the trajectory of the imaginary meaningfulness I constructed from those three discrete communication acts! When such acts collapse in mutually shared experience, it seems people do generally prefer to carry on at full speed along that stream. Perhaps there was a way I could have “joined” in a more immediate manner, but I was at a loss to reconcile the complexity of our interaction into a simple reduction that was suitable to the moment without compromising or, worse, appearing to erase an unresolved previous encounter.
Can we hold each other accountable for real? And, in doing so, can we uphold each other’s dignity and respect each other’s learning curves and processes of assimilating new/different feedback?
In other words, how, I keep wondering, can we ever generate collective coherence beyond the easy magnetism of instantaneous grokking when divergence is much more common than convergence, or when convergence self-perpetuates itself only among those who are already like-minded?
What is needed is to enable connection that allows for, nay embraces, tensions of real difference as an essential part of collectivizing.
Michael Holquist, a contemporary Bahktinian scholar and translator, labeled the operational function of language in generating chronotopes as timespace calibration. Bakhtin had realized that the language of a people reveals that people’s orientation to time and thus to space, that culture or society’s overall relation to timespace—the time of spaces. Bakhtin gleaned this from close comparative study of early literature (the Greeks and Romans) and contrasted their similarities and differences with the popular Russian literature of his own time, the first half of the 20th century. Bakhtin suggested that not only does language provide a lens for discernment of past and present cultural and ideological orientations to time (and thereby to space); language is itself a tool for constructing the social realities of timespaces. That is, language dynamics make a significant contribution to the generation of material conditions.
These days, I’m a peripheral, minor participant in several chronotopally-bound conversations. I think of them as contrapuntal. The general trend in most of these conversations is a centrifugal discourse, one that continually re-centers itself as “the” most-important-thing-that-is-happening-now. #BlackLivesMatter is a counterpoint to #Conversation and also to a month-long online encounter last January exploring Dialogue, Deliberation and Social Transformation . #Conversation strikes me as a tech version of the #permaculture movement. Last week Greenpeace dangled human beings in front of a massive oil rig to try and prevent drilling in the Arctic. Egypt nears absolute water crisis. War and unspeakable violence continues to ravage vast populations of human beings on the planet. The patterns of self-reinforcing language use of folks invested in each of these discourses offer slim strands of interconnections, but there is no reason these cannot be made more robust! I suppose that giving careful attention to interpersonal/small group-scale moments of disconnect and divergence (according to diverse beats and varying rhythms) we can identify and forge such mergers.
With time, practice, and increasing skill, this more resilient ‘net’ will spread.
Alliances must be broader, deeper, and more wholistic. We must learn and enact skills of bridging differences in those moments when surface synergy becomes unharmonic, when the rhythm shifts to an unfamiliar score or the beat changes from a familiar cadence to one which feels discomfitting or even threatening. If we are to build hope of overcoming the entrenched systemic inertia of industrial civilization with its myriad comforts and diversions, we must learn to embrace and adopt the explorer’s ethos and curiosity about what’s going on right here right now so that we can discover how to get along into the future in profoundly new ways.