Community alchemy and building a home

california-quailNow that I am “home” in Damanhur after a 33 day journey, I reflect on the viaggio of the past month, beginning with bringing Damanhur School of Meditation teachings to Tamera in Portugal and concluding with a Burning Man Symposium held like an egg in a nest at Esalen in Big Sur, California. It’s so heartening to see those of us who carry and move within group identities connecting in with each other deeply and dissolving boundaries in these collaborative endeavors.

I have noticed that Damanhur facilitates transformation within people in a certain direction, and Tamera does so too on a different and unique trajectory. Holding the Damanhur Path to Spiritual Freedom course in Tamera brought the participants into a movement that ended up in a different place than either of those, a beautiful synergy of the gifts from each source, sparking joy, authenticity and liberation.

tameraThe same thing happened during the Burning Man Symposium at Esalen I feel. The unique alchemy of each container poured together to create softly exploding fireworks of pure magic that mixed the sound of the Pacific ocean waves crashing into the night with the smell of sulfur in the sesalenteam of the baths and the taste of miso soup and marinated kale, together with the roar of power tools and high caliber laughter, swigs of tequila, pink hair and building up something colorful and creative just to set it on fire immediately. Somehow it worked.

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Inside the Befana’s closet

I am at my parents’ house in Houston, Texas, in my old bedroom from childhood and adolescence. Looking for a book, I began to open the boxes in the closet (in America the closets are spaces as big as some of the bedrooms I’ve lived in at Damanhur), and it unleashed entire worlds and universes. I found the book I was looking for… and everything else.

le-coseThe photos from New Year’s in Chiapas, Mexico with the Zapatistas together with those of the grave sites of my great-grandparents in Taiwan. Years of documentation of my artistic projects and art books. My mother’s glasses from the 1960s and her traditional Chinese wedding dress (red) that I intended to wear when I got married (hasn’t happened yet). An edition of Romeo and Juliet printed in 1909. My copy of the book Eat, Pray, Love, gifted to me by my sister when I went to Italy in 2007, of which I’ve only read the “Eat” section, because reading the part about Italy while in Italy, I thought I would also read the part about India and Indonesia when I go to those countries (haven’t quite gotten there yet). Letters, art and handmade gifts from many ex-lovers. Vaccination documentation, poetry, nearly a decade of We’Moon with my writing inside, a book of prayers from the hospital I was born in, a complex family tree with names in Chinese and lineages of multiple wives. The black dress my mother sewed for me when I was 16 years old (still fits me).

I ask myself, “What am I going to do with all this stuff?” They are all things precious enough to have survived many phases of clearing out, selling, recycling, giving away and moving. And now? Do I leave it all here? Bring some things with me to Damanhur? Where will I put them? Do I really need them? When will I go to India? and Indonesia? Will I ever come back to live on this continent in this lifetime? Do I burn everything in a bonfire? Will my children (If I ever have children) want to see these relics from the life of their mother and her family? If I don’t figure out where these things are going now, I’ll need to do it someday, anyway.

One thing I know for sure is that every object feels so alive. I sense the vitality, the emotions felt, the love transmitted, the energy invested. and Time… How much information can be conserved within an object… it’s really incredible!

Something else that is certain: I won’t be taking any of this with me into the threshold (the beyond), which is just as well, otherwise we’d need to figure out how to make everything fit in our bedrooms there too. I will bring nothing but the imprint of my experiences on the personalities within, the absolute purity of living every moment fully, here and now.

Quaglia Cocco
The Befana


Dentro l’armadio della Befana

Sono nella casa dei miei genitori a Houston, Texas nella mia vecchia camera da letto da bambina e adolescente. Cercando un libro, ho cominciato ad aprire le scatole dentro l’armadio (negli Stati Uniti gli armadi sono spazi grandi come alcune stanze in cui ho abitato nei nuclei di Damanhur), e si sono aperti tantissimi mondi e universi. Ho trovato… il tutto.

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Pain and enlightenment

The other day, I went to our community health center Crea Salute to get my teeth cleaned, and I had a particularly illuminating moment. Usually I expect that moments of awareness come to me during some ritual or deep meditation, in the Temples, through spiritual practices, or breathing exercises or Sacred Dance. This time, it came to me through pain.

cieloI was reclined in the dental chair with the hygienist’s hands and tools filling my stretched-open mouth. It was a little uncomfortable. I was breathing, gazing at the softened light of the lamp and the ceiling of the clinic, feeling the strong sensations in my teeth. Instead of irritation, I felt a sense of gratitude… because I understood that pain is an instrument, it is a path that always leads to transformation. The transformation could be as banal as plaque-spotted teeth becoming clean. Or it could be a more profound inner transformation.

dental chairIn any case, pain is a signal that something is radically changing. And change is a choice. It’s taking away the old to leave space for the new to emerge, to grow and shine over time. Within a process of transformation, I may feel discomfort, although with this awareness that pain is also a gift, everything shifts onto a different plane.

Instead of relating to pain as something to avoid, ignore, or substitute with other sensations as soon as possible, I simply chose to welcome it and listen to it, understand the message, from the body, from life.

I stepped out of the dental cleaning session with a smile (more sparkling than before), feeling relieved that this particular transformation was complete. In any case, I already booked the next dental cleaning (in six months). It’ll be another opportunity for rebirth and renewal!

Quaglia Cocco
The Befana



L’altro giorno sono andata in Crea Salute, il nostro centro di medicina integrata, per la pulizia dei denti, e ho avuto un momento illuminante. Di solito ho l’aspettativa che i momenti di consapevolezza così mi arrivino durante qualche rito o meditazione profonda, ndome of the Hall of Waterei Templi, attraverso le pratiche, o la respirazione, o la Danza Sacra. Questa volta mi è arrivato attraverso il dolore.

Ero sdraiata sulla sedia dentistica con le mani dell’igienista e gli attrezzi che riempivano la mia bocca. Era un po’ scomoda. Respiravo, guardando la luce della lampadina sfocata e il soffitto dello studio, sentendo le sensazioni forti nei denti… e invece di fastidio, dentro di me ho sentito la gratitudine… perché ho capito che il dolore è uno strumento, è una via che sempre porta alla trasformazione. La trasformazione potrebbe essere così banale come i denti un po’ coperti di placca che poi diventano puliti. O potrebbe essere anche una trasformazione più profonda e intima. Continue reading

Earth therapy

Porta della TerraAt Damanhur, we are constantly engaged in different activities, and each one has its own specific value and qualities. I have noticed that touching and working with the earth is a therapeutic act for me, a source of healing. When I feel tired, depressed, lacking energy and motivation, if I do some work in the fields and greenhouses, in contact with the plant world, I feel better, happier and somehow more energized, beyond the tiredness that settles in after making physical effort. To work with the earth, I need to give a lot of energy, although I also receive so much too. There is a subtle nourishment, and something is always given back to those in service to the earth.

cavoliWhy does it feel so good? It is a phenomenon that goes beyond the beneficial effect of being in contact with nature. Some research has shown that there are specific bacteria that exist in the soil, for example Mycobacterium vaccae, which stimulate a circulation of serotonin – a neurotransmitter that has the effect of elevating mood and decreasing depression and anxiety. These bacteria may also increase concentration, cognitive functioning and be effective against cancer and other diseases.

It’s interesting that some health institutions that are experimenting with horticulture therapy with their patients use sterilized soil with all the bacteria removed to reduce the risk of infection. Sure there is a small risk for people who have the most serious illnesses, though what if the bacteria were more therapeutic than dangerous?

plantingSo we see that Olio Caldo – nutritional self-sufficiency – has health benefits on many levels. On the one hand, there is the cleansing of the body and healthful nourishment that comes from nutrition that is organic and produced within the community, and on the other hand, there is also the effect of balancing the mind and boosting mood through direct contact with the earth and its bacteria. If this way of living becomes more widespread in the world, there will be ever more health and happiness and  less dependence on pharmaceuticals and unnatural stimuli to feel a sense of well being.

I feel fortunate to be able to access this therapeutic effect at any time here in Damanhur, in the nucleos, in the Sacred Woods Temple where planting is often needed, at Porta della Terra / Prima Stalla – the agricultural temple, farm and agritourism. With gratitude for our lands and cultivations and all the Damanhurians in service to the earth!

Quaglia Cocco
The Befana


La terapia della terra

Come Damanhuriani facciamo tante attività diverse, ognuna con il suo valore e qualità specifica. Ho notato che toccare e lavorare la terra è un atto terapeutico per me, una fonte di guarigione. Quando mi sento stanca, depressa, senza energia e motivazione, se faccio lavori in agricoltura, nei campi e nelle serre, in contatto con le piante, mi sento meglio, più felice e in qualche modo energizzata, aldilà della stanchezza che si sente dopo lo sforzo fisico. Per lavorare la terra bisogna dare tanta energia, ma si riceve anche, c’è un nutrimento sottile. Qualcosa è sempre restituita a chi è in servizio alla terra. Continue reading

Wisdom from the Orient

festival dell'orienteThe Festival of the Orient is happening in Milan right now. I am pleased to see so much interest in knowing the world of Asia here in Italy.

When I was growing up in Texas, having Chinese origins seemed more like a weight that a gift. It was something that could incite ridicule if not violence, more than interest and respect. Only when I moved to Berkeley, California for university, where many Asian people live and there is a big fuss about diversity, I first began to perceive the beauty of my origins. I enrolled in a Chinese language course after renouncing it at age six, and I reclaimed the habit of eating with chopsticks, which I have maintained until now, and it always seems to draws attention and curiosity.

So many people identify me as Chinese, though is that even accurate? Do I merit it? What do I know about being Chinese? I can speak Italian fluently enough to describe micro-attractors, the arrow of complexity, time territories and recomposing the mirror of the human primeval divinity, yet ordering food in Chinese sometimes ends in disastrous misunderstanding. The ideograms I can recognize are limited to those printed on Mahjong pieces. Most anyone you find on the West Coast of the US probably knows more about Chinese medicine, Taoism, feng shui and the I Ching than me. My parents haven’t passed so much eastern knowledge on to me, as they are scientists with western academic specializations (microbiology and medicine), and they have a very pragmatic vision of life. After having lived in Taiwan during the era of the Cultural Revolution genitori di Quagliain China, I think they have put aside whatever impulses toward spirituality they might have had. And well, my father seems more European than Chinese, and he has surely had some past life here in Italy. He studies Verdi operas and eats tomatoes with basil and mozzarella every evening.

To reach the essence of Asia, I needed to hop a generation and reconnect with my grandparents. My paternal grandmother (whom I have not met because she died young) was a Buddhist, and my father tells me that she meditated every day and was always in service for the poor, even though she was quite poor herself. On my mother’s side, my great-grandmother founded a Pure Land Buddhism temple for women in China, where there are still nuns praying and studying. After I visited this temple, I decided to live in the San Francisco Zen Center, and I understood my connection to this world of Buddhism and meditation in a new light. I also have my Berkeley English professor Maxine Hong Kingston to thank for bridging Chinese mythology and living poetry to me through her non-fiction novels and writing courses.

templeYet, despite the westernized life and values of my parents, I think they have succeeded in passing me a few treasures of Chinese philosophy in a secular way. Here are some of them:

1. Order. Cleanliness inside and out. Everything is a temple. My parents’ house, and every home I visited in Taiwan and China is extremely clean and orderly. Always. Even brooms and dustpans get washed. I remember when I was young, my father scolded me because I was studying at a desk with a lot of clutter on top. He said: the state of your desk is the state of your mind. If it is cluttered, then your thoughts will be cluttered too.

2. Indifference. Non-attachment to material things. My parents have demonstrated a capacity to accept things as they are, even if they may have strong opinions. They have surfed many highs and lows of life with grace. They seem to not be afraid of death, speaking of it and preparing for it with tranquility. Deep down, they accept my life choices and those of others, even if they don’t resonate with them.

3. The Middle Way. The way of equilibrium in the tao. Avoiding extremes and excesses. Whenever I had some fervent argument about revolutionary politics and the downfall of Capitalism, my mother would remind me that change takes time. I felt frustrated in not having a sense of critical urgency mirrored back to me, though in hindsight, I see that she had a point. Any movement, whether around community, politics, art or sexuality needs to contain the yin and the yang, a full spectrum in order to come to completion, to make a difference over time.

Ayoto Come Ko ChenMy parents have passed me other Asiatic characteristics that have been useful in my life, especially as a Damanhurian: responsibility, determination, discipline, the capacity to delay gratification instead of satisfying desires instantly, as is often taught by American culture. Generosity, sharing. More than once I have felt embarrassed by my relatives fighting with each other to pay the check at a restaurant, though I came to appreciate the spirit of it when I noticed that this rarely ever happens in circles of the Western world. Often at the center is food as an alchemical element of nature, nourishment as a symbol of love, and in a Chinese home, there is always a serving of fruit or other foods at the ready to offer friends, family and visiting guests.

Quaglia Cocco, the Befana



Ho visto che c’è il Festival dell’Oriente a Milano adesso. Sono felice di vedere così tanto interesse in Italia per conoscere il mondo orientale. Continue reading