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

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ITALIANO

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

Thai food, Renaissance costumes and Egyptian love goddess

Turin is a city rich with esoteric and magical history, and I feel that something is still very much alive in the events and energy field there. Even a seemingly ordinary Friday afternoon soon becomes a colorful adventure.

Lukas and AshHere are my traveling companions in urban exploration, Lukas and Ash. (discover more about Ash’s travel journey at Wander More Ponder More)

I met Ash at the InterPlay training on Art in Social Change in Oakland, California last year. As an alumni of the training, she joined us for our first day and made a delicious vegan, gluten free and locally sourced lunch, with sweet little handmade labels. I was immediately enchanted and grateful. Such a happy surprise to discover her and Lukas WWOOFing at Prima Stalla here in Damanhur! Soon they joined us at Dendera … weed whacking and painting a lush caravan mural.costume flag 1

costume 2So, we were in Turin walking through the piazza by the royal palaces in the city center, heading for the Egyptian Museum, when we came about a colorful period costume flag dancing thing. We paused for a moment to appreciate the splendor and colors.

costume 1

 

 

 

 

 

At the Egyptian Museum for my second visit, I was particularly fascinated by the illustrated papyrus scrolls of the Egyptian Book of the Dead and the impressive figures in the statuary.

HathorHere’s Hathor, goddess mother of love and joy, protector of art, music and singing, whom I feel particularly connected with since my nucleo community “Dendera” in the Tentyris community region at Damanhur is the name of her main temple complex in Egypt.

Falco Tarassaco said of Turin, “It’s an anomalous reality, characterized by various objects that arrived from Egypt. The Egyptian Museum has exhibits which are very important from the perspective of magic and alchemy because of their history, or at least they have been for a long time.”

Walking into the statuary at the Egyptian Museum feels like walking into a living temple space… kind of like the feeling I get when I walk into the scarabNiatel Selfic painting gallery at Damanhur Crea. A room full of powerful, conscious energies.

After traveling through time and space with Renaissance costumes and Egyptian deities, we grounded ourselves with Thai food at Daiichi, a Japanese-Thai restaurant with a comfortable yet sleek modern aesthetic, and the only place in Italy I have ever had heated plum wine. The place mats soon became sketch sheets. Lukas and Ash drawing

 

circleHere’s something I wrote, inspired by the moment, while waiting for red curry tofu and banana coconut milk dessert:

we are immersed in a sea of synchronicity
where each of us is a carrier of magical events.
along the purifying alchemical pathway,
encounters of every kind,
fiery, sweet, always alive.
and at the end of the path
the happiest discovery is that
the last breath is only the beginning.

 

As with all my poetry these days, I wrote it in Italian first…

siamo immersi in un mare di sincronicità
dove ognuno di noi è portatore di eventi magici.
lunga la via alchemica purificatrice
incontri di ogni tipologia,
focoso, dolce, sempre vivo.
e alla fine del percorso,
la scoperta più felice è
che l’ultimo respiro
è solo l’inizio.

Tarot cards and chicken coop doors: the ritual of a nucleo community ‘turno’

Medicinal plants in the gardenAt Damanhur, we have the idea that living in our nucleo communities is like a ritual, and ideally, we move through all our moments at home with Attention. Presence. Enchantment. It’s true, there is a palpable everyday magic in the simple moments and tasks of living in a Damanhurian nucleo. Things that may seem like normal household chores, with this intention, become dense and significant, living acts of magic.

It’s 9 o’clock and time to start my ‘turno.’ For one half-day every week, each one of us in the nucleo has our turn to watch over things, take care of cleaning and cooking, attending to guests, and additional projects like gardening, building or fixing things, deep cleaning, and working the land.

I begin. I unlock the front door, put on my work coat, lightly dusted with wood shavings, and a pair of water resistant work gloves, maybe the 8th pair I have worn down and sometimes lost in my years at Damanhur. I go outside, feeling the clear, pure chill of Valchiusella winter air on my face. I twist open Asinella offers water to the firethe metal handle of the wood burning heater. I heft and throw in one log after another, taking them from a pile of logs meticulously stacked according to size, circumference and length. I attempt to vary their shape, as I have learned that stacking alternating round and triangular pieces is most effective and energy efficient. This is one of many pieces of practical information I have accumulated over the years here, ones I never would have known otherwise and that now have become automatic. There is a certain visceral satisfaction in hefting wood, a feeling of really using the muscles of the body in this primal functionality. Wood, fire, heat. It is a symbol, it is the warmth of family, closeness, care. Life force. Camaraderie. Living consciousness in the heart of a community home.

chickens!I walk along the former greenhouses turned tool shed, bike shed and storage space. I let the chickens out of their coop as today is a sunny day, with no ice or snow on the grass, warm enough for them to go out despite the winter chill. I pull the string system my housemate Volpe Zenzero (Fox Ginger) devised to open a little hatch door from outside the chicken coop. Volpe is the devoted caretaker of the house chickens, and we joke that this is the only place in the world where a fox nurtures chickens instead of preying on them. The chickens dash out to graze in an enclosed grassy lawn… Continue reading