Sunday, March 10, 2013

What's in a Name?

A Year in Retrospect

Elizabeth Wenscott - What's in a name?

Recently I purchased a copy of The Language of Plants, A Guide to the Doctrine of Signatures, by Julia Graves. The book examines the Doctrine of Signatures, a 2000-year-old philosophy followed by generations of spiritual naturalists, monks, nuns and healers who carefully observed nature in search of plant “signatures” as a way to heal. The Doctrine of Signatures became an important part of the work of traditional healers and herbalists.
These healers looked at various plant signatures, such as:
Shape/Form – a walnut looks like a little brain, and walnuts help develop over 3 dozen neuron-transmitters for brain function; kidney beans actually heal and help maintain kidney function, and they look exactly like the human kidneys.
Color – plants with a red signature were used for blood disorders; for example, redness in beetroot helps to cleanse and fortify the blood.
Location – clear ponds and rivers are associated with diuretics, and on their banks you find horsetail, mints and balotta, all of which help to cleanse the urinary system.
So this got me thinking. What were the Tai Chi masters envisioning when they gave the postures names like White Crane Spreads WingsNeedle at the Bottom of the SeaWave Hands Like Clouds, etc.? Now let me say… this is not the first time I tried to research this subject. But each time I tried, I came up empty-handed, because I do not read Chinese. Therefore, I was left to develop my own interpretation.
Take Needle at the Bottom of the Sea, for example. I imagine a beautiful ocean filled with the life that you would find, say, in Finding Nemo. The ocean is warm and gentle as I dive down to pick up a shining needle at the bottom of the sea and then return it to its owner. But sometimes it’s a dark, chaotic ocean, similar to the one in the movie, The Perfect Storm. I prepare myself, inhale, then, while exhaling, I dive. No matter how many times I get knocked around, I never lose sight of my goal—to pluck the nearly invisible needle in time for my next inhale.
Or, I'm just breaking some pore bloke’s arm!
I recently exchanged emails with Paul Brennan, who recently translated Taiji Boxing Postures with Drawings and Explanations, by martial art historian Xu Yusheng (1921). In this manual Xu explains that Under the Sea (Hai Di) is the name of an acupoint on the human body. However, there appears to be no acupoint with the name Hai Di, so it’s unclear which acupoint Xu meant. Possibly we could be aiming toward the point in the opponent's lower abdomen called Qi Hai (Sea of Energy). Needling "Under the Sea" means your hand has an intent of poking toward the "Under the Sea" point.
So why do I bring this up? I believe that not all teachings get passed on... therefore we must do our best to be the best students possible. Learn to quieten our mind so that we can find our own personal Tai Chi, our own "signatures,” and then adapt them to our lives, so that we might live harmoniously between heaven and earth, with a clear mind and healthy body.

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