The Lamb and the Black Moon

February 18, 2015 2 comments

sheep year

Fire, earth, metal, water, wood, each their own element, each birthing the next, ceaselessly turning together in a black and white pinwheel swirl. It is the Taoist yin yang in its true spinning form, not the static symbol we are familiar with. The world is poured into that circle. It is the center of the things. Circles within circles, expressed in the bagua. Life is hard. Life is soft. Life is life in its ever evolving spin.

Within this cosmology are cycles of time: hours, days, months, seasons, years. Years are marked in a cycle of twelve animals, called earthly branches. And the branches combine with the ten heavenly stems, providing an associated yin or yang energy for the five elements. Each year, the animal has either a yin or yang stem with its element.

This Chinese Lunar New Year arrives at midnight, February 19, 2015. It ushers in the Year of the Sheep. The sheep is the eighth animal in the cycle. In Chinese, the number 8 symbolizes abundance, the word for eight is “Ba”. How sheeplike. It is said the sheep is gentle and calm, representing harmony, solidarity. And the stem, yin wood, has the making for a even mellower year, soft as a lamb.

There is also a Black Moon on Chinese New Year’s eve. It’s a new moon and a Super Moon. There are usually three new moons in one season, between a solstice and equinox. When four occur in one season, as is the case now, the third moon is called a black moon.

In honor of Chinese New Year, there is a live webcast with views of the moon hosted by Slooh Community Observatory. It begins February 19, 8PM. Watch it here.

Gong Xi Fa Cai. Happy New Year.

Toni Tan

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Moth

December 28, 2014 8 comments

It seemed too warm and too early for snow. But, from my window, I see it falling in the night light of a streetlamp. Leonard Cohen’s The Traitor is playing in the background.

The song, Cohen says, is about the feeling we have of betraying some mission we believed we were mandated to fulfill, but unable to fulfill; then coming to understand that the real mandate was not to fulfill it; and the deep courage was to stand guiltless in the predicament in which you found yourself.

The snowflakes remind me of moths surrounding the streetlight in a flutter of wings. Lepidopterists say moths are positively phototactic, which means if you turn on a light, they’ll head for it. There is no explanation for this phenomenon, only theories.

Moths might use the light as a reference point, moving towards it to adjust their flight position by maintaining a constant angle relative to the light source. The circling behavior may be caused by a visual distortion common to sighted creatures, called a Mach band. The band is the region surrounding a bright light, in the darkest part of the sky. Moths might be attracted to the band because they seek the cover of darkness for safety as they circle the light until they can navigate away from it. This path is disorienting, pulling them close to the light. It’s a coin toss spiral to freedom or fiery doom.

I’m thinking about moths, missions, snow, listening to Cohen’s words, “…On the battlefields from here to Barcelona, I’m listed with the enemies of love…” The soldier’s military duty is his mandate, but he is pulled off course, war nerves perhaps, seeking refuge, surrendering to desire, knowing the cost of his path.

Love and war. Lust and duty.
We can anthropomorphize moths to a flame, though no moth measured longing against reason. No moth fanned a smoldering desire, felt guilt, guiltless, or asked forgiveness.

The soldier says, “Should rumor of a shabby ending reach you, it was half my fault and half the atmosphere.” That bright light. We understand it, and know its attraction. It calls us away from where we believe we should be. We’ve been flying into the tail lights, under the truth

With our mission failed and unfulfilled, we are light warriors. We may be traitors to our own war, but we head for that light, blinded by it, burned out and burned up by it. Then again, we may be blessed and unburdened by it. Our failure becomes our freedom.

In the dark of night, on a country porch or outside a city window, a light goes on. The pull towards it, and away from everything else, may be your truest mission. May you have the deep courage to stand guiltless, fearless. Get stuck, get scorched, get saved.

Toni Tan

Abscission

October 24, 2014 5 comments

©Toni Tan

I see it, a story told in the ephemeral nature of color. It’s impossible not to look, but I close my eyes, and listen. It’s the sound of change. Autumn calling out in its rustling and rain of leaves when the wind blows. I want to remember it. Not just see it, but feel it. On a fall day enveloped in grey mist, a flash of red leaves will interrupt the fog, burning through the space. On a brighter autumn day, sunshine moving through the leaves is as illuminating as enlightenment.

Change is forever our status. Fluidity in time and space, the flow of the circle. We don’t think about change, but sometimes something shakes you into awareness: a birth, a death, or the brief and brilliant leaves coming loose from their branches.

This is part of the cyclical design. Trees are actively cutting off their leaves in a survival process: abscission. As days of autumn fade into cold temps and less sunlight, trees reabsorb nutrients from their leaves. This includes chlorophyll and deprived of it, leafy greenness gives way to color. The leaf shedding allows trees to pull in energy and get through winter. It is a cycle of conservation. And sacrifice. The trees grow new skin over every spot where a leaf once was. The trees will live. The leaves will not, but they are making a grand exit.

Nature shows us tangible, real-time change. Change endlessly seeking balance. Here’s a truth about nature, from the Tao: “heaven and earth are ruthless.” Sometimes brutal. Sometimes bittersweet. Life bulldozes through its bleakness – its broken rocks and its broken hearts and its bankruptcy. It’s a dusty path that leads to more busted rocks and broken hearts. More loss. Loss and gain. Gain too, because it’s a green path as well. Life dances through its brightness – its beauty and its bounty. Hearts and moons waxing to full, emptying, filling. A spectrum from bleak to bright.

Energy is always moving. A seed planted, a harvest reaped. Growth, decay, growth. A mended fence. A broken window. Repair. Despair. Gain. Loss. Life. The ever evolving permutation of things swirling in the yin yang pinwheel. We live, survive, thrive, fail, fly.

There’s a red arrow on the map: You are here on this autumn day. And everything is changing. The leaves animate the space. Vivid. Vibrant. Radiant. For now.

Toni Tan

Marion

October 12, 2014 4 comments

american bandstand


Brooklyn, New York, in the late 1950s/early 1960s.

My childhood was not without its rough edges, though I will save those stories for another time. It had its smooth edges, too. A considerable softness came in the form of my older sister and her friends. My most vivid memory of them is when they were teenagers. There were several years between us, enough to make them magical beings, light years ahead of me in the spectral arc of discovery. They were ever moving through this incredible cosmic realm, swirling somewhere between being a girl and being a woman.

Their bedrooms held a menagerie of stuffed animals, yet the air was scented with hairspray and noxzema, and filled with music. It was the radio, or records, and laughter, always laughter, as the backdrop, as they practiced the newest American Bandstand dances, learned the latest lyrics. It was rock and roll. Growing up. Freedom.

I remember their crazy hair curlers, their bumps and curves. We had sodas at Woolworths and sometimes saw a Saturday matinee. I listened to them talk about clothes, and school, and boys. Their essence was within reach, not only in my being intrigued by who they were, but envisioning the near horizon of who I would become. They seemed to know everything about everything, and I was afforded a glimpse into the mystery of their circle.

marionpic

One of the girls was Marion. She had dark hair, and dark eyes, like most of the neighborhood Italian girls. What set her apart was that she was funny and warm; quick to laugh, and even quicker at getting everyone else to laugh. She was also the one whose eyes would fill with tears when she heard a sad story. If you were hurting, she’d cry with you. I remember her compassionate heart, as beautiful and deep as her soulful brown eyes.

My sister later parted ways with the family. It was a staggering loss. But, it was Marion who would fill that gap for me, keeping the bridge to that wonderful past alive. My mother’s relationship with Marion’s brother brought us all together as family. Marion was married and had her own sweet little girl. I grew up having many Sunday dinners with all of them at Marion’s parents place, and many gatherings at her home, or mine. Great meals, good times.

We spent time together through the years. She remained ever that person who made those funny faces, laughed with you, cried with you. I am grateful that I got to tell Marion that my memory of her was always the teenage version of her, my magical vision of her, and that she was always a big sister to me.

Marion passed recently, suddenly. I hadn’t seen her in a long time. Her husband, daughter, grandchildren, brothers, niece, relatives, and friends, will grieve the staggering loss; love her, miss her, remember her. My mind and heart will always hold her in that ephemeral moment of her teenage youth. Lord have mercy. It was glorious.

Toni Tan

Rock Your Creativity

Photo: ©ToniTan

Your creativity is an egg. Fragile, evolving.

It requires warmth, incubation, nurturance, and the space to crack out of a seemingly unbreakable shell. Rock it till its ready. Let it out. Repeat.

And you? You are stronger than you think.

~Toni

The photo is from Klaus Enrique’s amazing ‘Arcimboldo’ series.

Remembering 9/11

September 11, 2014 2 comments

Photo by Toni Tan

Last night’s sky.

“The living owe it those who no longer can speak to tell their story for them.” – Czeslaw Milosz

Piano on the Shore

Photo: Toni Tan

They say the ocean has its own music….it must be true — one of its instruments appeared on New York’s East River shore, under the Brooklyn Bridge.
What music do you hear?

See my Piano on the Shore series