The Year of Sagely Living: 12 months of Classical Chinese Medicine habits

organ clock twelveIf you sift through all the posts here at Chinese Medicine Central, you will find that I have a passion for personal development. In particular, I have a deep and abiding interest in using principles taken from my study of Classical Chinese Medicine to develop myself into a high level Chinese medicine scholar and physician. Now, all hubris aside, I understand that even in an extremely devoted lifetime I am highly unlikely to reach the heights that the ancients point towards. However, I believe it is my responsibility as a future CM doctor to do my best to struggle in that direction. I look to the Classical texts of Chinese medicine for my main inspiration on how to live and learn, but fill in the gaps in my understanding with other ancient works such as the Dao De Jing, the Confucian classics, Buddhist texts and the Bible. I also consult contemporary personal and business development gurus, particularly around organizational issues. In fact, I think a wide variety of texts are applicable in developing a set of principles to take me towards becoming a great physician.

I’ve discussed these teachings and the practices they explicitly or implicitly reveal with many people. My discussions seem to have reached a critical point and are now spilling over into a plan for action. In particular, in conversations with my friend Abdallah Stickley at Even Unto China, a life-changing project has taken shape and is ready to see the light of day.

We propose a year-long public effort to live the principles that will take us in the direction of becoming the doctors the Classics talk about. In other words, we’d like to take the principles of Chinese medicine seriously and let them guide our life. We have mined our understanding of the principles that underlie the education of great physicians (who are, by default, great people) and came up with twelve categories of practice. Our thought is if one works diligently to adopt practices associated with each category, one will be taking great strides in the direction of becoming a great, or sage, physician. However, for folks not in the medical field – these practices will take you far in achieving great heights in whatever profession in which you are currently involved. These twelve categories we then associated with a different month, using the Earthly branches and twelve officials as guides. The idea is that we want to be working with the seasonal and bodily energy, not against it. So, for instance, we wouldn’t want to begin a rigorous program of physical exercise in the deep of Winter.

We will focus on one category each month. Participants will assist in articulating practices in each category, though we have come up with quite a few already. Participants will pick one or more practices in each category and publicly commit to doing them throughout the month. The public component is actually quite crucial, as it has been affirmed again and again that when a person believes themselves to be held accountable by others in some action they are more likely to accomplish it. Thus, it is best if people either have an online journal, website or blog already. Alternatively, participants can sign up for one (many are available for free – more details in a future post). Regular updates will be posted, and experiences will be discussed by all involved. There will be other options for people unwilling or unable to have an online home of their own.

Below is a listing of the categories, a brief description of each as well as their timing and an explanation of the pairing of time and category. If you’re confused by the symbolism I discuss, read my post about the Chinese medicine organ clock. In future posts, probably a couple a day for the next 2-3 days, I will explore the categories in more detail and list the practices we have come up with so far. Further, I will explain how I see this project playing out in my own life. Hopefully this will help interested people to understand the project and get involved. For more background, you can visit the links I provide below and also read posts about the Year of Sagely Living at Even Unto China.

January – Gall Bladder, Zi 子 (Rat): Scholarship/Study: This category will contain practices to develop us into true scholars in the Confucian/neo-Confucian tradition. Why this pairing? The seasonal energy is still in winter, a contemplative mood prevails, but the Yang is rising. Similar to this, we can see scholarly pursuits as ACTIVE passivity. One generally sits still, but one’s mind is hard at work.

February – Liver, Chou 丑 (Ox): Strategy/Business: This category will contain practices in the realm of business development and strategic planning in the professional world. Why this pairing? The Liver is the general of the body, so has a natural affinity for this kind of activity.

March Lung, Yin 寅 (Tiger)- Activity/Rest: This category will contain practices having to do with appropriate cycles of rest and activity in daily life – for instance, appropriate waking times throughout the seasons. Why this pairing? This earthly branch and the essence of the Lung Zang is all about peaceful tension between opposites, like the time of the year associated with both. Further, being mindful of our need for balance between rest and activity is great preparation for the often overactive spring/summer energy.

– Large Intestine, Mao 卯 (Rabbit) – Care of the planet/consumption: This category will contain practices that develop us into compassionate and sane consumers, while helping to develop our deep relationship with the natural world. Why this pairing? April is a time when we can see the beauty of nature all around us, so is a great time to contemplate our dependence on it and responsibility towards it. Also, the negative side of LI/Rabbit is a tendency to run rough-shod over the needs and wants of others, these practices will seek to counterbalance this.

May – Stomach, Chen 晨 (Dragon): Physical cultivation: This category will contain practices that help us to shape our physical bodies into ideal vehicles for the transmission of healing energy. Why this pairing? The natural world has exploded into full splendor and the weather in the Northern hemisphere will be warm enough in most places to warrant moving around outside. The ST is an Earth organ and is related to the flesh of the body, which we will be building with these practices. Think also of the dragon and its association with martial arts and other physical cultivation practices.

June – Spleen, Si 巳 (Snake)- Food choices – This category works in tandem with the previous one to help maintain the physical form of the body in an optimal way. Why this pairing? June is actually a great time to do fasting or other food restriction activities because most of us don’t feel any great desire to eat excessively in the summer heat. Further, reducing the burden on digestion will help us to focus on absorbing the pure Yang energy so abundantly available in June.
July – Heart, Wu 午 (Horse) – Community building/charity – This category speaks to our need to be an integral and contributing member of a number of communities. It also involves the practice of compassion in a world where inequality is the norm. Why this pairing? The summer is a wonderful time to participate in community-oriented projects! Also, the Heart and Fire (the Heart’s element) are about intimacy, about connection to Spirit — both of which are well represented in the idea behind this category.

August – Small Intestine, Wei 未 (Sheep)- Ethical Behavior – This category will include practices not covered in other categories that have some ethical dimension. These practices are likely to be very individual and defined by a person’s background, spiritual/religious practice and culture. For example, practicing “Right Speech” through abstinence from cursing. Why this pairing? The Fu (hollow, Yang) organs are said to transmit the essence of their associated Zang (solid, Yin) organs. SI exemplifies this relationship in its devotion to sacrifice as a way to manifest the Heart’s mandate of connection to Spirit in the purest sense. Also because many of the “ethical behavior” practices we discussed are somewhat prohibitive, it resonates with the descent into metal energy that the earthly branch Wei represents.

September – Bladder, Shen 申 (Monkey)- Arts/Aesthetics: This category involves the use of our creative faculties – particularly as they pertain to the arts associated with Chinese medicine, such as calligraphy. Why this pairing? These activities are Yin within Yang – they are still, yet active – like scholarship. More importantly is the symbolism of 申. One of the meanings of this character is to stretch, and the oracle bones show it as two hands pulling something in opposite directions. We might think about this as the intercourse between Heaven and Earth, the Human Being in the middle being the substrate that is stretched between those two poles. I think Art facilitates this threefold communication.

October – Kidney, You 酉 (Rooster/owl): Chinese medicine specific skills: This category includes the refinement of Chinese medicine related skills, such as hand techniques in acupuncture. For those not in the field, you might look into developing skills that will help you in your work. Why this pairing? The Kidney is often said to be the root of all skill and expertise. Also, with the cool calm energy of autumn, one can become focused enough to substantially increase specific skills.

NovemberPericardium, Xu 戌: Relationships: This category will involve practices that help us develop more mature and meaningful relationships with others. Why this pairing? Pericardium is frequently said to mediate intimate relationships. One interesting symbolic note is the association of the earthly branch Xu, which means – essentially – weapon. This speaks on many levels to me. For instance, we must be careful to avoid violence in relationships, on whatever level. Also, relationships are a bit like handling weapons — if you’re not careful and mindful, it can come back to bite you. Finally, the late fall and winter are good times for relationship oriented activity, given that most of us desire to stay at home with family and friends as the weather cools.

DecemberTriple Burner, Hai 亥: Spiritual cultivation: Although we will be looking at spiritual dimensions of all kinds of activity throughout the year, this month we will give it special attention. These practices will probably be quite individual, but there may be some shared goals – such as having a daily meditation practice. Why this pairing? I’ve always learned about TB as being the mysterious “in between,” the mover between worlds, the ultimate stillness. What a metaphor for spiritual practice!

The project begins on January 1, 2008. However, you can join in at any time. Simply comment on this post to let everyone know you’re “in” and let us know how you will be “reporting back” to the rest of us. I will be providing brief descriptions of the categories along with the list of practices we’ve come up with so far in a post in a few hours. That post would be a great place to comment with your ideas for specific practices. To make sure you keep up with all of the Year of Sagely living articles, be sure to subscribe to this blog via RSS feed or via email.

PS: For folks in the Southern hemisphere – you can still participate! Simply reverse the correspondences. The list goes, essentially, winter solstice to summer solstice – so you can turn things around to meet your energetic reality.


About Eric Grey

Hi - I'm the founder of this site and the primary master of all functions here. When I'm not writing, you can find me reaching out to the Chinese Medicine community across the web and in my own backyard. I currently teach Chinese herbs at my alma mater, the National College of Natural Medicine. Additionally, I'm the founder of Watershed Wellness, a thriving local clinic in Southeast Portland in Oregon. No matter where I'm working, you'll find my focus on the Classical approach to Chinese medicine laced throughout everything I do.

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