Life and Death

Moxa smoke curls around my left wrist and up my forearm in finger-like swirls. It is ancient mugwort, dried and rolled in China then shipped to the US to compliment acupuncture treatments. The stick is cigar-like and its wide tip glows like a volcanic eye while I hold it near the skin over my anklebone. This is a warming technique that draws qi (pronounced “chi”) to the area and reduces pain and swelling. Where Western medicine calls for ice, Chinese medicine calls for moxa. It’s taken a year for me to shed my soccer-girl regimen (ice and ibuprophen the first forty-eight hours, heat after that) but my body’s immediate response to the moxa makes it easy to unravel two decades of the Western school of thought.

I move the stick in circles above my skin for about ten minutes while sitting on the back porch. It is warm and muggy out. The time of year when I run cold water into a sink full of dishes each morning so that it will heat up naturally during the day. When I come home, pots, pans, bowls, and spoons are ready to be scrubbed and rinsed without the hassle of heating up water on the hot plate first. The anti-thesis of winter.

Jill told me today that I looked angry when actually I was trying to coach myself into optimism. Vic told me I sounded like I was surfing the net while talking on the phone (a Buddhist friend’s way of saying I’d forgotten my breath and one-pointed attention). I had all sorts of excuses. I spent last week calling friends to tell them a friend died. I spent the weekend and the last two days hosting such friends. It’s been both draining and fulfilling, and full of paradox. Where there is death there is life. I hold the smoldering moxa, a dead plant, close to my skin to rejuvenate life. My cycles of thought and emotion have been endless, as one thought dies another is born – which is why my optimism may have looked like anger or my distraction was really a manifestation of my very fatigued, focused heart.

I finish the moxa treatment and force myself to sit on the porch without any music playing, without any food cooking on the stove, without the phone nearby, without the computer turned on and waiting. I drink a cold beer top to bottom, Geary’s Hampshire Ale, and listen to a lone cricket sawing away while balance atop a tip of goldenrod. The sky is covered in grayish clouds and thunder sounds in the distance. But still, like the inevitability of life and death, I know that behind those clouds a sun is setting and the waning moon is rising.

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