I did not observe Mardi Gras last night, unless watching several episodes of Eagle Shooting Heros counts. (I'm up to number 20 of 50. Should get me through Lent.) I marked the waning moments of carnal indulgence over the weekend, unaware of the new moon that seemed to bring me out of a yin funk I'd been in for two weeks. I dined Saturday night with a Chinese friend, an aficionado of things Japanese, at a fine restaurant, enjoying delicate and tasty homemade tofu and a curious Japanese liquor called shochu. We had planned to go to an Okinawan restaurant which features impromptu folk singing and instrumentals by the owner, but alas, the new moon was being celebrated by a private party and we couldn't get seating. So off to Gazen Izakaya where we drank their shochu and sake, reserving my BYOB of Summer Snow, a nigori ginjo, for the next day. I've become fond of this white unrefined sake, shown here, which looks like the booze my mythical martial arts and wuxia heroes toss back while resting from sword fighting and inner cultivation, in quaint inns and outdoor pubs in various ancient dynasties. An Asian holy water, a milky sacrament brewed from water and rice! (Shochu is distilled.)
Last Friday, I noticed that the kolea, the Pacific Golden Plovers, my animal spirit touchstones for the workings of the Tao, are apparently also in tune with the yin-to-yang moon, beginning to change into their breeding plumage; their white yang stripe is developing, contrasting with new black feathers on their head and neckline. Are they also observing some kind of avian Lent before their return flight to Alaska by the end of April? Perhaps come Easter, I will toast their bon voyage with Red Stripe, the Jamaican beer. The first changing bird I saw was at the post office, the day of the new moon, (also my son's birthday) next to Honolulu International Airport; but last night, I also observed several in my own woodland residential complex.
With a clarity of mind brought on by fasting (mostly abstaining from alcohol and, I intend, the free cello-wrapped carbo-loaded snacks in the company kitchen unfortunately just outside my office), I wake early with thoughts of the pos and huns, the collection of Chinese souls which go their various ways at death. Our po souls --seven, or more, of them--are yin entities, and return to the earth; and our three yang huns make their way off to a celestial realm. The huns may join with new energies in a kind of recombinant reincarnation, or not, becoming immortal, depending on one's own spiritual progress through internal alchemy in the corporeal existence. This is esoteric Taoism. I can't speak for its truth, but the metaphors are appealing. This process of transformation takes 7 weeks, 49 days, a little longer than the Lenten fast of 40 days which culminates in Easter, the Western celebration of the success of the hun to overcome the material po.
At 5 a.m., it's easy to slip over the edge when thinking like this. (This is in fact the time I would be meditating in Wudang retreats; I should be now, but blogging is so compelling, and the sliver of waxing moon is obscured by dense cloud cover.) In the Catholic tradition, Lent is a time of reconciliation and preparation, a time to rise above our corporeal natures. This is traditionally done through prayer (maybe this is a prayer), fasting and self-denial. (I could use a slurp of nigori right about now; must go brew coffee.)
I am advised by a certain socially conscious Roman Catholic Brother that Lent is also properly observed, not merely in the "giving up" of something, but by "taking on" a task, or working on a positive character trait. I will look at those "happy" men--the Asian Jew, the Buddhist monk--about whom I just posted, for modeling behaviors: compassion, a sense of humor, and a long view, which I think I have to a degree, can always be ramped up. How easy it is to forgo the Summer Snow (at least a few days in); how difficult to actually change oneself and the world.
"Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return." This is a warning, from my Anglican Book of Common Prayer, to our po spirits. This is a time to work on our huns. And to remember, it's all metaphor for inner grace. With an outward sign of ash.