Monday, January 27, 2014


To all of you who have taken the time to post comments: THANK YOU!

1] I read Simone de Beauvoir years ago. But thank you, I will look into it again.

2] If you want to read other stuff I've written on yin and yang, please go to

3] In terms of pronouncing yin and yang: These are Chinese words. I can only approximate how they are really pronounced, because Chinese is tonal and very difficult to hear for those of us for whom English is a first language. One would have to be around people speaking Chinese for quite a while to start to hear the tones. Nevertheless, Yang is pronounced MORE like TONG than, say TANG. MORE like, but how precisely depends on how well you can hear native Chinese people say it.

4]And best of all; your recent comments have caused me to start writing posts again. I stopped, frankly, because my brother died. It was so hard to write with warmth and feeling for a long time after that. I stopped writing my book for almost 4 years. And blew the small chance I had to have an agent try to sell it. I'm starting it up, again, and believe me; your comments are extremely helpful and I keep them in front of me when I write.

Here's to all of us surviving this tough winter, intact, to grow green shoots in the spring!


Mary Traina

Monday, April 23, 2012

We've Really Gotta Slow Down

It was so beautiful the last couple of weeks in the Northeast. Perfect weather, clear, low humidity, skies so blue they hurt, sun shining. But the ground was so dry. Like cocoa powder. And even well-established plants were starting to look a little unhappy. Streams were getting low. lawns weren't greening up the way they do at the end of the winter.

Then it rained. We are lucky it did. Now it's gray and cold and damp; Irish summer weather, my friend calls it. Somewhere in that statement is just a little bit of the fatalistic humor I love about the Irish. But much as I was practically high from the constancy of the sun, and air so clear it nearly shimmered, I worried. This weather is fine for other climates, but we need rain--yin--to keep stuff growing and our reservoirs full. We can't rely on mountains for snow runoff.

The rain is also nature's way of balancing things out. Rain=yin=nurturing=rest & recuperation. We can't have too much yang, all the time. There has to be a balance.

This is important to note, because it's literally the biggest problem facing mankind. It has led to all kinds of cliff edges, as diverse as climate change, unemployment, auto-immune diseases and war. I use the term cliff-edge, because I think until a problem is so obvious as to be critical, people are loathe to look at it.

Which means, yang energy is expanding all over the place without enough yin to mitigate the effects of unrestrained yang. Like when there's too much sun and not enough rain. Or when a business keeps eliminating employees and expects the remaining ones to absorb the workload. When prices keep going up and wages don't. When people drink too much coffee to keep on top of crazy schedules.

Too many of us think it's normal to work ourselves into the ground. We think it's okay to leverage ourselves via credit cards and 'have' everything we desire. Everything we do in this culture gets turned into a contest, has to be improved upon, made bigger and better than the next guy. Anything that is ever-expanding is out-of-control yang.

We really gotta stop.

We gotta let a little yin into our lives. Yin isn't the bad guy blocking out the sun. Because the sun needs to go down at least once a day.  Just like people.

We need to do less, spend less, stop being imperialists in our own lives. Almost everyone could stand to sleep more, and spend a little time day-dreaming, free-associating, wandering around in our heads with no specific goal.

Yang energy is nice, gets a lot done, moves mountains and feels good and powerful.

Yin is what we need to keep breathing.

Friday, April 4, 2008

Yin and Yang Take Sick Days.

The stairs looked impossible. Here we were, one of us marginally better than the other, both of us with some sort of bronchitis, at the bottom of the outdoor steps leading to our doctor’s office. Maybe we both moaned. I don’t know. I did. I was annoyed that I had to climb steps with compromised lung function.

So, after a two-hour-and-twenty-minute wait [“I guess it’s busy out there,” the doctor says ingenuously] he comes in. My sweetie pie has acute bronchitis. I am somehow less sick. He gets antibiotics. I decide to take Chinese herbs. A kind of race-you-to-the-finish-line deal.

We only went because he was so sick I made an executive decision to take us both for some expert advice. This was after two days of active moping, errands when I probably shouldn’t have been driving, and a lot of bad-movie watching. And moaning and complaining to each other about how terrible we felt. And drugged 11-hour nights of heavy sleeping aided by Nyquil. Which of course we had to go out and find because who keeps that crap in the house?

I had anxiously watched my husband for signs of something worse. My brother had just died of lung cancer which was misdiagnosed for two months back in the beginning of the awful odyssey as being a ‘hard’ pneumonia. Because he didn’t smoke. Hadn’t really been sick as an adult. Had he been a smoker, lung cancer would have been suspected and a tissue test forthcoming. Only when my brother begged for one did he find out what was really going on. So as I am watching my guy struggle with congestion, etc. I immediately go for the worst case scenario. When the doctor listened and said “I don’t hear any pneumonia” I breathed a sigh of relief. Twenty-four hours later, he is better and I can put that scary scenario away for now. I know he is better, because:

His yang energy is stronger. And how do I know that? Oh. Little things. Here are some of them:

“Are you going to be done with your email soon? I’d like to check mine.” Said in a peremptory tone of voice. Not the soft, sick tone he has been using.

“Don’t take this the wrong way, but could we do something with the stuff on that chair so I can read later?” The stuff is cardboard and decorative papers and photos left over from my brother’s memorial service. My sister and I made up two large boards of pictures of the various aspects of my brother’s life. It was very hard to do, and a very good thing to do. I realize I don’t want to move it in order to hold onto my brother. There will be a lot more of this, I am sure. Okay. One thing at a time . . . I move it and it isn’t terrible. And I can always sit in the chair, too.

“Are there any clean clothes?” Uh, yeah. I’ve been quietly sneaking away from our nest in front of the TV to put clothes in the washer. They are not folded. [PLEASE.] But they are clean.

“I have to call some patients.” And he finds their numbers with no problem - definitely a ‘tell.’

“Do you think I can work Saturday?” Why don’t you ask if I think you are an idiot?

And best of all? “I’m hungry.”

And me. How do I know I’m getting better? What does yin do? I washed my hair, cleaned the kitchen, finished all the laundry [which is still not folded; but it is sorted], and heated up some soup. If I can manage it, I will change the sheets.

Afternoon arrives and our energies flag. He starts telling me that I better take it easy. He doesn't ask how I feel. It’s so perfectly yang protecting yin. He makes a place for me to sit down and draws me to him. I am cold and definitely overdid it. He is not moving, back in that place where he has definitely used up his energy. But I saw some blue sky and know tomorrow he will be better. Especially if we each take care of the other in the way we both do: I will watch him carefully and read him for signs he needs something; food, tea, water, vitamins; and he will let me go only so far before he demands I sit down . . . you’ve done enough, you must be tired. You have to rest, now, and so on. Maternal watch and offer, versus boundary setting. Yin and yang. Both are necessary.

I will have to be careful. Grief injures the lungs, according to Chinese medicine. My surviving brother is also sick with something very similar. The winter after my father died, all of us came down with bronchitis. So we need to take care of ourselves and balance crying and looking back with taking joy, again, from life, and looking ahead.

Monday, March 31, 2008

A wise Chinese physician once said . . .

[Be patient, Mark, this is for you.]

Years ago, Woody Allen (whom I now boycott) made a movie entitled "ALICE" which starred Mia Farrow as a housewife who consulted a famous Chinese doctor to help her deal with certain psychological issues. (I don't know: Is boredom an issue? Or is it a state of mind? Do we care?)

Anyway (I promise not to have too many more parentheses) Dr. Yang, the Chinese doctor in the movie was drawn with mythic strokes; his herbal prescriptions seemed to have far-reaching effects on Alice, and spurred her to make changes in her life. I don't remember all of the reviews, but it they weren't glowing. It was kind of an offbeat movie. But the thing is, the character of Dr. Yang was based on a real person, not the same name, so don't get any ideas. And I got to meet him, take a couple of classes with him, see him for my own health issues, and bring a patient to him. His knowledge of Chinese medicine and herbs was, simply, staggering. His understanding of Chinese energetics, upon which herbal and acupuncture treatments are based, was brilliant to the point of elegant simplicity, the kind of simplicity you get to after so many years of study and immersion, you arrive back at the beginning; completely turned around and seeing with new/old eyes.

He was in his 80's at the time. English was not his strong suite, so I had to listen carefully. He spent a long time on my pulses, tongue and face. He made notes in Chinese and gave orders to minions. Then he gave me packets of herbs in a powdered form: Just add water, hold your nose and swallow. But they were so powerful that after just one day, my tongue and pulses completely changed. And I had several periods of free association that were so deep and far-reaching, I still refer to them for inspiration.

The problem was, they were also very expensive and after a couple of months I could not go back. But I had a wealthy patient who was willing to see him and have me accompany her to take notes and observe. The patient had a large non-cancerous growth and was trying to avoid surgery. I had tried to tell her over and over that the growth was a result of internal cold; a solid mass that accumulated because she was so depleted and kept pushing herself. But people of her ilk do not want to be told that. They just want ways around the inevitability of running out of gas.

I watched the doctor do his initial evaluation. Then he spoke:

"You are 4-cylinder car trying to go like 6-cylinder car. " Goosebumps. Just that morning my patient had revealed she had had a strange dream in which she was in a car trying to go up a hill and she could not make it and kept sliding back down.

My patient tried to explain that she had a very demanding job and that she needed more energy. She was trying to reason with him. The doctor looked at her compassionately, and in a deep and resonant voice said: "Mind has no limit. Body has limit."

That was basically the end of her entreaty. There was simply nothing she could say to that. It was an essential truth of stunning simplicity, and not at all the way we learn to think about the body-mind.

In terms of the male sexual ability to perform, this is also apt. There is not necessarily anything wrong with you if you have mental/emotional desire, but not enough energy to complete the job. You are not always supposed to be able to. The body has its way of protecting your essential energy (kidney jing) or life force -- a finite amount you are born with -- so that you do not use too much of it and compromise your health. Or age before your time. This happens in response to two basic things: Aging, which is inevitable; and a too-great demand for energy.

That said, there are certainly things one can do to optimize your response. But first you need to evaluate what's really going on. It may be your yang that is depleted, not only your yin. Or it may be both. For instance, depleted yang could leave you colder or paler than normal. You might notice your workouts are harder to complete. Depleted yin is what is responsible for hot flashes or certain heat symptoms, among other things.

Do you get enough sleep? Sleep is the great restorer of yin and yang energies. Without enough sleep, we age faster, have slower responses to immune system challenges, and don't always feel vital sexual energy, to name just a few of the many ways lack of sleep affects us. Just because caffeine can sharpen our senses and prop open our eyelids after a poor night's sleep does not mean that the rest of our bodies are following along.

The second thing to look at is: are there any underlying physical conditions that would cause your response to be compromised? Your doctor would be the one to determine this. You can also consult a practitioner of Chinese medicine for an energetic diagnosis that would take into an account any lifestyle habits that might be impacting your general health. Moxibustion, the practice of using smoldering 'moxa' -- a preparation of the herb mugwort -- on certain points is extremely beneficial for bolstering/warming up male yang energy and yin.

In short, without seeing you face-to-face, and with very little information, it would be difficult to give more than a general opinion on what you could do. The beauty of Chinese medicine is that it gives an individual a differential diagnosis based on that person's specific imbalances and often uncovers the beginning of sub-clinical conditions before they become more serious. And the treatments are also very directly addressed to a patient's body, not to the disease or condition as is common in western, allopathic medicine.

Be gentle on yourself and do not have the expectation that to be male is necessarily to be able to perform at will. To be male, is, after all, to be human.

Sunday, March 30, 2008

A Poignant Farewell, A New Beginning

In Chinese Medicine, the functions of the liver [yin organ] and gallbladder [yang organ] are paired. In terms of five element theory, they are considered ‘wood.’ [The other four elements being fire, water, metal and earth.] When you think of wood, think sap rising in spring . . . and that lovely pale color green – the green of just emerging shoots from the still-cold ground; new, fresh grass; the pale green haze enveloping trees in early spring.

This green is what my brother Julius hoped to see one final time. It was an exciting time of year for him, a happy, invigorating time. Sap rising, new life beginning. But he only made it to the first day of Spring, then died during the early morning hours of Good Friday, at the darkest part of the night, just before there was any lightening in the sky.

He had no choice, really; he had outlasted every prognosis, squeezing breath and life from a body full of metastasized lung cancer. He had endured stereotactic radiation several times a week which miraculously killed off the many bone tumors, giving him maybe 6 more months and cutting down the terrible pain from those places. But at the end, he literally had no lung left to expel the carbon dioxide accumulating in his body. And he left us after slipping into a gentle, painfree coma.

I tell you all this, only so you can understand that there is a new beginning, a greening of possibility, after a sad death such as his. He was loved, and cherished, by his wife and stepdaughter, and by his mother, and by his five siblings, all of whom appreciated Julie for the unusual person he was. His memorial service was jammed with mourners. People literally left because there was no room to even stand. We each spoke about our brother in the most truthful ways we could, to try to capture for the ‘outside’ world who he was for one last time.

And after that, we each slept deeply and completely.

Because something utterly painful and sad was finally over, and we could begin to live again without waiting for something so dreadful we didn’t dare dwell on it before it happened.

And with each day, aided by the small messengers from the earth -- tips of leaves from flowers to come, the growing gathering of birds on the feeders, sunlight lasting longer into the evening -- our spirits feel lighter, and possibility grows in our hearts. You see, we learned something from my brother. His will to live was so strong it fed a denial that kept him from doing what would have made him happy, from living his last months as happily as he could have. And we have each decided not to do that. Not now, not ever. It was not a good strategy; it did not work. It was painful to watch and exhausting to maintain. And if that is an inadvertent gift from him, so be it; we are not looking too deeply into the ‘whys’ anymore. It is a lovely gift; a way of embracing life. We will take the best he had to offer – his love of and excitement about the natural world and gardening, his brilliance in architecture and design and enthusiasm for different ways of doing things and his final lesson. And he will live in us as long as we remember who he truly was.

There will be many more tears, but there will be grateful smiles and an embracing of life in a way none of us have ever done before.

Thank you Julius, for who you were and what we learned.

Godspeed, my brother.

Julius Traina
September 1, 1952 - March 21, 2008

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

The Case for Starbucks

What’s so terrible about being pumped up with adrenalin and full of caffeine? Well, I can think of two or three things right off the top of my head . . . adrenal exhaustion and the much put-upon lining of the human stomach, to begin with. Coffee is a hot bitter herb, pretty yang as yang foods go. And what it ‘gives’ us imbibers is a rush of hot energy, a certain snappiness to our tongues, the illusion we are smart and fast and productive. Sort of the opposite of sleepy couch-potato-ness, putzing around not doing much, meandering through a morning, afternoon, and in worst/best case, evening.

But yin is kinda really important, too. Yin is that calm, thinking-things-through-at-our-own-pace energy. The slowed down, subtly-colored, quiet energy humming in the background of our bodies, running things we don’t want to pay attention too [digestion, heart beat, secretions being produced etc.]. It’s the quiet classroom, for once no one talking, kids with bent heads doing an assignment. Or the person in the back of the restaurant, sitting alone, quietly reading through lunch. You get the picture. The unheralded underpinnings of life, and so on.

But, yin is also a rainy day, dark, a bit foggy, a kind of I don’t really want to go to the office [NO! WAH! DON’T MAKE ME LEAVE THE HOUSE!!!!] energy, sometimes.

Like today. Fog. Everything dripping. Ice, snow, drippy, slushy GREY and WHITE with some brown thrown in to increase the depresso factor.

Suddenly that cup of coffee I never finished this morning and left in the microwave is calling to me.

I took a shower to ‘wake up.’ You know how HARD it is to get in a shower on a wet drippy day? And get wet without even getting to the car? I have not stepped one foot outside, and I had to get wet. And I didn’t like it. Because even though I put on nice dry soft clothes, I am going to have to go out to the car and it’s going to be more of the same.

And I am definitely going to finish my nice hot coffee first and probably stop at Border’s which has the best coffee on my errand route. Unless you count the deli with Green Mountain coffee . . . or Perennial Chef, or, well, even STARBUCKS.

There are worse things.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Tell me what YOU think

Inspiration always helps when a writer is trying to hit one out of the park. When I sit down to write something, I want it to count. And although writing is very yin, the need to hit the mark is yang energy.

I have written my entire life. I have letters and notes I wrote at 6, 7, 8 years of age. I wanted to be a writer, but I didn’t know how to go about it. My 10th birthday present from my two maiden aunts was a suitcase and a dictionary. There should have been a copy of the Jack Kerouac classic On the Road inside, along with a big, black, Underwood typewriter.

In high school, I spent every spare moment on one after-school job using the electric typewriter [what fun!] to write satiric commentary, letters to myself on what my 16-year-old eyes perceived as the insanity of the adult world. No-one saw any of this; my high school papers were labored and did not reflect my real thinking; just poorly constructed, desperate attempts to fit in and not be noticed. Give a teacher what s/he wants, stay under the radar, live your real life somewhere else. Not unlike many not-yet-fully-developed adolescents.

But not until I conceived of the idea for the book I am working on, did my yang energy, my meet-the-world-and-take-my-place-energy, literally arise out of a need to reach people with my words, have them actually read what I write, and think about what I was saying. My strong belief is that understanding male-female interactions from a yin/yang point of view can actually make a difference. I want people to get it, use it, teach me what they think is important.

I would like to ask you, the reader, to tell me what you want to understand about people of the other gender. You may remain anonymous, if you wish, but all answers will appear in this blog.

I have a funny story for you:

I got a blowout the other day. I was driving a Jeep, the big version. I happened to be near a gas station, and I pulled in. The guy at the pump immediately said “There’s no one here to change the tire.” Great, I thought. I had a ton of food in the car, a lot of it needing a refrigerator. So I called my friendly tow-truck driver. It would be an hour or more. That meant two. I noticed a man in mechanics’ dark blue coveralls with the name of the garage over the pocket. He was moving cars to the back of the garage. Twice I had to move the Jeep so he could get by. He wasn’t really nice or polite about it. Who is he, I thought, if not a mechanic? But maybe he was invisible to the attendant. Maybe I was imagining him. He was certainly ignoring me as if I was invisible, except when he showed irritation when I was in his way. Maybe red lipstick woulda helped.

Frustrated, tired, and irritable, and, okay, maybe a little ready to cry [I had a whole lot of pressure that day] I thought, let me get the process started, so he could do the tire quickly. So, wearing a skirt and pretty shoes, I opened the back and unscrewed the spare and proceeded to lug it out of its well and roll it around the car. Getting black gunk all over me in the process. I moved the groceries off the back seat where I’d just dumped them five minutes ago to get all of them off the spare tire - including four 24-packs of water - so I could get the jack stored under the seat. [I’m not familiar with this particular vehicle.] I then proceeded to squat down, looking under the car, to find the place where the jack fit in.

But when I actually picked up the lug wrench and approached the flat tire, another man magically appeared and stopped me. “You no change the tire.” He was kind, but very firm. “I will have the man do it. This is not for a woman to do. Why you do it.” It was not a question.

“The guy pumping gas said there was no one here.” I was innocent.

“Ah, no-one here. There are two men here. You do not have to change the tire. I am the owner. Jose will change the tire.”

I said, “Are you Italian?”

“Sicilian,” he answered.

“Me, too,” I say. Immediately he opens his arms. I am amazed as I hug him. From an invisible person with a shredded tire, I have become a lady, welcomed with open arms. And I wasn’t even wearing foundation or blush. I silently thank my departed Sicilian father.

I am instructed to stand aside while the previously indisposed mechanic comes and drives my car around back, pulls out his magic air gun, and – I timed it – changed the tire in three and a half minutes. About as long as it took me to move the groceries a second time to unearth the greasy jack thingie I never ended up using. As he tightened the last lug nut, he said “You a lady, I the man. Lady no change the tire.” Yeah, uh, and who was that guy inhabiting your coveralls 20 minutes ago when I was ready to cry?

Apparently it was okay for me to sit and look miserable, but when I attempted to do a ‘man’s work,’ that just tore it. Guys materialized of nowhere lest an act against nature be committed. The truth is, I could have changed that tire, I have done, but I hate doing it. It hurts my hands; if the last person tightening the lugs was a sadist you have to sort of jump on the wrench to loosen them; and the tire is dirty. Then you have to lift it up into the place where it fits in the back and there’s no way the black crap doesn’t get on your clothes. And as you drive away, you always worry that you didn’t tighten everything enough and your tire will fall off. Your dirty hands stick to the steering wheel. Not to mention the utter cruelty of looking like an idiot if the tire gets away from you and rolls into the road.

Now, I know what happened. I could use yin and yang, and explain the different dynamics, but you know what? I’m not gonna do that. Some things are best left unanalyzed.