Saturday, January 27, 2007

Tiny green shoots of femininity . . .

It was a rainy summer night. I was in my boyfriend's living room with my then eleven-year-old daughter. He lived in an apartment in a place where you could walk to things, like a bagel store and Carvel.

"Let's go get ice cream," I suggested. EJ immediately thought that was a good idea. She loves ice cream. At age four she had gotten so excited at the promise of an ice cream sandwich from the freezer that in her jumping up and down she had slipped and smacked her chin squarely on the floor. I can still feel the impact 20 something years later. She had eaten the ice cream sandwich cuddled in my arms, big bruise on her chin.

She ran to get her yellow rubber boots which she loved. J and I inspected his closet for umbrellas and found a couple. We were prepared to walk out when EJ did a completely uncharacteristic thing and pulled a hair brush out of her bag. Then, while we waited, [and as I tried to close my mouth] she spent several minutes carefully brushing her long hair into a neat, smooth fall. Wow, I thought, was this the kid I'd had to throw into the shower a couple of years ago after a solid week of refusing to take a bath?

I didn't say anything. I figured this was something new and age-appropriate. She was becoming a young lady and I was pleased that she cared about her hair. We left the building and started the three block walk.

Midway to our destination, we ran into a series of big puddles on the sidewalk. Without hesitating, EJ ran ahead and leaped into the middle of the biggest, making a lovely, satisfying splash. I burst out laughing. The contrast between the necessary hair brushing and this kid who jumped into puddles was so beautifully drawn.

It was also comforting that my daughter could be girly, but remain a kid in some ways, and not feel embarrassed to be exuberantly joyful about splashing in the rain. I found this to be a healthy sign that maybe she could manage to be feminine without the self-consciousness and exaggerated ‘female’ behavior that afflicts so many young girls.

The years that have passed have revealed this to be so. A slender-but-never-skinny, beautiful young woman with a healthy appetite who is highly skilled with make-up and hair, she does not use her femininity, ever, to manipulate. People tell me she is beautiful. I always counter with "She is a really, really good person."

She considers herself 'one of the guys,' and has always had male pals. One year, while working for a sports radio station, she befriended several pro football players. Always careful about how she did her laundry, she called me one Saturday night from the luxury digs of one particular friend -- a huge, scary-looking guy with a warm smile and compete respect for both EJ and her mama -- to wash her clothes in a spotless laundry room [heavenly] and watch videos of games. Only my kid, I thought.

The tiny green shoots of girlhood have grown into a breathtaking yin blossom of a woman, but with enough yang strength and toughness to assure the flower of a long, healthy bloom.

Thursday, January 25, 2007

A Short Diatribe on Certain Doctors

My brother is sick. What he has most people do not recover from. My sisters and my other brother intend that he will survive. He has one doctor who is a real mensch. When we leave his office we feel really good. He doesn't surgarcoat. But he doesn't stand aloof and 'pronounce' either.

Recently he advised my brother to see a surgeon. The surgeon he recommended did not take the right insurance so we went with a colleague. Esteemed, the right letters after his name, big deal at a very well-known teaching hospital -- it was hellish. He kept us waiting, didn't apologize, then proceeded, coldly, to insist surgery would not happen: would never happen. It was too late. He kept stressing that anything he would do would NOT be curative. He mentioned the phrase "quality of life" maybe 35 times. He said that PET scans were not perfect and there was much still present they couldn't pick up. Then, when tiring of our questions, he got up and went to the door.

Talking with my sister later, she blurted out "They don't want to look bad if the patient dies, so they purposely talk as if he will. If he dies, they didn't do anything wrong. If he lives, they're heroes. They can't stand not being able to fix it so they protect themselves from failure."

Yeah, I can understand that. Nobody wants to fail someone who is so sick. But we're not stupid. We've looked at statistics. We know what could happen.

But when the yang impulse to protect is thwarted by a situation that cannot be helped, it's the wrong move to put it on the person who is sick, by saying, in essence: you're gonna die, and I can't really help you, and anything I do will be to make you comfortable, but it's not going to cure you. What a message: You make me feel inadequate by being sick, by having something I can't cure. I don't like feeling inadequate. I am powerful. I AM A SURGEON.

And they act it out, by being cold and peremptory. Instead of putting the patient's feelings first, they protect their own feelings of importance. No-one can ever say they didn't tell the truth. There were no false promises made. No hope was allowed to interfere with their prognostications. It's almost childish. Strutting, self-important people with truly fragile inner selves, this is how they protect their power.

Want to have real power? BE HUMBLE and BE COMPASSIONATE. That's real strength.

Sunday, January 21, 2007

Attraction: Part I

Dear A:

Sorry for the long hiatus . . . let's get right to it: You have to be absolutely sure, in your heart, that you know there isn't much chance this man is going to surprise you one day and sweep you off your feet. And let's say that happened: Would you want, no, do you really need, you, yourself need, a man who, when under duress, would not seek out your support and lovingkindness, but choose to isolate himself?

There are lots of people around, men and women, who live in little emotional hidey-holes. There are also lots of the other kind of people: The ones who are adept at coaxing those other people out, proving to them it's safe, and thinking that this constitutes a relationship instead of an act of charity; after all, it is a kind thing to do -- offering friendship to someone who isn't able to do it on his/her own.

I have been there. [Oh. Have I. I am a post-doc in coaxing.] Many of us have: There is some evidence a person likes you and may want to have a relationship with you. And boy oh boy, attraction is like walking into the light, isn't it? Almost nothing feels better. [Want a couple of all-expense-paid days at a spa, then a free trip to Paris and a brand new wardrobe? . Ummm, Oh, No . . . I think I’ll stay around during this ice storm in case he calls . . .]

Add that irresistible attraction to loneliness and you have a potent combination and a nice, powerful tug-of-war between the coulds and shoulds. But, Damn! That light is a sneaky thing. It blinds you to all of the reality. It lets you see some of it. And you get really good at manufacturing the rest of it. You ever read a mystery book or see a movie in which the plot skillfully leads you in one direction? And then BOOM! It shows you how wrong you were and just how good you are at building scenarios. [Nice quality in a fiction writer, terrible in a vulnerable, lonely person.]

If, after you have read this, you still want to offer this guy 'friendship,' do it with this in mind: You can make the offer, but you better step back and protect yourself and respect your own need for a full-time, really-there man who will give freely because he loves you and wants to make you happy.

Friday, January 12, 2007

It isn't about you

My note to anonymous brought a further clarification of her situation. It's a place more of us have been than we care to remember.

Most people want connection. We want to be seen and appreciated and, at best, loved and even cherished for ourselves. But getting to that person, finding the right connection can seem like an exercise in futility. Yet it is one of the most primary aspects of being human. We forge long-term relationships with people who share our lives, dreams, homes; people we lie next to in that most intimate and vulnerable of states -- sleep. Finding the right, 'safe' person to be with can take a long time and lead us down dead-end roads, cul-de-sacs, and cause us to question ourselves endlessly as we try to figure out what we want and does he/she have it.

I have studied people in relationships for years. When I understood the principles of yin and yang and started applying them to real life situations, I was amazed, humbled by the simple, elegant and beautiful dance of energy between people. So for "A" I have some simple advice: Go where the energy is.

Yin is a receptive and nurturing energy. A woman, delicate yin creature that she is [and even the toughest, ball-busting, aggressive/assertive woman has a place of female yin] will bend over backwards [luckily women are, generally speaking, more flexible than men] to accommodate the needs of the people she cares about. This is a wonderful, life-affirming quality. But, yin must be protected by yang energy. This is a rule of the Tao; it is part of the dynamic of the flow of yin and yang. And it means that within each of us, from the most yin female to the most yang male, and everything in between, our yang must protect our yin.

Now, without going on and on [and believe me, I could . . . ] boundaries are yang; and one important way a woman uses her yang is to set boundaries - emotional ones - to protect herself from being hurt. A yang boundary which will stop her from over-accommodating and over-rationalizing behavior that is hurting her.

When a person makes his goals the most important thing he has to accomplish, and a relationship is not part of those goals; when his focus is so intent he cannot allow even the smallest softness for a few hours, he is not open to the possibility of connection. But a gigantic mistake people make at this juncture is "If I was . . . he would."

Nope. Nope. Nope. Because it isn't about you. It has nothing to do with you. It has to do with him: His goals, his life, what he feels he has to do. And this is SO HARD for a lot of women to understand. Because, generally speaking, we are more balanced. And we think, well, they ARE human, how different can they be?

Here's how different: Yang is a Samurai-class boundary-setting machine. In a guy who has a lot of yang, it can be damned near impenetrable. Waterproof, fireproof, tears-proof, shut off from emotions, narrowly focused -- a guy who is in that state is not open to the other parts of life that are outside his quest.

You, A, are a smart and perceptive woman. You mean to have a relationship. And so you will. Be patient, give yourself time. You learned more about yourself and you sure learned more about what you want. You did not 'blow' anything. But don't wait around. There is not only one true person for each of us; the odds are really a whole lot better.

Thursday, January 11, 2007

Note To Anonymous . . .

There are a lot of decent men out there. About as many as there are decent women. My guy's spirit shone through all the trappings of his life. He didn't care about certain unessential things. Why should I? When you really think about what you do with the person you live with, the real ups and downs of life, the daily struggle each of us goes through to make our lives better and deal with mundane crap; the person you want at your side is someone who agrees with you on the big stuff, thinks you are cool and smart, and is compassionate about your faults. Of course you want to be attracted to him, and of course you want to be able to have fun with him.

If you are like many women, you will be willing to give a lot in your relationship. You need a guy who will respect your generosity, and understand it comes from love and strength -- that wonderful, enduring, quietly powerful, female [yin] strength -- and be willing to give of himself, in return.

Now, down to practical matters: You must do what you love, fill your life with your passions and enthusiasms, nurture your relationships with those close to you, and very importantly: take good care of yourself; your health, your emotional life [especially setting healthy boundaries]. This makes you a full person, happy to be with yourself, joyous and vital.

Maybe write in a journal about who you are and what you really want. Ask everyone you know whom you trust if they know any good guys. My guy wrote a long and very specific personal ad. Something of his spirit came through. So obviously I believe in ads. But they only work if you know yourself AND know what you want.

And Good Luck. You sound like a lovely, gentle, thoughtful soul. I wish you the best.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Nature vs Nurture

Two readers who commented on The Games Men Play post seem to think that gender behavior is learned. But that's not exactly what 'games' is about. It's about a quality of YANG energy. And women who are very yang will have some of that behavior, too. Just not to the degree a very yang male will.

And inherent in yang energy is the need to challenge oneself. That is a part of the natural order. What is not a part of the natural order is
when we try to reinforce what we mistakenly believe are male or female traits. That is perverse. It is perverse to push a boy to be more aggressive, to stifle his emotions, swallow his pain. Just like it is perverse to hold an energetic little girl back because she is noisy and give her dolls and tiny ovens with fake food.

The REASON it is perverse? Because you don't have to teach people gender behavior. It is what they are born with and each of them will find their way to what it means to be male or female.

I think there are a bunch of reasons people get upset at the notion that certain gender behaviors are innate.

One reason is that women think it means they will be prevented from doing, or seen as not capable of doing, whatever men do. But short of standing up to pee and being able to aim it, women have proved they can do anything men can do. The fact that they can accomplish what men can does not mean, however, that they must always do it the same way that men do. We are different, but we are damn sure equal.

Another reason is that what most people think of as 'gender' behavior is really an overblown caricature of what it means to be male or female. The stuff people are socialized to think of as gender-related. The brainwashing of society, supported by all forms of media, to keep people in roles that don't rock the boat.

The kinds of things I am writing about are more subtle. And have to do more with male and female energy as expressed, in different ways, by men and women. Understanding and accepting our differences will allow us to understand and accept our own strengths.

Each of us has our own combination of yin and yang. There are very yin men and very yang women. But men, by nature, are more yang; and women, by nature, are more yin. That's NATURE not NURTURE. And it's a good thing. Because we need every permutation of energetic balance in order to survive.

And p.s. --
It might be helpful to read the post entitled "Understanding Yin and Yang."

Tuesday, January 9, 2007

The Games Men Play

Now, before any women reading this lick your chops, prepared to witness a roast of certain male traits, take a breath and open your minds. What I am about to reveal about men may come as a surprise to most women: It will not be surprising to most men, who are born with the urge to challenge themselves on a daily basis.

A really strong characteristic of male energy [yang], is the desire to win, the need to win. This is not pathological, merely an attribute of yang energy. In order to be ready to respond with speed and power, there must be practice drills. Just like the various tests of emergency response teams. "Can I do it?" "Will I meet the challenge?" "Am I worthy?" "Will I be ready?"

I happened to mention this phenomenon to my car mechanic, a tough-minded guy who likes to keep his life simple. He nodded and didn't say much. But a few days later, when I went to pick up my car, he said, "Hey, you know that thing you were talking about -- you know, the games guys play?"

It seems he was in the habit of driving his car until for 400 miles on each tank of gas, sometimes pushing it to 425, before he would submit to pulling into a gas station. [Apparently, gassing up before then would be 'losing.'] "Well, I was driving home that night and I was passing a gas station, and I thought, why don't I just get gas now, instead of taking the chance I'd run out. Because then I'd have to walk. But I never thought about the consequence before. I just was in the habit of making a game out of trying to make it to 400."

When I asked him if he thought most men did not consider the consequences of the games they play 'against' themselves, he said, "Nope, we just want the challenge and we want to win." Then he made a joke about women in the military -- why they wouldn't work in combat, because they'd be saying "Wait a minute -- that's dumb."

I'm not 100 percent sure, but this may be the operating principle behind why a lot of men shop for Christmas on the 24th, and let certain chores go until the last minute. They may be increasing the tension, stacking the odds,
getting themselves 'up' for it, making a 'real game' out of an otherwise boring, unexciting task. One they can then 'win.' How else can they be sure they are 'OK;' all systems intact, and operating at full and potent speed.

Talk to a guy in your life about this. You might find the answer very interesting. Oh, and yes, since women have yang energy, we do things like this, too. Just not to the extent a guy does.

Wednesday, January 3, 2007

Male Energy Burnout

Chinese Medicine has loads of information on how to improve virility, increase life expectancy, become more potent, etc. Some of it is ancient hoo-doo, [sleeping with a slew of virgins, as, say, opposed to your wife does not increase anything in your own body.] Some of it is based on really sound principles, tested and proven over several thousand years, like supplementing kidney jing and chi through acupuncture, herbs and lifestyle modifications.

Jing is the life force we are all born with. Some of us have more than others. Want to see it in action? Look at pictures of any president at the beginning of his term and four or eight years later. Big difference. He’s burned out/used up his jing at an accelerated rate. Or check out speed freaks. What meth does to them is, in effect, extremely accelerated aging. Are you saying to yourself, WELL I don't do anything terrible like that? You may not be using illegal drugs to do it, but every time you override feedback from your body that you are tired and pushing past your limitations, you are going into debt with your kidney jing.

Can it be replaced? Not entirely. Jing is like our own personal candle wick. All you can really do is slow down the rate you are using it up. Way down, if you are smart and listen to your body. For each of us, there is an end, of course. We are not immortal.

Chi is the essential energy of the kidney. It is burned out by overuse of adrenals [fight or flight] and lifestyle imbalances. People who become exhausted have weak kidney chi. So do most people who are ill with chronic diseases. Depleting kidney chi weakens the immune system.

The profligate use of Yang [male] energy is responsible for a major part of misuse and abuse of an individual's life force. Here's a rule of nature: Yang energy must protect yin energy, which in return nurtures yang. If you are too busy, don’t get enough rest, do not stop when you reach a breaking point, do not listen to your body, regularly use stimulants to be ‘up,’ when you consistently seek the adrenalin rush because it makes you feel ‘alive,’ you are not protecting your yin and you are using up life force that you may not be able to replace.

From within our bodies, to our relationships, to every corner of the world, the biggest and most obvious imbalance of yin and yang is: Privileging male energy, in any form, over yin – female energy. The most aggressive, fastest person does not always accomplish a task more effectively than a slower, more thoughtful, more yin individual. [It may feel great to have to wind rush past your face, but is that real speed or just a breeze from a fan?]

is great when it ‘absolutely has to be there the next day’ but for most situations, three day mail delivery works just as well. Lots of us feel really good when we are speedy and accomplish a huge amount of work. But there is a big price for the overuse of yang energy. Much better to balance our yin and yang, and enjoy the ride, instead of rushing to each destination as fast as we can. And, above all, it enables us to meet each day, refreshed and energized by a balanced lifestyle, for years to come.

Tuesday, January 2, 2007

About me and my book

I am a grown-up. My sense of humor and irreverence hides a hard-won compassion. I know I can write, have done it as easily as I breathe for most of my life, yet never felt the impetus to be noticed for it. I have started books, sometimes writing 50 or 60 pages, before I lost interest and went on to something else.

What changed is the moment I write about in the intro to The Tao of Gender: I saw something amazing and wonderful and huge: a way to translate an ancient paradigm for modern use and excite men and women by explaining their respective behaviors in a way that would be utterly true, sometimes funny, sometimes poignant, and completely exciting. I love doing crosswords, and this is the crossword puzzle of a lifetime.

Once I started writing this book, it all came flooding in. I have had the eerie feeling I have been chosen to receive this knowledge. This flies against all of my beliefs, yet it manages to humble me. It is unthinkable that I not do it justice. It has elevated my writing several notches. At the risk of causing a strong gagging reflex in the reader: It sanctifies me.

I love to take a situation – any situation – and explain the interplay of yin and yang in the situation and how it not only applies to real life, but how understanding it can change people’s understanding and appreciation of each other. It’s kind of like a nature-based couples’ therapy.

We live in the greatest, most amazing place in the history of the world. We have a diversity of cultures and knowledge that is unprecedented. I believe it is incumbent upon us to integrate anything useful we learn from other cultures. But since we are living in this culture, we can also use language that is our own, as long as it is true to the principles of what we have learned.

As a practitioner of Chinese medicine, I can say to a patient: you have excess liver yang. I can then explain that I will sedate the liver and balance the chi and tonify the spleen, in order to encourage the liver chi to move downward.

I can use language that is technically correct, but obstructs understanding. I can be the expert and seem slightly mysterious, the glamor of using another language elevating me as a practitioner of ancient healing arts. Some people like this. The distance gives them confidence in my knowledge. One patient even suggested I wear a white coat to further legitimatize my advice and increase the appearance of authority.

There is another approach, one that I am more comfortable with because it is direct and speaks the language of my patients.

I can say: You have excess liver yang. What that means is that your lifestyle is too intense for your health, your digestion is suffering, you aren’t sleeping enough, and because of these things, you are out of balance and this manic energy is running your life, giving you headaches and making you really irritable. I love a good cup of coffee like a lot of people, but having 5 cups a day just to stay juiced is over the top. To a greater or lesser degree, you are like one of the 70 - 80% of people living in the greater NY metropolitan area. Big cities breed this intensity, which is fun and feels good – until it affects your health. Then you wanna slow down and smell the roses – before it makes you really sick.

I reframe the principles of yin and yang in new modern frames which fit in with contemporary 21st century culture. Taoism can be applied anywhere, and understanding the balance of yin and yang especially as they relate to gender roles and behavior can have you saying Oh! Of Course! about stuff you found hard to fathom in the opposite gender.

I'm really loving all that's involved in writing the book, even the [oh God] editing, which is painful, but ultimately exciting; cutting away the excess stone reveals a cleaner sculpture underneath. But I gotta wear goggles and I sweat a lot.