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Monday, November 8, 2010

Today On A Placemat ...

Usually, Fridays are the day at work where a few of us "splurge" and go out for lunch. But today, myself and three other co-workers were lamenting over particularly rough weekends ... some physical, some emotional ... and we decided to treat ourselves to lunch at the Golden Phoenix, my favorite Chinese restaurant in the whole metropolitan area.

It's not much to look at ... a brick storefront among other brick storefronts. And the only parking is down a side street two blocks away. But they make a garlic shrimp with snowpeas and carrots that must be on the menu in Heaven!

Anyway, we were seated and each of us was telling our weekend war stories. My mind drifted a bit and I perused the paper placemat under my plate. I'd read the little paragraphs about the various Chinese zodiac characters dozens of time ... I eat here A LOT!! But this time I looked with a bit of skepticism because I had recently learned a bit more about the nature of the Eastern philosophy behind it.

In a nutshell ... and apologies to any readers who think I am oversimplifying things ... Buddha, or the "awakened one," lived around 560 BC to 480 BC in India. He was a very serious man and often concerned with the nature of the human condition. So Buddha set out on various quests to learn and experience life firsthand. His teachings eventually became the foundation of several Eastern religions and predominant schools of thought.

Anyway, the story goes that Buddha was preparing to leave the earthly plane and he invited all the animals to attend a banquet. One interpretation says that out of all the creatures on the planet only 12 showed up. Another version explains that Buddha's domain was separated by the surrounding countryside by a mighty river and only 12 animals had the strength or courage or ingenuity to successfully cross the rapid current. In their honor, Buddha named a year for each of their spirits and incorporated their attributes into the population.

Thus ... in order of their arrival ... the Chinese name a year for the Rat, the Ox, the Tiger, the Hare (or Rabbit), the Dragon, the Snake, the Horse, the Sheep (or Ram), the Monkey, the Rooster (or Cock), the Dog, and the Pig. When a person is born, their time of birth brings them under the influence of certain animal spirits. The lunar animal is associated with the actual birth year ... not the "solar" or calendar year we're familiar with, but the Chinese lunar year which runs basically early February to late January. That's why those placemat predictions are so sketchy ... many people born in January like myself have a misguided idea of their over-riding spirit. Anyway, our lunar animal affects us most as we grow up and shapes how we present ourselves to the world at large. This spirit is also how many people perceive us in general terms.

Each individual also has an inner animal which corresponds to a set number of days within the year. The attributes we gain from this animal spirit are believed by the majority of Eastern philosophers and astrologers to be our true defining nature. The inner animal manifests when we are adults and is very difficult to be altered or swayed.

And then there is a primary secret animal linked to us by the hours of the day in which we were born. Secret animals give us subtle characteristics that most people only recognize once they've known us for a while. But these forces play a key role in how we develop friendships and deeper attachments.

Each animal also brings with it a focal point of yin yang (or masculinity vs femininity), the earthly elements for which we feel an affinity toward (fire, water, metal, earth, etc.), and membership in groupings called trines that further strengthen our personalities.

I myself, dear readers, was birthed in the Year of the Monkey. My lunar spirit ... Shenshi ... helps me be inventive, artistic, quick-witted, and sociable at the best of times. Monkeys thirst for knowledge and ask loads of questions. Monkeys set goals and make lists. They have keen memories and thrive in environments where things change quickly.

But Monkeys walk a fine line most of their adult lives. They enjoy being the center of attention and often seek the spotlight. In some cultures, the Monkey is also called "the Prankster," using his own humor and cleverness to gain favor with others. But Monkeys often go overboard and offend those around them or unintentionally hurt the feelings of friends, family, and co-workers.

Monkeys also have a unique "handicap" of being creatures with tons of ideas but not the best verbal skills. They often can't articulate the things in their heads and end up looking confused or unprepared. Individuals born in the Year of the Monkey often have trouble shutting down their creativity and enjoying a good night's sleep.

At their lowest, Monkeys are selfish, suspicious of others motives, and often immature.

I couldn't be any more of a Monkey if I was swinging from a vine and throwing around my fecal matter!!

My inner animal spirit ... Youshi the Rooster ... grants me superior problemsolving skills and the drive to stay organized. But the Rooster is a prideful spirit ... sometimes overconfident. He takes on lots of tasks but doesn't always have the resources to complete them adequately. And that turns the Rooster into a cuckoo!! The Rooster can easily become critical of himself and others, presenting a very abrasive facade. Roosters are truthful but blunt ... seldom a crowd pleaser. And when a Rooster sees the accomplishments of others ... things that appear to have been completed with relative ease ... he is instantly colored with jealousy.

Personally, the Monkey/Rooster double whammy is trouble. Both spirits seek the limelight ... in actions and ideas. This can cause extreme behaviors and even a sort of "spiritual war" within.

Now comes my secret animal lumbering in ... Choushi the Ox. Dependable and determined are two of this spirits greatest gifts. Oxen are very logical. We have a strong work ethic but sometimes view those who don't rather harshly. We Oxen can be stubborn and sometimes overlook good alternatives because we feel our own ideas are always best. Oxen seek several long-term friends over lots of casual acquaintances.

For me, the Monkey and the Ox wage constant battle ... social vs. loner, flirting and "getting around" vs. wanting to find a perfect, dependable mate. But interestingly enough, the Ox and the Rooster make great friends ... sharing tendencies toward materialism and jealousy ... so at least those two spirits can stop by my liver and have a beer of three while they bitch about missed opportunities in their lives!

Of my three significant spirits ... some philosophers believe there are dozens linked to certain aspects of our lives ... two (Rooster and Ox) are ruled by yin, or a more feminine, maternal, and nurturing side. Two of the three (Monkey and Rooster) have an affinity toward metal which adds an element of stability to their influence.

I mentioned trines earlier ... umbrella groupings of animal spirits. My Monkey resides within the First Trine, the most powerful and intense grouping of the Chinese zodiac pantheon. Residents share strong leadership skills as well as a tendency to get frustrated when faced with too many rules or limitations. My remaining guides (Rooster and Ox) both hang out in the Second Trine. These spirits share a fondness for being judgmental and rigid about their opinions.
Anyone who knows me well can verify that all three beasts are alive and kicking!

POINT OF RANT: We should have ordered more egg rolls ... the Ox is a real Pig!!

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