Minor epiphany this morning while playing Taiji: "Walking backward along a circular trail" is a much better description of life than "Marching forward", "The forward march of progress" etc.
My Taiji practice consists of repeating one move while slowly moving along a trail in the woods, and the easterly wind and snow was so strong this morning that I decided to start off walking backwards along the trail to keep the snow out of my face. Watching my footprints extend out in front of me put me in mind of history, while looking to the left and right to get my bearings, and occasionally walking off the trail or stumbling over roots and stumps, made me think of how we can only guess at the future by comparing our present point in history with what we know of the 'circular trail'.
There are many observable and reliable cycles: the rising and falling of the sun, the waxing and waning of the moon, the changes of the seasons...we don't really know what will happen next, but by becoming familiar with these circular trails, and knowing our present position in it, we are able to accurately predict and prepare for what will happen next.
There are many other cycles that are perhaps less directly observable and more contentious, such as 'the rise and fall of civilizations', the natural fluctuation of the economy, etc.
The trail analogy could be extended by talking about the trail representing the range of variables that represent our comfort zone or healthy zone, as in temperature, diet, labor and sleep, etc. As I looked back on my footprints I could see where I had not been able to predict the turnings of the trail and walked into a bush (ouch!). We can look to the past to inform us of our limits, and the consequences of going outside them. At the same time we can take steps to ensure that the trail is even more comfortable, by taking care of the trail as we walk along it (removing fallen branches, trimming the bushes on either side, even putting down flagstones...).
It would seem that many insights could be gained by walking backwards along a circular trail every day!
It occurred to me last week, while I was trying to understand the blurb for Prof. Nappi's talk, that a lot of work in academics revolves around identifying concepts from different cultures and comparing them to each other and to our own.
Bodies, for example.
The first step, of course, is to identify the concept - to conceptualize it. What is a body, in this culture? What are the ideas that revolve around and are wrapped up together with the body? Once you are able to tease out the various strands of thought and form a complete and distinct conceptual image, then it becomes possible to compare that image with those from other cultures, or from different periods in time from a single culture.
I'm currently reading through Liu Lihong's Sikao Zhongyi (《思考中医》，刘力红著), a large part of which involves conceptualizing the 'year' from the perspective of yin and yang. I've realized that my 'year', far from being painted in seasons, is wrapped about the image of a calendar that starts with January and ends with December, with the school year and summer break dividing these months into black and white.
As I work my way through the book, I can feel something tugging at this year-image, bulging and warping its proportions. So this is how it feels to move between concepts! My 'year' will be quite a bit different after I've finished this book!