Tag Archives: yin and yang

Welcoming the Rat

Today we are welcoming the Rat! The first sign of the Chinese zodiac, this Yang Metal Rat makes his entrance January 25, 2020 and remains through February 11, 2021.

Animal years, according to the ancient lunar Chinese calendar, are grouped, not into decades as in the Western world, but into cycles of 12, beginning with the Year of the Rat and ending with the Year of the Pig. Each year is governed by one of the twelve Animals and each has its own particular character. The sign of the Rat, being the first sign in the cycle, imbues Rat people with leadership qualities.

How did the Rat become first in the cycle? The most widespread Chinese zodiac legend tells of a great race.  The Jade Emperor (The Emperor in Heaven in Chinese folklore) ordered that animals would be designated as calendar signs and the twelve that arrived first would be selected. On that day, the rat got up very early and rushed to the gathering site. The steadfast Ox led the way, happily thinking he would be the first sign of the years, but at the last minute, the opportunistic Rat scampered over the Ox’s back to arrive first, becoming the first animal of the Chinese zodiac. The Ox came second, followed by the Tiger, Rabbit, Dragon, Snake, Horse, Sheep, Monkey, Rooster, Dog and Pig.

In Chinese culture, the Rat is seen as a sign of wealth and surplus. Clever and quick thinkers, Rats are successful, but content with living a quiet and peaceful life.The Rat is the Chinese zodiac sign known for being inquisitive, shrewd, and resourceful. Because the Rat is the first in the rotation of the 12 zodiac signs, meaning that a Rat year is a year of renewal. So when a Rat year comes, it generally delivers new experiences with favorable outcomes for all of the signs.

36746077 - five elements, creation and destructive circlesIn addition to the 12-year rotation of the Animals, the classical Chinese Five Element Theory also
plays a part in the energy of the year. This theory holds that the Elements Water, Wood, Fire, Earth, and Metal, significantly modify the quality or nature of whomever or whatever they represent. The Element Water encourages qualities of sensitivity and persuasiveness, Wood enhances creativity and imagination, Fire produces dynamism and passion, Earth instills stability and practicality and Metal adds strength of will. The Metal influence of 2020, suggests a strong and purposeful year.

Ancient Chinese philosophers and scientists understood that the world is in a constant state of YinYangchange, yet moves through a distinct framework of cycles, each having an opposite and equal value, such as night and day, cold and hot and birth and death. This concept of duality forming a
whole is referred to as Yin and Yang; it explains how seemingly opposite, or contrary, forces may actually be complementary, interconnected, and interdependent in the natural world. Yin contains the seed of Yang and vise versa and they constantly transform into each other. Just as a state of total Yin is reached, Yang begins to grow. Depicted by the Yin/Yang symbol, Yin is considered more passive while Yang is considered more active. Yang is the energetic influence in 2020.

 This Yang Metal Rat bodes a strong, prosperous, and lucky year. Rat years are the perfect time to save, but not a time to go without. The Metal Element supports all the signs in demonstrating  determination and persistence regarding goals and aspirations. And while it is always important to strive for a balance of Yin and Yang, it is especially important this year as we enter a new 12-year cycle.

May this New Year bring balance in your life, strength that never weakens,
joys that never fade, and hopes that never diminish.
Wishing you a Happy Chinese New Year and an auspicious 2020.

Power and Beauty

TempleI was eager to see the Minneapolis Institute of Art exhibit, Power and Beauty in the Qing Dynasty, China’s last. This exhibit consists of a series of 10 rooms with a thematic progression. As is described in the brochure, each room evokes an aspect of life within China’s Imperial palace during the Qing dynasty, which ruled for more than 250 years, until 1911. It was a golden age of art and on view were items that revealed the splendor of royal gatherings, mystic teachings, and the sacred rhythms of nature

I fell in love with China when I first traveled there in the mid-nineties. It was about a year or so before Feng Shui came into my life! The beauty of the people, their culture and history and their stunning art captivated me. So when I received notice of this exhibit in collaboration with renowned international theatre and opera director, Robert Wilson, I was intrigued!

YinYangThe exhibit brilliantly uses the ancient Chinese philosophy of duality, symbolized by Yin and Yang throughout. Ushered into the first room of the exhibit, you are plunged into darkness. It was a bit disorienting. In that Yin of darkness, we were invited to meditate. If you looked carefully upon exiting, you became aware of a single black vase in the shadow.

From the emptiness of this darkened room, containing the scarcity of a single Wallpaper01vase, you transition to a display of abundance. On view in the second room are Qing dynasty treasures: jade statues, delicately painted plates and bowls, rhinoceros tusks intricately carved into vases, cloisonné candlesticks and exquisite cinnabar boxes. The Five Elements come into play on the white walls filled with more images of stunning treasures, invoking the discernment and refinement of the Metal Element.

Gown04The rigid order and hierarchy of the emperor, as he presided over the courts and the people, is next presented in a display of eight gorgeous robes, arrayed according to rank.The walls are thatched with straw. Brown in color and layered horizontally suggest the Earth Element, which denotes industry and practicality. This is in powerful contrast with the authority and wealth depicted in the elaborately embroidered silk robes, embodying the Metal Element.

Moving from Emperor to common man. the next room holds a single tiny bronze human figure. The very dark blue walls, suggest the Water Element. The Water Element is represented by fluidity and flow; it is the storehouse of vital essence. The display suggests the people, the common man, will ultimately prevail.

The next area compels you to enter, although with a modicum of hesitancy. A Dragonhuge red dragon covering all four red walls is intimidating. Red has the highest vibrational energy of all the colors, making this is the most Yang of all the rooms. The centerpiece of this space, sitting below the dragon’s head, is the imperial throne, reminding us of the Emperor’s unmitigated power. This room embodies fearsome authority.

StatueThe adjoining room was my favorite. Reflective light on the walls, suggesting the Metal Element, is the backdrop to five Buddhist statues elevated on pedestals. The room was filled with Buddhist chanting, which inspires feelings of devotion and religious awe. I was transported back to my times in Tibet, where I have had the privilege of sitting in many temples listening to Buddhist chanting. I was mesmerized then and was mesmerized here.

Transitioning to the seventh room, I noticed the floor felt different; it was suggestive of walking on a dirt road. The ground beneath one’s feet constitutes the Earth Element. It is our connection with the universe. Three Taoist paintings featuring supreme deities are the focal point in this room. Taoist belief is aligned with the Feng Shui principle, everything is energy. Taoism believes that all life is energy, energy is in constant motion, life is a transformative process, nourished by the shifting from one quality of energy to another.

ShoesThe next area was devoted to women of the Qing dynasty. Not surprising, women in Imperial society did not enjoy the status afforded to men. The walls, covered with large pieces of scrunched up foil, produced shiny reflection, suggestive of the Metal Element. Furniture items, including a four-poster bed, beautiful robes and elaborate headdresses gave insights into a women’s life out of public view. I thought the most fascinating and disturbing item on display was the pair of tiny shoes that represent the popular way the Chinese displayed status in that time. Because wealthy women did not need their feet to work, they had them bound. Foot binding became a symbol of beauty in Chinese culture until it was outlawed in 1912, following the end of the Qing dynasty. I wonder if the expression, beauty feels no pain, originated in this period.

The item I most admire in the MIA is the massive jade carved “mountain!” When I firstJade
visited the museum in the early 1970’s, I was captivated by it and it remains my favorite. During this exhibit, it has been appropriately relocated to the “Mountain” room. China’s mountains are considered divine realms and the walls in this room are covered with mountainscapes, an Earth Element.

Vase02The final room, with its white floor and glowing walls is a Yang room; it’s color, and the presence of a single white Qing Imperial jade vase, embodies the refined, discriminating Metal Element. The tour, which begins in darkness (Yin), ends in lightness (Yang).

This exhibit is both theatrical and traditional. It was delightfulfrom my Feng Shui perspective, to observe how Yin and Yang and the Five Elements were integrated. The surprise blending of four of our senses – sight, smell, hearing and touch – further enhanced this unique experience. It was a creative opportunity to immerse in and appreciate the power and beauty of the MIA’s collections from the Qing Dynasty.

Along Comes the Winter Solstice

As the countdown to Christmas continues and the holiday rush to complete preparations is at its peak, along comes the Winter Solstice, welcoming the official beginning of winter.Moon2Many Chinese consider the solstice a time for optimism and joy and hold celebrations on this day. The Winter Solstice is a perfect example of the theory of Yin and Yang. In Chinese philosophy, Yin symbolizes the feminine, womb-like qualities of the universe while Yang the masculine, more dynamic energy. The concept is based on the observation that when something has reached one extreme, it will turn to the opposite, seeking balance. On the day of the Winter Solstice, the Yin is at its peak with the longest night. From then on, it will give way to the light and warmth of Yang.

The word “solstice” is Latin for “sun-stand still.” It occurs exactly when the Earth’s axial tilt is
farthest away from the sun, bringing the shortest day and the longest night of the year. Winter Solstice marks the great stillness before the Sun’s strength builds, and days begin to grow longer.

The Solstice has long been honored by many traditions as a sacred and rich time. In ancient times, dark and dreary December was a most dreaded time of year because the lack of heat and limited food supply could be disastrous. Thus, to many people the promise of lighter days after the Winter Solstice was cause to celebrate and acknowledge that nature’s cycle was continuing.While interpretation of the event has varied, most cultures have viewed it as recognition of rebirth. Holidays, festivals, gatherings, rituals and other celebrations were created to celebrate this event.

st_lucia2The return of the light is the most prominent feature of most midwinter festivals. In Sweden on St. Lucia’s Day, young girls don white dresses and a wreath of candles and awaken their families with cakes and songs. In the Jewish tradition, Hanukkah, the Festival of Lights, is celebrated by 8 days of lighting the menorah candles. There is the advent wreath of the Christian faith and the all-night bonfire for the burning of the Yule log, a tradition with roots in Northern European pre-Christian times.

ChristmasTree2Cultural winter traditions have evolved and include decorating with evergreens, adding lights to outdoor treesoutdoor trees, using fire pits or fireplaces, feasting and gathering with friends and family. These activities create a festive mood and may help to counter complaints of increased moodiness, tiredness, malaise and inactivity due to the lack of sunlight, (officially recognized as SAD, or Seasonal Affective Disorder) and the stresses of the holidays.

This year, the Winter Solstice is December 21. Since the Solstice also marks a time of new beginnings, we can begin to think about what we want to let go of and what we want to create as we move ever closer to 2015.  I appreciate the opportunity the Winter Solstice provides to pause during this often-frenzied holiday time and reflect on the beauty of the season and consider what is personally meaningful to each of us.


I heard a bird sing
In the dark of December,
A magical thing
And sweet to remember,
We are nearer to spring
Than we were in September.
I heard a bird sing
                        In the dark of December.– Oliver Herford

May your Holiday be wrapped in warmth, touched with wonder, and filled with love.

Following Frank Continues

The third in my Following Frank series found us traveling to Chicago this past May.  These focused trips began several years ago when we took a road trip with friends to Spring Green, WI specifically to tour Taliesin, Frank Lloyd Wright’s summer home. That was followed by our trip to Mason City, Iowa to stay in the famous Historic Park Inn Hotel, the newly renovated and last remaining hotel designed and built by Frank Lloyd Wright.

Now it was time to fulfill a long planned trip to Chicago by train to tour Oak Park, Ill, home to the largest collection of Wright-designed residential properties in the world! It was always our plan to travel there by train which, we learned, was more expensive than flying. But we were all about the experience!


We arrived at the Amtrak station bright and early for a 7:55 a.m. departure. After comfortably settling in, our eight hour journey began with the rumbling, hissing, and screeching train song. I enjoyed being lulled by the gentle swaying movement except, of course, when trying to walk from one car to another.

Concerned about the quality of food we might encounter on the train, I brought snacks. We soon learned it wasn’t necessary. We were pleasantly surprised to have a delicious breakfast and lunch, both served on white linen cloths and with courteous service!

The scenery was beautiful all along the way; it was a treat to view the countryside from a different vantage point. Lake01

We arrived at the busy terminal in Chicago where we easily found and retrieved our luggage. Then a short cab ride took us to our hotel, the Hyatt Regency on Wacker Dr. It turned out to be a great location as it was walking distance to everything we wanted to see during our stay.

Following our check in, we discovered Big Bar in the hotel lobby! Time for a toast to Chicago! But, even better, we discovered Big Bar has a designated drink named after Frank Lloyd Wright. No hesitation there! We toasted Frank Lloyd Wright with, well, a Frank Lloyd Wright!


We then walked several blocks to have dinner at the Purple Pig. It had been recommended with a warning to expect a long wait. The wait turned out to be one and a half hours. Fortunately it was a lovely evening, allowing us to enjoy waiting outside on their large patio while visiting with interesting people from all over the country. Rewarded with fabulous food and service, we unanimously agreed it was well worth the wait!

The next morning, we were picked up at the hotel for our private tour of the Frank Lloyd Wright architecture in Oak Park, Ill. A suburb of Chicago, Oak Park has the largest concentration of Frank Lloyd Wright buildings in the world.This collection of homes represents the first 30 years of Wright’s career and allows us to see the development and perfection of his signature Prairie Style architecture.

Our first stop was a tour of Unity Temple, home of the Unitarian Universalist Congregation.  Built between 1905 and 1908, it was among Wright’s favorite commissions. His desire to create a house of worship expressing the powerful simplicity of ancient temples prompted his suggestion that it be called a “temple” rather than a church. Its cubist theme and poured concrete construction were unprecedented in that time.Altar01

Unity Temple exemplifies how Wright used materials, color and geometry to define the character of the spaces. He created anticipation by leading us through low, dark spaces until we emerge into high, light spaces, resulting in a sense of awe. It is a perfect example of moving from yin to yang!

Our next stop was Wright’s private residence and workplace during the first 20 years of his career, and where he raised six children with his first wife, Catherine Tobin. His studio was added to the home in 1898 and it was there, with his associates, he developed the new American architecture, the Prairie style, designing 125 structures, including the Robie House, the Larkin Building and the Unity Temple.

We spent a lot of time in the home and studio, enjoying the feeling of the space. It was warm outside and as we emerged to walk the grounds, we noted an ice cream truck conveniently located curbside in anticipation of the tourists. Following the unexpected but welcome ice-cream break, we commenced our guided walking tour of the gorgeous neighborhoods filled with privately owned Frank Lloyd Wright homes. Home01

As we stood outside one of the houses listening to our guide’s description, we observed the owner out on his lawn playing Frisbee with his dog. It was a reminder that regardless of the historical significance of the architecture, it is still someone’s home!

Our tour concluded with a visit to the Rookery building, located in the heart of Chicago’s financial district. Twelve stories tall, it is considered the oldest standing high-rise in Chicago.The Rookery lobby was remodeled in 1905 by Frank Lloyd Wright who covered nearly every inch of it with incised and gilded marble. It is stunning!


It was a full and satisfying day of Frank Lloyd Wright architecture. Upon returning to our hotel, we decided to see more of Chicago. We walked to Millennium Park, a short distance from the Hyatt. Millennium Park is a public park covering 24.5-acres.  It was originally intended to celebrate the millennium, but wasn’t completed until 2004, four years behind schedule! Because the park sits atop a parking garage and the commuter rail Millennium Station, it is considered the world’s largest rooftop garden.

Sculptures, pavilions, gardens and fountains are among its attractions. I was especially drawn to Cloud Gate, a sculpture said to have been inspired by liquid mercury. It is made up of 168 stainless steel plates welded together creating a highly polished exterior with no visible seams. It provides great photo opportunities, as you can see! Park01

The next morning, prior to our return train ride, we took an hour-long architectural boat tour. It is a highly recommended not to be missed look at the windy city’s many historically and architecturally significant and fascinating buildings.Appt01

We boarded the train, feeling very satisfied with our whirlwind trip to Chicago! We accomplished our goals and, like all great trips, were rewarded with many more memorable experiences than we could have anticipated.




“The good building is not one that hurts the landscape, but one which makes the landscape more beautiful than it was before the building was built.”