A few years ago I was doing a lot of ceramics in my free time (instead of blogging). At one point I was working at a local community college with a guy that was really into Song (900-1200CE)and Ming (1300-1600CE) Dynasty glazes. These glazes are really cool, many of them were developed to represent cosmological principles and to demonstrate different stages of the elixir practice (jindan). Glowing translucent celadons, jun-ware that turns from green to purple, a transparent black that reveals hidden patterns when put in direct sunlight.
The glazes were easy to make but hard to fire. In order to get the correct reduction of oxygen, he had to get the kiln very hot over a day and then add too much gas so that it would start to smoke and the temperature would stall and after several hours start to fall. It was a really finicky process. If he didn't add enough gas, the temperature would keep climbing, and if he added too much if would fall too fast. Both scenarios would ruin the glaze. To make it work he had to watch and continually adjust the process for many hours. And it's not like he could just look at a thermostat, the critical issue was how hot the clay was. When the temperature was rising he could look at clay cones which are pre-formulated to melt at specific temperatures, but that didn't work when the temperature was falling or stalling.
Basically there was a lot of guess work, and he would get really frustrated when he guessed wrong. (It didn't help his liver or his mind-set that he had a habit of running out for fried chicken in the middle of the process.)
So I did a little reading and I realized that kiln firing in China was always done according to the Daoist Calendar. The design of the Daoist Calender makes it easy to calculate an auspicious or an inauspicious day for firing a kiln. So I said to this guy, "The people who invented these cool glazes you are into always used astrological and calendrical calculations to decide when to fire their kilns. Maybe they knew something you don't know? Maybe it would make things easier?"
His frustrated response was, "That's all hokum!"
Wouldn't it be great if you could look ahead on your calender and predict whether you would be in the mood for a hair cut? a movie? doing research? washing the car? or going out to a party? Well, you're dreaming. The future is unknowable.
The Daoist calender doesn't predict anything. It is just a bunch of time (rhythmic) cycles that overlap. Each day (or segment) of each cycle has a lists of activities which are auspicious or inauspicious. Some of these cycles or patterns have a logic to them-- not everyday is a good day to clean the house, eat vegetarian, or work in the garden, but such days should come with some rhythmic regularity.
Why should I care? There are lots of reasons to care. Every time you schedule something in your calendar or decide whether to do it or not, you have to ask your self, "Am I going to want to do that on that day?" "Why not pick the day before, or the day after?" "Will I want to rest or party?" Often there is no rational way to make such a decision. So we make the decision irrationally, or emotionally, or by some strange fleeting quirk.
The Daoist calender externalizes our irrationality. The practice of following the calendar
points out just how irrational we are, but it also allows us to distance ourselves from it so we can be more comfortable with the way we are. More self-respecting of our own rhythmically irrational nature.
If the calender says it's a good day to party, we party, if not we're in bed by 9. No more wishy-washy maybe I'll see how I feel kind of dates. From the moment you discover the Daoist calender, your commitments will be clear, strong and unselfconsciously irrational!
Of course when it comes to gongfu practice never forget, one day missed is ten days lost!