Hong-Kai Wang with Bopha Chhay

Violet quartz, honey, cinnamon & huanglien

*This text is the preface of ‘Frequencies: Violet quartz, honey, cinnamon & huanglien’, issue 2 of ‘Beacon – a pamphlet series in ten issues’ published by Artspeak (Vancouver, 2022). The publication is comprised of five texts respectively authored by Bill Dietz, Darla Migan, Övül Durmuşoğlu, Hu Shu-Wen, and John Pule.

It all began with the heart. I started having heart palpitations in the late summer of 2020. My heart would pound tirelessly. Sometimes I could feel my pulse beating from my temples, down my neck, and to my wrists. And sometimes I would walk down the street and feel my heart racing so fast that the rest of my body could barely keep up. My heart is a sovereign being, the inside-out of an out-of-body experience. I had an appointment where a cardiologist ran a full blood test on me and had me wear a 24-hour electrocardiogram vest. Nothing appeared to be obviously wrong. My gynecologist ensured me that my heart palpitations were a common perimenopausal symptom. I had the option to begin taking hormones or do nothing at all, and to live with the imminence of menopause. The Taoist priest I met with claimed my condition was a manifestation of visitations made by karmic creditors from my past lives. She advised me to chant Buddhist sutras and mantras daily to repent for my karmic debts, particularly the Heart Sutra.1 It was my Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) doctor K who I found to offer the most concise diagnosis. That is, my heart palpitations were a symptom of excessive fire in the heart i.e., “heart yang” as opposed to “heart ying,” the result of excessive fluctuant energy. In light of that, the treatment became a matter of how to “compose” this energy— in other words, to consider the various frequencies. To treat a heart that ‘bounces like a drum’, alongside acupuncture treatment, he prescribed the following combination of ingredients:

violet quartz 30g, honey 30g, cinnamon 1.5g, & huanglien (goldthread rhizome) 5g

Vermillion Bird Dan (朱雀丹) is a well-known prescription in TCM derived from the Taoist alchemical medicinal practice (丹醫). It is named after the vermillion bird, one of four divine symbols of the Chinese constellation. Also known as the God of Heart, vermillion bird, according to Wu Xing (五行)2 aka the Taoist five-elemental system, “represents the element fire, the direction south, and the season summer correspondingly.” This prescription Vermillion Bird Dan works to ground the fluctuant energy within one’s body: huanglien clears away “heart fire;” cinnamon warms up “kidney yang;” honey softens the medicine’s sharp taste and effect; violet quartz tranquilizes the nervous system and the mind. Dr. K spoke about the ways that TCM aims to organize one’s frequencies. As such, in my case, it is a matter of how to (re)organize and (re)compose those uncomfortable frequencies that pulsate from the heart and disperses throughout the body. One’s body has its own cosmology, and as the Taiwanese novelist Hu Shu-Wen writes “Every body is a planet with its own tides.”

Taking Dr. K’s alchemical organizing of frequencies as an elemental point of departure, Frequencies: violet quartz, honey, cinnamon & huanglien is a pamphlet comprised of five texts, each of which sets out to interpret frequencies expansively in relation to a perceived ailment, condition or bodily disorder. The prescription, anchored within the Taoist elemental system, aims to adjust at a molecular level the internal workings of the body, seeking to rectify and reclaim an elemental balance within one's body.

Grounded in our inquiry on “frequencies,” each contribution sketches out a cognitive constellation anchored within the body and its politics thereof. It is our hope that this focus would provide a way to open out to a wider social body and ideas of collectivity in different ways, whilst not overlooking ailments (often perceived as negative) and what is felt in the body. Furthermore, we want to think about how complex knowledge systems and practices pass through our individual and collective bodies, and how one participates in different systems of knowledge and care.

This small publication is as much for reading as it is for listening. The contributions offer personal stories and experiences of the way ailments reside in our bodies, something like a poetic repertoire. These contributions speak through the body it inhabits; some borrow the voices of other’s, while all living within a specific order of body politics. How does personal responsibility for one’s own well-being affect and contribute to collective well-being and vice versa? The contributions to this pamphlet reveal how compounding pressures impact our mind, body, spiritually, and the various ways we attempt to ease, live with, and challenge and upturn what ails us.

The Heart Sūtra is a popular sutra in Mahāyāna Buddhism. In Sanskrit, the title Prajñāpāramitāhṛdaya translates as "The Heart of the Perfection of Wisdom". The Sutra famously states, "Form is emptiness, emptiness is form." “The Heart Sutra,” Wikipedia, accessed December 8, 2021.

2 Wu Xing is usually translated as Five Phases, is a fivefold conceptual scheme that many traditional Chinese fields used to explain a wide array of phenomena, from cosmic cycles to the interaction between internal organs, and from the succession of political regimes to the properties of medicinal drugs. “Wuxing (Chinese philosophy)”, Wikipedia, accessed December 8, 2021.

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