Su Wen Ch 39
"Those who are good at speaking of heaven must have experienced it in man.
Those who are good at speaking of antiquity must have made the junction with the present.
Those who are good at speaking of men must be satisfied with themselves.
When things are like this, one can follow the Dao (ones way) without confusion or distress.
That is called illumination/radiance of life.
I would like to ask how to succeed in listening and hearing, looking at and seeing, feeling and palpating, how through the deep examination of self one can be free of confusion and lift the veil."
A week before I hop on a plane for Nepal, I would like to share some thoughts with inspiration from a seminar with Elisabeth Rochat De La Valle. I have been asking myself what I hope to achieve in Nepal this Spring. As much as my mission is primarily to help others, how best may one do this? I have been mining through old course notes for hidden pearls of wisdom, devouring textbooks, ordering supplies to make the maximum positive impact from my stay in Nepal. These are all going to be useful but I have come to feel that something more subtle is to be gained from my experience in Nepal. Something that paradoxically really isn't about achieving anything! A significant part of my trip will be about cultivating myself to be a better practitioner. But what does that mean? A fundamental principle of Chinese Medicine is that we are a miniature version of the natural world: the macrocosm to the microcosm. The laws of the grander picture (i.e. the natural world) are also applicable to the human mind and body.
"Those who are good at speaking of heaven must have experienced it in man"
Heaven here means nature. If we look at the rhythms of the seasons and the manifestation of life in plants and animals we can begin to understand the patterns of life manifest within ourselves and vice-versa. Of course, to gain an understanding of natural laws in life is also to build an understanding in the disturbances of death, as it is all the same force that governs us. Also noteworthy is that it doesn't say "those who understand heaven". It is not within the scope of the human perception to fathom such a grand principle. As Einstein said: "My religion consists of a humble admiration of the illimitable superior spirit who reveals himself in the slight details we are able to perceive with our frail and feeble minds. That deeply emotional conviction of the presence of a superior reasoning power, which is revealed in the incomprehensible universe, forms my idea of God."
"Those who are good at speaking of antiquity must have made the junction with the present."
Antiquity means the time when people understood and were synchronised with the rhythms of nature. If you don't have a grasp of the present then how can we learn from the past and of course the opposite is also true. This is particularly important nowadays, as even at the time of the Su Wen, already being 2000 years ago, they were already talking about the golden age of antiquity, if only old Huang Di and Qi Bo could see our modern day society they would be more than a wee bit shocked.
We now have an average global increase in life expectancy but we have an increase in many diseases. Sure, you can look at the fact that we now are better able to diagnose than ever and this will have undoubtedly increased the statistics but you can also see, within recent years, a rising trend in illnesses such as autoimmune disease, mental health disorders and cancer. This doesn't invalidate our medicine of old, in many ways it stresses it's importance. What has changed? What can we learn from the great medicine sages of old? And how is it applicable or not to our modern age?
What I see in the clinic today is a massive level of stress. It can just be about giving people the time to take a break from their minds. Bringing them back down to their bodies, NOT just to zone out and dissociate, but actually to connect with what they are feeling within their entirety, right now, in the present moment.
Our current medical paradigm is largely concerned with treating and preventing disease whilst causing the least amount of disruption to our lifestyles.
Not bursting the bubble.
We live in a phenomenally disembodied society; at its demands, we grind out high work productivity and pursue successful social relations at the expense of a meaningful connection to ourselves. We feel tired so we drink coffee or energy drinks, we have a headache so we take a painkiller, we want to relax so we get drunk or perhaps let off some steam by going to a gym and engaging in sweaty cathartic battles with ourselves to the theme tune of Rocky Balboa. Push it a bit further - go the extra mile is the mantra of our pill-popping, quick-fix nation. No wonder we feel the need to drop out and dissociate.
Classical Chinese Medicine as I see it is as much about cultivating the fulfillment of life through meaningful connections with ourselves, and consequently others, as it is about treating illness. We don't all have to meditate or do yoga; just being present for a walk in the park, or singing, or anything that allows us to feel a flow, a rhythm, an expression of the life within ourselves: these things work.
Inevitably, treating in rural Nepal will be a chance to work with people who are used to a very different way of life and a much slower tempo. The people in rural Nepal seem to work very labour-intensive lives, often walking many miles every day with immense weights on their backs. They are also exposed more to the harshness of the elements. I expect to learn a great deal from these people.
"Those who are good at speaking of men must be satisfied with themselves."
Wow, this is a big one! Yesterday someone asked me why I got into bodywork, to which my answer was; "Well, I had an interest in learning about my own body through practice of martial arts, so I decided that I would start to learn to work with other people’s bodies in order to carry on this educational endeavour,” or some words to that effect!!
Despite the convenient and fickle nature of memory, I feel that this is one that sits with me, and demonstrates that previous point quite well: If we don't have a good relationship with ourselves then how do we expect to have a good relationship with others? In regards to healing, a practitioner must cultivate an understanding of the manifestation of life (Qi) within themself in order to recognise and treat it within others. What business do we have to change the flow of others’ lives if we can't take responsibility for our own? To quote the words of Austin Powers; "Don't mess with my mojo, baby!" (A sure way to get lynched by the Chinese medicine community is to quote Austin Powers next to chapters from the Huang Di Neijing.)
My journey into understanding the nature of self began before, way before I decided to go to Nepal. Don't get me wrong, I am not just travelling across the world to sit in the shadows of the mighty Himalayan mountains with the desire of just "finding myself, man." But hey, what a place to take that journey to…
So this "desire" business hits on an important point. To desire too strongly causes stagnation in your intent (yi) and will (zhi). If the practitioner has too strong a desire to heal, it will put pressure on the patient The patient will not heal because we want them to, and actually it is this tendency to ‘mother’ ones patients which, albeit unintentional with many therapists, doesn't do the patient any good whatsoever. What must remain clear is what is me and what is them. If I put my agenda on to my patients because I want them to get better it will only cause a further distortion within the free flow of Qi of that patient and within myself.
To really heal is to remain empty and free of desire whilst facilitating the right conditions in which that person may get better – in order to better align themselves in accordance with the flow of nature.
But how do we become free and empty? Well certainly not by desiring it. Have you ever noticed how insomniacs will count off a whole list of things they do to get to sleep? If you push and desire the mind to do something you end up in inner turmoil. To force ones mind to do something could be compared to pushing water uphill. Better to build a path for it to naturally flow. Most of us will have something that give us a sense of inner flow. Dancing is a great example of the expression of Qi within someone. You can sense when someone is really feeling and moving to the music in the moment.
The reality is that I will go to Nepal and I will probably help some people but then there will be others that I won't be able to help. To cultivate the art of healing is to invest in a lifetime of learning. I intend to go to Nepal to look and see, listen and hear, feel and palpate but I also intend to do a bit more than that...
"Zhuangzhi Ch 4 Translated by B. Watson
Make your will one!
Don't listen with your ears, listen with your mind (xin).
No don't listen with your mind but listen with your spirit (Qi).
The mind stops with recognition, but spirit (qi) is empty and waits on all things.
The way gathers in emptiness alone.
Emptiness is the fasting of the mind."