By Lonny S. Jarret
Abstracted from "Nourishing Destiny: The Inner Tradition of Chinese Medicine" published by
ten years of the study of [medical] books
[one believes] that there is no incurable disease.
After ten more years of study of [medical] books
[one is certain] that there is no curable disease.
people think of the word "cure," they take it to imply that
a specific condition is treated to the point it no longer exists.
In truth this is rarely, if ever, the case. The manifestation
of any given symptom indicates by its presence an a priori constitutional
weakness that allowed it to be expressed. In other words, the
patient had either a genetic and/or karmic predisposition that
allowed this symptom to become manifest. The inner tradition
focuses on constitutional issues which comprise that aspect
of self that can never fundamentally be changed because it comprises
one's inborn nature. Medicine can help compensate for our constitutional
weaknesses but cannot ultimately change what has been present
from conception. Hence the inner tradition does not focus on
achieving a cure as an end point of treatment. Rather, the focus
is placed on guiding the patient through the process of healing.
A condition is considered to be healed when it no longer limits
a patient's self-expression or hinders quality of life.
Even after substantial
improvement, all symptoms, like habits, have a tendency to return.
After all, the constitutional basis that allowed them to manifest
in the first place is still present, and all people tend to
fall back into their old patterns of behavior. When a patient
initially comes for treatment, he or she may be suffering from
migraine headaches four days a week. The condition may be so
debilitating that the patient is virtually unable to function.
After a successful course of treatment, the patient may have
only one or two migraine headaches a year. The patient whose
quality of life is now greatly improved may tell friends that
the headaches have been cured. It is clear, however, that the
patient still has the same inner disposition that created the
headaches in the first place.
are warning signs of deeper imbalance. Patients must learn to
recognize their symptoms in their early stages before they become
fully manifest. They may then learn to make the appropriate
internal shifts necessary to avoid becoming ill. As people heal,
they must be encouraged to think of their symptoms as signs
that some internal matter needs attending to. By taking responsibility
for maintaining their own health, patients are less dependent
on the healer and should need treatment with decreasing frequency.
The Three Levels:
Body, Mind, and Spirit
Using the language
of classical Chinese medicine it is impossible to talk of the
separation implied by the English words body, mind, and spirit.
Hence the character xin refers to the physical, emotional, and
spiritual heart. The Chinese language uses one term, xin, that
has a multitude of meanings implicit within it. On the other
hand, the English language uses three terms, body, mind, and
spirit, to address what is implicitly thought to represent a
unified whole, namely, the human being. Think of each of the
five elements as comprised of spiritual, emotional, and physical
realms of being. For example, the spiritual aspect of the wood
element corresponds to the hun and its ability to be in contact
with jing in a way that informs one of his or her life plan.
The mental aspect of wood involves the decision-making faculties
of the gallbladder which transmit the potential of that plan
into the world. The physical aspects of wood are comprised by
the actual organs of the liver and gallbladder, as well as all
material aspects of being associated with these officials such
as the tendons, ligaments, eyes, and the course of the liver
and gallbladder meridians.
The functional basis
of disharmony may emanate primarily from the physical, emotional,
or the deeper realms of spiritual being. For example, a lack
of benevolence and the presence of belligerence indicate dysfunction
in the spiritual and emotional realms of the wood element. It
is quite possible, however, that at the time of the assessment
the patient exhibits no physical symptomatology in the wood
element. A patient diagnosed with hepatitis C, a severe physical
illness of the liver, however, may be perfectly healthy in the
spiritual and emotional domains of liver function. Hence the
patient may be tranquilly benevolent and possess healthy self-esteem.
Identifying the level of being that perpetuates dysfunction
in each patient is a primary task for the practitioner of the
Of the three depths,
the spirit possesses the capacity to move most quickly. In just
one moment, the spirit may heal in a way that binds one again
to true self and one's life purpose. Healing in this way is
signaled by increased experience of the virtues associated with
one's constitutional type. Hence a person who is wood constitutionally
will be better able to experience the virtue of benevolence
as it exists at his or her core. Increased contact with one's
source of virtue corresponds to a restitution of the basis of
one's capacity for intuition.
The mind's capacity
to heal is somewhat slower than the spirit's. Although profound
insight may occur in a moment, the tendency of the mind is to
continually fall back into habituated patterns of thought and
belief. Only commitment to manifesting innate virtues paired
with conscious vigilance can prevent the mind from seizing control
and motivating one's attitudes and actions. Healing of the mind
is signaled by an increase of behaviors that reflect one's constitutional
virtues. While the spirit may know virtue, it is the mind that
governs the movement of qi and wills actions that are consistent
with fulfilling destiny.
Of the three depths,
the body takes the longest to heal. Once a functional imbalance
has manifested physically, it is relatively more concrete and
harder to influence through treatment. Spirit is that which
allows us to be in contact with virtue, and mind is that which
allows our actions to reflect virtue. After original nature
is lost and one is separated from the source of virtue, it takes
many years of dysfunctional thought and behavior for illness
to become embodied. Although spirit and mind may move toward
healing relatively quickly, it will again take years for correct
thought and action to be once again embodied as physical health.
This last assertion
may contradict what some believe to be true about acupuncture.
After all, many people experience long-lasting relief from chronic
pain with just a few acupuncture treatments. One such example
is John discussed in Chapter 10, whose pain associated with
eight years of polyneuropathy disappeared after only one session.
However, immediate relief of this nature is predicated in large
part on movement of spirit and mind and often does not reflect
a true physical healing at all. Despite his decrease of pain
and renewed positive outlook, any objective measure such as
a test of nerve conduction velocity would have revealed that
my patient still had polyneuropathy. Imbalances of spirit and
mind take years to become embodied as physical illness. Rectification
of the spirit and mind may lead a person to feel better long
before the physical embodiment of dysfunction is actually healed.
It is therefore imperative to guide people to live in a healthier
way so that true healing is promoted and the tendency to recreate
one's illness is mitigated.
This preceding discussion
illustrates an important premise in the inner tradition: Therapeutic
measures administered with the intention of promoting healing
will be received by the deepest aspects of self that perpetuate
dysfunction. Of course, the focus of constitutional diagnosis
is to direct healing toward the deepest aspects of the patient's
being. One's constitutional dynamics are the basis for all expressions
of true self in life. In directing treatment to this depth,
the practitioner lays a foundation for subsequent healing by
attending primarily to the most essential aspects of being.
These principles are also present physiologically. Functional
imbalances often begin with excessive physical and/or emotional
work and then proceed to qi, blood, yin, yang, and ultimately
jing deficiency. Deficiency of jing signifies the physiological
depth of an imbalance. If a patient is jing deficient one must
tonify this root of the imbalance to promote substantial healing.
If the symptoms
of dysfunction are suppressed, illness will be driven deeper
into the level of being that perpetuates imbalance and subsequently
increase dysfunction in the other levels of being. If an imbalance
of spirit is treated in a way that suppresses its expression,
then the root of the imbalance will continue to perpetuate dysfunction
as the patient becomes increasingly distanced from original
nature. Eventually what began as a spirit-level dysfunction
may become embodied as physical illness. For example, a patient
who has been physically abused and subsequently experiences
rage and depression may be given antidepressants as a long-term
intervention. These drugs do not address the root cause of the
problem, however, that may be located in the spiritual depth
of the liver official. In time, the spiritual dysfunction that
has been unattended to will undermine the functioning of the
mind and body, ultimately leading to physical illness.
In contrast, illness
may begin in the physical realm with the invasion of an external
wind/cold pathogen. In this case antibiotics may be administered
that eliminate the bacterial source of the infection but do
nothing to eliminate the wind/cold. Excess heat generated as
the body attempts to move the stagnation of cold will, over
time, consume fluids. Depletion of fluids, in turn, will predictably
lead to the more serious state of lung yin deficiency. By the
time the yin of the lungs is injured, the imbalance is likely
to have entered the spirit and emotional realms and the patient
may evidence grief, longing, and difficulty receiving quality
in life. Note that the suppression of symptoms is not limited
to the inappropriate use of Western medical interventions. Treatment
in any modality that eliminates pain but does not educate the
patient has the potential to perpetuate ignorance and drive