On Living and Working According to Nature.

By Jadelin Gangbo, resident Acupuncturist and Tui Na Practitioner.

SH Health MeditationThe mind is a mysterious and complex tool and has been only recently found by Western studies to be the root cause of illnesses. A conclusion that many traditional cultures have long drawn. However, it’s not the mind per se, that causes imbalances. We learn from the spiritual and philosophical teaching of these ancient practices, such as Buddhism and Daoism, that it is our relationship with the mind that is the causative factor of dysfunction. It is our tendency to identify ourselves with the mind and follow its lead in whatever quest it draws us into. It would be a mistake to simply view the mind as a direct causative agent of imbalances since it would lead us to assume that all beings possessing a mind are often ill, which is not the case. Most of the mind-bearing population of the world barely gets ill, the majority don’t get ill at all. Among these groups are animals, particularly animals living in the wilderness, and some ethnic and spiritual groups that live outside the modern way of life but are more, if not entirely, connected with Nature.

On the other hand, we have a situation where most of the civilised countries are burdened with illnesses, with countries on both ends of the inequality spectrum, being the most afflicted. America and Africa, for instance, the first considered the pinnacle of advancement, the latter, the poorest society, when it comes to illness statistics, they equalise. They are both heavily plagued by illnesses, just of a different nature, reflecting the global divide between poor and rich countries. Rich countries are burdened by diseases of affluence, while poor countries have long been fighting against communicable diseases.

What the two parties on both sides of the social economic divide have in common, is the mind-identity’s historical intervention on their respective social fabric. Africa has been wreaked by colonial rule, and draws to a state of scarcity, dependency, and subordination. Whereas in America, the same mind-identity had chosen the capitalistic path to destabilise natural order and create unseen abundance, but also an incredible level of alienation and inequality amongst the population its meant to serve without considering its dependency on global conflicts as a means to feed its economy. Both societies can be regarded as ill societies. Both situations being determined by the mind-identity. This type of identity is godless, regardless the religious identity it takes. It is the mind that fears, desires, conquers, fights, asserts itself and controls, it is godless in the sense that lack of sacrality of the phenomenal world, it is unable to see it as it sees itself and believes to be separate from others and the environment.

In contrast, the soul-identity is the identity that trusts, leaves things the way they are, knows no ego and lives in the presumption that the true-life driving force is Nature, not the human mind. The mind-identity tends to forcefully react to whatever is happening in Nature as opposed to the soul-identity, which naturally tends to align with changes occurring in Nature, observing and learning from them.

SH Health Acu anatomyThe development of Chinese Medicine is a great example of the value some cultures have given to natural phenomena. This medical system was developed upon observing and applying the laws that pre-exist in Nature and was based on the principle of Yin and Yang and that of the Wu Xing - The Five Elements, or the Five Elemental Phases. The first application of the Five Elements Theory, a system which has been used for millennia, marks the beginning of what is considered scientific medicine in China. This theory was not only applied on medicine but was used to interpret phenomena on every sector of society, from cosmology to politics. It was so important that ancient Chinese rulers were in awe and heavily relied upon the knowledge of the philosophers of the school of the Five Elements. In fact, those earlier scientists, apart from delivering medical treatments, could also predict major events such a draught, the outcome of a war or even the succession of a dynasty.

SH Health 5 elementsThe Five Elements Theory interprets the interaction of the different qualities and states of natural phenomenon throughout the year (the movement of the seasons, in a simplistic view) The movement of the Five Elements we see in Nature, is therefore applied to the human body to understand the development of illnesses, on the basic notion that humans reflect the universe and respond to the same natural laws. The type of interaction between Fire, Earth, Metal, Water, Wood, determines the state of health of the individual. A skilled practitioner was able to determine the progression of an illness and make a prognosis based on the interpretation of the movements and interaction between the elements he could read through the patient’s signs and symptoms.

SH Health TCM bookIt is not by chance that in the "Yellow Emperor", a canon of Chinese Medicine literature, it states – ‘Who doesn’t observe the cycle of Nature can’t call himself a doctor.’ The same book further observes the importance of respecting the universal order if one wants to live healthy and gives guidance on ways ancient sages would prevent illnesses by living accordingly to the seasons (Nature). It also warns how failing to live according to Nature would result in chaos and disorder.

SH Health TCMHere is an example of Yellow Emperor’s advice for granting maintenance of health: Spring, the season of wood and the liver, is the time of birth and revitalisation. One should reflect this free-flowing energy by being open physically and emotionally. It’s good time to do stretching. Summer is when the energy opens further into communication between the external and the internal. Joy and an outward attitude would be natural. Autumn is the pivotal time when yang energy switches too yin and one is advised to start conserving energy, return home early, stay calm and peaceful and be aware of the risk of depression. Desire to go out running in this season should be refrained as it’s the time of the lungs, and you want to keep them healthy. Breathing exercise or meditation is more appropriate. One is advised to use even less yang energy in Winter as it the most yin time of the year as life withers. A time to enter a resting period, and here one should be calmer than ever, spend most of the time indoors, and when outside avoid the cold by wearing appropriate clothing.

The Yellow Emperor further says ‘The transformation of Yin and Yang in the four seasons, is the basis of the growth and destruction of life. By following the universal order, growth can occur naturally. If this order is disregarded the root of one’s life will be damaged, and one true energy will wane.’ We clearly see in this statement the importance medical scientists of the time attributed to the universal order and how their practice was strictly linked to it. Medicine was also inherently philosophical and spiritual. But let’s make a simple example of how the interpretation of the Five Elemental Phases occurring in Nature could serve a medical purpose.

SH Health cold springLet’s imagine it is the beginning of spring and yet it is still cold. By using the Five Elements theory we could interpret this as the Fire Element being deficient and work out the consequences this could have throughout the year. Fire deficiency could mean that Fire is too weak to generate the Earth Element according to the Generating Sequence, negatively affecting the production of crop (literally/figuratively speaking). This will reflect in digestive issues. So, the practitioner might want to look at the patient’s gut health. From a Controlling Sequence standpoint, Fire failing to control Metal tells us it will be a harsh Autumn, so we expect to treat lots of lung (Metal) based conditions and there might also be more sadness (emotion of the lungs) going around. Simultaneously, weak Fire would allow Water to overflow, which in turn will weaken Fire further creating a viscous cycle affecting the Shen - Heart-Mind - (the organ associated with Fire). So, incidents of depression and anxiety might go up. In a clinical setting, more specifically, we often see Wood overcontrolling Earth, particularly in big competitive cities such as London, where high level of stress and frustration (emotions associated with Liver and Wood Element) are commonplace. Wood overcontrolling Earth, refers to the constraining effect sustained stress and frustration has on the digestive system, hampering its function. Dampness in the system will result from slow digestion and will affect muscle tonicity, mental cognition, and overall energy levels. The main complaint of this patient could be Fatigue. Through the Five Elements Theory framework though, we’d work out that the Liver, via its associated emotion (anger-frustration), is the culprit. So, advising on lifestyle changes would be appropriate in this case, alongside selecting acupuncture points that effect the Liver and Gall Bladder during treatment.

SH Health Yin YangThe five elements allowed the development of a medical system that was primarily based on prevention of diseases and maintenance of health, due to its intrinsic ability to anticipate and interpret the progression of an altered state of health, through the dynamic of the associated elements. For instance, we see how proverbially the Yellow Emperor was warning against the effects of disregarding natural order in the context of Climate Change. Warning signs had been long under everyone’s eyes, we could have prevented it by changing our way of living. Interesting to notice how the same disruption of the seasons patterns we see in Climate Change reflects in the current growing sense of individual and social instability and insecurity.  

But how does mind-identity cause all these wreckages? Why does it refuse to cooperate with Nature? And how can our own interaction with the mind cause illness? It is because of the mind’s intrinsic tendency to resist what occurs naturally. The best way to understand the way mind-identity works is by picturing an electrical circuit where the current flow is controlled or interrupted by a resistor. The current flow represents the natural flow of life force, and the mind-identity is the resistor blocking the current flow for its own controlling purposes. Consequently, natural flux of life force is blocked, resources are limited in turn. The subject at this point is thrown into a state of sufferance and tension, which results in the person fighting even more forcefully to achieve their own goals, holding onto the illusion that fulfilling them will resolve their sufferance. The fighting carries on without us even questioning the true nature of whatever we are fighting against. We just fight it. As we see in the fight against cancer, the fight against weight gain, or in the fight against terrorism, all fights paradoxically create more of that same thing we fight against. What we are fighting is ourselves. We are basically saying to ourselves repeatedly ‘I dislike you’. Off course nothing good can come out of such an approach.

SH Jadelin colourIn respect of my clinical work, I often caught myself delivering treatments with a fervent desire to sort out the patient’s condition, ideally at the first treatment and hopefully getting top reviews to feel better about myself. This happens mainly when I’m distracted. All my energy and intentions are ultimately directed toward winning over my client’s illness for my personal gains. The pressure of my fingers, for example, when I try to get rid of muscle knots during a massage session, reflects the will to get rid of those knots by all necessary means. Only once I gain awareness that I have been working from a fighting mindset and bring myself to change it, I automatically release the pressure and take a deep breath. I say to myself that I’m fighting. I’m fighting because I fear something, it might be fear of failing. Therefore, I choose a non-fighting approach.

SH Health Acu shoulderI can even mentally say to myself, ‘I don’t want the knots to go away, I just want to make acquaintance with them by feeling them and see what they have to say to me.’  Once I feel calmer, I realise I have switched from mind-identity to soul-identity. Now I can even experience love for those knots, and soon, with no effort, they dissolve under my fingers. Acupuncture can work in the same way. The solution comes when I give up trying but accept my patient’s condition and listen to it. Sometimes, the relaxation that comes from not fearing the possibility of failing is therapeutic.  

This switch from mind to soul-identities becomes more accessible to a Tui-Na massage practitioner than most Western massage styles due to fundamental training differences. Tui-Na works under the theoretical frame of Chinese Medicine and Daoism. Practitioners are trained to use breath work, intentional focus, and visualisation alongside their manual work. We are essentially required to enter a meditative state while we perform a massage. It is part of our responsibility to cultivate our QI with regular practice of meditation, QI Gong or Nei Gong. Therefore, it is common that at some point during the massage session, the patient’s breathing pattern aligns to that of the practitioner due to the symbiotic relationship the practitioner’s meditative state allows. This is considerably therapeutic. The deeper the patient therapist’s meditative symbiosis the greater is the result. This also ensues because of the space granted to Nature to operate in the absence of mind-identity.

SH Health EarthSo, what is it at work here? It is clear to me that when we operate under the influence of mind-identity, we often contrast the flow of Nature working through us; we are turning our back on incredible potential, while contributing to create more sufferance. Chinese Medicine, with the universal principle of Yin and Yang, and the Five Elements, shows us that we can understand more and perform more efficiently if we take more inspiration from what occurs in Nature instead of fighting Nature. Once we stop fighting it, open to it and embrace that which we fight, we inevitably put ourselves in the position to face our fears and allow them to dissolve, so freeing healing potential. Nature is a force that we can consciously use as our ally as was tradition in ancient times rather than simply seeing it as a habitat. By going with it, we can use it to heal ourselves, others, and even create a better society.

Jadelin Gangbo

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