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The Three Levels of Medicine

There’s a bunch of words I often use to describe the work I do: “holistic”, “preventative”, “tonifying”, as well as phrases like “restoring balance”, “removing blockages” and “boosting energy”. And if you’ve come to see me, you know we talk a lot about your relationship with life and your health.

These all point to the multi-faceted nature of Chinese Medicine and the variety of approaches we take to our work. In this article, I’m going to elaborate on the three distinct, but overlapping, realms of treatment in this tradition.

  1. Resolving Illness and Relieving Suffering

Most people come to see me because they are in pain or their body isn’t working the way they want it to, or often both. Their neck hurts, they can’t sleep, they have breathing problems, they want to lose weight, etc. If you have all of these at the same time… I’m glad you came.

Chinese medicine is great at this symptomatic stuff. We can restore function and alleviate pain quite successfully. If it’s been going on for a while, it might take some time, but we can shift most everything in a positive direction.

But for us, it doesn’t stop there. Once your shoulder can move again, that’s only the first step of the journey!

2. Preventing Illness And Cultivating Vitality

So your shoulder moves again. Great! But you know what? There’s still some serious knots in there- they just aren’t so big as to cause problems any more. So you’re not constipated anymore, awesome. But your mother-in-law came to visit and right away things seized up again? How about that.

In Chinese Medicine we deal with patterns. Everything a person experiences is part of a pattern that tends to be self-perpetuating but can also be influenced by new external (or internal) factors. Acupuncture etc. is very directly effective at shifting patterns in the body, but patterns have a momentum and tend to re-establish themselves if left alone, if we don’t change our lifestyle, or (especially) when we are stressed.

In Chinese Medicine we speak of “Addressing the Root and the Branch”. What this means is that the symptoms are like branches of a plant, but they are only the manifested growth of a deeper imbalance. A full course of treatment goes beyond the point at which the symptoms disappear, to the point of resolving the root. Otherwise, we expect the symptoms to come back. It’s just like shoots reappearing when we are gardening and only pluck the tops of weeds but leave the root in the ground.

In Chinese Medicine, we know that “dis-ease” extends beyond our immediate experience of pain or dysfunction. Using our subtle and sophisticated diagnostic techniques, we identify and resolve the underlying phenomena that cause our patients suffering.

3. Nourishing Destiny

I often ask my clients, “so, why are you wanting this healed? What are you wanting to accomplish in your life that this pain or illness is standing in the way of?”

In Chinese Medicine, the doctor is seen as the guide back to balance and harmony, a conduit for the wisdom of nature to be channeled to the patient in ways they can best receive. In the old days, many doctors became so as part of their training to become a Taoist or Buddhist priest. My first teacher was one of the last of these, his teacher having fled China during the Cultural Revolution.

For those doctors, and the tradition continues today, the ultimate work of medicine is to help people discover their unique self-nature and create a life that brings them deep personal fulfillment. In this context, relieving pain and resolving illness serve simply to remove distractions from a person’s spiritual journey through life.

Nourishing Destiny, as it is called, takes the fundamental principles of Chinese Medicine and applies them to the unique phenomenon of human consciousness. Creating balance, removing blockages, and promoting the smooth flow of energy now occur in the context of a person’s relationship with themselves, their life, and the experience of being human. At these times, the role of doctor as counselor and teacher comes to the forefront. The great benefit of our other techniques such as acupuncture/acupressure at this point is using them to release emotional energy held in various places in the body. That phenomenon in itself is enough for another article.

In summary, Chinese Medicine is more than a collection of techniques for helping you feel better. A skilled practitioner will help you not only relieve your pain, but will also assist you in preventing its recurrence and in enhancing your fundamental wellbeing. At its heart, Chinese Medicine is an approach to life that views health challenges as access points to our personal journey, where our past experiences and current difficulties are reflected in our body and provide us with guidance for our growth.

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