The Way of Heaven at the Winter Solstice:
It has forever struck me as odd, if not delusional, that anyone would think the human mammalian body is magically not subject to the cycles of solar, lunar, and terrestrial energies that cause trees to drop down their leaves in Fall or during winter solstice; that cause our cousins the bears to hibernate and be still across long winter, or to purge their intestines of accumulated gases by first eating the plant called “skunk cabbage” on waking in spring; that cause the crocus to be the first to shoot up flowers in late February, and that lead to the ultimate explosion of blue flowers and red fruits when the hemisphere tilts closest to the sun.
Its a world view that creates this slavish reliance on drugs that treat symptoms and not causes. A willingness to use drugs as a first choice rather than desperate last choice, while maintaining a willful blindness to their overwhelming toxic side effects; to the damage and pollution done to your body by living and treating your body as a machine rather than living organism.
Ecology and love of nature starts with your own body. Its a world view, practicing prevention by recognizing we are an intimate part of nature, and so cannot continue exploiting her without damaging ourselves. Creating smog and polluted rivers is not following the “Way of Heaven” as described in chapters 1 and 2 of the Neigjing suwen (Yellow Emperer’s Classic) anymore than drinking ice-cold beverages, running in the winter in a t-shirt, or smoking cigarettes are.
People find meaning and identification in different ways. Some of us are committed runners. Some people play bridge. A few are even Indian Chiefs. A percentage are politicians. A lot of people believe with conflicting absolute certainties in books of revelation that promise various heavens and hells to believers and non-believers alike. Some people place the same level of blind faith into Science.
Me, I am a simpleton. I love Chinese medicine for its child-like standing back simplicity. Chinese medicine is blunt like a child is. We ask, “mommy, why is that man’s face red?”, or “daddy, why does that woman have freezing fingers and toes?”
I don’t know if hell or heaven exist, if the messiah will some day come, if he came already, if God had one or many sons, if Muhammed was the final prophet. I do know the sun makes me hot and wind makes me cold, that water is refreshing and warmth pleasant. I know how I feel when I eat fresh food and I know what its like to be hungry. I know how I felt when my mother died and I know what its like to be in love.
I know that language exists and humans see the same realities through many lenses and describe it with differing languages. For example, I could say I am in love and feel elated and can’t sleep for endless nights thinking of my beloved, or I could say I feel so amped up that my heart is racing, or I could go to a lab and get tests that define love in terms of neurotransmitters, hormones, and brain wave. Which language is more accurate? Few folk describe love in that final way—it is both the strength and weakness of bio-medicine, the ability to see the world through this amazing digital lens. But sometimes you are blinded to the forest when all you can see are the cells of trees.
I don’t know anything about God. I am, personally, disappointed in religions. What I do know, though, is that it is winter and cold and when its cold the lake freezes and my dog sleeps early in the evening and late into the morning. He waits for the sun to rise before getting up for tea.
Illness does not erupt out of the void. It grows from the soil of lifestyle, mentality, emotions, and the blessings or curses of genetic inheritance, what Chinese medicine in its acuity described 2200 years ago as “pre-natal ‘Qi’.”No one controls their pre-natal Qi. What you can control is how much money we put into or take out from the savings account you inherited from your ancestors.
Each disease has a long history, the history of your mind-body. And each disease has complicated cures, including exercise medicine, food medicine, mental culture (meditation medicine and a philosophy of living medicine) what you do or don’t breath in or put on your skin medicine, deep relaxation medicine, and, when all that is not enough, drug medicine, whether herbal/natural or synthetic/un-natural.
But healing is a process, not a pill. You cannot cure with a drug what you created with a lifestyle, any more than you can cure a social problem like gun violence by just removing guns. You also have to address the national psychology that underlies such high levels of anger and violence. You cannot cure insomnia with any drug or herb without getting to the underlying nervous system dysregulation and possible associated emotive states that have created an insomniac. Proper sleep culture is needed. You have to learn to slow down inside.
In Chinese medicine to heal your lifestyle means to have, as a starting point, correct behavior for the various seasons, to grasp the common sense notion of that the centrifugal Yang energies that cause sprouts in Spring and fruits and flower in Summer and lost leaves in Autumn and ice in Winter, also affect your own body, and have to be respected. There is a diet and behavior and exercises appropriate to each season that are quite intuitive and survive in our holidays.
Heavier foods at Thanksgiving and Christmas and the Roman New Year/January 1 are appropriate to the fact that our digestive fire amps up in Winter to keep us warm. One example. But we have to balance those heavier foods with vegetables and the sour and pungent tastes to assist the digestion and elimination. Stronger fire in winter is not license for excess. And it is also dry in late Autumn/early Winter, which means pushing hot fluids and moistening foods, like collard greens lightly cooked in olive oil with onions, cumin and pomegranate molasses.
To create health in Chinese medicine is to follow the Way of Heaven and Earth, what we would now call Nature, in its most profound and material senses. We can all, if we stop for a moment, imagine what that means. In the end, it describes a life of harmlessness, to oneself and others. When you use natural cleaning products, for a mundane example, you benefit your body and stop harming the natural world.This is described in the ancient texts as Virtue.
The scholar Claude Larre points out that in classical Chinese the placement of the ideograms within the group of ideograms gives as much meaning as the characters themselves–”Nothing is fully understood before it finds its place in the the group to which it belongs.” I think human beings are like Chinese ideograms, multiple characters placed within a larger group from which its meaning is derived. The larger group is heaven and earth, nature. What sentence do you want to be interdependent with?