All in a flash the supplicant stands, suddenly illuminated by the expanding disk of the moon. As clouds might drift to obscure reflected light, the voices of memory whisper in the ear. A bitter draft is poured into the chalice, the near-deceased transubstantiated in the descendant flesh: a communion realized in the chapel of suffering. The subtle arc of stars and spheres circle around a central pole: its length conjoining Heaven and Earth. Cold blows above the waters. An unseen wind blows and lists like an echo. The sole flame sputters and sparks: an irrepressible fire yet burns in the nave.

A Reflection on Chinese Herbal Medicine

Chinese herbal medicine can introduce us to the phenomenological depth of the ancient Chinese perspective, especially as it describes a situated, embodied consciousness.   Phenomenological philosopher Merleau-Ponty employs the term lifeworld (umwelt) to describe embedded perception.  Focusing on the relationship between consciousness and awareness also recalls the insistence of Dr. Leon Hammer that, as clinicians we bear two major charges: to seek to know how the patient, as an individual, experiences the world, and secondly that our success is measured in the degree to which we offer something other than the typical response.  In light of the animistic and phenomenological perspective outlined here however, we might consider that each individual constitutes a world in her own right.  And that, as the formulas of the Shang Han Lun are based on the very structural principles through which the worlds manifest, that each iteration of these formulae constitute equally a world-making in progress.  And thus, the assimilation of these stimuli into the very flesh (the inter-subjective as Merleau-Ponty describes it, but also literally through metabolism) is necessarily to participate in something other than the typical response.  There is only one pathology in all of Chinese medicine, and that is flowing against (逆 Ni) the flow of the numinous.  Allopathic, meaning opposition, does not flow with but rather against, and all-too-often represents the typical response to pathology.  Since these formulae embody the establishment of flow, then, instead they promote the resonance of the effected conformation with its natural physiological state, and participate in the creation of an entirely new world for each and every patient: and this is a world that is itself alive, animated and embodied. 


Animism and Classical Chinese Medicine

Following recent reconsiderations of exactly what animism means, I perceive, within the worldview of Chinese medicine, a recognition of movement and a practice of investigation that sees all spiritual health and well-being firmly ensconced in relationships with the natural world, and sees human beings as participating in this great mystery internally and externally since time immemorial. That is, at the very roots of the history, cosmology and philosophy underlying Chinese medicine there is a substrate of animistic consciousness.  "To elaborate: life in the animic ontology is not an emanation but a generation of being, in a world that is not pre-ordained but incipient, forever on the verge of the actual" (Ingold, 2006).  And further, 

...there is no inside or outside, and no boundary separating the two domains. Rather there is a trail of movement or growth. Every such trail traces a relation. But the relation is not between one thing and another — between the organism ‘here’ and the environment ‘there’. It is rather a trail along which life is lived: one strand in a tissue of trails that together make up the texture of the lifeworld. That texture is what I mean when I speak of organisms being constituted within a relational field. It is a field not of inter-connected points but of interwoven lines, not a network but a meshwork.
Nevertheless the depiction of the single line is of course a simplification. For the lives of organisms generally extend along not one but multiple trails, branching out from a source. We should imagine the organism, then, not as a self-contained object like a ball that can propel itself from place to place, but as an ever ramifying web of lines of growth. The philosophers Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari (1983) famously likened this web to a rhizome, though I prefer the image of the fungal mycelium (Ingold 2003:302–6).

 While I also love Deleuze and Guattari's characterization of the rhizome, and can appreciate the image of the mycelium (the unseen structure that produces fungi as its manifestation in the visible), what strikes me of course is that an equally apt characterization of the relational ontology is embodied in the myriad pathways of animation (the entire channel system) described by Chinese medicine, and their manifestation in the Opening, Pivoting and Closing of Yin and Yang.  Likewise, within the contiguous junctions of all these pathways one also sees the relational, rhizomic unfolding of consciousness itself.  The Channel System in its entirety, and the patterns of organization upon which these are modeled, is an example of the three-dimensional incarnation of consciousness and animation itself as is the world in which this animation unfolds.  They are, in short, Deleuzian lines-of-flight.

A Basic Premise

Through an examination of the meaning of the term 寒 Han/Cold, we can intimate that it is not only the pathogenic factor Cold, nor even the exterior pathogenic influences that the Shang Han Lun describes.  Indeed, anything that inhibits the expression of Yang (even its growth maturation, eventual decline, and return to quiescence) can be described as injurious to the nourishment of life.  And therefore, in the broadest sense cold can include the idea of anything deleterious to life.  The central premise of this my understanding is best described as the Release and Return of Yang. And concern with the state of Yang in the body is of primary importance to the restoration of normal, healthy physiology.  

Tracing a lifetime across a circle, just as the Sun seems to trace a circle through the sky, under the earth, and rising anew in the East, one sees that it is the vital spark of Yang that gives rise to life, Yang that allows the motion of inspiration and exhalation, the rising of Wood in the East, and the descending of Metal in the West, and ultimately moves one inevitably to return to a state of quiescent immersion in the Water that will extinguish the spark, and free the soul for release into the One.  Thus, when one looks into the mystery of this cycle, all manifestations of evolution and becoming rely on the Yang being "commanded to the Yin."