Dragon Rises Red Bird Flies, by Dr. Leon Hammer is the single most significant book that I have read, and is the greatest influence on my thinking about Chinese medicine. I first encountered this book in the very first semester of acupuncture school. I was wandering the stacks and pulled the book off the shelf, and leafing through its pages I experienced a powerful intuition of its importance. As I devoured the book I discovered my life's work. I have read the book at least 8-10 times in its entirety through the years, and discover new insights with every reading.
Months later, upon the urging of my teacher Dr. Robert Johns, I began studying Shen-Hammer pulse diagnosis, (the system taught by the author of Dragon Rises Red Bird flies) with my first teacher of this system, Brian LaForgia. Within about a year of beginning my pulse studies, I had the opportunity to begin studying directly under Dr. Hammer's tutelage.
Then, after another couple years that included assiduous pulse study, clinical training, work in a Chinese hospital, a cross-country move, and starting out in private practice, I was asked by Dr. Hammer to begin teaching a course based on his book at Dragon Rises College of Oriental Medicine. I have taught courses based on the text there, as well as at the National University of Natural medicine, and in seminar formats, as well. Soon, I will begin offering a course in an online format, utilizing the best university-level platform for coursework.
Dragon Rises Red Bird Flies describes a model of Chinese medicine as it is applied to the psychological and spiritual evolution of the individual. In discovering how the fundamental concepts of Chinese medicine represent a congenial therapeutic partnership with humanistic psychology, the book articulates the potential of Chinese medicine to assist in the becoming of individuals. But even more importantly, Dr. Hammer's book describes how Chinese medicine is a vital and robust model of a truly psychosomatic medicine, and how, as he discovered in his own prodigious, ground-breaking work, Chinese medicine actual solves many of the conundrums that Western psychology could not satisfactorily address. In essence, in parallel with burgeoning developments in somatic psychology, Dr. Hammer explores the full potential of Chinese medicine as a truly holistic medicine encompassing the entire scope of human experience.
This review is not the place to describe the literally hundreds of guiding principles described in this book, deeply resonant with Classical medical and philosophical concepts, that inform my approach to practicing Chinese medicine. I will certainly explore each and every one of those wellsprings on the blog as time goes on. Additionally, I will also, through writing and courses, demonstrate precisely how the book informs my use of the formulas of Zhang Zhong Jing (and how the Six Conformations profoundly fulfill the imperatives outlined in Dragon Rises, Red Bird Flies). I will also demonstrate how the work outlined in this text positions Chinese medicine at the table with any of the psychological models or schools of thought, and also is deeply intertwined with the historical development of somatic psychology in the West.
The first 100 pages of the book introduce the theoretical underpinnings of the model, and are general enough in tone to be of interest to non-CM readers. Many of my patients have read and benefitted from reading the book. The fundamentally salutogenic approach is elaborated in terms of basic Chinese medicine theory. In the heart of the text, each chapter is devoted to an elaboration of the 5-Phase model as it pertains to the natural function, cognitive style, anxiety, depression, love, sex and psychosis. In describing these patterns, the etiology and development of the patterns is clearly elaborated. There are many brief case studies in each chapter that further situate the ideas in more embodied scenarios. All of the material is then summarized and compared in a chapter devoted to anxiety and depression, and a brief summary of Dr. Shen's Systems Model (incidentally, Dr. Shen's Systems Model is one of the key components that intersects with the Six Conformations).
Finally, a word on style: this book is dense, and full of incredible insights. It warrants close and sensitive reading. Yet, in spite of its density, there are incredible, gleaming gems of not only crystal clear insights into life, but artful turns of phrase that will illuminate one's understanding, and ultimately shed light on clinical realities. Every time that I read the book, another powerful phrase emerges, like a mantra, to guide my thought and clinical practice.