In contemplating an email reply to a good friend over the past couple of days, I eventually recognized a discourse taking on long-awaited form—a message that needs to be understood by more of us. The whole subject is something that’s been hovering around my cranium since leaving school in 1994, but it’s only started to coalesce into a focused image in the last few years.
We, as a culture, have some curious tendencies that encourage short sighted choices. This is one of them. Be warned, this may be a long post, with no entertaining eye candy along the way. The subject, however, and those outcomes affected by it are huge, and I’d like to cover it sufficiently to leave no confusion about its consequences to us as individuals living in a highly visible culture which exerts an influence on the rest of the world.
The metaphor in this conversation is medicine—its practice, its purpose, its objectives, as well as our illusions and misconceptions about it, and what prevents conventional medicine from maturing out of its adolescence. So, while this conversation appears to be about medicine, it’s something more. Like Oriental medicine itself, this conversation is the expression of a set of principles, and like all principles, they validate themselves anywhere one cares to look. Principles are much more than just rules or laws. They explain to us how a given paradigm works, why it works, and what happens when we ignore them. Principles, like the ones governing the world we live in are not capricious. They don’t vary, do not waver, and are in force anywhere, at all times—they are universal. These are not ideas of mine, they didn’t come from me. They’re only being expressed through me.
We are taught little in school (secular or parochial) that actually prepares us for a successful sojourn here. We’re only taught how to support the economy and toe the line. The good stuff—the guidance we’re actually craving—requires a long, honest search, lasting the better part of a lifetime. Or several.
Our Peculiar Tendency to Place
The Cart Before the Horse
So, let’s look at one of these tendencies surrounding our relationship with American healthcare that keeps us separate from the truth. When faced with some discomfort or health challenge, the first thing we seek is a treatment. Doesn’t matter if our motivation comes from a minor annoyance, an imbalance already making our lives miserable, or a life threatening condition rapidly approaching its feared outcome. We look for a treatment, a tool, if you will, that will remove our pain, quell our suffering, or keep us from dying.
Oh, wait, sorry.
I forgot the name. Actually, most of us first look for a name for our ‘disease’. “Just give me a name, Doc, and I’ll feel better already.” And after solemnly producing a name, the doctor proclaims it a diagnosis. And, believe it or not, clients think the doctor is brilliant for giving us this name. The reason I forgot this tendency is because it is a behavior so utterly irrational, yet so frighteningly universal that it tests my hope for the human race.
My friends, there are universes of difference between finding someone who can give us a label for our experience, and someone who can tell us what’s going on, and what it will take to reverse that process. And, believe me, you want the latter. Since Americans don’t appear to recognize the difference, I honestly try not to think about it. But it’s everywhere, if you look, and you needn’t look far.
To make matters worse, many people begin to actually identify with this name. They become the name, and the name becomes their life. And when this happens, in my experience, there truly is no hope. The human mind loves its identity, regardless of whether or not it’s factual, and despite the depth of its pain. If resolution were handed to such individuals on a platter, they would find a way to reject it. Their new identity is so treasured that, consciously or unconsciously, it is capable of sabotaging a successful treatment. Mind is a powerful thing, eh?
So this bizarre satisfaction we seem to experience when given a name for our illness actually segues into the phenomenon I began to discuss—the search for a tool, a ‘cure’. Once we have a name, we can begin scouring the internet for a cure.
“Well, what’s wrong with that, Larry? Who, in their right mind, wouldn’t start looking for a cure? Where are you coming from? You’re not making sense.”
A Different Paradigm
Really? Well, here’s where I’m coming from. In the context of medicine, I’m coming from a very old paradigm. A paradigm is a complete and internally intact perception from a given perspective—a clear and precise picture of how the universe of that paradigm works, what its rules and principles are, what animates it, makes it tick and keep ticking, in every possible aspect, at every level. And the components of that picture are painted with principles. They describe not just the basic image, but the colors, texture, details, depth, and yes, the height of its perspective.
I’m aware that ‘old’ holds little attraction for our culture. ‘New’ is what makes the cogs of industry spin, and youthful hearts sing. So an old paradigm—a very old paradigm—doesn’t seem to engage Americans, especially one that’s part of a culture so quaint as to write in pictograms. Antiquity, in and of itself, does not necessarily equate to value or maturity, but a paradigm surviving thousands of years, and which enjoys widespread acceptance in the current era could conceivably embody a degree of depth unimaginable to loose, product driven protocols and ‘popular’ beliefs bouncing around in our skulls. If we really looked at the prejudice against ‘old’, with clear vision, we might notice that images, as a means of communicating, are the most effective inner means of connecting with the Divine, and are far more expedient than arbitrary symbols of sounds emitted from our continually moving mouths. If we actually stilled our minds long enough, we might begin to appreciate that such connection is the ultimate objective of our lives. And that all truth springs from that pursuit.
The mind-staggering age of such a paradigm implies that it is not only complete and intact, but that it has been tried, honed, tested, polished, and proven for a very long time. It has endured, not because of shiny newness, or even strength or cunningness, but because of its maturity, because of its perfection. Anything else simply does not last. Look around. In our very short lifetimes, our vision will be filled with things we now or once held in high regard, and yet they are now gone, or soon will be. People, places, institutions, ideas, and rock-solid realities we perceived as being eternal, will perish. They are all going to vanish without a trace.
The particular paradigm of Oriental medicine will remain. It will endure as long as these worlds, which is certainly not ‘forever’, but it’s a very long time on the scale of human life. It will endure because it is an accurate and astute expression of the essence of the world we live in. Why would anyone choose anything less to guide a medical practice?
“What’s this have to do with looking for a cure for my wife’s cancer, Larry? My child’s diabetes? The worrisome collapse of my aching body?”
It’s time to examine one of this paradigm’s most basic principles. If we can comprehend just this one, we will have accomplished a great deal.
Anyone truly practicing Oriental medicine responds to a client’s complaint with the establishment of a diagnosis. First and foremost. Not a name. A true diagnosis. Most client’s arriving at a DOM’s door already have a name for their complaint, simply because they’ve already exhausted their search for help from conventional medicine. But they don’t have a diagnosis. In Oriental medicine, the correct diagnosis, the cause of the imbalance, all the accompanying manifestations of its particular syndrome, its treatment, the sequence of treatment, and the balanced state of health at the other end, are all irrevocably woven into one. All those ‘parts’ are intrinsically connected to each other. They are not viewed as parts, at all. Admittedly, such a concept is very difficult for Westerners to even grasp, but that has no bearing on its reality. None of the many manifestations of a given syndrome can exist without the presence of the other parts: the cause, the balanced state, the sequence of treatment, and all the others.
That’s why the name doesn’t accomplish anything—and never will. Because it’s universally meaningless, floating in a field of unrelatedness. It doesn’t exist within a comprehensive paradigm. It doesn’t identify a cause, which the paradigm recognizes as the key to reversing the imbalance. Indeed, most names used by conventional medicine to identify ‘disease’ not only don’t point to the required path to resolution, they are often erroneous identifications of the problem’s mechanism from the outset.
Oriental medicine notwithstanding, the obvious and logical first step of helping someone is establishing a correct, meaningful perception of what is happening, which inherently points to its resolution—a true diagnosis.
East Meets West
On the Battlefield of the Client’s Experience
Arthritis is a typical and widespread name given to millions of Americans, in lieu of a true diagnosis. (The word ‘arthritis’ simply means joint inflammation. Isn’t it fascinating how both religion and medicine have historically employed the use of Latin to confuse and subjugate?) Arthritis is to diagnosis, what aspirin is to treatment. How many arthritis sufferers do you know who have been ‘cured’ by conventional medicine?
In my experience, a case of arthritis is clinically elementary when it’s true cause is understood. It can have many causes, but most of them are ridiculously simple, and honestly, rarely do they involve inflammation of a joint. Happy outcomes are the norm—but not always.
The worst case of ‘arthritis’ I’ve seen arrived in the form of a dear woman who became a close friend. Her arthritis did actually happen to involve joint inflammation. But, of course that was only a symptom. She was addicted to the cause of her arthritis, and that was her diet. By the time she got to me, the effects of that addiction had already advanced to the presence of cancer. For a year or so, we were able to change her diet and see that process reverse itself. Then came the day I discovered she had gone back to her addictions. I implored her to understand what to expect if she continued on that path. “I’m free now to do what I want”, she said. Yes, you are, dear one. She translated within nine months.
[Now another factor has, inadvertently, been thrown into the picture—in reality, one more potent than the two I’m trying to illuminate here. But it’s simply too big to bring into the spotlight, so I’m not even going to… give it a name.]
Please, just remember the vital importance of beginning your journey from a true diagnosis. Insist on it. Without a true cause, identified by a true diagnosis, your problem will remain unknown and untreated. If you’re offered a name, and experience an uneasy feeling, celebrate! That’s a healthy response. And know that you are still making progress toward the achievement of your first step.
Bringing This to a Personal Level
Within this very old paradigm that informs my curious desire to help sincere strangers, a true diagnosis is made through differentiation of syndromes—identifying a pattern of disharmony in the client. This pattern is well-defined and most often, easily recognizable to the trained eye. The trained eye will employ a host of diagnostic methods verified by millennia of clinical use. While a doctor of Oriental medicine is certainly not restricted to the use of ancient techniques, those will be the most reliable diagnostic tools for identifying a pattern of imbalance. Modern testing techniques can be very valuable, but only when they can be viewed and employed from the perspective of the paradigm. After years of digging, the persistent physician may be shown those relationships, where they exist.
When a true diagnosis is established, the journey is well underway, because a diagnosis inherently points to the requirements for both its existence and its resolution. But the important take away here is the diagnosis itself. Without it, nothing of much value is going to happen. Diagnosis is the pillar of any truly functional form of medicine. Without it, we’re left with a ‘trying’ guessing game. Try this, try that.
In contrast to typical expectations and ‘standard of care’ reality, I spend four hours with a first time client. Is that really necessary? Well, true, I can make a pretty definitive diagnosis in a five minute pulse reading. But the four hours is not for me. Yes, I’m going to gather a LOT of pertinent information, but the four hours is really for the client, not me. We’re going to set the stage for a journey which will result in a level of health the client had forgotten was possible—or perhaps has never even experienced. You would be astonished at how much you learn about your individual constitution, your current malady, and what you need to do to correct it when your primary care physician gives you his undivided attention for four hours—if that’s ever happened. It’s an entirely different ball game. And treatment, as well, will be of an entirely different magnitude than what you have heretofore experienced. Life is going to take on a different color.
The Slippery Slope
Of Our Current State
If a true and accurate diagnosis is so vitally critical to good health, why do Americans start looking for a treatment when they don’t yet have a diagnosis? Unclear thinking is the simplest, most honest answer. But to be generous, we have lots of cultural influences engrained in us from birth, and they each contribute to this mechanical behavior.
- We know neither the definition, nor the necessity of a true diagnosis (because we’ve never been given one—it’s not part of our experience).
- Since birth, we have been given meaningless names by our medical system. It’s what the system does. It’s expected.
- Being vaguely aware of #2, we have grown suspicious of conventional medicine, because its treatments, frankly, don’t work very well either. This prompts us to look for ‘alternative’ answers.
- We now have the internet, and in this wealth of information, hope springs eternal. And what’s the most popular activity on the internet? Finding a treatment!!! (The latest nutritional darling; Dr. Oz; the latest and hippest new diet; Mercola; the treatment that saved my life!; Oprah)
Dear friends, the internet AND ALTERNATIVE MEDICINE—hang on here, you might spill your coffee—are no better informed than conventional medicine. The only thing distinguishing alternative medicine from conventional medicine is alternative medicine’s rejection of conventional medicine’s use of drugs. And in the vast majority of its practitioners, even that distinction is nominal.
And the internet? Internet health content, whether conventional or alternative, is a horror show. But it seems to give meaning to a lot of people’s lives. Intelligent health advice? Hardly.
In lieu of an entirely different discourse, let’s just say alternative medicine is the same old tired lack-of-a-system, looking for alternative treatments for symptomatic names of ‘diseases’. It’s true, some corners of alternative medicine are pursuing ‘functional medicine’, which is a good direction to look, but they’re doing so through the symptomatic model. There exists no paradigm distinguishing it from conventional medicine. There is no true diagnosis. (Have you noticed they both use the same names to substitute for diagnoses?) And there follows a misplaced focus on treatment before a cause is known, because neither conventional medicine nor alternative medicine, is endowed with a framework from which to recognize a cause.
I know I’m repeating myself, but is this starting to make sense? Perhaps more importantly, are you beginning to get the message that Oriental medicine is NOT alternative medicine? And that alternative medicine is not much of an alternative? Oriental medicine is an intact, complete, and fully functional, standalone paradigm of medicine. In over two thousand years, it has never found itself floundering around searching for alternatives.
To give you an idea of just how deeply these cultural patterns of behavior are engrained in those of us who were born and raised in it, consider this. Even the vast majority of my peers don’t realize that this medicine is based on unwavering principles. Individuals who have actually made the commitment to a career based on this medicine, don’t understand it, and are not practicing it. They may have intellectually studied and memorized some of these principles, but that’s universes apart from making the medical paradigm their reality. Their clinical choices, their questions voiced at seminars, their plates at seminar lunches, all betray their adherence to an unchanged Western worldview—a worldview that is bereft of a true diagnosis, and therefore can only rely on unguided, symptomatic modalities.
Even acupuncture. Amazing modality, but it’s a tool, not a system of medicine, not a set of principles. Sure, acupuncture happens to be a complex and highly developed tool, evolved specifically to serve the medicine’s principles, but it can only do so when administered by someone fluent in those principles. Without deep understanding of the medicine as a guide, we’re just sticking needles in people, cookbook style or worse. And our results reflect that level of understanding. Our cultural tendency is to look for any new modality, the latest tool that everybody’s talking about—all before we even have a meaningful diagnosis. Professionals included. And acupuncture is so talked about, that it is highly coveted by other medical professionals who wish to stick needles in people, too—without training. If trained and licensed Western acupuncturists have trouble assimilating this medicine’s principles, what can we expect from untrained doctors of either conventional or alternative medicine?
I have clients who’ve been with me for a decade (or two) who will call and inquire ‘what I think’ about a form of treatment for themselves or for a friend, and I have to say, “Um, do we have a diagnosis?”
“I knew you’d say that!” And we laugh. They recall some memory of what acquiring a diagnosis entails. When we’re graced with a true diagnosis, we typically find a number of factors needing correction to effect a solution—often in a specific sequence. It’s not a simple tool we’re after, it’s bringing the principles to bear on the condition we’ve created that will alter our experience in a meaningful way.
Is this distortion anything new? Absolutely not. It’s as old as humanity. This is, and always has been, the tendency of the human mind, and adherence to this tendency and others like it are what keep the ring in our karmic nose.
Does any of this really even matter? From the vantage point of the higher truths, no. Not at all. From the higher levels, mind, the physical body, and all our many psychic cohorts will have been transcended. They no longer exist. It only matters within the context of a sincere desire to extract all the benefit to be had from the experience of a precious lifetime of unfoldment in a physical body.
The next time you find yourself in a healthcare ‘predicament’, try to notice and recognize mind’s urge to bring up Google and type in a name. If we can recognize that urge, then we have the opportunity to stop, maybe change our mind, and instead go inside and get quiet. What’s really going on here? Seeking guidance from within is always far more progressive than going out and looking for someone else’s answer—on the internet or elsewhere.
If stopping and going inside for some quiet contemplation is our choice—a reprieve from the mind’s incessant chatter—we invariably glean unanticipated perspectives on our condition. And it’s not uncommon, after turning our focused attention inward, that we’re effortlessly led through the precise process required to attain a goal of more depth than our mind could ever imagine for us—far transcending even the paradigm of Oriental medicine.
In fact, it’s a principle.
Most Recent Contemplation: Pernicious Anemia
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