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Our true integrative medicine will be a combination of the very best ancient and modern techniques. It will be a medicine that reflects and harmonizes the Dao.
Yoga. Meditation. Ginger. Ginseng. Turmeric. These are just a few of the tools heralding a shift in medicine towards the feminine. Both the health hobbyist and health professional appreciate these therapies and are glad science is validating them. But most people haven't dove into the complex theories underlying natural medicines. Most medical doctors resonate with - but don't really understand - the ancient concepts that govern their use.
And that's ok. Even if practitioners only know the "if A's then B's" of prescribing turmeric for inflammation, they're still helping hundreds of people.
But what if they knew more? In the hopes of sparking curiosity and accelerating our progress towards a higher medicine, I will share with you some ancient secrets. In the span of a few articles, I am going to show why you are witness to the rise of the feminine, provide you a perspective on what that truly means, offer you context and scientific support for what I'm saying, and illuminate what you can do so you can flourish in the midst of this shift, no matter what your medical specialty or degree may be. By the time I'm done, you'll see why you need to ride this wave, not fight it, and you'll gain insight on how to ride it without getting misdirected.
Because this isn't a trend. It is a current. A tide. And just like a tide, it cannot be stopped.
What am I talking about? The Dao – an ancient microcosmic-macrocosmic representation of reality that explains all phenomenon in the natural world. Seriously.
You know the Dao. The symbol of the Dao looks like a stroke of paint creating an open circle. These days, we see it all over marketing. It is on cookbooks and websites. A version of it has been incorporated into the branding of everything from yoga studios to software programs.
Why? Because the Dao is powerful. The Dao has an appeal that crosses all beliefs and doctrines, because it is not a belief or doctrine: it is an expression of reality. Of truth. Of how Nature works. And it resonates with us on a deep level, attracting us even though intellectually, we may not know why. And we don't need to know why. The Dao symbol is not speaking to us intellectually, on a masculine level. It is speaking to us on the intuitive or wisdom level, on a gut or heart level. It is speaking on the feminine level.
The Dao is an open circle representing oneness. Everything within is the same as everything without. There is flow. There is movement. Within and without are the same.
Everything in nature is, ultimately, the same. Science confirms this truth through many fields and lenses: the earth is made of elements of stardust, and thus, we are made of elements of stardust. We obtain energy recycled from plants and animals, energy provided by the sun. Thus, we are made of molecules of plants and animals and are, ultimately, sun-powered. Our bodies are made of more bacteria than human cells. We populate the earth like microbes populate our guts. Thus, we must care for our internal biome like we must cultivate the soil. Human beings emit light from within. Light shines from outside us into us. Within and without are the same. Or, as many a mystic (and at least one prominent scientist) have said: "I am in the universe and the universe is in me."
This is Daoism. It did not derive from a mathematical equation, telescope, or microscope. As far as we know, no tools were used to arrive at its truths. It arose from lifetimes of wise men sitting in contemplative meditation and studying the interrelationships and change in Nature. With the power of their own perception, they discovered the cycles of energy through the body that we have come to know as acupuncture channels and mastered the art of using herbs in complex medicinal formulas. They created an elegant and effective medical system that we are only now beginning to rediscover and confirm.
And there's more.
If we sit with the symbol of the Dao, we will eventually see both a negative and positive image. First, there is the positive image, the line. It depicts movement. It is fluid. It shows that the nature of reality is both circular and linear, a spiral. Then, like in sketching, there is the negative image, where lines are used not to illustrate an object, but to draw the areas around the object, allowing the object to arise out of the blank field. The negative (or non-drawn) part of the symbol is what speaks to within and without being the same.
Suddenly, this image is about more than the ultimate state of oneness; it is also about duality. It is about yin and yang (pronounced 'yaahng', with a soft 'a'). That line cutting through the blank area, the active part of the symbol? That's the yang. The receptive part, the blank area? That's the yin. Yang represents masculine forces. Yin represents the feminine.
In holistic macrocosmic-microcosmic perspective, the masculine is the sun, the light, the energy, the frequency, the vibration, the sound resonance, the qi. The feminine is the earth, the silence, the physical, the manifested, the blood. Life occurs when and where they meet and transform from one into the other, where the darkest, deepest yin (earth) holds the most powerful yang (molten core). Science shows this everywhere, such as where the sun (yang) warms the earth's water (yin) and life begins, or in the midnight zone of the deep sea, where underwater volcanic vents teem with life. When it comes to our bodies, we are both yin (sharing molecules of the earth and plants and animals) and yang (involved in the absorption and production of light).
Duality is an absolute prerequisite for physical life. Hot and cold. Dry and wet. North and south poles. East and west directions. Negative and positive magnets. Receptive and active communication. Girl meets boy -- and creates baby. Life is dependent upon the interplay of forces of polarity, or duality, and all the mess in-between. (After all, you can't even draw the Dao without putting something on nothing. You can't speak about anything without leaving something unsaid.) Nothing can be done here without duality.
As part of one Dao, yin and yang are interdependent. They are inseparable. They build the seasons and create the lifecycle. We are a part of it, for we are built of it. To illustrate this truth, we can examine one very powerful substance: blood.
In many cultures, blood is revered and respected as a mystical substance. In some cultures, there is the idea of blood-brothering, or mixing of blood in order to mix spirit and pledge communion. Some beliefs revere blood so highly that they forbid the practice of blood transfusion. In Chinese medicine, it is accepted that the blood (yin) carries the shen (spirit/yang). It is understood that yang must be in a yin container in order for there to be physical life. Like with blood, mental activities (yang) require a very watery environment, the brain (yin). Science confirms this phenomenon. Babies (considered much more yang than adults) have a higher percentage of water in their bodies. Men (more yang than women) also have a higher percentage of water than women (generally considered more yin). When yin and yang separate, such as through the loss of blood, life ends. The yang returns to the yang. The yin returns to the yin.
When it comes to the yin and yang of medicine, our fast-acting pharmaceuticals and life-saving surgical interventions are more yang. Acupuncture, breath-work, meditation, counseling, dietary guidance, and herbal therapies tend towards yin. Of course, these generalities are relational and not absolute, and we will explore the reasons why in the next article. For now, it is enough to recognize that most over-the-counter pain relievers can take an hour to achieve full effect while acupuncture can stop pain almost instantly. Likewise, acupuncture promotes greater neurological function and faster return of consciousness in comatose patients than conventional treatment. In situations such as these, yin medicines can be very yang and vice versa.
Yin and yang are never about better or worse. They are both always necessary. As we reclaim the power of the ancient, feminine medicines, we must take care not to alienate or diminish our masculine, modern medicines. If, in our enthusiasm for the feminine, we would err by ostracizing yang medicines, we would surely do ourselves harm. We must remember that yin medicine is fantastic for many reasons: it tends to be safer, with fewer negative side effects, and less potential for a medication cascade. In the same way, yang medicines are incomparably wonderful when they stop a life-threatening infection or restore life after a cardiac infarction. As the Dao shows us, all medicines are important and, ultimately, vital.
As scientists, it is not easy for us to understand the circular constructs of yin medicine. Therefore, we must take care not to be like the conquistadors of the New World. We must seek to understand our other, the yin medicine, on her level. We must allow her view, her perspective, to be valid, if we are ever to glimpse her truths. We must allow her constructs the same deference we show to our own, if we are ever to know her wisdom. While it is valid for us to wish to evaluate her according to our scientific methods, we must come to her from a place of respect and curiosity before we can ever expect to design methodologies and measures capable of appreciating her worth. We will only do a disservice to ourselves and our patients if we restrict the use of natural and Chinese medicines, pick-and-choose parts that seem to fit our purposes, or improperly design and interpret results of our experimental testing, simply because we have not yet sought to understand yin medicines in their own fullness and wise context.
In the end, science, or hard knowledge (masculine), will always support meditative, soft knowledge (feminine), though its lens and perspective is different and it may take several decades or centuries, because ultimately they are simply opposing polarities of one and the same, the Dao. The question, then, becomes: If both are valid, how do we combine the intellectual (yang) and intuitive (yin) approaches to solving health problems? How do we masterfully honor and combine yin and yang medicines?
The answer will be found in the highest form of integrative medicine. It will not be like the integrative medicine you can find today. It will be a truly holistic medicine in which all experts from diverse traditions are provided equal footing from which to speak their knowledge, wisdom, and perspective. Integrative medicine is not about competition between providers. Nor is it about elevating any one medical tradition or approach to a place of dominance. It is about providing patients access to the best possible team of experts so that they can make informed health decisions. It is about coming together in mutual humility, curiosity, and respect, about combining intellectual knowledge (yang) and contemplative wisdom (yin) to illuminate truth (dao) and effect healing (restoration of the whole person). Our true integrative medicine will be a combination of the very best surgical techniques, pharmaceuticals, herbal medicines, acupuncture, meditation, and more. It will be a medicine that reflects and harmonizes the Dao.
And it's already happening. Two weeks ago, I had the privilege of hearing leaders of the functional medicine movement talk about the gut biome at The Functional Forum. Every single speaker referenced ancient philosophy and the power of integrative therapies, highlighting their discoveries of the usefulness of herbs and mindfulness in healing digestive inflammation and distress. A few months ago, I had the honor of reading and reviewing my good friend Dr. Jolene Brighten's new book, Healing Your Body Naturally After Childbirth— The New Mom's Guide to Navigating the Fourth Trimester, and was overjoyed to read her many references to effective post-partum Chinese medicine remedies. And in the latest issue of Acupuncture Today, I was pleasantly surprised to see the headline article announcing the success of the Chinese herbal medicine department at the prestigious Cleveland Clinic.
My friends, the truth is that we are on the cusp of not just a movement in medicine, but of a great awakening. It is a critical, beautiful juncture: an opportunity to direct our own evolution. We can choose to facilitate our own re-integration. We can choose to embody a perspective of oneness. We can honor, value, and bring together the 10,000 perspectives on healing and 10,000 tools for inquiry into a new tradition of integrative medicine.
The Dao teaches us that yin and yang will eventually come into harmony, whether we want them to or not. But if we bring our consciousness to it, if we become aware of it, we will avoid wild painful missteps. We will create it now, instead of 100 years from now.
Create enlightened medicine.