TCM and Spirituality

“The miracle is not to fly in the air or to walk on the water, but to walk the earth.” –Chinese Proverb

TCM-and-Spritualityby Susan Tretakis – I’ve been thinking a great deal about Spirituality lately; not in the religious sense, but spirituality in the sense of faith.

I did not realize that – as much as I thought I had learned about Traditional Chinese Medicine this past year – I had neglected to learn a key piece. I believe that TCM has given me a greater understanding of the mind/body connection. However, this past week taught me that when it comes to true health, two out of three components isn’t enough.

I was lying on my acupuncturists’ table three days after my very frightening and bruising fall in my bathroom. I hurt – a lot. While my arms, back, neck and knees were deeply bruised and my neck and back were wrenched, nothing was like the emotional beating I was giving myself. How could I have been so klutzy to have let this happen? Thank goodness the weather was cool enough for me to hide my bruises from the public – no need to let everyone see what a klutz I believed myself to be.

Furthermore, even I – hard core acupuncturist and cupping junkie that I am – did not truly believe that there was anything my TCM doctor could do would alleviate my pain.

He positioned me on my side; I hurt more.  As he applied the cups to my neck, he began telling me how lucky I was – how fortunate I was not to have broken anything. He reminded me how fortunate I was not to have hit my head. He told me that if I GOOGLED how many people at my age broke arms and legs and shoulders from bathroom falls the number would astound me and I would see how lucky I was.

I wanted to reach out and smack him across the head, but I couldn’t lift my arm. I mean, could he not see this bruised old crone lying in front of him? I did not consider myself fortunate; I considered myself an aging candidate for the next “I’ve fallen and I can’t up” television commercial.

As those magic cups relieved the pain in my neck, shoulders and lower back,   I began to listen to him.

I still didn’t believe him – but I was listening.

I was now on my back and getting pinned – and all the while he was AGAIN reminding me how fortunate I was – how lucky I was – and how I needed to think of that. And then he left me – and I thought about it.

But I still didn’t get it; I was too deeply entrenched in my personal rabbit hole of self-pity.

In fact, the seeds of truly “getting it” were not sown until I left the office. AGAIN reminding me how fortunate I was, my doctor said that if this had happened to him, he would be so grateful not to have something broken or be hospitalized.

THAT arrow hit its mark.

From the ride home and throughout the weekend, I thought about being grateful. I thought about my spirit. I’m still thinking about both.

In an article presented by Springer Media, the author details a research study by Drs. Shi and Zhang of Bejing Normal University which examines in detail six aspects of traditional Chinese medicine: “its history; its fundamental beliefs; spirituality in traditional Chinese healing rituals; spirituality in the traditional Chinese pharmacy; spirituality in health maintenance theories; and spirituality of master doctors of traditional Chinese medicine.”

It was the “spirituality in health maintenance theories” that caught my attention.

TCM differs from Western medicine in so many ways; the former is wellness driven while the latter is disease driven. TCM also has over 3000 years of developmental history and is influenced by spirituality – two things that make it very different from Western medicine.   Western medicine strives to cure the illness while Chinese Medicine seeks to treat “people” not “diseases” and equate “curing diseases” with “curing people”.

However, there is more.

According to Drs. Shi and Zhang: “Good health and longevity are what we pursue. More and more people are concerned about ways to prevent disease and strengthen their bodies, which is the emphasis of traditional Chinese medicine. It pays attention to physical pains, and at the same time is also concerned with spiritual suffering. Therefore, TCM can teach people to be indifferent towards having or not having, to exist with few desires and feel at ease, to keep the body healthy and the mind quiet, and to achieve harmony between the body and the mind and then to achieve harmony with the world and nature.”

Apparently, “to be in good health a person must have good spirit and pay attention to cultivating their spirit.”

GOOGLE tells us that TCM is a way of “looking at ourselves and world and seeing everything as a whole; that we need to consider everything in context. In TCM, this perspective is called “taking whole”.

I had applied TCM teachings to my diet, how I exercise and I how I handle stress. I know TCM has impacted how I interact with friends and neighbors.

However, I had not applied TCM’s teachings to how I thought about – and how I spoke to myself; I had given no thought of my Spirit.

Shi and Zhang’s analysis shows that the underlying premise of Chinese medicine is that the mind and body of a person are inseparable. The authors conclude that “Traditional Chinese Medicine pays attention to physical pains, and at the same time is also concerned with spiritual suffering”.

I tend to think my current desire to stay “healthy” is tied to my aging and the medical and dental treatment I have received the past seven years. After a horrific experience with hip replacement surgery, I swore I would not go back to a hospital for elective anything. After being misled by medical and dental professionals, I swore I would no longer be a passive, paying patient.

TCM has empowered me to deal with others. How could I have missed how it could empower me to deal with me?

In “The Neuroscience of Spirituality and Religion” Dr. William Sears writes of the influence of the brain’s “spiritual pathways” on the mind and body. Acknowledging that there are over 18,000 religious denominations in the United States and that there are countless more spiritual paths and themes, he writes that   “Science says spiritual people of all sorts are more likely to have happier brains, healthier bodies, and longer lifespans.   This is because when you focus your mind on any higher power, you are able to get out of yourself, your rut, and your negative thoughts. When you grow the “spiritual center” of your brain, you lower anxiety and depression and enhance social awareness and empathy.”

Dr. Sears goes on to explain the influence of the brain’s “spiritual pathways”: “Believers heal better. Believers grow empathy centers. Belief builds a younger brain. Belief builds a happier sense of self.”

In “Spirituality in Chinese Medicine”, John Voight writes that the “key character in the Chinese word “spiritual” is “shen”. “If you have shen you will progress toward health. If you lose your shen you will die.”

There will always be “falls” in life – but they don’t have to be “fails”.

In reading the many articles on TCM and spirituality, I was reminded of something my mother used to tell me. She believed that throughout the day everyone was given blessings. She would tell me it was my responsibility to acknowledge these blessings and be grateful for them. It doesn’t matter how small the blessing is – it could be the comfort of a warm ceramic mug of tea, good music, the sound of the wind or sunshine on your face.

Today, my Yoga friends would say my mother was teaching me to look with my “Third Eye”.

Last week, my very young acupuncturist sounded much like my mother.

This past week has taught me to pay as much attention to how I think as to how much I eat and how much I work out. It’s taught me to be “actively grateful” in that I make it a point to identify at least 5 “blessings” a day. Some examples: I don’t just meditate but I remind myself how fortunate I am to have the time to meditate whenever I want. I don’t just buy and cook healthy food, I remind myself how fortunate I am to have stores nearby which sell such healthy food.

I am attempting the mind-shift of incorporating gratefulness for small things into my life – for the small things add up to big things. I pay closer attention to the words I use when speaking to myself – if I wouldn’t say them to a friend, why am I saying them to myself?

This past week has shown me the need and means to nourish my “shen”; it was truly a life lesson – a lesson plan initiated by the words from of a very young TCM doctor.