I want to come at the idea of healing and recovery from a different direction. Please bear with me as I lay a foundation.
I am in a traditional Chinese medical school program. Suffice it to say, this is not anything like the Western Cartesian-based model, but I am the first to admit that there is a place for both traditions at the table. Integration is happening albeit very slowly. A foundational aspect of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) is Yin-Yang theory. To Westerners unfamiliar with Yin-Yang and Qi, this may sound strange and completely out of place particularly in the medical arena. For the Eastern mind, Yin and Yang are just as relevant to the state of the mind and body as blood pressure and cholesterol levels are to the cardiologist.
Yin is Blood. Yang is Qi. Yin is internal, cold, dark, nourishing, and solid. It descends. Yang ascends. It is warm, invisible, energetic, and functional. It propels and moves outward. Yin generates Yang, and Yang generates Yin. The two are mutually dependent upon the other. This generation catalyzes growth and movement. In extreme environments, Yin and Yang will transform into each other. All of the activities of Yin and Yang manifest in the body and mind. Their imbalance. Their movement. Internal organs are known by their Yin or Yang-like behaviors. The liver’s actions, for example, rise upwards and outwards, thus, we often refer to “liver Yang” when discussing the liver system. We do not say “liver Yin”.
Why is this germane to, well, anything? Ah, well, I will make my point. In TCM diagnosis according to Yin-Yang theory, one looks at patterns and speaks in terms such as “deficiency” and “excess”–Yin deficiency, Yang excess, Yin excess, Yang deficiency.
Regard the graphic image. Note the balanced Yin-Yang. Now, note the graphic representation of Yang Deficiency. Notice that Yin is the same. It is still functioning as it should. It is Yang that has decreased. Compare Yang Deficiency to Yin Excess. For the sake of argument, let’s say that Yang has not decreased at all but Yin has increased as is depicted. In both cases, there will be too much Yin influence, but will there be a difference in symptoms? Yes. Deficiency and excess patterns are very different, and their symptomology is different.
How does this apply to you? Well, this idea came to mind when I was having a conversation about the state of the world and humanity. Is the world overrun with evil? Are we humans more terrible now than we were, say, 100 years ago? I don’t think so. The world has always been a terrible place. Read any history book. Talk to anyone who isn’t within the privileged class or gender. There have always been genocide and ethnic cleansing. There have always been myriad forms of subjugation. There has always been war. There has always been pestilence. There have always been terrible leaders and corruption. There is nothing new under the sun. In other words, there has never been a deficiency in suffering.
What we are deficient in, however, is goodness. The world is not different in terms of awfulness. Our nostalgia would tell us otherwise, but that’s privilege speaking. Who looks back on that so-called “better time” except for those who benefited from the previously and presently existing power differential and those who fear losing it? Life is very hard.
In TCM, what does one do to fix a deficiency? How does one treat an excess pattern? We clear the excess and nourish the deficiency. That is the high-level treatment. How does this apply to our lives–to you and me?
From what I personally experience and observe in others, we all have deficiency and excess patterns in our lives. We can be deficient in certain resources be they financial, social, employment opportunities, mental and physical energies and health, etc. We can also have excess patterns, too, like excessive anger or sadness, excessive thinking that manifests as obsessive and racing thoughts, worry, excessive doubt and fear that lead to feelings of stuckness and paralysis in life, excessive illness, excessive bad influences from our relationships leading to a deficiency in adequate socio-emotional support which would actually nourish our deficiencies. Excess leads to deficiencies, and deficiencies often lead to excess. This is a cycle. We experience this quite often. Viewing it through this lens is simply another way to understand our experiences. Once you can understand and name your experiences, then you can begin to regulate them.
So, what do you do then?
Well, if the TCM treatment is to nourish the deficiency and clear the excess, then start there. On the macro-level, talking about the great evils of the world will not clear the excess of suffering. Determining to be an agent of goodness and kindness in the world, however, will address the deficiency–even if only a little bit. We have to start somewhere. On a micro-level, in your life, nourishing your own life’s deficiencies is a daily task that requires small, committed steps. Pick one thing and begin to nourish it. That sounds hokey, I know, but being kind and good starts with yourself. You can’t extend kindness and goodness outward and upward if you can’t direct it inward.
Howard Thurman, educator, philosopher, theologian, and civil rights leader, said:
“Don’t ask yourself what the world needs. Ask yourself what makes you come alive and then go do that. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive.”
My suggestion then regarding nourishing any deficiency you might be experiencing in your life is to do something today that makes you come alive. Coming alive sparks hope. Hope inspires goodness. Goodness increases kindness. Kindness cultivates patience. Patience softens hard places. Once hard places are soft, then trust can grow. When trust can grow, intimacy is possible. When intimacy is possible, love is possible. When love is possible, anything is.
So, really think about it. What is one thing that you could do today that would make you feel more alive? It need not be earth-shattering. It might be as simple as making yourself a cup of tea or coffee and doing the New York Times crossword puzzle. It might be going for a walk while listening to K-Pop. It might be going to the gym or watching the same episode of your favorite TV show just because it makes you laugh really hard. It might be dusting a shelf or editing the metadata on your iTunes library. It could be cooking or gardening or swimming or petting your cat. Maybe it’s gaming or making love or reading novels or car dancing or doing naked yoga. Whatever it is, do it.
And then, do it again tomorrow. And the day after that. Do whatever it takes to come alive every day. See what happens. Write about it. Talk about it. Just…do it.
And please let me know what happens. I’d love to know.