I recently watched a wonderful webinar by Dr. Ed Neal MD titled, “The Need for Beauty”. Dr Neal is a praciting physician and a scholar of Chinese medicine who translates texts and teaches their clinical applications. I found the ideas presented in this webinar thought provoking and profoundly powerful, yet subtle. I thought that I would summarize some of the ideas and points here for my patients, friends, and collegues, as I don’t believe that most will take the time or have interest watching the full webinar, should a recording even be available. I’ve added some of my thoughts and observations alongside of Dr. Neal’s, but most of the wisdom in this article is from him. To practitioners of Chinese medicine that are reading this – consider making a connection with Dr. Neal’s work!
As I sit to write this short article, the pandemic of 2020 continues with all of its chaos, confusion, and uncertainty. There is, however, a silver lining. As Dr. Neal stated, “When things are up in the air, change can occur”. As Dr. Leon Hammer mentioned to me, “Creativity emerges from chaos”. So, now is a great time for all of us to reconsider many aspects of our lives and make beneficial changes!
One of the classical texts on Chinese medicine, the Neijing, talks about health and medicine with images of plants, light, nature, and beauty. This may seem odd to Westerners, as we are conditioned to think that medicine should be discussed in scientific terms, with numbers and laboratory tests, and math equations. The ancient Chinese, however, were astute observers who saw correlations between human life, our physical body, societal functions, and nature in all of its manifestations. Their language is complex and poetic, belying a cultural perspective on everything observed that is very different than western perspectives, and equally valid. The classic Chinese texts present ideas poetically and symbolically, as do many cultures.
There is tremendous value in diverse viewpoints and ways of thinking. If we can understand the perspecives presented in the Neijing, perhaps we can find valuable insights that can be adapted and applied to our current, modern, Western lives. Here are a few ideas from this text on medicine, life, beauty, and living life to the fullest – which is one way to determine good health and being well. Even Sigmund Freud supposed suggested that health is to, “live well and love well.”
The Chinese term “Zhi” means “to treat”, or to restore order to the body. The provided visual is that one’s consciousness (“shen”), characterized as light, should flow and fill all the areas of the body. It originates from the heart and travels through the blood vessels. Illness occurs when consciousness is not reaching and nourishing as it should. Because this consciousness-light (“shen ming”) is the template on which our physical body is formed, restoring the proper flow of light will restore the body as it was originally formed. The result is radiant beauty and thriving, which is how physicians know that they’ve done their job.
Clearly, this imagery is poetic, symbolic, metaphorical, and philosophical. This allows us to contemplate different ideas of what is being suggested, all of which we may find insightful and helpful. Returning to the previous image, perhaps this consciousness-light is referring to blood, as it comes from the heart and flows through the vessls to all the areas of the body. There is an increasing recognition in Western medicine about the role of blood and blood flow contributing to diseases, especially as we age.
Perhaps the reference is to something less substantial than blood, like our mindset, beliefs, and attitudes. We are learning more about epigenetics, and the effects of various hormones and chemicals on cellular functioning. Have you ever known two people with “bad blood” between them? If so, you’ve likely seen that anger and negativity certainly has an unhealthy effect, especially over time – quite the opposite of thriving and manifesting beauty! There are certainly more ways to think about and translate this imagery from the Neijing, and I hope you’ll take some time to ponder the possibilities.
This Chinese idea about health and beauty is in contrast to the Western utilitarian definition and view of illness, which is the focus of Western medicine. If you don’t have a complaint, or abnormal findings on imaging or lab tests, you don’t have an illness. You aren’t broken, therefore you’re healthy. This is a negative definition – you don’t have things… therefore, you can go back to work! This view comes from the 17th century industrial revolution, when life became utilitarian, and things (people) were valued for how much they could produce, how well they could function. We can see that the perspectives of physicians differ between East and West.
The Neijing suggests that the human body is like an ecological landscape, with visuals of plants, blossoms, fruits, roots, branches… all thriving and beautiful in their own way. Some elements in this landscape like direct sun, others need shade. Warmth and cold have different effects on the landscape, as does water. Each person has a unique mix of landscape elements, and therefore a unique beauty. As interesting as this to visualize, how is this clinically helpful? A key question for physicians is this: what helps each patient express their beauty, and thrive?
Restoring beauty to the body’s ecological landscape is a primary consideration of classical Chinese medicine. It requires that physicians see their patient’s uniqueness, and that they treat accordingly, clearing blockages that prevent the consciousness-light from circulating freely, enabling the natural re-establishment of harmonic order and synergy throughout the landscape.
Perhaps this is a bit too philosophical and abstract for all but the masterful Chinese physicians. So, let’s bring the idea of beauty into more concrete, applicable terms.
Beauty is related to joy, love, expansion, and transcendence. As such, we generally have a couple of options in life. First, to live a heart-centered life where we follow the resonance of light, beauty, and thriving. Or, secondly, we can pursue “shiny objects”, things that grab our nervous system, trigger addictions, and that we chase (but never catch). We then end up more tired, more hungry, and malnourished.
The sage recommendation is not to focus on things that give us temporary joy, buth think about the greater ideas of our hearts.
And, don’t be an observer of beauty, be a full participant in beauty! FEEL your own beauty resonate with with what you observe around you.
If you cannot find and feel beauty within and outside of yourself, you have a pattern of illness (dis-ease). Everyone has beauty, and the expression of it is a normal, necessary part of the cosmic, natural cycles. Humans are integral to these cycles, as it’s posited that we stand between heaven and earth, the etheral-idealogical and the practical manifestation, an integration of the spirit and the body that resonates in a beautiful harmonic.
Our breath is part of this integration. It is both ethereal-spirit (air) and substantive (physical body), and it’s the basis of health. We cannot express our beauty if we aren’t breathing properly, as incorrect breathing forms a basis for illness and dis-ease. We are learning more about the wide-reaching health risks associated with sleep apnea, and the value of mindfulness, meditation, and mediating stress responses through our breathing. Proper breathing is critical for both survival and health.
Although we think of beauty as a static ‘thing’, it’s actually a process. The process of thriving in synchrony with natural environments that surround us, and an outward expression of our inner beauty through our breath, internal harmony, health, and a life well-lived.
A contrasting perspective comes from the utilitarian, industrial revolution mindset that devalues beauty and prefers productivity and profit – which is why we now have huge islands of plastic waste accumulating in our oceans. If beauty was valued, and we understood the role and force of it, and if we had a proper relationship to it, we would factor beauty into all of our decisions. Nature’s patterns and movements affect us because we are part of the natural ecosystem. The ripples of consequence echo between humanity and nature.
So what might we take away from this deeply loaded and profoundly important idea, represented in this ancient Chinese medical text?
Perhaps that beauty, thriving, flourishing, and love are all part of the essential cosmic order, natural and physiological breath cycles. When these are not properly expressed, the ecosystem/person falls out of balance and will be come impaired, ill, or dis-eased.
Diminishing any one part of a system diminishes the rest of the system, so cultivate a proper relationship with beauty in all aspects of your life. Connect with seasonal patterns and lifecycles. Do what you can to establish beauty in small ways, engage with in all phases and parts of your life, even the ugly ones.
Differentiate between expanding and diminishing beauty – cultivate the former and avoid that latter.
Be an active participant with beauty and thriving, not simply an observer. Create and nourish it whenever and wherever possible.
Are you in a place of “dis-ease”? Do you want to cultivate and expand beauty in your life, restablish harmony, and flourish with more ease? If so, please contact me. I’d love to work with you!