About a year ago I gave a lecture to class on Integrative Medicine. The audience was a combination of medical, nursing, public health and dental students and a few interested faculty members. I was speaking about Chinese Medicine.
I thought I was doing a nice job reviewing Qi, the animating life force that flows through us, meridians, Yin and Yang, and the theory behind the sacred five elements of fire, earth, metal, water and wood. Towards the end I invited comments on how this way of understanding health and disease differed from that of Allopathic medicine. A good give and take followed until one of the faculty said he thought it was very interesting but he wanted to know if it was real.
I was momentarily stopped short. Then I remembered my own identical question 8 years ago when I began studying. Exactly. What is real?
What is reality? Chinese medicine deals half with what is and half with what might be.
Earlier in my life I became interested in social support as a moderating influence on illness. Researchers were coming to the conclusion that the social connectedness of a family has as powerful a positive influence on the outcome of disease as the negative influence of smoking on an individual’s illness.
That was intriguing. The poisoning effects of coal tar on cells seem pretty easy to grasp. But how could having a good friend protect me from cancer as powerfully as mutagens and free radicals might promote it? What was even more amazing to me was that having a good friend not only seems to protect from cancer but from virtually every other kind of hostile, damaging, risky factor that I could think of.
Why wasn’t there a Surgeon General’s Report? Why weren’t doctors writing prescriptions for friendships? Why wasn’t the public health department having Tupperware parties?
When I first studied Chinese medicine I was disturbed by how a whole theory of the universe had evolved and flourished over at least 3 millennia without ever having seemed to need to measure its core phenomena.
And then I began to see how beautifully complex and yet simple Chinese Medicine is and how well it seems to explain so many things that my allopathic training was unable to explain. And then I began to wonder why allopathic medicine was so restricted by limiting its practice to only things that could be measured. Why limit techniques to things material, things that could be weighed in grams or cut with scalpels?
Over half of the Universe is missing. Astronomers tell us that we can only account for less than half of what is out there. They call what’s missing “dark matter”. Our western drive to know and empirically understand has brought us into closer contact with the great unknown. At the same time that we feel an ever greater need to analyze and dissect there stands beside us (or at least some of us) a space to respect what is not known, what is possibly unknowable. Why not invoke a reverence of the immeasurable, the dark side of the moon, the wonder and power of strings and theories and force fields where there are no double blind studies; where every sense can be called upon to enlighten us?
When I wonder what is new and will be lasting in the practice of medicine I believe we are in the middle of a great movement over to the energy side of the relativity equation. Meridian Stress testing, kinesiology, Reiki. There is some wild stuff out there. Many of these things run strongly counter to my western reductionism, allopathic, yin bias. I don’t think this shift to energy medicine is a temporary phenomenon or a transient trend. I sense a powerful shift moving us over to a place where data is less concrete and skepticism needs to be hushed so that we might see things that are not “really” there. Yes, these non-things can have powerful effects on our wellbeing: force fields and meridians, friendships and dark matter. Is it possible that in opening our healing faculties to these energies we open each other to something even bigger than the part of universe we can measure?