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Mystery at the heart of healing

Mystery at the heart of healing

Many people in the modern world believe (whether explicitly or implicitly) in “promissory materialism”, which essentially says that although there are things that Western science hasn’t fully explained, it is only a matter of time before all is illuminated. Rather than seeing the reductionist, materialist scientific worldview for what it is – a worldview, one lens among other possibilities – most see it as the be all end all of knowledge. Reality, in other words.

While Chinese medicine is becoming steadily more and more accepted in America, the risk is that it will be a stripped down technique that ultimately makes it past the gatekeepers of what is really real. As practitioners we have to walk a fine line – able to interface with the dominant paradigm so we have a place at the table, and yet committed to bringing the full depth of our medicine to that table (and ideally, ultimately, to change the whole table!) It’s quite the challenge, because the holistic, relational, ecological worldview that Chinese medicine bloomed out of is what’s needed in our disconnected, materialist world. Not another technique.

Dry needling is the most obvious manifestation of that risk. Acupuncture without the woo-woo, as some claim. But it’s not just dry needling. So many of the things that we ourselves do to “advance” the Chinese medicine profession in the modern world are eerily close to the condemnation of it. Pushing for insurance reimbursement means that the healing we provide needs to be translated into billable, codeable, measurable descriptors. This is a way to “play the game” and make acupuncture more accessible and of course we know that we are doing much more than 97810 for ICD 10 M54.5. But what reality are we creating by participating in the process?

In a similar way, pushing for double-blind, randomized, controlled studies reduces our medicine to a technique that can be repeated, no matter the patient, no matter the practitioner. The huge elephant in the room is that this no longer reflects reality even within Western science! The majority of our assumptions around health – and therefore the practices and institutions and systems in place to tend our health (and vice versa) – stem from a machine-like, physical reality viewpoint. Most people still treat the body and treat health, treat the whole experience of being human, as a mechanical process. And the mind is the mind and the body is the body and never the twain shall meet.

On an acupuncture forum of all places, one practitioner was complaining about another acupuncturist asking her patient all kinds of questions about her emotional life when she was just there for stomach issues. Within Chinese medical theory that statement, “just there for stomach issues” makes no sense. Isolation is the province of Western medicine, whereas with Chinese medicine, nothing can be understood without looking at the relationship between things, and this of course includes all aspects of a human being – physical, emotional, and spiritual.

There are studies that show that a physical issue with the spine does not correlate necessarily to pain and vice versa. This is such a huge revelation (and just one anomaly showing the limits of a materialist worldview among thousands) that gets completely overlooked. We often all still want to know what’s really going on, as if an MRI or blood test is the ultimate truth rather than data revealed by looking through a very particular lens with inherent assumptions.

Perhaps the suppression of other ways of healing and of knowing were almost necessary, although tragic. It’s hard for any culture to hold multiple viewpoints that seem so contradictory, and Western medicine has made incredibly positive contributions to our overall health that might not have been possible without the hyper focus and specialization. But now, we need to find ways to allow for multiple things to be true, to allow Chinese medicine to exist fully in its paradigm without being cherry-picked, and to learn to discern which context is most appropriate for healing in each situation, all while remembering that there will always be mystery at the heart of healing. As practitioners, believing in and articulating the full breadth of what is possible with Chinese medicine, and dedicating ourselves to its deep study, is a huge first step.

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The Nuin Center
5655 Bryant St
Pittsburgh, PA 15206
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