The Turning Point: The Liberation of the Chooser
"Conservative” patients go to physicians for drugs and surgeries so they can feel better without having to change. "Open minded" people go to acupuncturists, homeopaths, and other "healers" to get "holistic" treatment so they can feel better without having to change. Evolution, real and meaningful transformation, never occurs in the presence of comfort.-Lonny Jarrett
Ideally, yin and yang exist in an integrated state together as One. In Chinese medicine this state of unity, denoted by the interpenetration of jing (essence) and shen (spirit), is a physiological metaphor for the ultimate non-difference between the dao as the unborn ground of being (jing, potential) and as the creative impulse (shen, interest) that drives the evolving, manifest, world. The heart/kidney axis, sustained by the interpenetration of jing and shen, is the embodiment of the absolute (taiji) nature of the authentic self. A self that does not compromise, has no problem, and is only interested in manifesting what is ever new. A self that is synonymous with the creative impulse.
Whether we realize this inherent unity at the level of consciousness and with integrity of action is a matter of will and intention (zhi) that is manifest in the choices that we make. However, in the developed countries we live, and practice medicine in, an amoral context defined only by relative truths. The world has become flat for lack of the recognition of any absolute reference point. Hence we find the leading edge of humanity, represented by the most educated and politically free people to have ever lived, falling victim to their own minds. The unspoken context of our underlying assumptions as both practitioners and patients might be stated in this way:
"You have your truth, and I have my truth. Nobody has access to the absolute truth. The truth for me is defined by my thoughts and feelings and it’s no more or less true than anybody else’s perspective. Nobody knows more than I do, and nobody tells me what to do. There is no such thing as hierarchy and development is an illusion. We are all doing the best we can."
A "therapeutic" relationship based on such principles is steeped in collusion. When unconditional love is taken to be equivalent with non-judgement, it is impossible for a wholesome context to exist between practitioner and patient that is based on the valuation of vertical development. And for lack of a vertical context, treatment can never amount to more than just helping people feel better about themselves as they already are. A situation compacted by hazy "yin/yang" thinking that sees all choices in an amoral, gray, and relative context.
The Turning Point: A Classical Perspective
The gate of birth and the door of death are both immaterial, formless passageways. By following mundanity, one dies; by returning the celestial, one lives—hence the names gate of birth and door of killing. In reality, they are just one opening.—Liu Yiming
The separation of yin and yang begins when the child or young adult forgets true nature and begins to create an imagined self out of their interpretations of life's events. The dynamics of the separation of yin and yang are described at length in the Yijing. It is the functional transition of hexagram 23 (bo, "splitting apart") into hexagram 24 (fu, "the return") that holds important implications for the practice of Chinese medicine (Figure 1a and 1b). Liu Yiming describes this transition as a gate or passageway between life and death, unconscious habitual functioning (yin), and the illumination of spiritual awakening (yang). He names the two hexagrams the “gate of birth” and the "door of killing the self," respectively. Like the Golden Gate leading to the womb/tomb of the queen mother (Xiwangmu), these two hexagrams form a door to either death or immortality, depending on the intention of the individual who opens it. The choice of which door to open faces each person in each moment as life's challenges are confronted. The decision spells the difference between awakening to the reality planted deep within by heaven or further estrangement from true self.
According to the Yijing, the dark forces of yin overcome the superior yang forces not by direct means but by gradually and imperceptibly undermining them so that they finally collapse. For the path to death is trod slowly one step at a time. With each challenge life hands us, with each heartbeat, we are given the choice of being true to our hearts or turning our backs on destiny. Liu is adamant that even if we are successful in the world, inevitably there can be only ruin if original nature is ignored. If habitual functioning persists, we will eventually exhaust our storehouse of yang as the framework of life collapses.
a) b) c)
Figure 1. Hexagrams 23, 24, and 2 of the Yijing.
In the structure of the Yijing hexagrams, a solid line stands for the elivening influence of yang and a broken line stands for the mundane influence of yin.
(a) Hexagram 23. Bo, "splitting apart": The hexagram depicts a house with a faulty foundation that will soon degenerate and crumble. The solitary yang line in the top position represents the heavenly influence of yang slowly eroding by the action of the mundane yin influences of conditioning pushing up from below.
(b) Hexagram 24. Fu, "return," or "the turning point": The single yang line returns to the root as consciousness is returned to the depths. Open awareness of the true self serves as a strong foundation for another round of evolution.
(c) Hexagram 2. Gun, "earth," or "the receptive": As the last yang influence in hexagram 23 changes to yin, the result is a return to earth. With no yang-activating influence remaining, but only potential, life comes to an end. Our essence returns to the origin, the primordial sea of the dao.
Discussion: The Awakening of Choice
The problems that confront humanity today are unique in their seriousness. The level of our intellectual development is far in excess of our moral or spiritual attainment. Through technology we have gained the ability to destroy or create life. This capacity, until recently, was attributed only to god. However, our ability to use such technology wisely is compromised for lack of reference to any absolute moral standard. And this lack is in part based on the death of the post-modern soul, a death predicated on our unwillingness to judge our own behaviour or that of others in the black and white context denoted by the hexagrams discussed above.
The Yijing is clear; every action taken in life is based on a choice. That choice either strengthens the authentic self allowing jing, qi, and shen to flourish in this world or denies the reality that we are One and perpetuates ignorance and suffering as we act out of the delusion of separateness. For lack of our willingness to judge, and to hold ourselves up for scrutiny against, at the very least, the highest that we ourselves have experienced as a living possibility, we lead lives of compromise. And the extent of that compromise for each of us represents the very same source of impure motivation that is responsible for where we stand right now-facing the possibility of immanent destruction at our own hands.
Yet the turning point offers the possibility of rebirth as the influence of the authentic self, the true and upright yang, is rediscovered. My interest in Chinese medicine is the extent to which it can serve as a tool to empower this awakening. My interest lies beyond the thermodynamic materialism of the 8-principle model, and beyond the "feel good," "back to nature," cantered model of the five elements. After all, we now know that "nature" includes at least 100 billion galaxies with 100 billion suns in each. What does it mean to be One with that?
A willingness to stand at the gate of yin and yang and to see the stark black and white nature of every decision we make, every word we speak clarifies the nature of the choice before us. It is in making the right choice that allows us to move through that gate and to move forward toward unity. Not the pre-modern Daoist vision of transcendent unity where we return back to, and abide in, the primordial unborn, but forward to a unity with the pure positivity of the creative impulse as it fully manifests in time and space, *now*. It is in this volitional striving toward unity, toward becoming fully integrated human beings that we as practitioners begin to fulfil the promise of holistic and integral medicine. It turns out that, in the end, the attainment of the highest virtues embraced by our medicine is only a matter of choice and interest.
Only when we practitioners have taken ourselves on in this black and white context can we possibly have an objective clinical view of our own patients. As always, it's our own vertical development, and not what we know of a technical nature, that is the most significant limiting factor in our patient's healing.
Jarrett, LS: Nourishing Destiny, The Inner Tradition of Chinese Medicine, Spirit Path Press, Stockbridge, 1998
Jarrett, LS: The Clinical practice of Chinese Medicine, Spirit Path Press, Stockbridge, 2003