Will We Get True Health Care Reform?

After more than a year of discussions and widespread contention, we appear on the cusp of health insurance reform. Our society may benefit from such reforms, or as others fear, they may undermine the virtues of our current health care system and damage our economy. Interesting and compelling as that debate may appear, it is really a side-show. The changes introduced by pending legislation remain a long way from actual health care reform. Health care relies on actual caring, yet for all the resources our society devotes to maintaining our diseases, we show remarkably little caring for our embodied spirits in the process. The symptoms and signs of disease are the embodied spirit’s attempt to communicate its distress.

Don’t Shoot the Messenger!

While individuals don’t like experiencing the symptoms of disease, they are useful for helping us understand what the embodied spirit needs, and sometimes they specifically express the embodied spirit’s attempt to correct its dysfunction. We honor the needs of our embodied spirits in sustaining life when we listen to those symptoms and signs, and use what we learn to make needed changes. Our contemporary ethos seeks control of the uncomfortable expressions of disease, rather than sorting out and disentangling its individual causes.

Each individually embodied spirit has intrinsic capabilities to maintain his or her life. We promote healing when we facilitate and support those intrinsic capabilities, rather than when we seek to control and minimize the embodied spirit’s expression of distress. Yet, when we can begin to stimulate (substantive) changes in the patient’s qi (vital process) that had been “stuck,” the symptoms generally go away because the embodied spirit doesn’t need to keep screaming for help when it’s key struggles are being addressed. Are we willing to listen to our embodied spirits and make choices based on what it needs? When we’re tired, are we willing to rest? And if we can’t rest well, do we sort out why not, or do we simply attempt to impose sleep through the use of drugs? Can we accurately:

  • perceive thirst and do we drink water to quench it?

We all need water — anything more is a delivery system for other nutrients; for many “beverages” that people drink, one needs to use substantial portions of their water content to process the nutrients within them alone, so where is the water needed to process fully the other things one eats?

  • distinguish between physical and emotional hunger, and nurture each appropriately?

What food choices do people make when they engage “emotional eating,” and what becomes of the “foods and drink” that one ingests at that time?

  • differentiate what foods actually nourish our lives, and eat those rather than products that may be easier or more convenient (in the short term)?

Where are the freshly cooked foods in many people’s diets? Where are the vegetables?

These are some of the embodied spirit’s most fundamental needs for promoting (preserving or restoring) good health. Are we willing to honor them, or are we slaves to the sometimes unreasonable desires of our personalities? In the end, we have the health care system that we have tacitly requested over the years, because as a society we’ve allowed both our food and health industries to fulfill their economic “needs,” rather than the physiological and spiritual needs of the individuals in our society.

Sometimes individuals need interventions beyond simply reforming their lifestyle habits. Yet, when we seek care for our diseases, do we recognize the need for changes in our lifestyle choices, or do we simply want therapies that allow us to continue living as we did in developing those diseases? I believe we can only conquer our health care challenges, when we are willing to take responsibility for supporting our lives, rather than using our lives to support our personalities.

Health is an opportunity that each individual can choose, when they’re willing to honor its demands, rather than a consumer good that can be purchased — regardless of the price one is willing to pay.

Focus Health & Wellness Educational Symposium

While my domicile remains in Sonora, I haven’t been focused on the local community since closing the Healing Center of the Sierra several years ago. I’ve cut back my practice quite dramatically, so I could focus more intensively on my researches into classical Chinese medicine, and work on various writing projects. Some of those writings are archived on this site, others provide the foundation for seminars I’ve taught and am preparing. I’m working toward drafting a series of monographs; my current focus is the five systems of acupuncture channels, which provide the conceptual foundation for Neijing (Inner Classic) style acupuncture. Of course, it’s convenient that I’m also in the process of writing the handouts that I’ll provide for a four weekend seminar series that I’ll be teaching on the clinical application of those systems.

During the past couple years, a few friends suggested I join another in a long line of local groups aimed at gathering “like-minded people” to provide mutual support and focus attempts toward social change, either local and global. Often the groups I’ve gravitated toward have gathered around healing work or sustainability and green politics; in this case it seems to focus equally on both. Yet, I’m generally much more interested in my own philosophical and clinical investigations of Chinese medicine than I am in group process, so I continued in blissful ignorance of the progress of:

FoCuS — Foothill Collaborative for Sustainability

Yet, about a month ago Sheila Gradison asked me to participate in an Educational Symposium on March 19, 2010. I went to my first meeting about that event on Wed. (12/2), and found engaged and interesting people involved in various aspects of the “holistic health” field. We had a discussion about the topics each of us would like to address during that brief symposium, which touched on the topic of quantum physics (of all things!). I’m reminded that group process has its virtues, including stimulating clarification. After many years of reflecting on my work, that meeting stimulated me to write a few pages of comments on the foundations of Chinese medicine, which even leads many enthusiasts to invoke the results of experiments in quantum physics! My interest in this topic dates back to the beginning of my interest in Chinese medicine; I’m curious to see how others will connect with those ideas.

While quantum physics can be a valuable topic for holistic health practitioners who are attempting to engage (particularly “scientific”) members of the public, I believe it is ultimately a distraction. It can help pry open the minds of people set in their allegiance to mechanistic conceptual models of reality, but it also tends to invite people to enroll in it as the “right” conceptual model that explains how things work. People want so badly to feel in control of their world…

I believe the key point that most holistic health practitioners are trying to make in referring to quantum physics is that mechanistic “scientific” models do not provide the ultimate explanation of the world — that the world, especially the human world,  is much more complex and magical than most imagine. Some people believe quantum physics suggests that there is a consciousness expressed through the “physical” universe. Indeed, they’ve given one type of quark (subatomic particles) a suggestive name like “charm.” While such speculations may amuse us, why do we seek support for the idea that consciousness be included in our descriptions of individual human life from the outset?

Each individual is an embodied spirit. The first task of that embodied spirit is to survive in this world of constant polar interactions. The highest healing work facilitates that process, rather than controlling the expression of distress when there is something awry. We need to study that, and how to support it in disentangling from its blockages and stagnation. Natural medicine is far more (and less!) than the use of naturally occurring products. It is the process of facilitating an individual’s return to his or her own nature — to optimize it’s ability to live.

Is Health Care Against Society?

I ran into an old friend at the grocery store a couple days ago. We greeted each other warmly, after not seeing each other for several years. Matt is a medical doctor, specifically a radiologist, who was one of few medical professionals in our small rural California town to accept my efforts practicing Chinese medicine fifteen years ago. At that time, we bonded over our deep concern for the well-being of patients and our scornful opinions concerning the practice of medicine.

Yet, Matt and I were going in different directions. He was pretty cynical about many of his local colleagues, and how they used (and mis-used!) the very expensive technology at the core of his specialty. I learned a lot from him about both the strengths and limitations of medical imaging as part of my specialized training in “acupuncture orthopedics,” and I was searching for an entirely different conceptual framework for practicing health care. We drifted apart as the stresses of our respective lives consumed our attention, even though our souls knew we were “brothers” in our quest to improve American health care.

The focus of Matt’s rapier wit has shifted from local to global. He now believes there are severe systemic flaws in American health care, and declares that only a complete transformation of financial incentives can repair the system. Matt shared his perception that:

The current fee-for-service health care system renders patients into fodder to generate fees (and hence INCOME) for providers

Matt strongly expressed his conviction that our health care system can only be repaired by adopting a national program like the one in Great Britain. His twenty-five years practicing medicine has convinced him that the health care system must be designed with patient welfare at its center! I heartily agree with that perception.

While I may identify different specifics and remedies, Matt and I agree on many aspects of our societal challenges with health. I concur that our health care system suffers because of some very warped incentives, and believe lasting effective remedies must address them. Twenty years ago the “money people” devised “managed care,” which was supposed to squeeze the inefficiencies out of our health care system. Yet, that industry now soaks up more than 17% of GNP, and our health outcomes are poor relative to other industrialized nations, especially when measuring health span. Maybe we can start with several principles:

  1. We must find ways to put patients back at the center of health care, especially identifying specific life changes they can cultivate to promote healing
  2. We must line up incentives throughout the entire economy to support health
  3. Modern (western) medicine doesn’t have a monopoly on wisdom about health — a free marketplace of ideas will optimize our solutions

We can find solutions for our health care crisis!

I told Matt about my blogging concerning health care policy; he shared his small website to spread his philosophy. I suppose he got disheartened or busy with other things, because he hasn’t continued writing new pieces for that site. Matt seemed inspired by the idea of blogging, and I hope he gets invigorated to share his experience and insights about our profound societal health care challenges. While our voices and messages are rather different, I believe that a mélange of caring and concerned health care practitioners will identify the important principles for resolving our health care challenges.

Sometimes, the darnedest things happen at the supermarket!