The Cost of Scientific Medicine

Many patients faced with serious illnesses seek the assurance that their practitioners are using proven healing methods. Many practitioners also seek the security that the therapies they use have been proven by scientific research. Yet, few ask the question:

What is this proof that so many seek, and what are its limitations?

In modern “scientific” medicine, the nearly ubiquitous standard of proof uses the methodology of “randomized, controlled and double-blind” experiments. While each of these features of medical research serves a clear and understandable role, they also limit researchers to studying substances and procedures that act on the mechanisms of life, rather than those that work with the individual blocks of the embodied spirit. Such remedies can’t cure disease; they can only manage and control it. Yet, in our modern society’s urgency for the security of proof, we’ve played this semantic game with our lives and convinced ourselves only experiments that conform to that methodology are “scientific.”

Classical Chinese medicine is actually MORE scientific than modern so-called “scientific” medicine. I make that bold assertion based on its willingness to investigate the true nature of life, rather than reducing it to a mechanistic model of the individual as a very complicated biochemical machine. Yet, few seem to recognize the severe limitations of the physical model of modern western medicine, perhaps because they’re distracted by its empirical form and the impressive technologies that serve it. Though medical researchers have developed:

  • sophisticated knowledge of the physical expression of disease, modern science frequently over-simplifies the issue of causation.
  • many pharmaceutical therapies that control the expression of disease, there are few that promote resolution.

The simple fact is that medical research seeks to serve the personality rather than the embodied spirit.

The efficacy of most therapies is measured by their ability to temporarily control symptoms and clinical signs. Little progress can be made by modern medical science toward reversing conditions that are considered progressive and degenerative, because that would require practitioners to discriminate  individual challenges and process. Helping patients reverse most chronic diseases requires that one treat the individual rather than the disease. In addition to the massive financial toll of modern scientific medicine, it has another greater cost. The true cost of scientific medicine is that it limits our efforts to:

controlling the expression of pathology, rather than individually probing its resolution.

The Archeology of Disease

People develop progressive and degenerative diseases from stagnations that accumulate within the embodied spirit. We can tolerate those accumulations for some time, but eventually they impede or obstruct “normal” physiological process. Each embodied spirit is provided with an amazingly effective collection of “storage reservoirs” that allow them to adapt and adjust to pathogenic stagnations. (Technically, those reservoirs are called luo vessels, channel divergences, and several of the eight extraordinary vessels). They allow people to “move on” with life by storing pathogenic factors, when they are unable or unwilling to resolve them. However,

This process of storing unresolved pathogenic factors is a double-edged sword.

While storing unresolved pathogenic factors facilitates the individual’s personality in going on with life in the short-term, it also renders the diseases that eventually emerge more difficult to resolve. If we can resist the temptation to suspend the challenges and discomfort our unresolved pathogenic factors present, we can avoid burdening ourselves with such an immense project in the future, because

We can’t simply balance or control those diseases into resolution!

Instead, resolving most chronic progressive and degenerative diseases requires the willingness to dig through the layers of “unfinished business,” and unravel the entangled accumulations we’ve stored away. Healing is very much like Archeology, though in addition to digging through the layers (and documenting them), we are faced with the challenge of resolving the pathogenic factors stored in those layers. There are no “short-cuts” for the embodied spirit — if it hasn’t finished with some aspect of life process, it’s stored away to pile up. So, if we want to heal, we may as well get out our (metaphorical) shovels and start digging!

Is it a Fairy Tale?

The conceptual model of physical “reality” articulated by modern scientific medicine is powerful and compelling. It appeals to our naïve experience of living in, and learning to manipulate, a mechanistic physical world that submits to our control according to fixed “laws of nature.” The ideas of scientific medicine are deeply satisfying to many, especially relative to their fear of suffering and/or untimely demise. Yet, we KNOW from our experience that the universe is not entirely physical and mechanistic, especially the universe of human experience. [My essay on the Sengai Scroll discusses the limitations of physical models of “reality” relative to the clinical practice of Chinese medicine.]

Each individual is a complex transducer between physical and spiritual “realities.” Physical and spiritual factors influence each other in myriad ways. The study of that relationship lay at the core of the classic text Lingshu (The Spiritual Pivot); the title refers to the deepest link between an individuated spirit and its physical embodiment. Lingshu and Suwen (Simple Questions) together comprise the fundamental Chinese medical classic Neijing (Inner Classic). My practice of Chinese medicine and the story of healing discussed on this site are primarily based on Neijing, as I’ve learned the key principles from Jeffrey Yuen.

I find the story inspired by my practice of classical Chinese medicine compelling, even when it differs dramatically from the more widely held scientific story about the “physical realities” of life. Yet, I’m also clear that it’s just my STORY.

From my classical Chinese perspective, modern (western) medicine focuses on:

  • descriptions of the physical nature of disease
  • the search for the proximal and precipitating cause
  • dramatic rescues through (externally) controlling a “broken” body

In contrast, classical Chinese medicine focuses on:

  • descriptions of the individual’s experience of disease
  • the search for multiple contributing causes, both external and internal
  • finding ways to stimulate and facilitate the embodied spirit to realize its natural potential to heal

The CCM Story, based on the Neijing (Inner Classic), Consists of a Few Key Principles:

  • The apparent decline of aging is due to accumulations that block the free expression of an individual’s vitality.
  • Those accumulations primarily consist of external and internal pathogenic factors, which have been suspended and stored in the body:
    • External pathogenic factors arise from the individual’s failure to adapt and effectively respond to changes presented by the environment. Neijing refers to this as “perverse wind.”
    • Internal pathogenic factors consist of the individual’s failure to resolve emotional conflicts.
  • Unresolved pathogenic factors stagnate, and thereby impede the free flow of vital physiological function (qi) and blood.
  • When the embodied spirit is no longer willing or able to suspend unresolved pathogenic factors, they are overtly expressed in symptoms or signs of disease.
  • True healing comes from the inside, and is available to ANYONE (regardless of disease manifestation) who resolves previously suspended pathogenic factors. That resolution generally involves both transformation and release or expulsion of previously accumulated pathogenic factors.
  • Suppressing or controlling the embodied spirit’s expression of distress doesn’t facilitate healing; those efforts simply displace distress from one place to another.

Which story is true and which is a fairy tale, intended to keep one’s inner child from being frightened in the middle of the night? Who among us knows for sure? While we’re discerning the truth among these stories, I’ll keep sharing mine on this site — its different and hopeful, by asking individuals to take responsibility (physiologically) for their lives. I believe that a free exchange of ideas will help us find truth.

When is a “Cold” not Just a Cold?

Ms. C. is a thirty-seven year old woman, who called me about four months ago seeking relief from persistent pain and dysfunction of her right hand, which made her work difficult. She came for an appointment, and reported having received treatment for neck pain and nerve root impingement causing pain and dysfunction of the arm (radiculopathy). Her neck and arm symptoms had improved after three months of physical therapy and chiropractic treatments, yet her hand stiffness and pain remained. Ms. C. worked as an R.N., and said that she considered her hand symptoms residual from her neck ailment because they had started at the same time.

I examined Ms. C’s hand and neck, and inquired about other pains. I learned that she had knee and hip pain — especially on the left, which had grown rather severe during the past several months. I read her pulses and palpated some points. I looked up at her from where I sat at her feet, and told her that I didn’t think her current hand pain came from her recent history of neck pain. My diagnostic efforts led me to suspect arthritis of inflammatory cause, such as rheumatoid arthritis. Ms. C. finally allowed that her physician had done a special blood test (rheumatoid factor) that showed a mild positive. Was this a test?

The tests practitioners get from the Dao are much larger than any we may get from people!

What were her embodied spirit’s blocks that had allowed the accumulation of pathogenic factors, which had eventually emerged in this condition? Practitioners of classical Chinese medicine ask this question of the Dao as it works within the microcosm of an individual’s physiology, and probe the embodied spirit to stimulate transformation. After more examination, I discerned accumulation in the yangming zone channel divergence, and devised an acupuncture treatment to address that blockage.

Two weeks later Ms. C. returned for a follow-up session, and reported only mild “nuisance” pain in her right hand. Indeed, she noted that all of her joint pains were much improved. I questioned her more carefully, and learned that she’d had what she considered a “bad flu” a couple days after her first treatment. She noted, “It was strange because my joints didn’t hurt at all when I was sick.”

Strange, indeed. Ms. C. received a total of five treatments during a period of slightly more than two months. Each treatment was conceived to probe and stimulate her embodied spirit to address a slightly different aspect of her physiological blocks, and I suggested she make some changes in her relationship with food based on my evaluation. To her credit, Ms. C. recognized the exacerbating influence of certain foods after I pointed out what to look out for, and she made the necessary changes. By the time of her last treatment nearly two months ago, Ms. C. felt no pain.

We discussed her indicator symptoms, how they could help her maintain this degree of wellness, and she discontinued coming for acupuncture treatments. Easy as I’ve grown with the familiarity of such results, even I found the following synchronicity a little surprising:

The day after I started writing this posting, and completely out of the blue other than my  curiosity about how she was doing, Ms. C. called me to report on her good fortune. She reported being completely pain-free without taking any anti-inflammatory medicines or pain relievers. She even rejoiced in being able to run around playing soccer with her children. We briefly discussed her indicator symptoms, and she reported have no difficulty maintaining the lifestyle (dietary) changes she had made while she was receiving treatments.

Indicator Symptoms: A Patient’s Best Friend

Don’t Shoot the Messenger

Symptoms are the embodied spirit’s gesture to communicate its distress. They are intended to get the individual to focus his or her conscious awareness toward discerning the nature and causes of that distress. Though symptoms seem to be afflictions (to the personality), they are NOT themselves the problem. They are only the “finger pointing at the moon.”

In this case, the “moon” is the blockage (to the natural and intrinsic flow of physiological function) that is causing the distress in the first place. Sometimes this is an acute blockage (as from an injury), but much more frequently these blockages accumulate over time — in the “closets” of one’s life. The incipient accumulation of unresolved pathogenic factors leads to the wide array of progressive and degenerative diseases that generally emerge as people age.

By the time many people seek help, their embodied spirits are typically screaming so loudly with unbearable symptoms that individuals simply feel the need to control their discomfort. However, telling the embodied spirit to “SIT DOWN AND SHUT UP” doesn’t change the underlying blockage in any way!

Instead of directly quieting the messenger, classical Chinese medicine teaches us to stimulate the embodied spirit to release its attachment to (and entanglement with) the pathogenic factors that have been causing distress. As the natural and intrinsic flow of vital process (which we call “qi” in Chinese medicine) improves, the intensity of symptoms automatically decreases. Treatments that suppress symptoms serve the personality, and ones that stimulate or facilitate the (underlying) flow of vital physiological process serve the embodied spirit!

What are Indicator Symptoms?

The symptoms that come from chronic, progressive, or degenerative diseases are rooted in the (previous) accumulation of unresolved pathogenic factors. While the embodied spirit is willing and able to simply suspend those unresolved stagnations in a “closet,” the individual accumulates it in “dormancy.” In psychological terms, this process is called either suppression or repression, depending on the specifics of the individual’s avoidance strategy.

When the embodied spirit is no long willing or able to suspend the individual’s unresolved pathogenic process, it emerges in overt expression. The symptoms that people experience in such cases signal the blockages that had long been accumulating, but had also been held “dormant” to allow the person to “go on” with life. When the symptoms emerge, the embodied spirit is announcing that the person must tend to the vital issues supporting the blockages causing those symptoms.

Frequently such symptoms (and even clinical signs like hypertension, which are not usually felt by patients) respond to lifestyle choices. When the individual makes choices that support his or her vital process to flow more smoothly, the symptoms and signs diminish; when those choices challenge flow the symptoms increase. Thus, the person’s symptoms become “teachers” concerning the wisdom of various lifestyle choices. Rather than suppressing (and even demonizing) symptoms, patients can use them to learn how to grow healthier.

I first wrote about using indicator symptoms in treating people with chronic degenerative diseases more than three years ago.

Are they Divergent Channels or Channel Divergences?

I say potāto and you say potäto… Does any of it really matter?

I talked with Andy Ellis a few days ago, who brought to me the question posed in the title of this posting. He mentioned that according to Chinese syntax and usage, the translated name should be “channel divergences,” rather than the commonly used “divergent channels.” Initially, I didn’t see the significance of that distinction, but within a few days decided to change the translation I use to reflect more closely the original Chinese syntax.

Does this change of syntax have any significance on how we understand and use these terms? I think it does, and understanding how leads into considering of the roles of the “primary” and “secondary” vessels of acupuncture. The primary channels regulate the moment-to-moment physiological process of the embodied spirit, and the “secondary” vessels (as they are sometimes called) work in various ways that support the primary channels in doing that. They are NOT LESS IMPORTANT than the “primary channels,” but “secondary” because they support the primary channels in maintaining life.

The channels distinctions and divergences facilitate the primary channels in two important and related ways:

As “distinctions,” they contain the individual’s learned interpretations and automatic patterns of activation and reaction that allow individuals to engage an increasing number and complexity of interactions. They project those interpretations and “pre-dispositions” onto all experience, which facilitates the person’s movement as an individual through life. The channel distinctions (along with the sanjiao mechanism) individuate the person’s implementations of the universal movements of the primary channels. They also make what Zen Buddhist practitioners call “beginner’s mind” so difficult to achieve!

As “divergences,” they absorb unresolved pathogenic factors, and provide the embodied spirit a place to suspend them in “dormancy.” This process allows individuals to “go on” to engage new experiences and opportunities in life, even when previous experiences have not been processed to resolution. However, these unresolved pathogenic factors accumulate and may fester; eventually, they exceed the embodied spirit’s capacity to contain them and they emerge as progressive or degenerative disease.

Indeed. some consider these “secondary” vessels MORE IMPORTANT than the primary channels . At the beginning of Book II of his Systematic Classic of Acupuncture and Moxibustion (Jiayijing), Huang Fumi (215-82) asserted:

The twelve channels are responsible for life in humans and the development of illness. They concern the origins and treatment of a person’s illness. They must be studied by the beginner and yet provide the skilled (practitioner) with limitations (they cannot exceed). The mediocre (practitioner) finds them easy, while the superior one finds them difficult.
The Yellow Emperor asked: What are the separations (bie — divergences and distinctions) and anastomoses, the exits and entrances (of the channels)?
Qi Bo responded: These (topics) are neglected by the mediocre, while the superior practitioner is familiar with them. Please allow me to inform you about them: [He then delineates the Six Confluences of the channel divergences and distinctions (jingbie)!]

Translation by Charles Chase and Yang Shouzhong (pg. 95-6)

The channels distinctions and divergences are centrally important in how they serve and support the primary channels. Their name in Chinese (jingbie) indicates that relationship; perhaps we should use a translation into English that conveys that meaning.